Effective Pharma Marketing: Now A Digital – Cerebral Combo

During last one year or so, the need to focus on health, both individually, collectively and even organizationally, is emerging as a priority area, everywhere, including India - as captured in several research studies.

Which is why, public expectations from pharma industry have increased manifold, making the process of developing customer–brand relationship more complex. So also the deliverables, particularly to meet with more enlightened customers’ varied expectations. In response, pharma players will need to select and empower the right leaders to chart out the strategy to succeed in the new normal.

In this article, I shall focus on the implications of this radical shift in people’s behavior to create a robust pharma marketing pathway. Especially, when disruptive changes in customer expectations and the business environment are likely to become the new norms in the years ahead.

Would this change entail a sophisticated digital and profoundly cerebral combo, for the pharma marketers to succeed? Let me start with the radical shift in people’s behavior towards proactive health management, across India, just as in many other countries.

A recent radical shift towards proactive health management:

Among several others, a November 2020 health survey by VLCC was widely reported by the Indian media, capturing some interesting points in this area. Some of these, which are very relevant to the pharma industry, are as follows:

  • The last eight months have induced a radical shift in behavior towards proactive health management across the country.
  • 78 per cent of the respondents have consciously started making an effort to build their immunity in the last 12 months.
  • 82 per cent of people would prefer to seek professional guidance for wellness needs rather than self-experimenting, at least until they get the vaccine.
  • Although, 51 per cent would also like professional guidance for their wellness, 95 per cent are not willing to do so, until they are sure of the highest standards of safety and hygiene at those places.
  • 60 per cent of the respondents are willing to pay 15 to 40 per cent premium for ensuring high standards of safety and hygiene.

Be that as it may, by systematically capturing these emerging trends, several pharma companies are trying to fathom – the span and depth of leadership changes required in the organization to excel in business, from here on. For steering the company effectively – responding to new market needs, today’s leaders need a different mindset and skill sets. They will preferably be those who can embrace disruptive changes in customer behavior, while writing a patient-centric digital marketing playbook – to establish a new genre of customer–brand relationship. 

The rationale behind a new genre of leadership:

Cognizant and MIT Sloan Management Review’s ‘The New Leadership Playbook for the Digital Age: Reimagining What It Takes to Lead,’ released on January 21, 2020, raised some important points. This study observed: ‘Executives around the world are out of touch with what it will take to win, and to lead, in the digital economy. Digitalization, upstart competitors, the need for breakneck speed and agility, and an increasingly diverse and demanding workforce require more from leaders than what most can offer.’ Some of the key findings of this study include:

  • Besides a deficit of digital savviness, some cultural and behavioral leadership norms that worked well in the past are no longer effective.
  • Navigating the gap between past and present has created intractable tensions, undermining execution and leaving many organizations stuck in a state of cultural inertia. This explains why so many companies are slow, unresponsive, stodgily siloed, densely hierarchical, and excessively focused on short-term returns.
  • Many organizations are suffering from a series of blind spots and are holding on to leadership behaviors — such as command and control — that might have worked in the past but now stymie the talents of employees throughout their organizations.

Interestingly, still a significant segment of the current generation of leaders, has control over strategic decisions, who gets hired and promoted, and the culture of their organizations. This needs to change, urgently. It’s about time for leaders who are holding on to old ways of working and leading in, pass on the baton to new genre leaders. The issue here is not a leader’s chronological age. The need is for a different competency level and a contemporary mindset that a new business scenario with changing customer behavior would demand – for a long-term sustainability of the business.

From pharma marketing perspective, this would require new processes of developing ‘customer–brand relationship’ on state-of-the-art digital platforms with commensurate cerebral power. Only leaders with requisite competency and a fresh pair of eyes can make it happen – maintaining a cutting-edge.

New ways of developing ‘customer–brand relationship’ on digital platforms:

This brings me to the much talked about area of digital transformation of an organization, especially in the new normal. In the present context, it’s the way individual companies would leverage digital technology and gain data-based, actionable insight to adapt quickly to market changes and customer demands. It also helps create an agile leadership and a new culture for the organization.

The process would obviously include patient-centric and more innovative omnichannel pharma marketing through state-of-the-art digital platforms. The aim is to effectively respond to the challenge of change – in the business environment and customer behavior, on an ongoing basis. That said, the core purpose of developing a productive ‘customer–brand relationship’, remains the same. This brings us to a key question – is digitalization a panacea in the new normal?

Digitalization is not a ‘cure-all’ – even in the new normal: 

Digitalization of an organization, including digital marketing in pharma, by itself won’t help a company for business excellence. Especially in developing a productive ‘customer–brand relationship’, when customer behavior is rapidly changing, disrupting both external and internal business environments. However, digital technology plays the role of a critical vehicle – in the organizational journey through different business terrains to deliver sustainable stakeholder value.

In pharma marketing, this vehicle helps generate and analyze a wealth of contemporary data to be productive, even in an extremely choppy market. The strategic pathway that marketers can chart out from such information can provide a cutting-edge in business.

When utilized with expertise, digital technology can help picking up all relevant information and analyze them in a jiffy – beyond human capability. But – which strategic path will be most suitable for individual companies, using which digital tools – at what weightage and frequency for each, and the likes, still falls under human domain. It is highly cerebral, especially in the new normal, with digital technology, including Artificial Intelligence (AI) being critical facilitators.


According to the former CEO of Novartis – Joe Jimenez: “Despite the fact that COVID-19 is a tragedy for hundreds of thousands of people, it has created changes in the healthcare scene that are going to be seen for the next 10 years in terms of acceleration of digital applications.” Earlier, the Harvard Business Review article of September 28, 2020, also epitomized, ‘The Pharmaceutical Industry Needs a Customer-Centric Digital Transformation.’ There doesn’t seem to be any robust alternative perspective in this regard.

Nonetheless, to make the organization excel in this fast-changing scenario, pharma also needs profoundly cerebral marketing leadership. The leaders may be of any age – young or not so young, but must be willing to jettison traditional practices, which won’t work today. Possess contemporary mindset of working amid changing times with complexity. Besides, they need to bring on to the table – proficiency in the art of conceptualizing, formulating, and help implementing effective ‘customer– brand relationship’ development strategies, as needed today.

Astute pharma marketers are now expected to leverage the disruptive changes in customer behavior and business environments, turning challenges into opportunities. Concurrently, also become change agents – promoting obsolescence of current practices of competitors, and be a game changer – always. Wherefore, market competition would further intensify, with the quality of pharma marketing taking a giant leap – and keep taking brisk strides, thereafter. Hence, in the days ahead, contemporary pharma marketing, I reckon, would assume the power, agility and effectiveness that only avant-garde digital and exceptionally cerebral combo can possibly provide.

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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