Make Programmatic the Foundation of Your Omnichannel Approach

Omnichannel marketing is a huge buzzword in pharma these days. As a late adopter channel, this uptick in interest is approximately a decade behind early adopter industries such as travel, CPG, and fashion. But how does the life sciences industry take this from a goal to a reality?

First, let’s talk about omnichannel versus multichannel marketing. Multichannel marketing is running media in multiple channels, e.g., TV, connected TV (CTV), audio (terrestrial and streaming), paid search, paid social, display, and video. Many brands both in and outside of pharma have implemented multichannel marketing and not omnichannel marketing. Omnichannel marketing is a seamless connection between all these channels.

What do we mean by seamless? Seamless means that these channels are not operating in silos. They are connected to one another, and marketers can identify that they have connected with their customer already. And a good omnichannel strategy also connects the offline media to the online media. That sounds impossible, right?

Build Omnichannel Around Programmatic

My answer to making media as connected and omni (ONE channel) as possible, is to build all my campaigns with programmatic as the foundation. Many brands treat programmatic as a media channel. But it is not. Programmatic platforms do not own the inventory; they provide the technology for access to the inventory. You can buy TV (traditional, CTV, and over-the-top), audio (terrestrial and streaming), video, display, native, and even print via the platforms.

Media.Monks uses a good analogy to describe programmatic—it’s the mall. Think about Simon, the big mall real estate company. They don’t own the Louis Vuitton, Gap, Foot Locker, Bath & Body Works, or any of the stores that you may find in the mall, but they own the building that allows you to access it all in one place. Programmatic platforms are the buildings, but the inventory and channels still belong to the Spotifys, Comcasts, Hulus, Medscapes, and Haymarkets. If you know you are going to go to all of them, why make the journey complicated and fragmented?

Can you connect all channels? No. Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok are all walled gardens. If we liken it to the shopping experiences, these are the stores you need to be buzzed into like high-end boutiques. They guard their customers (and their data) fiercely. Do you remember the days when you could buy Facebook via programmatic platforms? Ahh, the nostalgia. I miss those days. But there is a way to connect this media more than it currently is.

Your audiences! If you run Veeva Crossix, Swoop, or first-party segments built in-house using your own data, you can layer this across all your campaigns, apart from Google. This ensures that you are consistently reaching the same folks. It also allows you to have better control of your frequencies. Pharma relies heavily on direct endemic buys where macro-level control of ad frequencies is very hard to achieve. Endemic partners are often limited by the target lists brands provide. If you only want to reach these doctors and you have significant spend in one location, you run the risk of reaching those National Provider Identifiers (NPIs) too frequently, which can have negative consequences. (Put a pin in this one and we will revisit it in the next article when we discuss creative development and deployment.)

The Benefits of Putting Programmatic First

I am bullish about using programmatic as the foundation for marketing. I wasn’t always this way but working agency side at three of the big holding companies, I began to see shifts as early as 2013. Brands that rely on ecommerce and digital sales were using programmatic to drive efficiency and effectiveness. It reaches 99% of the internet and is less costly than direct buys. And because it is bought on a per impression basis and controlled by the brand or the brand’s agency, it is much easier to optimize based on real-time data without committing to a spend or needing to exercise an out clause. If a tactic works well, you increase spend. If it doesn’t work well, you decrease spend or turn it off. Simple!

Programmatic also allows for more precision in targeting because you can layer on data segments and get real-time insights regarding your targets’ behaviors. Furthermore, a once-popular myth has already been dispelled in other industries: programmatic is not lower-quality inventory and sometimes a programmatic bid is placed in front of a direct buy impression for delivery. I like the greater levels of control and the ability to follow user journeys versus attempting to plan to randomly be in all the places the users may go.

Everything is not suitable for programmatic. Emails (although you can buy display ads in email programmatically), dedicated takeovers, custom programs, social channels, and Google need to be purchased direct. But you can consolidate the audiences and connect the users who visits your site in a retargeting pool in order to consolidate as much as possible. This last step is crucial because approximately 90+% of sales are on return versus first visits. I know that pharma is leery of this programmatic-first approach, but I have championed it and implemented it everywhere I have gone in pharma. The ROIs always prove it’s the right thing to do, particularly for small and mid-level pharma where the budgets are surprisingly small compared to other industries.

It’s agile, it allows greater control, and it connects more media than any other approach could possibly do. The path to the purest form of omnichannel marketing is via programmatic. A lot of the performance hinges on the creative, so meet me back here next month so we can bring it all together!

  • Erica N. Hawthorne

    Erica N. Hawthorne is Owner, Principal Consultant at The People People, a consultancy focused on true diversity, equity, and inclusion and authenticity in advertising. Erica has worked in digital marketing for 20 years, including for notable brands such as Bayer, Marriott International,, Burberry, Mandarin Oriental, Black Rock, Dow Jones, Forevermark, Colgate, and The J.M. Smucker Company. She transitioned to the pharmaceutical industry in 2019 to bring representation and awareness to medical disparities and systemic racism in healthcare.


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