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Tomorrow's world today

Healthcare marketers need to focus on the world products will launch in rather than the world as it is today

A clock-type face displaying the text I would like to start by stating that this is a 100 per cent non party-political broadcast! I say that because I was inspired to write this article by a visit from Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, to our offices last week 

Well, not our office as such, but the Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus (Cheshire, UK) where our office is based. (Incidentally, The Duke of York was here yesterday too). So, why all the interest in Daresbury? Well, it's a world-class centre for innovation in technology and leading edge science, which helps to nurture new businesses and technologies. 

These VIP visitors made me realise what a great place this is for a company such as ours to be based. We work in the healthcare world, and with biotech companies based here focused on areas such as pharmaceutical product development, medicines delivery, stem cell storage, diagnostics, monitoring devices and digital imaging, it is an inspiring place to be. 

Daresbury is very much a community of the future – where trends in science and innovation are born. As a business, we aim to be pioneering ourselves (in fact it is one of our values) and we always keep one foot (if not both) in the future. Why? Because we have to; healthcare itself is very much a world of the future. And it is vital that we think about the future world both that our customers will be living in, and into which products and services will be launched. 

Healthcare marketing, and particularly pharmaceuticals, is not like building a consumer brand. Product development cycles are long, and until key phase III clinical trials are complete you do not know exactly what the product will look like, what it will do, or even how much it will cost. This high-risk element, which can require a degree of fortune telling, makes for a unique marketing challenge. 

If that wasn't enough, there are three additional layers of complexity and change to add to the mix: 

Therapy level
What is the 'market' going to look like in five or 10 years time when your product is launched? And how will it even be defined? What will your competition be (which remember may not even be other pharmaceutical compounds)? What will baseline treatment consist of? What impact will low cost generic substitution have? What new therapies will be available and accessible to the greater public?

Healthcare system level
Recently, we have seen what dramatic changes can happen in this landscape with US Healthcare Reform and recession driven healthcare cost cutting. Socio-economic pressures mean that public and private spending choices are under increasing scrutiny, including prioritisation of healthcare expenditure. 

So what impact will this have on the industry? What other disruptive changes are around the corner? And how quickly will it happen? We are already seeing that changes in healthcare systems are being quickly accelerated by the immediacy of the problems being faced and learnings that can be taken from other countries. 

Macro level
What impact will the big macro-customer trends have on your business? Let's ignore the current top of mind issues of Emerging Markets and Digital Health this time and take just three quick examples:

1. An increasing shift in focus from acceptance of ill health and treatment of symptoms to prevention and well-being

2. With greater interest in health, access to information and forums for dialogue, patients (as individuals or groups) are lobbying for treatment of their choice 

3. Lifestyle changes related to the need for convenient solutions are leading to a demand for quick, effective medical treatments and interventions.

Each of these is a significant change among the many that will take place. What do these macro-trends mean for your brand, the marketing and product development strategies you employ and even the business model upon which your company is based? Answers on a postcard please!

I think most people who work in the industry are conscious of such issues, but it can be hard to find the time and resource to investigate in full, and therefore strategic planning is often partly blind to the consequences of the future world. As an industry, we have been traditionally much stronger at hard edged retrospective analysis than more visionary future focused planning, and yet it is such a vital task. 

Traditionally, future forecasting has been a linear extrapolation of past trends, but surely the world is changing too fast and is too complex for this to work. I was told recently that a forecast dependent on 30 events, each 80 per cent likely, provides a 0.1 per cent chance of success! We need to recognise that the future world will come about based on discontinuous change; the complex interaction of many forces, some known, many unknown. 

If this all sounds a bit scary, do not worry, there are no 100 per cent right answers. But leaders look into the future and put a stake in the ground on the direction of travel and the destination. Only that way can they build future-proofed strategies. 

Still worried? Then here are some little tips we have learned along the way:

1. Look through as many lenses as possible – some of the information will be available within your organisation, in existing market research and the experience of your people, so involve your cross-functional team – people with different skills, experiences and filters. Mine external sources extensively for information: use groups of well informed customers to build the future picture, get perspectives from independent organisations and policy watchers and use left-field sources too. 

2. Work from a solid baseline – it is important to have a clear picture of the current customer needs as they stand today. Once you have this starting point, you can assess the impact of the major market-shaping trends on these needs and project how they might change 10 years from now.

3. Embrace the uncertainty – build plans that are dynamic and evolutionary. Revisit and refresh them. Build in triggers of change, that will influence the pace and direction of travel, and most importantly, monitor those triggers and their impact. 

4. Team alignment – ensure that the team is involved throughout and one aligned view of the future world is built to enable joined-up, focused strategic planning and implementation.

5. Have fun – embrace the process of future scenario building. Get away from today's issues, engage your right brain and unleash your vision-building side. 

The Author
David Coleiro is a Partner at Strategic North, a healthcare marketing strategy consultancy that works with their clients to build inspiring, joined-up strategic stories.
To comment on this article, email webeditor@pmlive.com 

21st April 2010

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