What Have And Haven’t Changed In Pharma’s New Normal?

While navigating through the challenge of disruptive changes, several pharma marketers are now focusing more on creating, connecting, and leveraging all market and customer related data, across the organization. Astute ones are using state-of-the-art tools, platforms, and techniques to gain actionable insights on new demands of pharma markets. I wrote about it in my article - ‘Data: the new ‘Magic Wand’ For Pharma Business Excellence,’ published in this blog on October 01, 2018.

This process is helping them to fathom what areas the pandemic has changed and what it hasn’t. Their aim is to draw cutting-edge strategies accordingly for market effectiveness – outperforming competition. This article will explore that space with contemporary examples. Let me start with a few illustrations of some hits and misses for the treatment of Covid – as the world started learning to live with this menacing virus. This was enviable, as the requisite scientific date wasn’t readily available at that moment of truth. But the time has changed now.

Some hits and misses:

As the pandemic overwhelmed the world, and no well-documented treatment for infection caused by the brand new virus – Covid-19 was available, many drug players were given quick emergency approval by country regulators for some repurposed drugs. But most of those weren’t found effective as fresh clinical data started pouring in. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO), have, reportedly, indicated that remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir/ritonavir and interferon regimens appeared to have little or no effect on 28-day mortality or the in-hospital course of COVID-19 among hospitalized patients.

More recently, Gilead Sciences Veklury – a failed Ebola drug, repurposed for hospitalized Covid-19 patients, suddenly became a blockbuster drug, according to a September 17, 2021 report. However, in less than a year, alongside more research data - a study from Europe, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, showed that Veklury has no real benefit. The report also highlights: ‘Aided by a ringing endorsement from then-president Donald Trump, Veklury rang up sales of $2.8 billion in 2020, including $1.9 billion in the final quarter. But those sales slid this year to $1.5 billion in the first quarter followed by $829 million in the second quarter.’

Similarly, there are several areas that are seemingly getting transformed, triggered by the pandemic and the time for resorting to a hit or miss approach, is now virtually over. From pharma marketers’ point of interest, it will now be at one’s own peril for not challenging the pre-Covid business traditions, rules, and well-tried strategies on customer relationships and brand building models. This brings us to the question on what specifically have changed in the new normal as the pharma industry navigates thorough the Covid pandemic – for close to two years now.  

Pandemic-triggered changes in the pharma marketing area:

Changes are many and are being studied across the world. One such recent analysis, articulating how the pandemic triggered changes have redefined marketing, was published by the Harvard Business Review (HBR), on March 10, 2021. This paper came more than a year after the pandemic overwhelmed the world. This article listed some interesting macro-level changes, including the following:

  • Old normal: You are competing with your competitors.
  • New normal: You are competing with the last best experience your customer had.
  • Old normal: Customers hope you have what they want.
  • New normall: Customers expect you to have exactly what they want.
  • Old normal: Courting customers is just like dating.
  • New normal: Courting customers is just like online dating.
  • Old normal: Customers must sit at the heart of your marketing strategy.
  • New normal: Customers must sit at the heart of your customer journey.
  • Old normal: Agility is a technology process.
  • New normal: Agility is a modern marketing approach.
  • Old normal: Your brand should stand behind great products.
  • New normal: Your brand should stand behind great values.

To illustrate the point, let me now give a few examples of some micro-level changes in the same space.

Some transformation trends:

I am citing a few examples related to pharma’s traditional sales and marketing models. One such area is, quite a few companies are adopting connected data based and analytics-supported Omnichannel approach for customer engagement. The key objective is to deliver coherent and high-quality customer experience.

The need for new commercial models for the changing life sciences market, was also highlighted in an interesting article, published in the Pharmaceutical Executive on September 16, 2021. The authors identified six health care macro trends, demonstrating the value of transforming care delivery and shifting market behavior that prompt to reframe customer value propositions.

Taking a cue from this paper, I am listing below some of the current trends – as I see these and wrote before in this blog. Each one of these calls for well-connected data with analytics support:

  • Fostering a new genre of ‘customer-brand relationship’ to drive more targeted go‑to‑market strategies, enhanced agility/mobility of resources and highly personalized customer interactions.
  • Meeting the growing demand for value‑based care with novel risk‑adjusted and outcome‑based Price-Value-Models, supported by ongoing innovation in this area and sophisticated approach to value, affordability and outcomes.

Interestingly, despite Herculean constraints, many pharma players continued creating and delivering value, as the customers were expecting with changing situations.  

Drug-price sensitivity is increasing:

In the new normal, drug price sensitivity of customers is increasing manifold, for various reasons. A June 18, 2020 study, flags: ‘Nine in 10 Concerned About Rising Drug Costs Due to COVID-19.’ Although, this particular study (Gallup Poll) was conducted in the United States, general public apprehension is no different in other parts of the world, including India.

In my article of September 14, 2020, I also wrote that the concept of ‘fair pricing a drug’ is being deliberated by many experts around the world, since quite some time, till today. But it continues. Most recently, as reported on September 22, 2021, for different reasons related to its new Alzheimer’s drug - Aduhelm, including its hefty price tag of $56,000 annually per patient, ‘Biogen reps banned from D.C.-area neurology clinics.’

Regardless of such customer reactions, the pharma industry, as reported on September 17, 2021, continues to advocate – drug pricing pressure will stifle innovation, blocking patient access to needed medicines and dry up investment in important R&D on new therapies. Curiously, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), is spending more than $1 million on TV ads as part of a massive lobbying and communications campaign emphasizing the potential harm to patients seeking cures for deadly diseases, as the report highlights.

Innovation – remained mostly unhindered from old to new normal:

Customers’ expectations can’t be ignored indefinitely. Interestingly, the world has also witnessed it with Covid drug and vaccine innovation continuing even during the most trying times during the pandemic, even in India. It is, therefore, quite understandable why unfettered access to drug innovation is considered an oxymoron, by many.

The good news is, despite shrill voices over pricing measures, the quest for adding meaningful value to the healthcare space continues unhindered. As reported on September 19, 2021, both Pfizer and Merck are advancing oral antiviral candidates targeting Covid-19 into late-stage testing. Thus, I reckon, regardless of jarring noise from pharma lobbyists, drug innovation, willy-nilly, has to satisfy the diverse demand of health care customers.

Innovation needs to satisfy demands of diverse healthcare customers:

That, increasingly, drug innovations will need to be based on their ability to satisfy the demands of life sciences companies’ diverse customer-perceived value-based, was also echoed by the Pharmaceutical Executive article of September 16, 2021.

While doing so, companies will need to structure innovation in terms of health outcomes, affordability, and personalization, as the paper emphasized. It further added, ‘broader definition of innovation means products are no longer the central driver of value.’ Instead, innovation will be powered by an increasingly diverse stream of data that resides outside the confines of the traditional health ecosystem.

Covid pandemic accelerated the transition of this process of innovation, drawing its new focus on providing a seamless and holistic customer experience in the disease treatment process – supported by advanced analytics and this deeper understanding of customer segments.

Conclusion:

Many pharma marketers have possibly undertaken a sophisticated and credible market scanning exercise in the new normal, to assess by themselves what have or haven’t changed in their customer preferences and market dynamics. If not, I would encourage them to initiate it, at least, now.

Equally noteworthy, as the above HBR article wrote, in the post pandemic period: ‘Beyond geography, marketing messages need to be personally relevant, aligned to an individual’s situation and values, as opposed to demographics, such as age and gender.’

The objective is to create a personal connection between the customer and the brand promotional content, aiming to influence the prescribing and purchasing behavior, based on their psychographic to attitudinal characteristics. This process would require creating and screening lots of customized data, supported by sophisticated analytics.

From the above perspective, I reckon, deep insight on what have or haven’t changed in the healthcare environment alongside its customers, would be of fundamental importance for pharma marketers, in the new normal.

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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