Email Marketing In Pharma? Exploit Its Full Potential

Email is probably the most important channel pharma companies have in their arsenal to engage with doctors. Emails are not one-off tactics, but the “glue” that holds together their relationship with doctors. 

But then, why are most pharma brands still not utilizing the channel to its maximum potential?

Besides technical implementation, many still fail to provide doctors with the right user experience and the standards that people are nowadays expecting from marketing emails.

Executing best practice emailing by better understanding their anatomy and knowing what to optimize represents a quick and cost-effective way for pharma marketers to improve their communication with doctors. 

Let’s learn how…

The role of email marketing in pharma

Where and when do emails play an important role in the relationship between doctors and a brand?

Pretty much in almost all stages of the customer journey, but pharma companies can particularly leverage the email marketing channel for two main purposes: extending reach or sustaining conversation.

Email typeSponsored email (aka email blast)
DefinitionAn email that goes out to a defined list of email addresses at the same time
Main objectiveExtend reach
Database and implementationNormally accomplished by leveraging third-party email databases (medical journals, medical media). Send out managed by 3rd party
Email strategySingular blast
TargetingOne to many
Target audienceDoctors that are not on the radar of the pharma company (for example Tier 3 professionals that cannot be cost-effectively followed by sales reps or MSL)
Main accomplishmentBrand awareness, consent opt-in
Email typeNewsletter
DefinitionAn email that is sent to your subscribers regularly to keep them informed about the latest news and updates about your product or brand
Main objectiveSustain awareness
Database and implementationSoft opt-ins, who requested explicitly to receive email newsletters only. Managed through company CRM or an integrated email marketing platform
Email strategySeries of email send-outs 
TargetingOne to many
Target audienceDoctors that have had limited contact with the pharma company (for example Tier 3 professionals that cannot be cost-effectively followed by sales reps or MSL)
Main accomplishmentTop of the funnel (Awareness / Consideration)
Email typeApproved email (aka rep-triggered email) 
DefinitionPre-approved email content and templates that are made available to company representatives (sales rep or MSL) to use in their communication to HCPs
Main objectiveKeep conversation
Database and implementationFull consent opt-in, triggered by a rep or through automation workflow. Managed directly through the pharma company’s CRM
Email strategyCustom email workflow
TargetingOne to one
Target audienceDoctors that have an established relationship with sales reps or MSLs and who have given consent to be contacted by email
Main accomplishmentMove doctors from awareness to drug advocacy

Why is email marketing particularly effective for communication with doctors?

The answer is easy to understand: emails remain a privileged channel for doctors. 

The main advantage of the email channel is its extreme versatility. It can be used for different purposes and with different levels of sophistication. 

Doctors, despite their busy schedules, still find time to check their emails at least 2-3 times a day. 

No new digital channels that have emerged recently can offer the same performance level. 

Email is still here to stay. 

What are the competitive advantages of emails?

The following table shows the main arguments in favour of emails from the point of view of both the pharma marketer and doctors

Pharma Marketer

  • Cost-effective way to engage with the target audience 
  • Perfect channel to create and build customer relationships within a defined customer journey
  • Efficient channel for the creation and expansion of brand recognition
  • High customizability and personalization options
  • Easy to track and understand returns
  • Possibility to test which content sparks the highest engagement and then design more effective messages


  • Emails are considered a reliable source of information
  • Channel that is regularly used during the day through different devices
  • No explicit commitment required
  • No need to engage immediately, like other channels such as display banners, paid search or social media
  • It can be read anytime and the action can be repeated more times
  • Possibility to reply and contact directly the sender

Most recurrent errors when sending emails to doctors

Why is the email user experience often so bad in pharma?

Despite its strategic importance, some basic errors in email campaigns towards HCPs are regularly found. 

Here we try to highlight the more frequent ones and explain why they have a significant impact on the successful use of this channel:

High frequency: Digital fatigue and overload are some of the most recurring issues between reps and doctors. Too many emails in a short period of time can have a negative effect not only on doctor user experience but also on deliverability and on the perceived reliability of the sender

Lack of relevance and added value: Each email should bring value and not just be pharma self-promotion. Plus, doctors should only receive information related to their interests.  A well-updated CRM, with smart segmentation, helps increase the relevance and thus ensures doctors receive information on their topics of interest only

No overarching strategy: An email is not only a channel to inform a doctor, but it also represents an opportunity to move him forward through the customer journey

Bad design choices: Bad design or email structure also play a role in the way the email is “consumed” by the doctors. For example, bearing in mind that almost 60% of physicians are reading emails primarily on their smartphones, it is still surprising to see emails sent by pharma companies with sub-optimal mobile experience. The right balance of images, text and call to action is also important to keep the reader’s attention

Content overload: Long emails with too much content and/or too many links. This scenario is often seen in emails sent by pharma companies. This does not help doctors, which feel overwhelmed and often do not have the time to engage with all content and provided links

Quick wins for effective email marketing in pharma

Considering these recurring errors, small edits and fine-tuning can have a big impact on the overall performance of an email marketing campaign.

What should you do?

Many improvements in email marketing can be easily achieved and do not require high investments:

Omnichannel approach: Each email does not stand on its own, but it has the potential to fuel other channels and platforms, helping to create a more holistic approach and seamless messaging. When creating an email, it is important to keep in mind what additional channels are involved and what information is better delivered through email and which one through other channels

Customer journey in mind: Every email should have a purpose and a goal. Consider what happens next for every email, where the customer goes and what is the desired action from the customer. Different workflows need to be designed for doctors at different stages of the adoption ladder. It is important to monitor and test constantly the performance of emails and workflows to fine-tune the email sequence

Segmentation: Effective email marketing results from proper segmentation. From day 1 it is important to have a very clear view of the segmentation criteria to use and to keep all the databases up-to-date based on those identified segmentation fields

Familiarity: Using the name of the sales rep or MSL as a sender, rather than a generic company/brand name, has a positive impact on open rate and creates a bond between the sales rep or MSL, which can be particularly effective in future engagements on other channels (F2F, phone/video calls, collaborative technologies like WhatsApp). Make sure to use them for your most important communications

Repetition: As said before, overloading doctors with too many irrelevant emails is wrong, but it is still important to keep the conversation open at a gentle rhythm. 60% of doctors need to receive marketing information 2-3 times before taking action

Consistency: Consistency in design and cadence are imperative to build a successful email workflow. It will help to maintain brand recognition, establish authority, and keep the pharma company (and sales reps) top of mind with the doctors

Personalization: Leveraging CRM capabilities is a very important element, which gives the possibility to stand out and be remembered. Adding personal elements (name, main interest, attendance to an event, etc) gives the possibility to stand out, to be remembered and, more important of all, to give additional credibility to the message that the rep wants to share

our Checklist for Pharma email marketing

Email is the main building block of an omnichannel engagement strategy

Where should you start?

We identified a quick list of elements that can be checked each time an email campaign is ready to launch and that can help deliver a well-conceived email and save time. We are happy to share our experience with you. 

We built that checklist over the years, regularly monitoring and reviewing email campaigns from top pharmaceutical companies and making sure all common mistakes are covered. 

Receive our checklist by filling out the form or get in touch with us if you need support on your email marketing activities

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About the author

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Peter Mazzi

With a background in both healthcare and marketing, Peter is a true jack-of-all-trades, able to diagnose a company's digital marketing needs and prescribe the perfect treatment plan. Data-driven marketer, Peter has extensive hands-on and strategic experience in the industry. Italian creativity meets German reliability!

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