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Changing direction: adapting to a rapidly-evolving environment

Chris Ross examines why creative partnerships could be key to commercial success in today’s healthcare marketplace

Changing Direction

According to Einstein, ‘the measure of intelligence is the ability to change’. 

As everyone knows, he also defined insanity as ‘doing the same things over and over and expecting different results’. So where does pharmaceutical marketing sit on the Einstein scale between intelligence and insanity? It’s an unfair question in what are undoubtedly challenging times for European marketers.

In the past 20 years, the market has evolved considerably, with significant changes in the regulatory and customer environments and relentless pressure on national health budgets and resources. At the same time, therapeutic advances and disruptive technology have brought new competition to established players, while the loss of patents for some of the world’s most successful medicines has impacted both profitability and business models alike. The ‘digital revolution’ – and the associated explosion of multichannel communication – has only added to the challenges.

So how is pharma adapting to such a rapidly- changing environment? Thankfully, many organisations are moving away from the ‘rinse and repeat’ approach that Einstein likened to madness and are evolving their processes and capabilities in line with modern-day expectations.

The must-have quality is agility – the ability to move quickly when the wind changes direction. However, against an industry-wide backdrop of colossal cost structures and deeply embedded business practices, developing agility is no easy feat.

As the pressure to deliver shareholder value intensifies and cost leadership emerges as a source of competitive advantage, companies are finally realising that they cannot do it alone. If agility is the key to thriving in a changing world, the most progressive marketers have recognised that the best means of achieving it is through collaboration and partnership.

Partnership and the changing customer environment

Partnering with customers – whether that’s HCPs, payers or, where appropriate, patients – is widely regarded as a fundamental requirement in a dynamic stakeholder environment. This is certainly the case at Amgen, where broad stakeholder engagement is seen as the driving force of innovation among European marketers.

“With more than 4,000 employees across 31 countries, Europe has been an important region for Amgen since 1989,” says Nawal Peacock, Vice President Marketing and Innovation Europe at Amgen.

“Our vision is to bend the curve for patients and, with a focus on growth, innovation and talent development, we are partnering with our customers and the healthcare system to achieve it. The European healthcare ecosystem is a dynamic and challenging environment that has required an evolution of the commercial function. Creating a more sustainable, high-quality healthcare system will require transformative change to a value-based model where the focus shifts from short-term budgeting and spending on inputs to one that concentrates on quality, efficiency and improving patient outcomes.

"At Amgen, we are working hard each day to execute with excellence, innovate at scale, secure patient access and use customer insights to make informed decisions. We must continuously engage with our customers to deliver beyond-the-molecule solutions for patients that are developed based on key insights.”

So what does this mean for Amgen’s marketing function?

“Today’s pharma and biotech teams need to be diverse with different backgrounds  and skill sets in order to meet the needs of the modern business environment and deliver on innovative ideas,” says Nawal.

“Our marketers are the orchestrators of the cross-functional team; these team members must learn how to decipher ambiguity, develop acumen across functions and have the ability to lead, influence, move fast and challenge the status quo.”

The shift to a more collaborative model of stakeholder engagement at Amgen has had obvious implications for resourcing and developing talent. This too relies on collaboration.

“As leaders, we are responsible for building the right team and implementing the right culture to achieve our vision,” says Nawal.

“We establish the context for success by engaging people in our mission, helping team members prioritise, and providing continuous feedback, coaching and praise. By investing in our people, we ensure our team members feel valued and engaged, and are given opportunities to grow and reach their potential in this complex environment.”

Partnership in the changing competitor environment

Alongside the evolution in the external environment, the pharma industry itself is changing too. Consolidation over the course of the past two decades – through high profile M&A, strategic alliances and widespread restructuring – has redrawn the size and shape of the sector.

The picture continues to change, with new entrants, emergent disrupters and a diverse range of business models providing a perfect balance of opportunities and threats for the industry. The implications for marketers – and the requirements of the function in general – are significant.

“Marketing teams are getting smaller,” said Joe Hopcraft, Global Commercial Lead, Commercial Integration, Syneos Health.

“As pharma companies continue to reorganise, marketers are increasingly required to be both high-level strategic thinkers and practical ‘doers’. They need the 32,000-feet view, but they also – almost immediately – need to get down in the weeds to handle the minutiae. That’s quite challenging. Cross-functional teams work across huge matrices and they’re typically led by marketing.

"However, because – just like marketing – most other functions are shrinking too, the breadth and depth of what marketers need to understand is expanding. They need to learn new things quickly so that they can make informed decisions at pace. Ultimately, in resource-constrained environments, strategic marketing is as much about identifying the things you don’t need to do as it is about choosing your strategic priorities. Success doesn’t just require insight, it requires agility.”

It’s an agility that can be difficult in big pharma, where the ability to change direction is often unfavourably compared with turning an oil tanker around. Clichéd or otherwise, pharma’s historic inability to be fleet of foot is in danger of becoming a real issue.

“The nature of the competition is changing,” says Joe. “Although the top 20 companies are still the familiar names of classic big pharma, when you dig deeper into their individual disease areas, a fascinating story is unfolding. The big players may still be the therapeutic leaders, but perched on their shoulders – and growing impressively – their closest competitors are often much smaller companies.

The market has shifted. Mid-sized pharmas and biotechs are no longer farming out their products to strategics, they’re holding onto them and going it alone. As a result, big pharma is increasingly competing with more flexible therapeutic specialists who are more agile, more nimble and better able to make quick decisions. It’s forcing traditional pharma companies to rethink their operating models.”

So what does all this mean for marketing? Once again, it’s driving the market towards partnership. “We’re seeing a growth in the outsourcing of strategic marketing capabilities – and smarter planning and buying of integrated solutions,” says Joe.

“Smaller companies – typically ambitious biotechs with tightly defined therapeutic focuses – are partnering with full service agencies to create ‘virtual’ commercial teams that manage both strategic and tactical delivery. Typically led by a Chief Commercial Officer – who acts as a strategic partner coordinating activities from inside the agency on the client’s behalf – the virtual approach helps companies prioritise commercial decisions and invest in the activities likely to have the most impact.

"Moreover, it gives them increased agility and flexibility – allowing them to change direction when the market dictates it. But the opportunity is not restricted to smaller players. Industry leaders are also recognising that strategic partnership with the right agency can increase operational efficiency, improve resource optimisation and drive commercial excellence. As the pressure on marketers to fulfil both strategic and tactical objectives intensifies, strategic partnerships could be key to unlocking the ability and agility that drives commercial success.”

Tech evolution is driving new health models

Finally, the advances in technology that have transformed our behaviours and expectations in most other areas outside health are finally beginning to cut through in healthcare. Innovations like Artificial Intelligence (AI), deep learning and IoT are increasingly being applied to health interventions – providing exciting opportunities for more futuristic models of care and transforming how we deliver communications that change behaviours and improve health.

Although ‘health disruption’ for the patient is still in its infancy, technology is slowly re-engineering how healthcare is delivered and, in turn, is rewriting the rules of marketing and communications. The future, quite literally, is becoming much more predictable.

“Predictive technologies are laying the foundation for proactive health management and personalised prevention – and they’re creating a new frontier for healthcare,” says Claire Gillis, International CEO, WPP Health Practice. “In the era of the algorithm, your doctor can now predict you’ll have a fatal heart attack five years before it hits you.
AI is making it easier to identify people at risk of serious diseases like dementia, AKI and major cancers.

"And in places like Estonia, DNA testing is being used to predict the long-term health risks of individuals to enable more proactive interventions. When you marry this up with advances such as personalised medicine and nanotechnology, it’s easy to see how technology could finally help us deliver on the promise that prevention is better – and cheaper – than cure.

"After all, if we can predict the surprises that await us tomorrow, we can take steps to prevent them from hurting us today. However, technology – whether that’s medical science or next-gen innovation – isn’t enough
on its own. Fulfilling the promise of predictive technology and personalised medicine requires personalised communications that speak directly to the patient, doctor or payer – to raise awareness and change behaviours.

"That requirement – along with remarkable advances in science and technology – is changing the profile of the marketing function and dictating the need for new skill sets and more technologically innovative ways of working to make the most of the opportunity.”

Today’s marketing function, says Claire, needs to be more collaborative and connected than ever before.

“As companies look to develop the personalised interventions that will prevent and cure disease, marketers must draw on expertise across a broad coalition of creativity. This means building long-term partnerships with a diverse range of stakeholders – patients, clinicians, scientists, consumers, tech companies, data scientists, academia and communicators – to identify genuine unmet need and co-create meaningful solutions to address this need that really focus on the customer experience.

"It’s only by collaborating – openly and transparently – around shared goals that we’ll find the solutions to the biggest challenges facing global health. If we’re going to exploit the brilliance of technology to change behaviours and transform health outcomes, marketing and communications must be at the heart of our approach.

"To make a real difference though, we must look beyond conventional norms and drive better outcomes through creative collaboration. Because yesterday’s thinking won’t solve tomorrow’s problems.”

From insanity to intelligence

Evidence from across the industry indicates that Einstein’s ‘definition of insanity’ no longer applies to pharmaceutical marketing. Marketers have recognised the need for a different approach and are exploring creative ways of engaging
their customers.

However, in an era of scarce resources and fast-moving markets, the need for agility is paramount. Therefore, if ‘the measure of intelligence is the ability to change’ – and to change at speed – strategic partnership might just be the wisest approach of all.

Chris Ross is a freelance writer specialising in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry

9th October 2019

Chris Ross is a freelance writer specialising in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry

9th October 2019

From: Sales, Marketing

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