An Essential ‘Acrobatic Feat’ Remains Relevant Even In Digital Pharma World

“A manager must, so to speak, keep his nose to the grindstone while lifting his eyes to the hills — quite an acrobatic feat!” This profound statement was articulated by the Management Guru of all-time – Peter F. Drucker, in his book named “The Practice of Management.” This book was published probably before many management experts of today were even born – in 1954. This epic quote of Drucker is in context of the critical requirement to harmonize management decisions affecting the short and the long-term strategic business goals.

While looking at the pharma industry from the above perspective, one may often find, the quality-time spent, especially by its marketers, on ‘lifting their eyes to the hills’ – looking for the early signals on critical changes in future success requirement – is often minimal. Most seem comfortable in ‘keeping their nose to the grindstone’ to deliver the short-term objectives, with a belief that the future brand success factors will replicate the present ones. Thus, honing the current strategies would automatically ensure achieving the long-term requirements.

This prompts a question, should pharma marketers predominantly concentrate on sharpening their traditional marketing tools for near-term excellence or reach out much beyond that? Today’s article will deliberate on this subject, in the context of changing market dynamics and consumer expectations in the today’s world.

Are the brand success parameters changing?

Scores of data-based assessments of progressive changes in the customer value trend, highlight significant shifts from the past, necessitating an overhaul of the value delivery parameters and the system – not just honing. More often than not, such reconditioning could even be disruptive in nature – as may happen with the change to a well-integrated digital marketing system.

For example, until recently pharma brands used to be differentiated primarily based on its intrinsic key features and benefits, like efficacy and speed of recovery, safety and side-effects profile, ease of compliance and nature of drug interactions during concomitant use and more. Today, the parameters of brand differentiation have gone much beyond that, which could have been captured by an astute marketer while ‘lifting his eyes to the hills’, alongside ‘keeping his nose to the grindstone.’

The evolving parameters of brand-differentiation are not just restricted to the features and benefits, but call for unique customer value creation – such as providing a unique treatment experience to patients – understanding their needs, expectations and preferences. This, in turn, change the traditional pharma marketing ball game, as the success ingredients are so different.

Capturing, conceptualizing and delivering customer value, following the traditional pharma marketing tools and processes will increasingly be a daunting task. New digital tools and platforms – well-integrated into the evolving pharma marketing processes, would be necessary to win customers’ share of mind, more effectively than ever before. Nevertheless, value delivery still remains at the core of the pharma marketing system.

Value delivery still remains at the core – with significant changes: 

Value delivery will always remain the core purpose, and a constant factor in pharma marketing initiatives. It was so in the past, is at present, and will continue to be in the future, regardless of changes in the market and customer dynamics.

Nonetheless, what is construed as ‘value’ to capture a sizeable share of consumers’ mind has changed. Traditionally, it has been mostly intrinsic to the organization, revolving around the product features and benefits, as stated earlier. But, today, it is getting more focused on the extrinsic factor – related to the customers.

Thus, creating a unique experience for them with the brand has become the new challenge of change to pharma marketers for performance excellence, as I discussed in one of my recent articles. Consequently, providing this external and well-researched ‘customer-centric value’ has become the new brand differentiator.

While ‘lifting eyes to the hills’, some interesting findings:

Among many others, Decision Support Group (DCG), as well, while ‘lifting their eyes to the hills,’ well-captured the emerging consumer expectations in health care through a detailed study. This was published as ‘Cybercitizen Health Infographic’ on October 27, 2015. Let me paraphrase below some of the important findings of this study:

  • As customers are expecting pharma to provide best-in-class patient experience and associated services in the disease treatment process, marketers need to differentiate brands through these parameters.
  • 59 percent of health care consumers expect brand experiences and services beyond what the physical brand offers.
  • Only 8 percent of the respondents said pharma companies are providing a better customer experience than 2 years ago, while 30 percent said so for doctors, and 21 percent regarding pharmacists.
  • 40 percent of the consumers who value experience as much as drug effectiveness, would pay a little more for a drug or a health procedure.

How is this extrinsic value measured?

As confirmed by several studies, going beyond what a physical pharma brand would offer, the customers, including individuals who pay from the pocket for a disease treatment, measure the value of a drug today differently. It is now predominately by outcomes, the patients’ overall experience during the treatment, and overall – cost-effectiveness of the entire process, and not just the medicine.

Thus, the pharma market is sending a clear signal to the marketers to ‘shape up’ accordingly, soon and start with measuring care by outcomes – going beyond the product features and benefits – just as patients would do. If not, there could be a strong possibility of being ‘shipped out’, as the marketing productivity could head south, with more capable professionals filling up the void.

Commensurate changes in marketing success measurement:

The emerging changes in measuring ‘marketing success’ were aptly demonstrated in the article, ‘Redefining Value: What Value-Based Care Means for Pharma’, published by the Intouch Solutions on July 07, 2016.

It said: ‘Once, success simply meant a “blockbuster” – a drug that sold enough.’ However, this paradigm is shifting. Soon, it will be measured by the value of outcomes with the brand – the positive impact that it creates on the patient’s health, leaving behind a unique treatment experience.

To be successful with the brand, the marketer will, therefore, need to create a genuine, credible and powerful data-based outcome story. It should effectively demonstrate how the unique brand value offerings, supported by services can make it possible. The services may include, among others:

  • Supporting patients in managing their condition as part of their life.
  • Educating patients and helping them feel empowered in the treatment decision making process.
  • Helping patient access to medication.
  • Assisting patients in developing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

For many pharma marketers this exercise will involve a strategic shift in their thinking process. Embracing a fundamental change in the way they have been practicing traditional pharma marketing all these years.

Are some of these changes disruptive in nature?

Several of the aforesaid changes may appear disruptive to many, causing a discomfort of moving out of their comfort zones. Some may even try to wish it away, and continue practicing the traditional pathways as long as these help achieving some results. But, not certainly for a long while. In which case, it will be akin to delaying a greater disruption before ultimately getting caught off-guard.

Dr. Vas Narasimhan, Chief Executive of the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis, puts it nicely. He advised, ‘the key to surviving disruption is understanding that a leader needs to be prepared to embrace it – even if that means willfully disrupting yourself.’

However, the good news is, digital transformation of a business makes embracing this change less difficult. Which is why, a number of companies are trying to seriously engage in digital marketing. Let me hasten to add, the ‘digital transformation process’, regardless of promises that many self-styled experts would make, is tough. It makes the organization chart an uncharted frontier and starts from the very top.

Digital transformation follows an arduous path, starting from the very top: 

There are many descriptions of the ‘digital transformation process’. However, the one that appealed to me is the one that comes from the Agile Elephant. It describes the process as follows:

‘Digital transformation is the process of shifting your organization from a legacy approach to new ways of working and thinking using digital, social, mobile and emerging technologies.  It involves a change in leadership, different thinking, the encouragement of innovation and new business models, incorporating digitization of assets and an increased use of technology to improve the experience of your organization’s employees, customers, suppliers, partners and stakeholders.’

The recent examples in this regard that come at the top of my mind, include:

Does digital marketing transform the brand value delivery process? 

Digital marketing facilitates the new and extrinsic brand value delivery process, as the use of this technology is all pervasive in our everyday life. Interestingly, almost all businesses, mostly in the organized sectors and technology startups, are trying to leverage digital technology to create sets of differential customer values.

And then integrating those to the core marketing strategy, for effective delivery of a crafted solution to the patients’ comprehensive needs, will be a challenging task. Moving in this direction, besides creating interactive websites, many drug players are using a number of digital tools, including social media sites, to start with. These are all serving as integrated digital marketing platforms to engage with targeted customers.

It’s apparently a foregone conclusion today that ‘the traditional one-way relationship in our health care system, will soon change to two-way relationship.’ Where interactive digital marketing, social media and other similar platforms, will facilitate building such relationship for a meaningful exchange of information with the target groups, transforming in the healthcare landscape.

Some key transformation areas with the digital marketing system:

As Agile Elephant puts it, the following are a few examples of key healthcare transformation areas with digital marketing:

  • The efficacy of treatment will be transparent with cost-effective data-based outcomes story.
  • Data transparency will follow data visualization enhancing how patient data is communicated to them, or how certain medications and treatments are affecting different areas of the physiological system.
  • Patients will be empowered to play an active role in their health care.
  • Patients disease treatment experience could be optimized across multiple touchpoints’.

Conclusion:

Currently, it appears, most pharma marketers ‘keep their nose to the grindstone’ to continue honing the traditional processes of brand marketing with an expectation for better return. However, if they could find time for ‘lifting eyes to the hills’ with all seriousness, they will be able to sense a shifting paradigm with a new set of marketing success factors. If not done even now, it could perhaps be too late to make amends for business sustainability.

Many may get carried away by the hype of digitalization as a panacea, but this is just a facilitating technology – to be in sync with, among others, the evolving values of pharma customers, through innovative value delivery systems. Regardless of digitalization all around us, the name of the game that differentiate men from the boys in this game, remains – generation of cutting-edge ideas. Only this can transform – effective delivery of differentiated ‘customer value’ into business excellence.

Interestingly, to accomplish this objective meaningfully, the aforesaid ‘acrobatic feat’, as enunciated by Peter Drucker in 1954, remains relevant and essential for pharma marketers, just as all other managers, even in the digital pharma world.

By: Tapan J. Ray 

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

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