When I started my career in the pharmaceutical industry I was told I would never work in pharma marketing without having been a sales rep. The fact that I hold a Masters in International Marketing, grew up in the industry (I followed in my father’s footsteps) and brought a range of highly pertinent skills was irrelevant – being a sales rep was seen as more critical to being a successful marketeer than having the right qualifications or skills. I have since disproved this “fact” by spending the majority of my career working as a digital marketeer, in some shape or form, for some of the world’s top pharma companies.
During my career I have fortunately seen a shift in thinking away from this mentality but the sad reality it has not completely disappeared, as evidenced in a job application I just saw for a top pharma. There it was again – listed among the basic requirements of the job spec. In this day and age I cannot for the life of me understand why work as a sales rep should still be a pre-requisite for a marketing role. Far more critical should be a good understanding of basic marketing, multichannel engagement and a degree of creative flair or innovative thinking.
Sadly I have experienced, time and time again, the result of having sales people in marketing roles. The lack of understanding of basic marketing by pharma marketeers, including senior people, is shocking. As I try to support brand teams and companies in developing and implementing innovative multichannel strategies I often have to also train them in basic marketing before we can even consider looking at how to navigate the complex multichannel world we now live in. For example trying to explain to teams how to develop plans and strategies tailored to their customer segments I may discover that their idea of segment actually links to HCP group such as GP or Oncologists rather than actual detailed segments linking to behaviours and beliefs.
In order to be a successful marketeer today you need to understand not only basic marketing but you also need to understand the complexities that digital has driven. You need to be creative and innovative to come up with marketing strategies that actually deliver real impact and engage, and not just be able to complete a brand planning template. Our customers now face so much choice and can simply click away from pharmaceutical content and messages. In many countries the role of the rep has diminished drastically and yet we still have many companies placing an inordinate amount of effort on this channel – and this is not helped if marketeers have been hired because of their sales skills rather than marketing expertise. Whilst reps still play an important role for many brands they are now one of many channels and a marketeer needs to understand the reps role within a more complex and interconnected landscape.
We live in a noisy world where the customer has the power and the choice. If companies continue to hire marketeers who tow the old line they will never see the impact they could be achieving. Our industry needs innovators and people who will challenge the status quo. We need people who will above all else always put the customer in the centre and try their utmost to understand what that customer wants and needs, and then deliver the brand messages in such a way that it speaks to those needs and resonates with those customers. The big tech giants are already investing heavily in healthcare and if pharma companies start having to compete head to head with these companies it is pretty clear who the winner will be unless we change our approach and who we hire. Anyone can learn to fill in a brand template but coming up with successful, innovative strategies that speak to today’s customers is a very different skill that takes talent, experience and a different mindset.
Today in one of my mentoring sessions we were looking at the use of Artificial Intelligence in the pharma industry. This in itself is a fascinating area to look at but equally fascinating was the discussion the topic generated – namely the changing dynamics of the healthcare industry and the pharmaceutical industry’s continued snail pace of change.
As we looked at some of the new players entering the market, such as AI startups like BenevolentAi or the big players like Google and Apple, we discussed how pharma is starting to miss increasingly large value opportunities in healthcare, which tech companies are seizing. Whilst currently much of the pharma industry still remains clearly in the domain of the pharma companies that may change in the future as the industry fails to adapt to changes being driven by technology.
Looking at AI & clinical trials for example – currently clinical trials are very clearly the domain for pharma because of the huge financial investments required but also because of the need for highly skilled and experienced people to work in this area. However as AI makes inroads, for example in molecule identification, what’s not to say that non-pharma companies might look at this area and bring in their technology expertise and just hire / poach the expertise they need to run the trials … or indeed just outsource to the CRO?
This article also gives the nice example that technology will increasingly play an important role in treatment and if tech companies find that the pharma industry is the bottle neck to their products what’s to prevent them just buying their own way in to the industry? Once this happens pharma could potentially face major issues as all of sudden their direct competition no longer comes from another slow, cumbersome pharma company but rather an agile, dynamic and fast moving tech company.
And this leads on to another factor that is also hindering the industry namely how cumbersome and slow the internal systems and structures are. Even when a pharma decides to partner with a start up (which is happening but IMHO not as much as it should be) often the clash between the two cultures proves a major obstacle to the success of the partnership. While a startup will expect to move quickly – and may need to move quickly due to limited funds – they then find themselves with a partner who may expect things to take years (by which time the startup has run out of funds / has lost key people / etc.).
Many people in pharma argue that due to regulations this is a totally different market and it is the regulatory environment that hampers speed I would push back on this. Time and time again regulatory constraints is bandied around as an excuse when it should not be. The length of time it takes for a pharma company to draft and sign off a contract or agreement with a startup for example has very little to do with the regulatory environment but rather with the internal systems and staff.
Another cultural aspect that differs between pharma and tech companies – and again which is only partially linked to the regulatory environment – is the right to fail. Traditionally pharma, like many other industries, will only launch or release something when it is perfect, which contrasts with the tech industry which focuses more on agility and adaption. Many tech companies will launch something as a beta version – so not final – but will then adapt it based on feedback and data. Whilst this approach may not be appropriate for the actual pharma products there are many other parts of the industry that would benefit from this approach.
So will we be losing our jobs to the likes of Google and Apple? Probably not in the near future but if pharma companies continue to only adapt at a snails pace it will become less of a philosophical debate and will move closer to reality. And what is certain is that as pharma tries to deal with increasing costs and prices pressures if they do not start to look at the full value picture of the healthcare industry they will lose out on potential new revenue and value sources – and there are plenty of non-pharma companies lining up to grab this value.
This morning I was reading about the difference in opinion between Apple’s Tim Cook and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg on whether AR or VR is the future. In my opinion they are both the future in their own different ways and for different audiences.
As an owner of a Samsung Gear VR I have to say that I think VR is pretty cool and can imagine it will only get cooler with newer technology. The opportunities for VR are huge, from gaming, to education to healthcare. I particular like the way VR is bringing hope and relief to patients, for example through sensory therapy for burns patients (the use of VR therapy during bandage changing saw a significant reduction in pain).
Currently though VR is still somewhat the domain of gamers and tech “geeks” like myself. With the advent of cheaper headsets this may change but will VR ever become a mass market concept? There I am not sure given the “isolationist” nature of VR – namely that you have a headset on which immerses you in the VR world but at the same time can “remove” you from the real world and real contacts. I am not sure I can imagine the masses sitting around in their own world with their headsets.
AR on the other hand exists in the “real” world, being simply augmented over reality. AR offers benefits in the same fields as VR, namely gaming, education and to a degree health too. However the lack of full immersion can also make AR less impactful that VR. What AR does offer however is the merging of technology and real world in a way that people can potentially enjoy together. AR is no longer a new technology though and we also have not seen it take off to follow the hype that surrounded AR a few years back. We also see AR still being used by individuals in their “own” worlds like the Pokemon gamers. This could of course change with new uses and versions of AR, and AR could become something used by the masses in their daily lives, either individually or in groups.
Both technologies offer great hope and opportunity but in my opinion both will always remain more for the young or tech savvy rather than technology for the masses. Both technologies have been surrounded by masses of hype that, to date, has not lived up to expectations. I suspect both these technologies will slowly become part of the norm in certain situations, such as in sensory therapy in hospitals, quietly and without great fanfare, while much of the hype will vanish or move onto the next new technology. But who knows ….
My last post was all about the value of respecting your customers, particularly if you are an airline, and was based upon my terrible experience with Turkish Airlines. To complete that article I should add that my experience with Turkish Airlines continued to be bad including during the flight with some of the most inedible food I’ve ever attempted to eat, old airplanes with seats that did not recline properly and grumpy crew. My holiday itself however was awesome 🙂
As I looked back at this article though I thought it also worthwhile to add my opinion on respecting your customers in the pharmaceutical industry. For too long this industry has been very self-centered and not particularly focused on customers, especially patients (who I also include as customers). Of course the industry is “plagued” by regulation which has made it harder to be as customer centric per se as many other industries. We all know by now that the end of the blockbuster era and the patent cliff ushered in huge change and a shift in thinking for the industry but we are still not where we should be.
So why are we still not as customer centric as we could be? Regulation is often one of the first reasons bandied about for this … “we can’t talk directly to our patients” or “we can’t do that because of regulatory restrictions”. Very often this is however just an excuse. We can still be customer centric and comply with regulations. For starters many patients do not want to hear promotional messages about pharma products anyway so even if we could bombard them with product branded marketing this would still be pharma and not customer centric.
Even where we can do promotion for it to be most effective it should be targeted and try to provide some value to the customer. What is it that a physician needs or wants to hear about? If we develop content – promotional or not – with the customer in mind then we generally see far greater results than if we just stubbornly try to force our message down their throats.
Coming back to the regulatory side of things though I do also believe that it is time regulators also become more customer centric, particularly towards patients. Whist I do not support a US style DTC promotion I also believe that the pharma industry sits on a large swathe of data that would be highly valuable and beneficial to patients, and HCPs. Much of this data is never made available to patients – in part because of compliance but also in part because of the “fear” of regulation and legal action. Counter this with the number of misinformation that patients now have access to online I think there needs to be a change in thinking in how we communicate and share information online. I firmly believe that as an industry (both pharma & regulators) we have a duty of care to make sure that patients have access to accurate, reliable information. We need to drown out the misinformation, and make sure that the correct information is coming in at the top of Google searches, and not hidden away a few pages in.
A second issue is that whilst many patients may never want to know the data, or indeed even understand it, there is a growing number of active and educated patients that do want more information. The informed patient wants to have the data so that they can make their own decisions concerning their healthcare. The days when we as patients blindly trusted what our doctors told us are diminishing. As a patient who has experienced misinformation coming from a specialist, in my case an endocrinologist who told me that the symptoms form my un-managed Hashimoto’s were all in my head, I firmly believe in the movement of the informed patient and the need for patients to be more active in their healthcare. Had I relied on that endocrinologist, and not actively sought my own answers, I doubt I would be here now writing this post as I would probably have either been too depressed or died of heart complications due to over-medication in an attempt to reduce my symptoms.
I think it is high time that all those involved in the healthcare system start to respect patients as decision makers and work together to support the informed patient. How can we make all that data that pharma sits on, that may have no commercial value to the organisation btw, available in a digestible and understandable format for patients. Pharma often has the money and resources to turn the data into content and disseminate it but may not be allowed to – or may not have the incentive to. Much of that data may also have a public health benefit so one could also argue that pharma should not shoulder the burden of dissemination alone. Pharma companies at the end of the day are businesses and if they are not profitable they will go under and that also does not benefit patients.
There are many more questions but there also numerous answers. For starters pharma can start to work more closely with patient associations. Why is it that for many pharma companies the patient advocacy department, if there even is one, is only made up of one or two people?! Whilst we have huge brand teams focused on marketing to HCPs the number of headcount that is focused on patients is tiny by comparison. Pharma really needs to start ramping up in this area.
In turn though regulators may also need to re-assess that pharma patient partnership model. Not all diseases have a patient association but there may be online groups and individual patient experts. How was can facilitate partnerships here for the benefit of all parties? How can we all work together to find a model that supports patients, is compliant but also does not bankrupt pharma? I think the answer lies in the question … we need to all work together! We need to start talking more to patients, and include regulators in those discussions. We need to put patients firmly in the center of the equation, along with HCPs. We need to not only start listening more but also start being more active in driving the change needed to do this. Only then will we start to see an industry that is truly respecting its customers and meeting their needs.
Last week I posted about my need to purchase a new laptop and my excitement about the release of the new Microsoft Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book. I am now travelling weekly and really need to invest in a more portable shiny new laptop or tablet/laptop mix and having done my research I decided that I absolutely have to have the new Surface Book. It ticks all of my boxes in that it is a powerful laptop, is far more portable than my current 18″ big boy, runs Windows (my current tablet doesn’t that well), and can work as a tablet with the keyboard providing the extra battery life and oomph to give you a full day’s work (like my current tablet) – and of course it looks shiny. OMG I want this shiny toy!!! I had heard of the announcement and whilst I really need a new laptop immediately I waited until October 6th as knew Microsoft would make an announcement and there it was – my new desire. Whilst the Surface Pro 4 also looks great it doesn’t quite hit the Book in my opinion. I was so very excited!
You can then imagine my displeasure when the next couple of days there was still no mention of a release date for Europe. To me this seems very odd – in today’s global age why would you only announce for the US and not the ROW? Then my displeasure turned to horror as I found out that Microsoft probably won’t be releasing in Europe until sometime next year – with the vague mention of somewhere between January and March (which to me suggests it will probably be more likely to be March). OMG NOOOOO!!! How could this be?! How could a global company not be selling in Europe?! How could Microsoft get my hopes, and other laptop seekers like @Ubermarketer, so excited and then dash our hopes so cruelly?! Like myself @Ubermarketer needs a laptop now – not sometime next year! Microsoft is making us have to make the painful choice of either waiting 6 months or going with another brand – when we know our desired new shiny toy is already out there but just out of our reach.
Naturally I turned to Twitter to vent my pain and anger. I tweeted @microsofthelps to beg for help. I really need that new Surface Book laptop could they please help me? Pretty please? They responded pretty promptly with a lovely tweet asking how they could help. When I told them they forwarded my tweet to @SurfaceSupport who responded with what looked like suspiciously like an automated response sending me to the US online shop. I responded that I was not in the US (as already mentioned in my previous tweets with @Microsofthelps) – could they help? They then responded asking me where I was in Europe – I replied in Switzerland and the UK (I am British but live in Switzerland) and that I would travel anywhere in Europe to get my hands on the Surface Book – that is how much I want one!! Now of course I realise that that may not be ideal as I want a UK (or at least a US) keyboard not a German, French, or other language one.
So now I wait. Anxiously. Checking my twitter every 30 minutes. Hoping. Praying. Will they have a solution for me? Will they be able to help me in my desperate plight to get my hands on a Surface Book this year? My heart is beating with anticipation and nervousness. What will they reply? What this space to find out …..