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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Really? Another innovative product?

Is innovation really at the heart of what we offer, or has it simply become an ancient tradition?

Taoist monks believed it was more important, upon waking to a new day, to forget their preconceptions about the world than to remember what happened previously. We might benefit from their guidance at this point in our history; if the scales were removed from our eyes we might be able to see more clearly where we are.  

Robert J Gordon might, or might not, be a Taoist monk as well as a highly respected US economist. Via a TED talk he has a good punt at making us think a little harder about the era we've arrived in. The age of 'no more innovation'! 

Gordon makes the point that true innovation is going from the motorcar to the jet engine, thereby changing the transport sector forever by creating new value. Adding another app to your target audience's iPad to address an unmet need is not, from his perspective, innovative. 

He also makes the point that merely adding features does not ultimately do much for an economy. It results in commoditisation as market competitors out-trump one another with new features and competitive pricing. To charge a higher price and create new wealth, we must increase the value we impart. 

I suspect he'd consider a breakthrough intervention for a previously untreatable cancer as innovative, but dispatch us forthwith to the land of Taoism when we use this dubious word in connection with a modification to a molecule.

Not that there is anything wrong with modifying a molecule. It's just that if that is what we have done – the why we have done it might be a lot more important and exciting for us to talk about. The what being about the features and the why expressing our belief: our cause if you like (apologies to Simon Sinek – yes I've been watching a lot of TED talks).

The why is more about the human worth of what we're selling or doing. Of course outside of healthcare, it seems to me that brands like Dove totally get this. I think it goes something along the lines of: no artifice! Help women of all shapes and sizes feel beautiful every day because it's a truth that the beauty industry and media set unrealistic standards, causing anxiety in women.

They do not say their soap cleans you in an innovative manner – instead they add value through their approach in living their values: not using models for campaigns, holding mother and daughter workshops, etc.

The most fascinating thing is that we do not need to set ourselves up within healthcare as innovative to be adding meaningful value. It feels more like habit; a hangover from the blockbuster age of new drugs and breakthroughs designed to drive share prices forever upwards. 

I imagine a Taoist monk might, on waking one morning, take a look at our capabilities and say with a profound pointed finger: “You guys with all your history, your R&D, with all your communication skills, with your vast banks of scientific expertise and medical knowledge, are best placed to facilitate better dialogue between patients and physicians, remove social stigma, achieve greater tolerances, create greater understanding, use the social sciences to achieve better adherence, assess efficiencies, improve economies of scale…” and so on. 

An endless list of reasons as to why the healthcare sector works so hard to make the most of scientific developments and their resulting human benefits. I reckon he'd also say: “Sure, treat the condition but focus on the person, make them feel as good about life as you can – that is why you're in this business. Isn't it?”

I would then sincerely hope to hear him conclude with: “Please – no more use of the word innovation!” Although I might be wrong of course.

Article by
Stephen Page

managing director, creative and brand, Havas Life Medicom

3rd July 2013

From: Marketing

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