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Pharma packaging for the digital future

The way the industry presents brands is changing

Radical changes in the way technology is impacting packaging, unthinkable in the ultra-conservative world of the pharmaceutical industry only a few years ago, are starting to become the norm. Last year Boehringer Ingelheim's wireless pill bottle was introduced, which measures medication and sends patients reminders in order to improve medication adherence.

There is no doubt about it; digitalisation of patient communication has shifted from being a means to convey mandatory regulatory information about the products contained, to part of the conversation that helps forge a deeper relationship with patients.  Now a patient-centric healthcare model governs the exchange of information that reaches consumers and digital innovation is what is driving pharma packaging down new avenues of communication.

Dynamic dialogue is now what patients expect. Today's patients are actively engaged in managing their health and have more information at their disposal than any other previous generation thanks to NHS Choices. The capability to engage more deeply and directly with patients is now the norm. At the centre of this shift is an increasingly strong need to create branding that will resonate with the new empowered patient.  Pharmaceutical companies need to know and understand their patients more than ever - not just in medical terms but also as people. The role of packaging is becoming one of the most important tools in the pharma industry's armoury. When prescribed, medicines are one of the few products a consumer does not actively choose – brand is historically secondary to education in pharma packaging design.

However, with many increasing numbers of drugs shifting into the over-the-counter sector, the need to draw from FMCG techniques and create packaging that has impact from the shelf out is growing. Consumers treat most common illnesses through self diagnosis and self medication using over the counter mechanics. The function and benefits of the product therefore need to be portrayed in a clear way to catch the eye of the consumer in this fast growing sector of the market. For instance, the relationship between the medicine and patient is sometimes characterised by associations with illness rather than wellness. So, the medication box that contains the product can become a symbol of the condition rather than something associated with recovery.

Embedding the brand into the digital world plays a huge role in drawing the patient into a relationship with the brand. Packaging is no longer constrained by the box. It has adapted to the advances in digital, fromwWi-fi enabled packaging which triggers emails, to lights that flash to ensure that the patient doesn't miss their next dose. It can also act as a launch point for digital communications which will also play an invaluable role in helping pharma companies, healthcare professionals and patients take part in a democratic, multi-participant conversation. The data from this often provides a log that can then be viewed and assessed via a remote care-provider. The best successes come where digital media and technology integrate with packaging to help consumers gain a better brand experience and, as a result, an improved patient outcome.

Technological advances are allowing Pharma companies to help patients live their lives by providing fast and useful tools to manage medication usage. This helps the brand to instill trust in patients.  Very recently a new concept pack has been designed to help users to recognise products past their usable date at a glance. Called 'Self Expiring', the printed membrane gradually reveals an expiring message over a period of time, eventually displaying a 'not fit for consumption' alert when the pills are no longer fit for use.

And what about QR codes and augmented reality? For the growing number of consumers who use technology and devices that are QR reader-compatible, codes on Pharma packaging are multifunctional. The on-pack codes allow patients fast and direct mobile access to the product website, but also give patients an opportunity to learn more about the product including correct dosage and safety information. But already there has been the emergence of mobile visual search (MVS), which could prove to provide boundless opportunities for Pharma in the future. With MVS, simply shoot a photo with a mobile device at a product or logo and within seconds, the MVS application will provide product information. Unlike two-dimensional barcodes and QR codes, MVS will have wrap-around and three-dimensional recognition capabilities.

Coding can be a cost conscious way of generating broad scale brand recognition, using word of mouth techniques within the vast reaches of social media communities. The practice is a means of sharing relevant information with consumers who are no longer satisfied with the content limit on labels. With forward thinking and a solid marketing strategy in place, companies can realise the ever-increasing possibilities that utilizing codes offer. But of course there are several barriers that are precluding the on-pack code's progress, not least the fact that they are not always effectively deployed. Pharma companies can learn from the mistakes that the early adopters in the world of FMCG have already made. These emerging tools need to be used appropriately, especially in areas like advertising. Many brands have fallen foul of adding the codes to ads where they are simply useless, such as on aeroplanes and the underground. QR codes and augmented reality need wireless or 3G internet connections to access the content and they can only hold a limited amount of data. Digital approaches must be carefully thought through and form part of a broader strategy. Consideration must be give to the patient demographic; digital engagement levels can vary significantly from groups of technology-savvy teenagers to older patients who may not be as comfortable with the technologies involved.

Whether digitally connected or not, the innovation in pharma packaging must adhere to strict controls laid out by the industry. Key to this is ensuring that the online information linked to pack codes is informative and accurate, non-promotional and in no way misleading. It is essential that all labelling commands the safe and effective use of the medication or drug before brand considerations come into play.

Pharma brands are making stark efforts to create brand and regulatory messaging that is consistent and compelling on pack, online and at every other patient touch point, while also being robust in its adherence to guidelines and regulations. This is a complex area and one where partners, not least those involved in pharmaceutical artwork management, need to have an in-depth understanding of all related issues.

Article by
Stephen Marshman

is Sales and Business Development Director at Schawk Newcastl

20th March 2014

From: Sales, Regulatory

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