Health problems, affecting populations of any country, are many. So are the issues related to the delivery of effective health care solution, that most patients would consider satisfying and meaningful. From this perspective, prevention, treatment and effectively managing any disease is basically a problem-solving situation, for all, as we see around.
Interestingly, an ailment, per se, may not necessarily be the only problem that needs to be solved by a doctor, hospital or a pharma company with its drugs. Other associated factors, playing a key role in the process of patients’ search for a meaningful solution – could often post to be tougher barriers in finding the solution. Therefore, patients’ problem during any disease treatment process, is much more than the disease or availability of required drugs.
Consequently, it is very important for all, especially the pharma marketers, to properly understand what these specific influencing factors are, for each patient-groups or types, if not each patient. Obviously, it would call for generation of relevant data to precisely define the problem, or a set of problems, as the patients feel and envisage. Conversely, these problems should not be defined by the company, based mostly on gut feel, just as it’s so difficult to fathom how another person would feel in a distressing situation. Thus, the need to chart a strategic roadmap to provide a solution to those problems will arise only thereafter.
In pharma context, there are several critical elements in this problem-solving process. However, in this article, I shall focus only on two areas. As these could provide a cutting edge, if used in creative ways by drug manufacturers in arresting patients’ and other stakeholders’ attention on this crucial process.
Three critical elements to the problem-solving process:
Among several others, I reckon, the following three elements would play critical roles in the problem-solving process that is specific to the pharma industry:
- The mindset to follow the problem-solving approach with all sincerity.
- Communicate the problem-solving process in a creative way to patients and others.
- Walk the talk, earning patients’ delight and enhancing the corporate reputation.
Since, the third element, although very important, is involved with the strategic roadmap of the organization, let me discuss here the first two elements to justify the need for this stratagem.
The key differentiators are changing:
A clear shift is underway that will influence what drug will be prescribed and the treatment process that individual patients would prefer.
Not so long ago, and to a large extent even today, one of the key differentiators to sell high price patented products used to be the narrative of ‘billions of dollars’ of investments that go behind time-intensive and high-risk R&D. Nevertheless, this age-old recital now finds lesser and lesser number of takers, largely within patient groups.
Alongside, run several other product-centric differentiators, such as claims and counterclaims on technological and clinical superiority, or how a new drug prolongs life of some cancer patients by a few months over other drugs. These are the old workhorse of differentiators, which are just not enough to increase brand market share, in today’s fast-changing environment.
Brand differentiating factors should reach much beyond the product:
As more patients are getting increasingly interested in their personal health interests and rights, the differentiating factors should reach much beyond products. Some drug companies are already sensing that more patients have started looking for a desired and effective solution, whenever they face a health-related problem. Accordingly, the ability of a pharma player to provide a custom-made solution, as it were, to patients, is emerging as a crucial differentiating factor. This has immense potential to boost the brand market share faster.
Let me underscore, yet again, that this change is surfacing due to changing demands of patients in this area. Thus, soon pharma companies would require shifting their focus from product-centric brand differentiation to patient-centric ones, with problem-solving offerings for patients in creative ways.
Communicate the problem-solving offerings in creative ways to patients:
That the core purpose of pharma business is to prevent, cure or effectively manage illness, is known to many. However, that doesn’t explain one critical parameter that patients now value most. This is, how a drug company provides effective solution to specific health problems of individuals – making the company’s product and services most meaningful to him or her.
Encouragingly, some top pharma advertising companies dealing with pharma, healthcare and wellness products, have started advising so, to their respective clients, as reported by Fierce Pharma on June 17, 2019.
One such ad agency honcho said: “The reality is that pharma and health are closer to doing good anyway, that’s just part of what they do. Looking for opportunities to serve the patient in a creative way is what we need to do in pharma as well, not just, ‘let’s go and sell this drug.’ Admitting the current issues with most pharma players, he further articulated: “But there’s a huge trust gap because people think pharma companies are just out to make money. The more they can do that supports their customer base, which is patients, the more quickly we’ll erode that.”
As reported in the same article, this advice was given to the pharma industry at the Cannes Pharma Lions Awards function on June 17, 2019. It is one of those top award functions, where one gets to know about the best creative communications of pharma and health care companies, designed to facilitate understanding and awareness on various health problem-solving processes for patients.
An interesting platform to know about pharma’s problem-solving offerings:
One of the well-respected platforms where one can witness creative and innovative communications in the pharma industry, is during Cannes Pharma Lions Awards. This ‘is considered the largest gathering of the advertising and thecreative communications industry. The five-day festival, incorporating the awarding of the Lions awards, is held yearly at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès in Cannes, France.’
New age creative pharma communication, bringing science and innovation to life, compete in the Pharma Lions award functions. These facilitate not only disease awareness – both mitigation or management, diagnosis and patient’s-need-based prescriptions, but also add value while engaging with healthcare professional and patients, more effectively.
Some of the entries vindicate that creativity in pharma communications has started moving ahead and faster than expected, with special focus on patients’ problem-solving. As an illustration, let me cite the example of top Pharma Lions Winner at Cannes 2019.
GlaxoSmithKline GSK) and its ad agency McCann Health picked up this coveted award in pharma advertising with a mobile application called Breath of Life. This is a diagnostic tool for COPD developed for GSKand is aimed at raising awareness and increasing diagnoses of the disease in China. COPD affects an estimated 100m adults in China, but only around 7 percent is properly diagnosed, as the report highlights.
Now, an example from the wellness area:
This specific approach for a Vitamin D fortified dairy product, is also equally innovative, as quoted in the above Fierce Pharma article. Many may be aware that Vitamin D deficiency is not uncommon in India – 80 percent of children in Delhi, reportedly, suffer from this deficiency. The manufacturing company launched its campaign in schools to move the traditional, outdoor morning assembly to noon, when brief sun exposure could have a big effect on vitamin D levels. The campaign invited schools to a launch event, providing a solution to the problem of Vitamin D deficiency in children. The idea clicked with excellent media coverage.
As the ad agency said: “We didn’t make a TV commercial or run print ads. We looked at a problem and how we could solve it and showed that the brand cares about kids.” Nevertheless, he added, make no mistake, it was also an ad, which made parents want to buy the brand.
India and Cannes Lions Awards in health and pharma categories:
The good news is, Indian companies are also participating to showcase their creative communication skills, in problem-solving areas of health, wellness and pharma domain. Although, one doesn’t find the names of any large domestic pharma players in the list, India had put up a good show by bagging a total of four awards, including a gold, two silvers and a bronze in the health and pharma categories on Day 1 of the Cannes International Festival of Creativity, in 2018.
In the years ahead, one hopes that Indian drug manufacturers will show greater interest in this area, to sharpen their critical differentiating tool in disease awareness, brand marketing focused on problem-solving for patients, who search for an appropriate solution while addressing a disease condition.
Is pharma in search of a different approach?
Instances, such as, Cannes Pharma Lions Award, indicate that an increasing number of pharma players have, at least, started recognizing that old ways of differentiating brands, would no longer fetch desired outcomes, as patients’ mindsets are changing – fast. Patients’ outlook for prevention, treatment and managing chronic ailments are also changing – empowered by a plethora of unlimited free information – as and when they require.
Accordingly, drug companies who are partnering with creative pharma ad agencies are being persuaded more to look for a radically different approach to be on the same page with their customers. It also requires the top management mindset to be in sync with this fundamental change, inviting full commitment from all. The new communication package, then becomes a fine blend of top-class creative inputs and modern technology platforms for delivery. The core purpose is to effectively connect with patients, doctors, hospitals and governments, being an integral part of their problem-solving process in health care.
The article titled, ‘Solving Problems Is More Important Than Selling Your Differentiators,’ published in Forbes on June 14, 2018, highlighted a very important point. It wrote, if a company keeps zeroing in on its traditional brand differentiator, as discussed above, the business is likely to miss out on potential new customers and the revenue they could bring with them.It then elaborated: ‘The real trick to getting noticed comes down to shifting your focus. It’s not about you. And it’s definitely not about you versus them. It’s all about solving problems and evoking the right emotions.’
The short list of Cannes Pharma Lions Awards, signals that this process has just begun, but yet to gain a critical mass within the industry. In this area, as yet another head honcho puts it: “Given the shortlist for the Innovation Lions, you can already see a trend where agencies have focused on making work that impacts patient lives on a day-to-day basis, through more meaningful use of technology for practical and life-changing purposes.”
Thus, it is important for new age pharma marketers to note that their business environment is changing – faster than ever before. The traditional brand differentiators, however much honed, may not fetch desired increase in the market share, in the future.
The new crucial differentiator in this area, isthe ability of a pharma player to conceive, design, provide and effectively communicate, virtually a custom-made disease treatment solution to patients. Equally important is the skill to communicate this ‘problem-solving process’ to the target audience in creative ways, for top of mind recall, at least, the company’s name. In turn, it would also facilitate the prescriber choosing a company’s brand, that rings a bell to the patient. And that’s the new way for pharma marketers to boost their brand market share, faster.
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.