Pharma Not To Let Go This Never Before Opportunity To Reposition Itself

‘While the COVID-19 pandemic has placed unparalleled demands on modern healthcare systems, the industry’s response has vividly demonstrated its resilience and ability to bring innovations to market quickly.’ This appeared in the McKinsey & Company article – ‘Healthcare innovation: Building on the gains made through the crisis,’ published on November 12, 2020.

Just a couple of days before that, on November 09, 2020, an interesting article appeared in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on the resilience of the pharma industry. It also discussed on how ‘an often-disparaged industry is finding a rare opportunity to promote its value,’ to turn around public perception of its image and reputation during the pandemic. The article elaborated this point by quoting: “It was a fight between pharma, tobacco companies and the government for who would be at the bottom in terms of reputation,” – now “Covid is giving them an opportunity to step out of that world and into the world of ‘we can help,’ and it’s giving pharma a comeback.”

As is known to many, pharma industry was long vilified for its many self-serving objectives. But the Coronavirus pandemic helped immensely to highlight its role in developing medications and vaccines to save the humanity. It happened never before – ever, with this intensity and scale. Thus, the shift is inspiring many pharma giants to reposition their marketing and communications, the WSJ report added. This article will deliberate on how pharma marketers can leverage this once in a lifetime opportunity, with actionable insights on Covid pandemic-induced – changing needs of healthcare customers.

Covid-19 to change the way companies do business - A recent survey:

In this McKinsey & Company survey, published on June 17, 2020, more than 200 organizations across industries had participated in this study. Notably, over 90 percent of the participating executives expect the fallout from COVID-19 to fundamentally change the way companies do business over the next five years, with a lasting impact on their customers’ needs. In the pharma industry too, these trends are clearly visible and undergoing a metamorphosis. I quote below a few important points from this study, as illustrations:

  • Nearly 73 percent respondents from the pharma and medical supplies industries agree that the changes brought about by Covid-19 will be a big opportunity for growth.
  • Only 21 percent of the same executives feel that they are prepared with resources, expertise and commitment to address the changes they see coming, for harvesting the new growth opportunities.
  • Curiously, only 25 percent of respondents reported that capturing new growth was a top priority today, compared to roughly 60 percent before the crisis hit.
  • Notably, across the industries only pharma and medical product industries have increased their focus on innovation during Covid crisis. Although, many are still playing safe, which may be a shortsighted decision, the research paper observed. 

Understand the shifts and the opportunities with actionable insights:

That the current Covid crisis has significantly exacerbated and accelerated many disruptive forces, is vindicated by another survey: ‘Global B2B decision-maker response to COVID-19 crisis.’ This was published by the McKinsey & Company on October 20, 2020. It also reiterated, ‘B2B decision-maker preferences and behaviors have shifted dramatically since the onset of COVID. The GTM revolution is here and B2B sales is forever changed.’ I shall quote two of these areas, as follows:

A. Changes to pharma sales models: Companies with significant field forces can no longer rely on in-person coverage to outcompete. This is because:

  • The tide has turned: digital self-service and remote rep interactions are likely to be the dominant elements of the B2B go-to-market model, going forward.
  • Don’t count on returning to a pre-COVID-19 level of in-person sales coverage, as only 20–30% of B2B buyers want to ever interact with reps in person even in their ideal/post-COVID-19 model.
  • Around 90% of B2B decision makers expect the remote and the digital model to stick around for the long run, and 3 in 4 believe the new model is as effective or more so than before COVID-19 (for both existing customers and prospects).
  • 97% of B2B buyers claim they will make a purchase in an end-to-end, digital self-serve model, with the vast majority very comfortable spending more online.
  • Video-conference connections are critical and are preferred over audio/phone by almost 4 out of 5 B2B buyers.

B. Influx of competitors from different industries: Medical-device firms historically had a narrow competitive set and were insulated by a complex and highly technical regulatory approval process. They are now facing competition from previously unexpected new entrants, including Wearable Health Devices (WHDs) makers, such as Google, Apple among several others. As I also wrote about a year ago, on December 02, 2020, this is mostly because, WHDs help improve disease outcomes, creating a unique disease treatment experience.

Which is why, in the new normal, creating a holistic and innovative ‘Customer Experience’ is as important and challenging as creating ‘Innovative Drugs’.

Reposition pharma to create a holistic ‘Customer Experience’ in the new normal:

At the very beginning of this year, on January 13, 2020, I asked: What Pays More: Creating Innovative ‘Customer Experience’ Or ‘Innovative Drugs’? Although both are crucial for pharma, in the current scenario, the former, I reckon, is no less important or less demanding than the latter for pharma marketers. The question, therefore, arises, what new insights it will entail to meet the unmet changing needs of healthcare customers? The answers may point towards several areas, which are worth pondering over.

Leaving this exhaustive search for pharma professionals to gain the necessary insights for action, let me give an example of only one such area to drive home the point. An interesting article deliberating this area was published by Reuters Events on November 17, 2020. Especially in the new normal, finding solutions to unmet customer needs would prompt harnessing the combined and synergistic power of medical and marketing skills, creating a culture to match, as the article highlighted.

Elaborating this need, the author stressed, the traditional model of medical and marketing functions working in silos is often a barrier to a holistic customer approach. This is because it stifles the opportunity for co-creation of well-synchronized solutions on a number of medico marketing issues during patients’ disease treatment journey mapping. These customer-centric medico-marketing issues, I reckon, are coming more often now with the increasing number of more informed patients, especially about their personal health care and treatment needs.

Traditionally, in the pharma industry ‘working in silo culture’ is quite prevalent – medical and marketing functions are no different. Encouragingly, during this pandemic, several companies have formed cross-functional teams of medical and marketing professionals. They also create brand plans, develop content and communication strategies in the new digital platforms, as preferred by the customers. Let me hasten to add, most companies, especially in India will need to catch up with this new way of working, creating a new culture, soon.

Two interesting examples of medico-marketing during Covid Crisis:

There will be several examples in this area. However, to illustrate the point of creating a holistic ‘Customer Experience’ in the new normal, let me cite two examples of medic-marketing in this area, during Covid crisis. Coincidentally, both the examples are from the global pharma major Pfizer – the Company (along with BioNTech) that offered the first Covid-19 vaccine to the western world for public use under ‘Emergency Approval’ by the British drug regulator.

The first example is a website for Pfizer prescription medicine assistance program – called Pfizer RX Pathways. It mentions at the very top, ‘Pfizer recognizes the public concern in relation to COVID-19, which continues to evolve. Click here to learn how we are responding.’ When clicked, it takes the viewers to another website, where Pfizer says, ‘we are committed to helping keep people safe and informed.’

The second one tackles the uncertainty and anxiety that many people feel during the Covid pandemic – reassuring the viewers that “science will win.”  It starts with: “At a time when things are uncertain, we turn to the most certain thing there is—science. Science can overcome diseases, create cures and yes, beat pandemics. It has before; it will again.”

There are many other examples, including a social media series on Covid-19 of the Company, which help enhancing holistic ‘customer experience’ in the contemporary situation, for which the concerned companies’ brands are also rewarded by the customers.

Conclusion:

As of December 13, 2020 morning, India recorded a staggering figure of 9,857,380 of new Coronavirus cases with 143,055 deaths. The threat of subsequent waves for further spread of Covid infection still looms large in many states. The good news is, at least, one Covid-19 vaccine is expected to be available in India within a month’s time. Meanwhile, as many people believe, when a company or an industry does most things right, as experienced by its customers, its reputation goes up, and vice versa. For example, the Gallup Poll, published around a year ago – on September 03, 2019 said: ‘The pharmaceutical industry is now the most poorly regarded industry in Americans’ eyes, ranking last on a list of 25 industries.’ Interestingly, similar Gallup Poll, published a year later – on September 08, 2020 noted, ‘the pharmaceutical industry’s image has improved modestly since last year, and it has yielded the “worst rated” distinction back to the federal government.’

So, something good must have happened during this one-year period, the most influential of which being Covid Pandemic. We have seen above, how some pharma players have repositioned themselves to provide a holistic ‘Customer Experience’, through innovative multichannel communication – being on the same page with customers. Medico-marketing approach played a stellar role in these efforts. As more healthcare customers get enlightened on their health and treatment needs by charting through the cyberspace, they are expected to lap-up such multichannel communication, alongside other equally cerebral pharma initiatives.

Undoubtedly, Covid pandemic is a triggering factor for this change, both among the healthcare customers and the pharma players. This trend is not going to disappear soon, as various top research studies have highlighted. Well-deserved pharma image and reputation boost has started gaining speed, following what some companies are demonstrating to customers during the Covid crisis. Pharma marketers, I believe, will not let go this never before opportunity to reposition their respective companies. It will help them achieve well-cherished brand excellence, supported by a robust Company image and reputation. As the good old saying has proved again to the pharma industry – even during the Covid pandemic, ‘as you sow, so shall you reap.’

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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