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Fresh start

Unprecedented change in the industry requires a new way of thinking and an overhaul of traditional marketing 1.0 philosophies

Dr Richard Barker, director general of the ABPITime was that the pharmaceutical marketing world was simple. With an NDA expected, we defined our target market, developed our USP, lined up our KOLs, organised our launch conferences, prepared our detail aids and sized our salesforce for an optimum launch, with the right frequency of call on high prescribers. Well, perhaps it was not quite that simple, but it was at least reasonably predictable. It was marketing 1.0.

However, much has changed in recent years. NICE arrived; codes tightened; PCTs have their formulatory committees; prescribing management tools and switching programmes; markets have become crowded; effective patent lives have shortened and the economics of the business no longer support the salesforce sizes and call rates of yore. At the same time, new marketing tools have arisen, like streaming video which, while much cheaper, is a somewhat less appealing means of educating doctors. Online decision-support tools have also arrived and social marketing media now relays messages, supportive or destructive, in a matter of hours, not months.

Of course, we can just regard all these changes as inconveniences and new options to be factored into marketing 1.0. Alternatively, we can radically rethink and come up with pharma marketing 2.0.

What would marketing 2.0 look like?
Every company – perhaps every executive – would probably have a different answer and the right formula probably varies with product category or therapeutic area. So instead of a definitive answer, let me give you my personal view of the key principles that I see underpinning marketing 2.0.

First, a fundamental change of mindset is required to realign our goals with the different groups of customers. We should never forget the prescribers, of course, but we need to start identifying with the challenges of NHS leadership – disease burdens, care delivery restructuring, moving care to less expensive settings and maximising productivity (quality/cost). Second, we probably need to change our terminology to redefine "marketing" as "value management". We must recognise that demonstrating and delivering value is now paramount. "Sales" should become account and access management, with the focus being on ensuring the right patient receives the right medicine at the right time. Third, successful 2.0 marketers will need to become experts in competing pathways of care, their outcomes and economics – not just competing products – and their clinical characteristics. Next, we must understand how opinion is being shaped by new media. Even in healthcare - perhaps especially in healthcare - people trust most what they hear from their peers. Health and product messages, both accurate and inaccurate, will increasingly come to them via social media.

While competition will continue to shape how today's markets are divided up, tomorrow's markets can often be best grown and shaped by co-operation rather than competition. For this reason we are seeing groups of companies collaborating to reshape the landscape.

Last, but by no means least, 2.0 marketers must completely rethink the marketing mix. The demands and opportunities in the new pattern of decision making, the new channels available and the new types of evidence needed, cannot just be grafted on to today's marketing budgets. New 'promotional response' curves are needed and the mix will vary even more from one product category to another. We'll need to reach into other high-technology industries, or the world of health services, for some of the skills needed. Passion for our products and knowledge of the changing health landscape will continue to be core, but other industries are more advanced in account management and new media, so we'll need fresh talent from these directions. 

These are rather unsettling times and as the NHS management faces some of the greatest challenges it has faced in years, the industry will need to bring new thinking to bear if it wants to be seen as a partner in that process.

The Author
Dr Richard Barker is director general of The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry

17th November 2009


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