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Digital Addressability and Personalization — the Definitions May Surprise You

In a recent blog post, my colleague Kent Groves introduced the concept of addressability at scale (AAS) and its relevance to the pharmaceutical industry. Since this is a topic that will be receiving continued attention, I thought it would be helpful to highlight some common misconceptions about digital addressability and personalization with the hope that it will enable manufacturers to fully leverage these audience platforms.    

For a number of years, pharma brands have been using third-party digital audience platforms to communicate with patients and providers. These platforms include WebMD, Medscape, Physicians Interactive, Epocrates, Quality Health and MedPage Today. Depending on the individual platform, pharma brands have a range of options for delivering their messages and prompting further engagement. Examples include display advertising, emails and newsletters, self-directed learning modules, etc. Quite often, however, promotional planning for these tactics was split between the traditional media agency and the CRM agency, particularly with respect to physician CRM. 

Using physician marketing as an example, the media agency handled the mass/anonymous digital media tactics, and the CRM agencies managed the “addressable” tactics (typically email). Over time, many of these platforms gained the ability to direct display advertising toward targeted individuals by matching a manufacturer’s sales list to their subscriber files. Nevertheless, the split between media agencies and CRM agencies remained, based largely on an arbitrary distinction between addressable tactics and everything else as being the ability to direct the communication to a named customer. In other words, targeted digital media continued to remain separate from CRM planning, deployment and measurement.

The implications of this split are significant. First, by separating the planning and execution of tactics across different agencies, the customer experience is fractured, leading to sub-optimal outcomes.  Second, promotional budgets are burdened with redundant investments and activity. Lastly, there has been little to no support, historically, for augmenting the marketing database with data associated with digital media activity that was not deemed “addressable,” even though it could be linked to known physicians. (Forget about anonymous customer data!)  

So what are the definitions of “addressable” and “personalized?” Merkle defines addressability as the use of customer data (anonymous or identified) to increase the targetability and relevance of marketing impressions and experiences. Simply put, addressability requires that we have the ability to identify and locate an individual. This is the same regardless of whether one is online or offline. In a digital context, the identifiers include email addresses, subscriber IDs, cookies, IP addresses and device IDs. From a targeting perspective, we can seek out an individual using, for example, their identifier or on the basis of behavioral criteria. The important point to note is that there is no requirement that an individual’s identity (e.g., Dr. Susan Brown) is known. Similarly, personalization does not require the acknowledgement of an individual’s identity. Instead, personalization represents the delivery of content or digital experiences that reflect our knowledge of what is most relevant to that individual.  

The extent to which we are knowledgeable about an individual’s needs, interests and preferences is dependent upon our ability to integrate and analyze data associated with each identifier. To this end, a customer marketing database must capture the interactions a brand has with its anonymous customers, not just those with known identities. Future posts will highlight the many ways we can personalize the customer experience using anonymous data, but for now, the important takeaway is that brands and media agencies begin to recognize that they are doing a disservice to their customers and shareholders by viewing addressable media through a narrow lens. Until this shift occurs, CRM databases, which require significant investment to build and maintain, will be underutilized. For brands to fully leverage addressability at scale, their marketing databases should serve as knowledge centers for anonymous as well as identifiable customers and drive integrated cross-channel promotional planning.

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