This article is the third in the 2024 series produced by the Pharmaceutical Marketing Society’s Digital Interest Group to address some of the industry’s most pressing challenges in effectively engaging with HCPs. They have been designed and written to inform and share good practice, but, most importantly, to generate discussion and collaboration.

If you missed our first article “Driving Digital Excellence” which rounded up our 2023 series of articles, you can access it here our second article focused in on the importance of working closely with IT in Pharma “Chatting channels: IT as an enabler of customer engagement excellence” which can be found here.

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Could the magical allure of a white rabbit really ignite a renewed perspective on who our customer truly is? Seemingly this is something which worked for Alice as she traversed her own Wonderland.

This article aims to help you hold up a mirror to your current understanding of HCPs and explore a superior way of engaging with your customers, to help you build deeper connections with your audiences and ultimately create more successful campaigns.

As the age-old story goes, Alice is pondering on how to pass a hot summer day with her sister when a white rabbit suddenly appears and captivates her attention. With “burning curiosity” she follows the white rabbit and ventures into the deep hole leading to Wonderland where things become “curiouser and curiouser.” A voyage of discovery ensues including a consultation with a giant caterpillar, directions from a cat, tea with a mouse and croquet with a scornful queen!

It is in this moment that the curiosity of the rabbit hole serves as the catalyst to unlock new and unimaginable possibilities for Alice.

If the end destination is delivering compelling value to our customers on a shared agenda, the journey is surely all about embracing and leveraging an innate curiosity. So, with that being said…who is your customer?

The challenge: your customer doesn’t care about you, your products, or services. They care about themselves, and here’s why.

In modern healthcare, time is a scarce commodity and demands are endless. The burden on healthcare professionals (HCPs) is intense. Caught in a cycle of relentless patient care, administrative duties and a quest to stay abreast of medical advancements, HCPs find themselves grappling with a perpetual time deficit. Quotes from doctors paint a vivid picture of their struggle:

“I have to do my administration work on my days off, I have so little time available to learn about what’s new from pharma companies.”

“I think this with drug reps sometimes. I wonder why they are using such big words when I am so sleepy at lunchtime.”

“Concentrating on complex pharmacological information is too hard when I’m so busy at work.”

“Bite-sized learning please – we have no time!”

The strain on the medical workforce is underlined by Dr. Sarah Clarke, president of the Royal College of Physicians, who highlights the stark reality: “[Our] census data presents the stark reality that the medical workforce is under far too much strain to cope with the significant demands faced by our health service.”

Data from the GMC National Training Survey for Doctors in 2023 (1) paints a concerning picture, with 55% of doctors reporting that work is emotionally exhausting to a high degree, and up to 43% feeling burnt out. In the realm of consultants, 42% did not take all their annual leave, citing reasons such as being unable to find cover or simply being too busy. To compound this situation, the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan June 2023 cites 112,000 vacancies in local services (2)

The stark backdrop of HCP burnout and cognitive fatigue therefore calls for an impassioned response which is rooted in 2 critical questions we need to ask ourselves.

  • What is the experience we are delivering to customers today?
  • Is our content relieving the cognitive burden for HCPs or simply making it worse?

Room for improvement!

A fascinating and somewhat despairing dynamic is currently playing out when we survey today’s customer communication landscape. Pharma industry omnichannel investment is at a record high with 32% of budgets, on average, being allocated to digital marketing (3). The deployment of this investment has invariably seen the creation of 20% more content vs. 2022 based on the recent Veeva Pulse survey (4)

Despite the recognition of the importance of digital engagement with pharmaceutical companies, the reality sadly falls short of expectations.

The Across Health Global Trends survey from 2023 has indicated that while 64% of HCPs view pharma digital as important, less than half of specialists express satisfaction with the content being provided (5). A shocking 77% of content made for field teams is rarely or never used while digital content is only used in 39% of engagements with HCPs -28% of all HCP calls in the UK (4) Tragically this is manifesting in HCP perceptions, which are reflected by a damning statistic – only 24%-38% of the content received by HCPs is regarded as being personalised and relevant to HCPs needs (6)

Engagement with omnichannel representatives, including remote detailing, email, and face-to-face interactions, remains limited, with fewer than 10% of specialists engaging in the past three months (5)

With insights revealing that only about one-third of HCPs have encountered a Pharma website in the last three months and a mere 16% have accessed a pharmaceutical company’s website (5) it’s evident that there is a disconnect

How do we make our customers care about what we have to say?

This begins with cultivating a deep understanding of the lived customer experience today.

In this landscape, a resounding call emerges from HCPs: “Respect my time.” It becomes clear that HCPs are seeking engagement from the pharmaceutical industry that places the customer experience (CX) at its core. From surveys, it’s evident that HCPs are not just seeking information; they are seeking meaningful, efficient interactions that honour their constraints and priorities. Simply put, they are seeking help.

Recognising these sobering but very real-world pain points, how can we as pharma marketers become part of the solution? How can we help our customers to optimise and better manage their time, to help them and their patients?

There are learnings we can embrace from Alice to unleash new possibilities for the HCPs and patients we are trying to serve.

Three things to stoke your imagination:

Omnichannel engagement is not about content or platforms – it is fundamentally about people.

Embracing a human centric approach through a shared purpose and agenda to build a valued and authentic customer connection. Alice’s voyage through the rabbit hole opened a world of new places, new people (& animals!) as well as new perspectives. This has one fundamental meaning in our mission to build compassionate connections with our customers – learn curiosity.

In essence, this comes down to engendering a single-minded focus on what really matters to customers and why they should care about what we have to say. As a starting point, ask yourself the critical questions which could transform the delivery of compelling value to the audiences you are striving to forge a connection with.

Which pain points are HCPs wrestling with and how do we position ourselves as solution engineers? Stop to consider what the “Day in the life” of your customer looks like and the diverse daily roles they need to fulfil to discharge their duties, e.g. confidant, coach, leader, educator. How can we, therefore, in a small but meaningful way, enable HCPs to become the best versions of themselves? In short, embody and exude the wide-eyed curiosity of Alice to create meaningful moments of illumination. Identify break-through customer learnings and insights – the What and the Why.

Authentically knowing who our customer is calls for a sense of ambition.

Identify your exemplar, i.e. which brands or companies are doing this really well today? At the heart of this should be a profound understanding of how a triple win is being delivered to patients, physicians, and pharma. This golden trinity should open the door to teachable moments, reframing your ability to dial up high value engagements with HCP audiences.

Take time to ask and listen.

There is a high value in simply asking the HCP what they need, and how pharma support could benefit them.  Don’t use this information to jump to the next quick win, listen.  There is power in listening and responding in a meaningful way. If a HCP feels heard and responded to, you can truly connect with them with the compassion they deserve.  You can then build trust and begin that all important two-way conversation.

This all sounds great in theory, but where to begin?

3 questions to ask yourself today

1.       What do we really know about our customers, and what do we need to find out to understand all their pain points?

2.       Do we have a human centric approach to our communications or are we focused on blanket data delivery?

3.       Are we ready to change how we engage with our customers?

3 actions for tomorrow

1.       Consciously decide to work towards a more compassionate connection plan and build it into all your engagements.  This may be a challenge in a world of agile working and project sprints focused on content delivery deadlines but give it the time and space it needs.

2.       Set realistic start points and be prepared to adapt as you learn more about your customer.

3.       Really listen and work out how you can support the customer with their goals, before jumping into a tactical solution which is focused on the quick win. Live the customer experience, prioritise time in the field with customer facing representatives and HCPs. Develop a deep understanding and align with the environment to help optimise relevant content and resources for high-impact and valued HCP engagements.

In summary, to truly connect in a meaningful way, learn from Alice, be curious.


Jag Singh, Global Omnichannel Lead, CSL Vifor

Mike Askew, Co-Founder, MultiM3d

Alison Rayner, Director, Bamboo Medical

Dave Pinnington, Founder, Markify

*The views and opinions reflected in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the organisations which they represent

Reference sources:

1.       GMC National Training Survey for Doctors 2023 –

2.       NHS Long Term Workforce Plan June 2023 –

3.       Maturometer Report, September 2023 Across Health –

4.       Veeva Pulse Field Trends Report, April 2023 –

5.       The State of Omnichannel in Biopharma: Global trends report 2023, Across Health –

6.       Navigator 365 database, Across Health report: Nephrologists & Rheumatologists Germany (2022) and UK (2023)


The PM Society is a not-for-profit organisation that believes excellent healthcare communications leads to better outcomes for patients.

We aim to:

•            Support organisations and people in healthcare

•            Recognise excellence and promoting best practice

•            Provide education and development

The Digital Interest Group is made up of passionate pharma digital experts who volunteer their time to lead the conversations in the use of digital for customer engagement excellence and enabling better patient outcomes.