When looking for the next big thing in digital communication, there’s nothing bigger than the sweeping changes promised by artificial intelligence. There’s little doubt that AI is coming to pharma but will it – as many in marketing and sales fear – just mean that people get replaced by computers? Or might it actually solve a problem that’s been perplexing marketers for years?
The understandable fear of AI
People are concerned about AI and its potential impact on the job market. In the general media, we often hear how automation will make people unemployed in entire sectors. These concerns are understandable. Fundamental change almost certainly is coming.
We’re already celebrating the 20-year anniversary for a highly significant event – the defeat of chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov by IBM’s Deep Blue computer. And humans continue to lose when pitched against machines in media events – the latest being Google Deep Mind’s AlphaGo defeat of the world’s number one Go board game player in 2016.
We can’t beat these supercomputers the theory goes, so that’s the end of work. Well, that’s one scenario. And it would be silly to disregard it. But is it the only possible outcome?
Rather than using the power of technology to make ourselves useless, others argue that it will expand what we can do. For them, it’s just as likely that we will collaborate with AIs as compete with them – that the relationship won’t be like a chess match but rather a partnership.
It’s a much more positive scenario and one, in fact, currently being explored by pharma with the aim of improving face-to-face interactions with HCPs by better leveraging data.
“It’s just as likely that we will collaborate with AIs as compete with them – that the relationship won’t be like a chess match but rather a partnership.”
Lots of data, little customer benefit
Thanks to digital communications technology, customer data is better than ever. All those interactions with websites, apps and e-detailers has created a huge amount of information.
The hard part now is knowing how to act on all that data. It can be mined in HQ to inform overall communications strategy or access the effectiveness of tactics. But the real challenge is to use customer data to provide a personalised service. In other words, how do we get the data in the hands of staff meeting face-to-face with HCPs?
This is something that has frustrated marketers for a number of years. We now count storage in zettabytes, which is one trillion gigabytes. It’s hard to get our minds around it. And that’s where the AIs come in.
According to Tor Kristensen, Anthill’s Chief Technical Officer, “AI offers pharma a way out of the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach by ensuring that data not only gets to the right person but is delivered in a way that makes it easy for them to act.”
“AI offers pharma a way out of the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach by ensuring that data not only gets to the right person but is delivered in a way that makes it easy for them to act.”
AI at the service of reps
One approach we’ve already seen trialled is AI used as an assistant for customer-facing staff – connecting reps to the data but leaving them in charge and able to decide how to act. As such it works something like a golf caddie: humans play the game and the AI gives advice by making suggestions.
“It works like a golf caddie: humans play the game and the AI gives advice by making suggestions.”
First there is help for the rep’s call planning, with the AI suggesting HCPs to visit. Then the rep receives suggestions for the content to discuss with each HCP, based on data of what would be most beneficial to each doctor.
Importantly, these are still just suggestions. The rep is completely free to refuse any advice but must provide a reason. This feedback enables the system to continually learn and improve.
The need for flexible content
While it’s early days, such systems bring us much closer to the personalised ‘just for you’ communications that digital technology should be providing. It solves a key of the puzzle but it’s still just part of the solution. There’s still a missing piece.
According to Sebastian Kölsch, Anthill’s Chief Solutions Officer, “To leverage the AI data, customer-facing staff still need the content to be flexible. They have to be able to present different topics in different ways depending on what the data is telling them.”
Flexible content is something that we’ve been working on together with our clients for years. At Anthill, we call this the ‘dynamic agenda’, which is a way for reps to quickly select content and have it assembled into a presentation.
“To leverage the AI data, customer-facing staff still need the content to be flexible. They have to be able to present different topics in different ways depending on what the data is telling them.”
There’s no loss of central marketing control because reps are working with core content. The only difference is that the content is provided in a form that can be made to easily fit different customer requirements. No matter whether that’s based on a rep’s local knowledge or a suggestion from an AI, this gives people the flexibility to act in ways that are relevant to each customer.
Closing the loop
Looked at this way, rather than being a threat, AI is actually protecting reps by enabling them to work more efficiently and provide more value. It also protects the large investments that pharma has made in face-to-face technologies.
What’s important – actually groundbreaking – about these new AI technologies is that they enable us to truly close the loop. We can get great data from customer interactions with digital communications; we can use AI to deliver useful insights to customer-facing staff in a way that’s easy (the missing piece), and we can empower them with content that is flexible so that they can respond.
- Digital communications have generated a lot of data
- Need to get data to customer-facing staff in an easy way
- AI can do this by suggesting topics to cover
- Flexible content enables reps to respond to these insights