In a business environment plagued with platitudes and buzzwords, many of which are reinventing the wheel, the pharmaceutical industry has reached a critical, defining moment. Its ongoing quest for 'patient-centricity' is forcing companies to reconfigure their commercial strategies and to redefine 'marketing effectiveness'. But maybe they're starting from the wrong point. After more than half a century in which the core principles of pharmaceutical marketing have remained remarkably consistent, perhaps it's not 'effectiveness' that needs redefining, but the purpose, nature and definition of 'marketing' itself. Certainly, the democratisation of healthcare, along with the ever-increasing pressure on healthcare budgets, is driving the need for more innovative, value-based models of care. The pharma industry can play a major role as a partner in the development of value-centred models - but to do so, it must refocus its marketing around the needs of the patient and redesign the metrics by which it measures success. Never mind the buzzwords, it's time to redefine the very essence of pharmaceutical marketing.
The fundamentals of marketing are long-established and, despite major advances in technology, communications and consumer cultures, have barely shifted. Though textbook definitions vary, a common denominator is clear: marketing is a value exchange. “Marketing has always been about adding value to a client or a customer,” says Dennis O'Brien, CEO, Lucid Group. “But faced with a healthcare world dominated by increasing demand and diminishing resources, pharma's definition of value is naturally evolving - and its marketing must follow suit. Traditionally, delivering value meant providing an effective medicine at a good price - and marketing it in a way that optimised sales and delivered shareholder value back to the organisation. But the world has changed. Nowadays value begins and ends with the patient.
“To be truly patient-centric, delivering value requires a laser focus on improving patient outcomes in a cost-effective way, enabling health economies to treat as many patients as they possibly can. Our marketing must reflect that. The only valid metrics for any campaign should be those that reflect whether patient outcomes are improving. If marketing activity and measurements are not aligned with a meaningful outcome - and if what we're doing doesn't add value to the patient - then we fail. It's time for companies to become value-led, rather than brand-led, and to measure effectiveness accordingly. There's a strong argument for changing the term 'marketing' and renaming it 'value creation' – because that's ultimately what we're trying to do.”
There's a strong argument for changing the term 'marketing' and renaming it 'value creation'
The shift towards new definitions of healthcare value is forcing pharma to reimagine marketing. “Industry has to change what it's trying to do with its marketing,” says Alex Butler, managing director, The Earthworks. “Marketing should no longer be primarily focused on marketing messages defined from clinical data - it's about providing tools and services that add value and solve real problems. Pharma must learn from what's happening outside the sector. The digital revolution has not only led to dramatic changes in how we access information, it's transformed our expectations in terms of the support we get from organisations. The smartest consumer brands don't advertise 'product', they concentrate on adding value to the consumer experience. In every other market - from booking taxis and holidays to watching TV or buying insurance - services are being broken down and reconstructed around the user. Pharma must do the same. We need a fundamental reassessment of how we communicate with our key stakeholders and how we add value.
“Technology now presents us with the opportunity to build innovations that allow us to improve clinical outcomes and the provision of care by supporting patients and HCPs in everything from diagnosis, through initiation of treatment to the improved management of disease, supporting and augmenting the medicine. This value exchange is modern marketing.”
The good news is that progress is being made. The industry is increasingly developing new tools and interventions to help support HCPs, change behaviours and drive patient outcomes. These tools once again underline how 'marketing' innovation is providing new and intelligent ways to deliver value to payers and providers, and improve patient care. “Good marketing - by definition, marketing effectiveness - requires us to understand and change the behaviour of a customer group,” says Chris Cooper, managing director, EPG Health Media. “To do that, you need to understand what kind of information they want, along with how and where they want to consume it - and then develop content that resonates with those needs. If we get that right, we will start to improve patient outcomes.
“Education is proving to be one of the best ways to change behaviours. The industry is well-placed to develop educational tools that can help HCPs make informed and improved decisions about patient care - and we're beginning to see companies seizing the opportunity. The major emergence of millennial HCPs, empowered by rapid advances in digital technology, is forcing industry to adopt a different approach to influencing behaviours. Pharma companies are increasingly working in collaboration with customers to understand their needs and developing intuitive tools that support decision-making and help them educate their patients. The rewards are rich; these patient-centric interventions are helping companies build trust with their customers by solving their problems. Fundamentally, better HCP education equals better patient outcomes. Full stop.”
If marketing is about changing behaviours, after years of talking a good game there are signs of behavioural change within pharma itself. “The industry is starting to move towards a more joined-up approach with the development of multichannel strategies,” says Chris. “Companies are increasingly recognising what physicians want and are starting to deliver it in a more sustainable, integrated way. The most effective companies are those that avoid 'fire and forget' activities that stand autonomously from their wider strategies, and instead work collaboratively with all their stakeholders to understand their needs and develop synergistic benefits; better value for the health economy, better value for the pharma company and, crucially, better value for the patient.”
But the collaborative approach must apply to internal as well as external communications. “In the pharmaceutical industry, over the years marketing has moved to a position where it can be an isolated function focused purely on the delivery of narrowly defined commercial goals. This is unsustainable,” says Alex. “Marketing is an organisational experience. In a converged environment, fuelled by co-creation, the tools that add value will be built through collaboration not only between functions, but also with clinical, academic and patient support, and user interaction throughout design and delivery. Pharmaceutical companies must work in partnership in collaboration. Those terms can either be meaningless jargon - or a revolution in the way companies create value through their medicines.”
Redefining marketing effectiveness
So what does all this mean and how is it impacting marketing effectiveness in the pursuit of patient-centricity? In a world of never-ending KPIs and metrics, the evolution of marketing is naturally dictating new activities and new measurements of success. And so, as the industry incrementally moves away from old approaches, its reliance on suboptimal tick-box metrics is slowly changing. Companies like GSK are rethinking their marketing and taking a more strategic, outcomes-based approach to motivating and measuring their workforce.
Patient-centricity is about delivering for patients - the value-led approach is focused solely on that
“It's the right way,” says Dennis. “Today's dynamic marketplace requires more than just identifying core customers and hitting them with key messages against agreed call rates. It's about partnering with providers to fix the health problems their populations face. Pharma must therefore collaborate with all its stakeholders to develop the tools, interventions and patient education to improve outcomes. The best approach is partnership-based, outcomes-focused and value-led. It's also, by definition, patient-centric. Fundamentally, we need to move away from the belief that patient-centricity is about understanding the patient pathway and thinking about patients. It's not. It's about delivering for patients. The value-led approach is focused solely on that. And it drives clear, measurable and meaningful metrics. That's the new marketing.”
These are defining moments for the global pharmaceutical industry. The way that companies define value, marketing and what 'effective' looks like will determine their long-term success. It's a challenge of Darwinian proportions. Those that fail to adapt to changing market dynamics and rising customer expectations will fall out of the system. But those that change, and that support their stakeholders with tools and services that support decision-making in a democratised healthcare environment, will yield the best clinical, commercial and patient outcomes.
In a world of meaningless buzzwords, that really would be a defining moment.