With Changing Customer Behavior Pharma To Leverage AI For Better Engagement

More than 55 million doses of Coronavirus vaccines were administered in India, reportedly, at the beginning of the last week of March 2021, in what is the world’s biggest inoculation drive. Notably, amid this mega initiative, the news media simultaneously reported that ‘India is facing a second wave of coronavirus because it let its guard down too soon.’ I also reiterated in my article of November 16, 2020 that in the thick of ‘Covid Vaccine Challenges – Abidance To Defined Health Norms Stays As Lifeguard.’

From the pharmaceutical industry perspective – as I had written on July 06, 2020, in the midst of this pandemic, there appears to be a break in the clouds that pharma should effectively leverage. There isn’t an iota of doubt that Covid pandemic, for-all-practical-purposes, has propelled healthcare into a virtual world, primarily for survival of business, maintaining the continuity.

Most pharma players, especially in the sales and marketing domain, either were not or, were using e-marketing, in a selective way, as a key strategic tool in their brand prescription generation process. The pace of this shift in the digital space is now getting accelerated to more than neutralize the long-term impact of unprecedented business disruptions that overwhelmed the industry, last year.

Interestingly, a large number of pharma marketers weren’t focusing much beyond syndicated retail and prescription audit data, in the old normal. Whereas, to make digital strategies work effectively during rapidly changing customer behavior and business environment, ‘customer centricity’ is no longer an option today. It’s rather a key business success factor for effective customer engagement, in the prevailing environment. Thus, unlocking the ‘Herculean Power’ of targeted data of many types and genre, is a pre-requisite for acquiring deep insight in this area, while moving in this direction.

Alongside, comes the need to unleash the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to ensure pinpoint accuracy in targeted strategy formulation for the same. Well before Covid struck, I wrote on April 01, 2019 – ‘A New Pharma Marketing Combo That Places Patients At The Center of Business,’ flagging a slowly emerging need. Covid, unexpectedly, has provided a strong tailwind to it, increasing its urgency manifold in the new normal.

Consequently, pharma marketers should have, at least, a working knowledge in this area – such as ‘machine learning’ and other analytics-based processes of AI that can help them enormously. In this article I shall discuss, why it is so important for today’s astute pharma marketers to hone their knowledge in this area for making a strategic shift towards ‘real-life’ Patient-Centricity. No wonder, why top pharma leaders now consider this transformation so critical for pharma strategy formulators, to acquire a cutting-edge in the digital marketing warfare.

Patient needs aren’t really at the center of a business strategy, today:

Despite so much hype on patient-centricity – in a true sense, patient-expressed needs aren’t generally placed at the center of a business strategy, as on date, unlike most non-pharma companies. That pharma players, by and large, don’t have a robust online feedback mechanism in place to capture ‘patient-experience’ with medications – directly from patients, vindicates the point.

As I reiterated in my article of March 21, 2021: ‘Measuring patient-experience has always been an integral part, virtually of all types of sales and marketing using digital platforms. We experience it almost every day, such as, while buying a product through Amazon, buying grocery items through D-Mart, scheduling a doctor appointment through Practo, buying medicines through PharmEasy, or even for availing a service through Urban Company.’

Thus, patient-experience, in their own words, with prescribed medications, is generally expressed to the physician, if at all. The process, generally, doesn’t get extended to drug companies’ strategy formulators for taking a patient-centric amendment, wherever needed.

However, assuming that doctors would convey the same to concerned medical representatives, it becomes a third hand (patient-doctor-Rep-Company) feedback, with commensurate distortions in each verbal transfer of communications. The outcome of this strategic gap has been captured in several research studies.

Outcomes of absence of online direct ‘patient experience’ feedback system:

Let me elaborate this point by quoting an example from a contemporary research in this area. This study was conducted by DrugsDisclosed.com in August 2020 with a total of 3,346 patients all taking medicine on a daily basis – aged between 18 and 80. The key findings are as follows:

  • 72% of patients feel ignored by pharma companies.
  • 76% don’t trust advice from them.
  • 81% feel that drug players influence prescribing decisions.
  • 63% would like to give product feedback to directly to companies.
  • 69% find their medication effective.
  • 81% feel their medication is needed.
  • 77% feel confident with their medication.
  • 82% don’t feel bothered by side effects from their medicine.
  • 73% take the medicine as agreed with their doctor.
  • 74% feel that the benefits of their medication outweigh the disadvantages.

The study concluded – the above insights show the need for patients’ voices to be heard by the pharma companies. If medicines are to solve health problems for billions of people who need them, listening to real-life patient-experience with medication, is the key to unshackle the full potential of the world’s health systems. Thus, pharma companies need to directly listen to what patients experience and express with their medicines. It will help them earn customer-trust and greatness in business, while gaining new and important insights for performance excellence.

I hasten to add, although, this study was conducted among patients residing in the UK, Ireland and Denmark, the core issue, even in India, is unlikely to be much different from what appears above. This genre of pharma marketing approach would warrant extensive use of AI, much more in the coming days – than ever before.

The above genre of pharma marketing calls for extensive use of AI:

The above genre of pharma marketing calls for extensive use of AI, much more in the coming days than ever before. For example, as new generations of Covid vaccines will come – with some without the use of needles, like a nasal drop, machine learning tools may be necessary for pinpoint accuracy in market segmentation. I reckon, there will be many such areas, where those companies who would use AI to orchestrate a cohesive customer experience, will drive stronger differentiation, better customer access and higher sales impact.

In that process, creating opportunities and empowerment for deserving marketers to reap the benefits of AI based digital tools and systems, such as machine learning with human integration within sales and marketing, will be the need of the hour. Gaining actionable insights from this endeavor, marketers need to go whole hog to unleashing the power and value of AI for achieving business excellence. I wrote about it, even during pre-Covid days – on July 15, 2019. But, this approach has assumed much greater importance in the new normal, when innovative e-marketing is gaining momentum to gain a competitive edge. However, this would require more investment in AI than what it is today.

The process has accelerated during the Covid pandemic:

This has come out clearly in the results of McKinsey Global Survey 2020 on AI. The paper is titled – ‘The state of AI in 2020’ and was published on November 17, 2020. The findings of the study ‘suggest that organizations are using AI as a tool for generating value. Increasingly, that value is coming in the form of revenues.’

Although, the number of these companies is small, they are planning ‘to invest even more in AI in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its acceleration of all things digital.’ The paper emphasizes that this could create a wider divide between AI leaders and the majority of companies who are still struggling to capitalize on the technology.

Pharma’s increasing use of AI during the pandemic:

The above trend gets reflected in the ‘AI In Pharma Global Market Report 2021: Covid-19 Growth And Change.’ The report underscores, the global AI in pharma market is expected to grow from $0.91 billion in 2020 to $5.94 billion in 2025 at a CAGR of 47%. The initial spurt in growth was mainly due to companies resuming their operations and adapting to the new normal while recovering from the COVID-19 impact, the report underscores.

Although, the number of pharma entrants in this space isn’t yet very many, major players includePfizer, Novartis, IBM Watson, Merck, AstraZeneca and Bayer. Gradually, some Indian drug companies are also testing water in this area, as discussed in the article – ‘The Increasing Use Of AI In The Pharmaceutical Industry,’ published by Forbes on December 26, 2020.

Conclusion:

“Patient-Centricity” emerging as a hallmark, fueled by rapidly changing expectations and behavior of pharma customers, especially doctors and patients. To be effective with such changes in market dynamics – capturing ‘patient experience’ with medication – directly from them – to the respective companies online, is a necessity today.

Most other industries involved in digital marketing are already doing so. Pharma companies while embracing e-marketing can’t just wish it away, any longer. Today, when digital marketing has commenced in the pharma industry, with accelerated speed – machine learning alongside the creative application of AI powered analytics, can immensely help gaining actionable insights on customers. These include customer experience, their perception and pattern of usage of brands, besides channel preferences, preferred contents for effective engagement.

Thus, the consequences of not directly listening to patients’ voice on structured digital platforms – supported by analytics, can be ignored at pharma marketer’s own peril. Many of them may not yet be able to fathom the depth of its potential, opportunities and possible roadblocks, or simply unable to figure out where to begin with and – how. Experts’ hand-holding will be pivotal for them in the transition phase of this endeavor. From this perspective, I reckon, to keep pace with fast-changing customer behavior, pharma marketers need directly listen to patients’ voice online. And based on which, develop customized strategies by leveraging AI – for more productive engagement with them.

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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