What's Next For Pharma Marketers? Asking The Right Questions

Remember 1994? The World Series was cancelled because of a players strike. Not only was there no World Series, the World Wide Web was in its infancy. At that time, pharmaceutical marketers enjoyed a near monopoly on product information. And sales representatives had unfettered access to physicians.

Times change. Innovations in technology have catapulted us into the mobile information age. Almost anything anyone (doctors and patients alike) would want to know, including drug information, treatment options, condition research, and more is now instantly available, anytime, anywhere.

This shift has been so rapid and so radical that many marketers have been forced to reconsider fundamental tenets of their mission. How do we maintain a meaningful presence and impact in this new world? More specifically, we've been forced to ask questions such as:

  • How can I earn physicians' attention and trust?
  • What distinctively practical information, tools and resources can I offer in support of my products?
  • How do I leverage our current understanding of treatment adherence to develop programs that patients/consumers will accept, embrace, and follow over time?
  • How do I cast a sufficiently "wide net" to attract an audience -- consumer or professional -- while staying within the boundaries of labeling?



The current paradigm shift is especially daunting in light of the remarkable success of marketing efforts over the past 50 years. During this time period, the rep-centered sales model helped propel the industry to unprecedented growth. Most of today's leaders in pharma marketers matured during this golden era. Can these same individuals now deviate from (formerly) foolproof methods to imagine, design, and launch novel approaches to marketing -- methods that may be unfamiliar, unproven, and untested?

As Stephen Hawking observed, time only moves in one direction. So we must address the situation at hand. While there are no simple answers to the queries posed above, we can begin to ask new, different questions to guide our next steps:

  • Assessing the competition: What level of quality and what type of responsiveness have doctors and patients become accustomed to in the digital domain? (Note: Pharma companies now compete with not only other pharma companies, but with the likes of Google, Amazon, Dell and Up-to-Date.)
  • Making learning fun: Can we redesign promotional medical education as an enjoyable game for doctors and consumers -- something they enjoy and seek out, rather than tolerate?
  • Reaching the point of care: Can brand marketers provide value-added mobile tools that speed delivery of relevant information about their products to the point of care, for doctors, or to the point of use or healthcare decision-making, for consumers?
  • Enhanced services: Can we provide better service to clinicians when they have pointed questions about our products? For example: can we restructure, streamline, and simplify the point of contact between clinicians and medical affairs departments that support specific brands?
  • Communicating differently: What is out there -- or what is in development -- that would elevate brand marketing from simple reach-and-frequency efforts to greater relevance in the context of clinical care (for physicians) and health maintenance (for patients). Are there new forms of information architecture, of real-time opinion gathering and sharing, of motion media design, of epidemiologic or behavior trend detection and reporting? Do any of these advanced communications tools merit exploration in the context of product marketing?

We are living through a profound transformation in how we explore, communicate, and learn. Given the highly regulated nature of pharma marketing, everyone agrees that we must embrace this change with caution. We should not, however, allow ourselves to be paralyzed by these constraints. We have no choice but to think differently in order to successfully adapt the world we now inhabit.

2 comments about "What's Next For Pharma Marketers? Asking The Right Questions ".
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  1. Nicole Heyl from Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios, Inc., August 12, 2011 at 8:28 a.m.

    Pharma and most of the US business model today is social corpratism. Marketers and management are more concerned with nonsensical feel good social concerns rather then the bottom line.
    Pharma will be a government utility.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 12, 2011 at 10:49 a.m.

    You didn't touch privacy. Google is reading emails. History sniffing is all the rage. FB et al sell your info to 2nd, 3rd parties and who know who they sell it to. And it very cost much mor efficient for a potential employer to find out the medical history of a potential employee and dependents than to hire someone with problems. This is a problem and you'll never know why you are the first to be dismissed - most states are at will so no one has to tell you why - or never hired.

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