An All-Too-Common Question In Pharma Marketing: What Is Holding Us Back?

A quick scan of pharma industry articles and blogs often get me excited with all the chatter of new app features, hot new social communities offering patients deeper ways to connect, or the promise of robust and actionable data we can incorporate from all of our quantified-self gadgets. With all that vigor and excitement we strive each day to deliver the best thinking for our client, embracing all these elements as we counsel and guide strategy. But all too often I see brand managers holding back, taking the wait-and-see approach, and missing opportunities to transform their category. 

Our information-seeking and health management behaviors are rapidly changing, offering many new ways for brands to engage with customers. We can no longer accept that “our regulated environment” is entirely to blame for our laggard adoption of new marketing tools. As stewards of change, and helping our clients define strategies, we have to address the recurring question, What is holding pharma back from truly embracing what is here today? 



Past approach mentality

Past successes have made many comfortable with the status quo. 

After decades of powerhouse brands leading the way and reaping huge market returns, the pharma “go-to-market” playbook is considered by many to be set in stone. The approach to determining strategies and tactics has remained relatively stagnant. The playbook has not kept pace with the marketplace realities that are shaping the expectations of our customers. 

Let’s aim to throw that old book out and start fresh. If designed from scratch today, a mobile-first mentality would rule the day, and shape the types of marketing engagements we design. Mobile is at the center of how we gather information – driving our multi-screen content consumption. Now, let’s ensure we are there when people are searching. With programmatic digital buying we have a pretty powerful play to optimize our media spends with content triggered by online search behaviors. Once we have capitalized upon proactive search behaviors, print and TV, still relevant mediums to our customer, become secondary layers that function best as drivers to the mobile core of our brands.

The confidence to leap

Now that we have the start of a new playbook, there is still the need to inspire our clients and nurture their confidence to leap forward.

Why not look to the companies that are propelling these new offerings and steal another page from their book. There is much to gain from the notion of “failing fast.” Although I would emphasis the focus more on “learning fast” – founded on the premise that we quickly disseminate ideas into market and rapidly iterate from the base concept. Richer insights are gained from in-market scenarios than what can be garnered from the research setting. 

As agencies, it is our job to support this mission. We should embrace developing smaller, more nimble programs, which can test the waters. In-market, we can readily discern how best to influence behaviors and then scale around those effective actions. These approaches are more readily adopted by smaller, start-up bio-tech companies where senior leadership, and even the CEO, is directly engaged in the commercial strategy. Not always applicable for larger companies, but replicating strategies hyper-focused on maximize spend against target does ring true in advocating for a new model. 

It’s time to write our new chapter. Admittedly, it is never easy to rewrite the playbook, but there has never been a more exciting time to take that leap.

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