Digital fatigue is the state of exhaustion and disengagement that occurs among people who are exposed to many digital channels and content across devices concurrently.
Be it an app or social media notification on our phone, SMS notification on our smartwatch, or an email notification on our laptop, there is an endless distraction that is changing our behaviors. Our desire for "being connected" or "new" is causing us to switch topics regularly, and hence, our attention span is further decreasing and getting divided, resulting in emotional and mental exhaustion or fatigue.
The impact of digital and remote channels versus sales representatives has grown by 30% in 2021 compared with 2020 (Figure 1). The impact is more likely to continue in the same trend and grow in the future. Brands are expected to increase pharma advertising spending driven by digital channels. Pharma advertising surpassed $11 billion in 20211 from $6.6 billion in 2020.
As brands continue to execute more campaigns across digital channels, our focus is to measure the true state of HCP–pharma digital engagement. This will help derive insights to improve campaign effectiveness, improve HCP-pharma experience landscape, and build long-term relationships.
Figure 1. Impact of Digital Channels on Prescriptions Relative to Sales Representative Detail
Pharma brands created content at a rapid pace to meet the huge demand, augment and supplement efforts of sales representatives across digital channels. This led to multiplication of content created by 4 times in just a year (Figure 2; April 2020 to March 2021). We observed that the volume of content produced in the first 6 months of 2021 has surpassed that of the entire year of 2020.
Figure 2. Volume of Content Created
In this report, we analyzed email campaign performance as it was the most-used channel among the digital communications. We witnessed an exponential growth of 50% in email content creation in just 2 quarters in 2021 versus 2020 (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Content Created by Type in 2020 and 2021 (6 Months)
According to Veeva, there was an >800% increase in Veeva-approved emails sent in 2020.
The email unsubscription rate is a great indicator of digital fatigue as it indicates the percentage of users who have opted out from the mailing list after an email campaign.
We analyzed 15 email campaigns that delivered >7.9 million promotional emails across multiple therapy areas and objectives from April 2020 to August 2021. The analysis shows (Figure 4) the following findings:
Figure 4. Email Unsubscription Rate
Period 1: Between April and May 2020, during the initial days of Covid-19
Period 2: Between June 2020 and August 2020, when the world witnessed shutdowns due to the pandemic, we observed the following findings:
Period 3: In the next 12 months between September 2020 and August 2021 as the pandemic restrictions started to ease, we observed the following findings:
Although there has been an increase in emails delivered after the onset of Covid-19, the unsubscription rates have reduced continuously. This indicates that the HCPs have adopted to increasing email communications and are not facing any signs of fatigue.
We analyzed another set of >6.2 million marketing emails sent to 436,000 HCPs in 2020 to determine best practices that pharma brands can leverage when designing promotional email campaigns. The analysis showed the following findings:
More emails delivered do not correlate with higher engagement rates. Brands need to find a balance based on the therapy area and geography to sustain engagement. Our analysis (Figure 5) shows the following findings:
Figure 5. Click rate versus email delivered (2020—2021)
Almost half of the subscribers mark emails as spam because they are too frequent3. Giving them the option of choosing the frequency is a great way pharma brands can drive higher engagement rates. Based on the analysis (Figure 6), we observed the below findings:
Figure 6. Email click-through rate versus frequency of emails delivered
Figure 7. Indegene survey on HCP preferences on frequency of interactions
HCPs are more digitally native today than in the last 5 years. As brands rushed to deliver content over digital channels post Covid-19, not much attention was given to the quality of content. More than 55%4 of the HCPs across the world are overwhelmed by the content they receive. Hence, there is a lot of scope for improvement.
Below are some of the recommendations that pharma marketers can leverage to improve the quality of the content:
Figure 8. HCP content preference versus received content
Base: 486 interactions between US HCPs and pharmaceutical firms
Source: DT Consulting/Aptus Health
For email campaigns to be effective, that is, to be noticed, opened, read, or acted upon, the design must take a front seat. It is about not only having attractive looking templates but also following a structural design. Following are the best practices that can help brands grab HCP attention:
During Covid-19, digital touchpoints rapidly increased, which can cause digital fatigue to set in. Among the digital channels, we analyzed emails to determine digital fatigue since emails was used extensively. Email unsubscription rate reduced consistently post the onset of Covid-19 indicating the high levels of channel preference.
Overall, pharma brands will need to re-evaluate email strategies to keep digital fatigue in check. Incorporating adequate checkpoints will help measure campaign effectiveness. Marketing teams will need to find a balance between the volume of emails, frequency, quality of content, and design for campaigns to be impactful by testing them constantly. Adopting mature strategies such as modular content can accelerate brands to execute email campaigns at speed and scale. By integrating HCP personas, campaign performance data along with artificial intelligence, and machine learning models, brands can unlock new insights that can further help personalize and predict behaviors. This will be the key to identify digital fatigue that can drive new levels of engagement.
The content of this publication is based on the analysis and findings of the authors and in no way is complete or associated with any warranty as to the accuracy, completeness or currency of the content. The contents of this document are the authors’ own and do not reflect the view of Viatris or any of its subsidiaries. No Viatris data has been leveraged in the analysis that led to this report.