Aptness Of Pharma Marketing Audit In Covid Days And Beyond

That, Covid-19 pandemic has changed the operational dynamics of many areas of the pharma industry, as compared to the old normal, is being felt by many. These changes generally fall into two categories. Some are broad industry specific changes, giving rise to a new normal. Whereas, a lot more could often be specific changes required by individual companies in the changing times – depending on how these companies were operating in pre-Covid days. The good news is, the industry specific ones are being well deliberated by many domain experts, almost on an ongoing basis.

Most experts are suggesting digital solutions, for a number of problem areas in the pharma industry as a whole. But, the reality is, for rapid adaptation of the new normal, there is also a crucial need to dovetail the Company specific solutions, with the industry specific generic ones. This effort will call for effective use of robust, well-structured and time-tested systems. However, not as many discussions seem to be taking place in this area, as on date.

As I see around, one such comprehensive and well proven approach is ‘Marketing Audit’. This can be effectively used to ascertain Company specific changes, required for successful pharma business operation during the Coronavirus triggered paradigm shift. It may not sound as zesty as a ‘digital approach,’ but remains fundamentally important for pharma marketers, nonetheless.

In this article, I shall discuss the relevance and the key importance of a comprehensive pharma Marketing Audit, in this trying time for business. Its key purpose is to give shape to a cutting-edge strategy in today’s unfamiliar order. Let me begin with a brief background of the same, for better understanding of all.

Marketing Audit demonstrated its perennial importance over decades:

To put it in perspective, let me refer to a landmark article by Philip Kotler, titled ‘‘The Marketing Audit Comes of Age.’ It was published by the MIT Sloan Management Review, on January 15, 1989. In his review of the need for Marketing Audit, one can get a sense of perennial importance of Marketing Audit, proven over decades.

In Kotler’s own words: ‘The marketing audit as an idea, dates back to the early 1950s.’ An executive at Booz Allen & Hamilton, conducted marketing audits as early as 1952. Its importance of improving business results, was captured by an excellent set of papers under the title ‘Analyzing and Improving Marketing Performance,’ published by the American Management Association, in 1959.  

Covid-19 Surveys highlight general trends, not any Company specific:

We all are witnessing these days, how the Coronavirus pandemic is changing the pharma consumers. In my June 22, 2020 article in this blog on ‘Enhancing Pharma Brand Experience in The New Normal,’ I highlighted some of the basic changes required in the traditional pharma sales and marketing practices.’ These were the generic changes in the marketplace involving the stakeholders. To illustrate this point better, let me cite some recent examples.

The pandemic has suddenly accelerated certain trends:

The lockdowns have brought to the fore certain shortcomings of the pharma industry, more than ever before. Consequently, its serious fallout compelled almost all players ‘to evaluate and adapt its roles and responsibilities almost overnight.’ This point was captured in the ‘Survey results: Accelerating digital transformation during COVID-19,’ published by Reuters Events– Pharma on September 04, 2020. Some of the survey findings included the following:

  • Although, adoption of digital engagement has accelerated, pharma’s ability to deliver exceptional virtual engagement and content is being put to test.
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Content Management Systems (CMS) and customer engagement platforms were found wanting and not fully exploited.
  • There will be a greater emphasis on the Connected healthcare customer journey.
  • Providing a unique customer experience will emerge as a competitive edge.
  • The industry must re-direct resources accordingly, and re-tool to make the most of them.

Let’s now examine some India specific findings from another survey in this space.

Some India specific survey findings:

To explore the impact of COVID-19 on the Indian pharmaceutical industry, another survey, conducted by C Com Digital of India, came out with some interesting findings, some of which are as follows:

  • The new normal warrants a strategic shift in the business operation, besides engagement with doctors and patients.
  • Increasingly, drug companies are moving into online business operations from mostly offline operations of pre-Covid days.
  • Many companies are considering dedicating about 5 percent to 10 percent of their marketing budget towards creating webinars and online communications.
  • Teleconsultations and online consultations are steadily increasing and around 42 percent patients are getting their prescriptions in this way.
  • Doctor visits dropped by 5 percent only during March-April 2020 period.
  • Companies are expanding in online patient education, and online field staff training through custom made e-Learning modules.

As we find above, the emerging new trends are all generic in nature – not enough to prepare any comprehensive company specific strategy for success in the prevailing situation. This brings us to the question: What exactly is Marketing Audit and its relevance during pandemic days?

Relevance of Marketing Audit during pandemic days and beyond:

Thus, the extent of changes required on all sales and marketing related areas, during the pandemic period and beyond, has to be carefully and productively evaluated by each Company, separately. No wonder, why a comprehensive ‘Marketing Audit,’ is also considered “a marketing mirror” - so appropriately.

Without going into the theoretical details, let me first try to explain this terminology in simple terms. It has clearly been established that a Marketing Audit helps understanding, both internal and external marketing environments of an organization, in a comprehensive way. Mainly because, it involves an in-depth and data analysis of the concerned company’s business domain, not just to accurately diagnose the new areas of problems, but also to work out a contemporary – cutting edge marketing strategy.

Thus, I reckon, this tool should be effectively used by pharma marketers, as a high potential mechanism in the marketing warfare, especially during the global pandemic and beyond. Still, some can raise the question, what exactly pharma industry surveys will tell you and what those won’t, – and what gaps company specific surveys will help bridge.

The gaps that Marketing Audit will help bridge:

Industry specific surveys on Covid-19 pandemic would tell the Companies where they should aim to reach. However, each Company would still need to figure out where they currently are in those areas, and most importantly how to reach the target point. An effective Marketing Audit will help the Companies get exact information on where they currently are, and how to reach where they want to reach.

As the new normal is changing, it needs to be done periodically: 

The information obtained through a robust Marketing Audit will help address both customer and market needs – on the one hand and honing or reorganizing the company’s internal value delivery systems commensurately, on the other. However, when an unprecedented or a disruptive change, such as the Covid-19 pandemic keeps striking all conceivable entities, very hard, ‘the new normal’ keeps changing. In this situation, most of the past success ingredients will no longer yield results. Thus, to realign the business with changing market demand, pre-Covid strategic blueprint needs to be redrawn, alongside the necessary wherewithal required for the same.

Marketing Audit, therefore, becomes a periodic requirement for all organizations, assuming the importance of a key business success imperative, if not for survival in the new normal. Any delay in this area may lead to significant loss of Company business.

Conclusion:

According to Covid-19 update of Evaluate Pharma, ‘seemingly uncontrollable advance of Covid-19 in India,’ is perturbing. As on September 20 morning, the country had recorded a staggering figure of 5,400,619 of Coronavirus cases with 86,774 deaths, overtaking Brazil the week before.

The above report points out the potential danger of ‘the country’s health care system to buckle under the weight of hospital admissions for the virus.’ However disturbing this trend may be, from the pharma industry perspective, it sends, at least, four clear signals:

  • It’s a long-haul struggle for the business, as Covid-19 is not going to vanish any time soon.
  • The barriers to in-person interaction will continue for an indefinite period.
  • The market dynamics will keep changing, mostly based on Government’s new guidelines.
  • A robust, flexible, contemporary and comprehensive marketing strategy needs to be supported by stronger and time-tested marketing systems for all times.

From the above perspective, one such time-tested mechanism still remains – ‘the Marketing Audit.’ For business excellence during Covid times, it carries a game changing potential, by dovetailing the industry specific generic problems with company specific strategic solutions.

The criticality of ‘Marketing Audit’ does not remain limited just to bright pharma marketers. It also provides an equally critical top management decision support tool, especially for risk-benefit analysis of the corporate business. Thus, relevance and importance of ‘Marketing Audit’, would remain undiluted, not just during the Covid pandemic – but much beyond.

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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