The Relevance Question: Balancing Brand Benefit With Patient Centricity
The price of admission for having a business in five years is to remain relevant to your consumers. But how can an industry remain relevant when customers can now get the same -- and often better -- information from each other rather than companies? This question has been brought to the forefront most recently by social media, as customers demand more transparency from companies.
If you wish to stay relevant, say customers, give us something we value. Providing valuable resources, the argument goes, will imbue the successful company with a halo of trust and translate into increased sales of this company's products. There's a wealth of supporting evidence that people trust brands that are responsive, authentic, and transparent, and such effort is rewarded with an increased tendency to purchase from these trusted brands.
This logic works for many industries, but is less straightforward for Pharma, where there is both an intermediary between customer and marketer and a substantial regulatory framework to consider. Pharma companies are undeniably experts about diseases for which they have products, and research shows that patients and physicians welcome pertinent, timely information from Pharma about these conditions.
But increasingly more people (and even some physicians) are unaware which companies produce the drugs they take (or prescribe). Sure, an "altruistic" investment in patient health by a Pharma company may gain kudos and positive press, but how will this investment pay off in the end if consumers don't associate specific products with this benevolent corporate entity? If loyalty to the company increases, but there's no mental link between a company and its products, where's the return on this investment?
Some marketers suggest that perhaps the onus is instead on individual brands -- as opposed to corporate communications -- to increase relevance with customers, since associating a brand (as opposed to a company) with a useful resource has more direct monetary benefits. Brands are being challenged by patients and physicians to be more relevant by providing value beyond self-serving messages and content, especially in this new two-way environment.
Beyond obvious legal restrictions that deter many marketers, it's also unclear how a brand manager is to defend such an investment when such content is available elsewhere from "unbiased" sources that patients prefer anyway. How is a brand to truly help patients and physicians while simultaneously being held to the standard that every tactic must result in measurable "brand benefit" (read: increase scripts)? It seems that at this altitude, the corporate mission of improving patient health may actually conflict with brand reality.
In the end, marketing a prescription product can't be promotional all the time. But neither will it ever be a completely altruistic exercise. As is increasingly the case with medicine these days, the challenge is to balance running a business with remaining relevant to consumers and serving the greater good. And while the solution is certainly not easy, it's essential that the industry find new ways to uniquely add value for its customers.
If you ask them, your customers will point the way forward: "Listen to and interact with us to discover what information and resources that only your brand can offer would be most valuable to us." Some smaller orphan drug companies have already figured this out, in that they have direct, two-way relationships with their customers, because they need each other equally and acutely. They have learned to understand not just the condition, but the needs of the people affected by it.
Resultant examples that fit this unique value proposition include patient assistance programs, patient education, connection to other patients on the brand, and timely answers to questions about the brand, to mention a few. Now it's up to the rest of the industry to learn and evolve.