So much has already been written about the digital landscape since COVID hit, not least within the healthcare sector. How can we maximise digital engagement and utilise the products that allow us to do so? I don’t want to repeat those messages, but given they’re mainly tech-led, I think it’s important to think about the wider picture and what this could mean in the longer term.

Responding to the Current Climate

For us at Dice, we are often asked ‘can you do {insert the latest platform/tech here!}’, in response to a new technology and/or media option becoming available. For example, Veeva Engage in the current climate has become a very valuable tool for our clients. Indeed, Veeva have seen 10x increase in the use of Engage over the last two weeks in the US and Europe alone (data as at May 20th 2020). The answer is – of course we can – but we always challenge our clients to think about the wider picture, and that is what I’m discussing here.

One positive of this situation (if there can be such a thing), is the attitude shift on digital communications vs. face-to-face meetings. By force, we have all had to adapt our business practices, and this has meant that a lot of people previously averse to communicating virtually have found it to be actually rather pleasant. Clinicians have found that they can indeed do a rep call remotely, saving them time and the need to have visitors to the hospital, and they’ve become comfortable with the technology. Furthermore, customer-facing professionals, especially sales representatives, like having additional tools to use in their work.

The Risks of Saturation

The rush to ‘arm’ reps with material, however, comes with a small risk. Every company is updating their materials to include digital-only interactions, and when you extrapolate this out to every clinician interaction, the volume is large.

Indeed the number of Veeva Approved Emails sent in the last 4 months has gone up nearly 500% (Veeva data, May 2020). You can picture the inboxes now.

To be fair, open rates are holding steady, so that illustrates that clinicians are not rejecting this approach, for now…

So, we need to make sure we add value to clinicians and not send out blanket communications for the sake of ‘being digital’. One major pharma company has set up a ‘warning’ light for representatives, whereby if they are sending approved emails to clinicians, if they’ve sent an excessive amount to that contact, it questions them as to whether another email is the right thing to do. A small thing, but illustrates to me that they’re thinking about the end user, which is so important.

As with all digital transformation, we must not abandon the fundamentals of good content and creativity.

If anything, in this current climate and for the reasons above, it’s never been more important. Ensuring all our work is distinctive and cuts through is paramount in support of our clients, often needing to be deft at sacrificing content for the sake of the message. For instance, it’s probably not a good idea to include a video within your Veeva Engage presentation (even though it’s in the CLM), but instead follow up the call with a link to the video in an email.

Currently we are living this transformation: some of the projects we are working on are below – should you need any help on anything similar, pick up the phone and get in touch.

  • Veeva Engage transformation of CLM content
  • Approved Emails
  • Creating virtual ad boards using our platform partners
  • 3D modelling of exhibition stands that were meant for live exhibitions using our stand-build partner Stephen Green Exhibits
  • Running webinars and ensuring smooth user experience
  • Updating website content for HCP resource sections, also driving Veeva traffic
  • Mapping KOLs for digital engagement

In summary, it’s great that we can move forward at pace, but we still need to remember to deliver communications that chimes with the audience. The real benefit of doing this digitally is that we can measure this and use it to inform the next tranche of work.

More people than ever are working from home. While this allows for increased flexibility around other priorities, home working can also quickly turn from a perk to a delicate balancing act of childcare and personal space. 

With a multitude of communication apps and access to infinite resources through the internet, we have all we need to speak to people, whether they are in the same room, or halfway across the world. Despite our technology many people can still feel lonely, so in times of isolation it isn’t enough to have these capabilities, we need to be skilled in appropriately utilising them too. This can mean defining new and creative ways of keeping in touch, readjusting our approach to the technologies at our disposal. 

However, rather than constantly chasing the latest app, using what we currently have more effectively is a smart and futureproof way to allow for improved communication. Simple gestures such as turning on cameras during calls to personalise our virtual meetings helps us feel more connected. In our personal lives, video calling friends is normal – so why is it sometimes seen as such a burden in our professional lives? 

For us here at Dice, we stay connected through daily updates, our virtual pub, and fun mini games.

‘Guess my Gaff’ is a game where each company member shares an anonymous photo of their working from home set up, from their perspective. Department by department, the pictures are shown, and everyone has to guess whose ‘gaff’ it is. So far, it’s proving a hit – and while not a substitute for face-to-face interaction, an additional touchpoint between colleagues is a great opportunity to learn more about the people behind the screens. Consider what your company are doing to foster connections – and whether there’s more that could be done.

Connecting internally provides us with insights into the best ways to communicate digitally, which can inform our investments in platforms for our professional work.

Therefore when adopting new systems – such as the content sharing platform Veeva engage – onboarding time can be reduced, allowing for a smoother transition when developing new agency expertise and understanding unfamiliar tech.  

Although the current situation remains uncertain at best, within medical communications we can use this as an opportunity to flex our creative muscles. Innovation is the cornerstone of our industry, and as we move towards a digitally focused future, effectively connecting with the people behind the screens will be more important than ever. 

Pharmaceutical brands have little choice but to use digital channels to engage with HCPs in this day and age. While many practitioners still value face-to-face interaction, their receptiveness to alternative forms of communication has seen a notable increase – whether through choice or circumstance. 

In spite of the myriad of technologies available to pharma companies today, traditional email marketing is one of the most utilised forms of digital marketing that continues to reign supreme. A recent survey revealed that 66% of HCPs prefer to receive pharma communications via email, compared to the 17% who prefer direct contact.

Here, we take a closer look at the effectiveness of email marketing in pharma, and how benchmarking performance can help you measure your campaigns’ success.   

Please note: This article has been written from the perspective of traditional / mass email marketing best practice, as opposed to Veeva email best practice.

The advantages of email for pharma brands 

So, what makes email such an attractive channel for pharma brands and HCPs alike? 


The first thing working in email’s favour is its non-intrusiveness. People can choose when to check their inbox, so an email from a prospective supplier is unlikely to interrupt their day in the same way as a phone call, for example. There’s also a lot less pressure to respond to an email compared to a message sent via Facebook or WhatsApp.

Clear ROI and KPIs 

While Google and social channels allow for audience targeting with their ad platforms, they can’t tell you the precise identity of people who have seen and engaged with your ads. On the other hand, you’ll know exactly who received, opened and engaged with an email, giving you the data you need to review performance and tweak subsequent campaigns accordingly. 

Captive audience

GDPR dictates that HCPs have to “opt in” to receive your email communications. If your brand is GDPR-compliant, as it should be, you can assume that everyone receiving your emails already has a vested interest in your brand. With a captive audience at your disposal, you just need to ensure your content is strong enough to convert subscribers into customers. 

Key engagement metrics for email


Like all marketing channels, engagement metrics are incredibly important when it comes to email. After all, if you don’t know how your emails are resonating with subscribers, it makes it very difficult to analyse their effectiveness. 

With that in mind, here are the key metrics to consider when assessing the performance of your emails, along with some industry benchmarks and top tips on how to get your metrics moving in the right direction. 

Engagement time 

Engagement times will tell you how long people spend reading an email once they open it and before they click on a link (if they click). By combining this metric with open and click rates, you’ll get a good picture of performance and how to improve your campaigns

For example, if you’re seeing low click-through rates but high engagement times, it might mean that subscribers are struggling to find the CTA. On the flipside, high open rates coupled with low engagement times and click-through rates could indicate that your content doesn’t align with what your subject line promised. 

Open rate 

The open rate is ultimately a measure of your subject line’s effectiveness, unless you’ve given subscribers another reason to ignore your emails. 

The average open rate for the pharmaceutical industry is 18.58%, according to Mailchimp’s latest email marketing benchmarks. Whether you’re using the industry average or your previous campaigns as a benchmark, there are a number of ways you can improve your subject lines, and in turn your open rates. This could range from testing different subject lines on different audience segments to making sure your key message comes first. Taking stock of the best days and times to send an email is also very important for open rates.  

Relevant Article:

Click-through rate 

A high click-through rate (CTR) is a positive sign for your email campaigns, as it means people are engaging with the content and clicking through to your website or landing page. According to Mailchimp, the average CTR for pharma brand emails is 2.25%. 

If your click-through rate is falling short of the industry average, you may wish to consider the strength and visibility of your CTAs, and whether your email content is relevant enough to the target audience. Similar to testing different subject lines, consider changing the design and messaging of your emails for each audience segment. 

Including a video could also have a positive impact on your CTR. According to Campaign Monitor, video content can boost click-through rates by as much as 65%. 

Bounce rate

The bounce rate is the percentage of subscribers who didn’t even receive your email. There are two types of ‘bounce’: a soft bounce and a hard bounce. 

Soft bounces tend to result from temporary issues such as an inbox being full or inactive, a recipient’s email server being down, or the email message not meeting a recipient server’s anti-spam requirements. The average soft bounce rate for the pharma industry is 0.53%. 

Hard bounces, on the other hand, are an indication of permanent issues, such as the recipient’s email address not existing, or their email server completely blocking delivery of your emails. The average hard bounce rate for the pharma industry is 0.39%. 

You can lower your bounce rate by immediately removing any hard bounces from your email list and reviewing what could be triggering your recipients’ spam filters. For example, try to avoid using ‘no-reply@yourcompanyname’ as your reply-to address, or sending your email from a non-business domain such as Hotmail or Gmail. 

Unsubscribe rate 

This indicates the percentage of your subscribers who have asked to be removed from your email marketing list. The average unsubscribe rate for pharma brands is 0.17%, according to Mailchimp. 

A higher-than-average unsubscribe rate is a sign that subscribers are no longer finding your emails valuable enough for their inboxes. Alternatively, if you’re finding that people are unsubscribing because they never opted in to receive your emails, you may need to rebuild your list organically to avoid falling foul of your email service provider’s (ESP) guidelines, not to mention GDPR. 

Organically-built lists also have five times the open rate of a purchased or scraped list, and four times fewer spam complaints, according to Campaign Monitor. 

The importance of benchmarking 

Benchmarking your email metrics against industry averages and your previous campaigns is undoubtedly the best way to measure the success of your traditional email marketing strategy, and improve the performance of future campaigns. 

At Dice, we apply our Pharmacohesion approach to email marketing, ensuring every campaign is driven by the best insights, strategy, execution and measurement. If you need help with your own email metrics, don’t hesitate to get in touch today. 

When it comes to email marketing, it can be easy to obsess over click-through rate (CTR). However, if healthcare professionals aren’t even opening your emails, it’s probably time to rethink your priorities – and your subject lines. 

In a survey from mms, the email marketing firm, 69% of HCPs said a subject line is what makes them open an email. Drilling down further, 42% said they would open an email with a subject line containing a product name, while 34% admitted they’d be enticed by an announcement or offer regarding a specific pharma or medical device. 

Just because you work in pharma, it doesn’t mean inboxes work any differently – clinicians receive as many emails as the rest of us. With that in mind, here are some lessons from the wider world that should help boost your open rate and prevent an HCPs’ first impression of your brand being their last.  

How to improve your open rate 

According to Mailchimp, the average email open rate for the pharmaceutical industry is 18.58%. The following recommendations should help you exceed that figure for future campaigns. 

Short but sweet

The acronym K.I.S.S (keep it simple, stupid) – oddly coined by the US Navy – is very applicable to email subject lines. Ideally you’ll want people to see the whole subject line without it being truncated. Due to the number of different email clients, browsers and device sizes, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all subject line length, but 30-40 characters is generally a good rule to follow. 

Front-load the important stuff

In some cases you may struggle to fit your whole subject line within the character limit outlined above. Front-loading it with your key words and calls-to-action will ensure HCPs don’t miss the most important part. 

Get personal  

Merge tags are an email marketer’s best friend, giving them the ability to personalise subject lines to individual customers. According to Campaign Monitor, adding somebody’s name to a subject line can boost email open rate by 26%, while mentioning a specialism or location can have a similar effect. 

Segment your audience 

Think about the type of message that will resonate with different audiences in your subscriber list – whether that’s HCPs, suppliers or partners. Segmenting your audience and tailoring your subject lines accordingly should ensure you’re not giving too many people a reason to ignore or unsubscribe from your emails. 

Keep testing 

The only way to know the effectiveness of a subject line is to test it against alternatives. This is commonly known as A/B testing, and is something most email platforms can facilitate. By testing several subject lines with a sample audience and comparing the open rates, you’ll know which to use for the remainder of your list. 

Things to avoid 

While it’s helpful to know about best practice with email subject lines, it’s also important to be conscious of the things that could see your open rate plummet. 

Spam words 

The last thing you want as a pharmaceutical brand is for your email to end up in an HCP’s spam folder. Certain words or phrases, as listed here, will trigger a spam filter. Therefore, it’s worth being mindful of these when crafting subject lines.

RE: and FW:

Research suggests that emails have less chance of reaching an inbox if they include the preposition RE: or FW: in the subject line. Multiple exclamation marks or excessive capitalisation could also lead to emails ending up in a junk folder. 

Repeating the same subject line 

Just because a subject line has generated a high open rate, that shouldn’t be a reason to roll it out again. Repeating a subject line – even if only once – is likely to deter your customers, regardless of whether the email content is different. Always try to keep it fresh and original. 

Leave out the filler 

A good way of keeping your subject line on message is to strip out any unnecessary filler words. Examples include phrases such as “Hi there” or “Nice to meet you”, which could easily be reserved for the body of the email if necessary. 

While the above serves as a general guide, we hope it has offered some valuable takeaways for driving up that email open rate. Keep an eye on the Dice blog for more Veeva-related and pharma-specific examples in the near future….

Take your email marketing forward 

At Dice, our team of marketing specialists have a wealth of experience delivering successful email campaigns for industry-leading pharmaceutical brands. Whether you’re developing a Veeva-approved or mass email campaign, you can count on our experts to take your email game to the next level, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch today.