Pharma Marketing: The New Normal: Challenges of Change

A lot has changed in healthcare marketing prompted by the Covid pandemic. Apace with these, lots of old problems continue to remain very much the same. The aforesaid was observed in a recent article, published by WARC, on May 21, 2021. Although, this analysis was done in the United States, it has a global footprint, as the disruptions are broadly similar, with a varying degree from country to country.

Healthcare marketing leadership, including the pharma industry in India, presumably, is taking notes of these critical changes, along with their degree of impact. These are the basics for required responses in India, while managing its snowballing effect, both global and local.

Today’s article will provide a bird’s eye view of this area, to encourage marketers continue with their ongoing deep-dive data gathering exercise. Then, comes sieving the ‘catch’ with cerebral power – before using modern analytics to draw meaningful inferences for strategy making.

Some macro-changes stand out:

Some of these widely visible changes, also captured in the above WARC article, include the following:

  • An emerging trend of re-orientation of the healthcare industry around patient outcomes.
  • Need to realize that health and safety are the currency that can be used to rebuild consumer trust across categories.
  • Increasing need to build deeper emotional connections with customers, going beyond product-oriented features, benefits, and intrinsic brand values.
  • Providing healthcare consumers more data and behavioral science-driven, personalized solutions to their problems – to drive better outcomes.

More people are realizing that: ‘Healthcare, after all, is about life and death, and those stakes have been tragically reaffirmed during the pandemic,’ as the above paper underscores. Thus, affordable “health and safety will continue to be a currency that brands can use to re-establish trust with anxious consumers,” the author reiterates. To steer a company in that direction the marketers need to create a pathway for success by joining several emerging dots in the new normal. Let give just a flavor of these emerging dots with three examples, as below.

‘The end point – the price point’ - re-emerging as a core value expectation: 

Interestingly, ‘The end point – the price point’ for quality treatment outcomes is re-emerging as one of the core values and expectations of the consumers, especially facing an uncertain future that everybody is witnessing today. The health system is also transitioning from ‘pay for healthcare product and services’ – to ‘pay for integrated value-based care offerings.’ In the changing environment, many pharma players seem to have realized that customers are no longer interested in paying for brand values that serve mostly self-serving interests of the respective companies.

More healthcare customers are digitally savvy now:

Today’s brand values need to be in sync with what the perceived value of the customers, enhancing their end-to-end experience of the disease treatment process, more than ever before. For example, increasing number of patients are now choosing between F2F – in-clinic consultations and remote or virtual consultations, for non-life-threatening ailments. Some often do data-driven online assessment for different treatment value offerings, against what these would cost to them.

Purpose driven corporate branding is making better impact:

Pharma industry’s purpose-driven branding initiatives, in tandem with creating robust corporate brands, are drawing much greater public attention amid the pandemic. The list includes both the original product developers and their contract manufacturers. Even in India, many held with esteem – Corporates, such as, AstraZeneca and Serum Institute of India (SII) for Covishield, or Bharat Biotech for Covaxin.

The same thing has happened world-wide with many other Covid vaccine and drug manufacturers, such as, Pfizer, Johnson &Johnson, Moderna, Eli-Lilly, Roche, and others. Interestingly, from the available data in the cyberspace or from word-of-mouth, several people have also inferred about comparative value offerings of each. At least 4 Covid vaccine manufacturers are showing-up in this year’s ‘Conscious Brands 100’ list of 2021. This is, apparently, unprecedented.

Demonstration of ‘patients’-problem solving skill’ with resilience pays: 

As we all know by now, the drug industry as such – across the world, instead getting overwhelmed by the problem, pulled up socks and rolled the sleeves to find out scientific means of saving as many lives as possible, soonest.

Almost overnight, repurposing old drugs for Covid treatment and development Covid vaccines, racing against time, were initiated. The entire healthcare industry including, Medical Diagnostic and Devices companies and others, did not fall behind to offer reliable tests for Covid diagnosis, and other life support systems and equipment.

Alongside, Omnichannel digital campaigns of many companies, and favorable news reports amid the pandemic, made people realize the stellar role of the industry in saving lives and livelihoods – from the Covid menace.

Such examples include Pfizer’s What to know About Coronavirus webpage; Merck Inc’s Podcast: How Merck is looking at past epidemics and science to respond to the coronavirus outbreak; and India’s Mankind Pharma’s Mask My India digital campaign. It captures the stories of heroes, who are setting examples and doing more than their call of duty during the COVID-19 pandemic in India. The campaign also spreads the message that ‘together we can all fight with deadly Coronavirus.’

Some pandemic-triggered India-specific challenges:

According to the April 2021 KPMG paper, Covid pandemic has brought to the fore some of the following challenges for the India pharma industry, some due to years of neglect:

  • Fragile public health care system and laboratory testing infrastructure and supplies of life support items. This primarily due to one of the lowest Government spend (1.56% of the GDP) on health. As a result, India currently ranks 155th out of 167 countries, in terms of hospital bed availability (Human Development Report 2020) with just 5 beds availability per 10, 000 Indians.
  • Changes in health care consumption pattern – especially with the increasing use of e-health or telehealth, besides, online ordering of medicines through e-pharmacies.

Apart from these, it’s also noteworthy – how pharma demonstrated its healthcare ‘problem solving’ skill to save billions of lives from deadly Covid-19 and its mutants, attracting unprecedented kudos from all corners. To keep this initiative going – meeting customers’ core expectations, in my view, could indeed be yet another challenge of change.

Conclusion:

There won’t be any ‘one size fits all’ sort of solution to address such challenges of change. Neither is all company’s challenges the same, in a relative yardstick. Each company would, therefore, need to understand what the pandemic triggered changes in market dynamics and customer expectations mean to them to pursue sustainable business excellence.

Thus, each player would require to elaborately make data-based assessment and analysis, to figure out where they currently stand, so far are the pandemic-triggered changes are concerned. With similar analysis, they should also try to fathom what are their customers’ specific value expectations, which may now go beyond the value that their brands can deliver, but critical for branding success.

Accordingly, a value delivery strategy to be worked out, taking all concerned on-board – with a carefully crafted employee and customer engagement blueprint – and mostly Omnichannel digital platforms.

To successfully navigate through the challenges of change, pharma marketers need to wear a different thinking cap. They would also need to realize that treating pharma marketing as an intrinsic product value delivery system, and by just doing digitally whatever traditionally used to be done manually, may not help generate an adequate return in the new normal. From this perspective, giving shape to a robust, comprehensive, integrated and Omnichannel digital strategic game plan for the organization, is the need of the hour.

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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