It should be no surprise that the pandemic has wrought a shift in consumer health preferences. The latest EY Future Consumer Index found that 44% of respondents from different demographic groups said that “healthy/good for me” will become their most important purchase criterion. Consumers want companies to help them meet their health and wellness needs, including providing access to innovative products and services that will allow them to live healthier lives.

The consumer health market is anticipated to grow significantly in the coming years. By 2025, sales of consumer health products are expected to reach $368bn, according to Euromonitor, encompassing everything from sleep aids to vitamins to sports nutrition products.

Healthcare and pharma companies are watching this trend and refining their strategies to meet tomorrow’s health consumer. But to succeed, players must deeply understand both the end-to-end consumer and patient experience and create an ecosystem of partners to deliver the care, products, and experiences that health-conscious consumers need.

Reconsider the Role of Packaging

Once companies recognize that the box on the shelf is a conduit to broader connections to services and tools between brands and consumers, they can reimagine a new, digital-age consumer health model. Consumer health companies can shift from static packaging to incorporating service delivery to their customers.

Consider the SmartLabel™ Digital Transparency Initiative, which was created by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Industry Association under the manufacturing companies’ and retailers’ parity-based entity called the Trading Partner Alliance in 2016. The goal was to provide a plethora of product details that could never fit on a package label. It doesn’t just tell consumers what ingredients are included in products; it can explain what those ingredients are, why they’re in the product, what they do, and even where they come from. Companies such as Procter & Gamble and Nestlé are already using it.

As consumers become more informed about their specific needs, they will seek out tools that can help meet those needs. Technology offers pharma marketers the opportunity to use the box as a connector, a means of establishing a partnership in helping that individual solve a health concern, meet a health or nutrition goal, or simply become more informed about what’s on the market to address their own health and wellness.

Prescription refills can now be placed with a simple click on a patient portal. What if you scan a QR code on the box or bottle and it would trigger an approval from your healthcare provider? Or what if you had a digitized bottle that could sense when you’re low on pills and place the refill request automatically?

Pharma marketing and product teams may ask themselves these and other questions, including: What technologies or valuable benefits could be incorporated in the product’s packaging? Which services could be provided through the box in each regulatory context? And what should be reinforced to boost the credibility of those services?

Capture and Leverage Consumer Data

In the future, health services will be interconnected with data platforms to support personalization and monitoring. While many platforms are available that collect data from individuals, much of this data is either collected inconsistently or is not transmitted back to the consumer in a way that allows for true behavior change.

Consumer data is a fundamental asset to be owned by the value chain players. Pharma marketing teams must be bold to keep building trust and long-term loyalty. They should engage with adjacent companies and brands and look for partnership opportunities that could deepen their impact.

Data can also play a role in connecting products to meet consumers’ needs in real-time. In December 2020, RB launched the Cough, Cold, and Flu Navigator with WebMD. This personalized platform shortens the purchase decision journey to help consumers quickly find the best ingredients and products to treat their symptoms (OTC and non-OTC products). Consumers enter their symptoms and product preference type in a seamless digital process, which then determines which RB product would best help alleviate their symptoms (Mucinex DM, Cēpacol, Delsym 12-Hour, and others).

If a consumer is unsure of their symptoms, the Navigator provides education on what each symptom is and what active ingredient is best to treat it, and even offers non-OTC remedies that could offer relief. This tool is the first branded mobile web-to-SMS-to-digital coupon for real-time redemption.

Through increased data, consumer health companies can inform treatment plans for conditions such as diabetes to ensure patients are getting what they need to stay healthy. This represents an opportunity for consumer health companies to engage with individuals like never before, providing a level of care and partnership that promotes better health and wellness for everyone.

Understand the Changing Retail Strategy Landscape

Healthcare has been expanding beyond the walls of traditional health systems for years, and this change has only been accelerated by COVID-19. But many of the changes we have seen from healthcare providers, such as same-day telehealth appointments, represent only the start of the transformation that needs to happen. A real and permanent change in how care is delivered is needed to address the increased expectations of healthcare consumers.

As retail and healthcare continue to converge, retailers will increasingly become points of care to deliver services. This approach can help diversify revenue streams, differentiate from competitors, and increase foot traffic by meeting multiple consumer needs. Many retailers, ranging from big-box retailers to chain drugstores to grocery stores, have begun earning trust as healthcare providers through the administration of COVID-19 tests and vaccines. While e-commerce is growing, the physical location still has a valuable role to play in the new consumer health model.

Walmart has recently focused on expanding its virtual healthcare presence. This effort includes the acquisition of telehealth provider MeMD and partnerships with Doctor On Demand and telehealth app Ro. The company’s mission is to provide an “integrated, omnichannel health delivery that leverages data and technology to improve engagement, health equity, and outcomes.” The retailer has been gradually building out its network of in-store clinics—a bricks-and-mortar presence that will be complemented by its virtual care offering. Walmart has also announced an agreement with Transcarent to provide low-cost health services to self-insured employers and their employees, including a 24/7 personalized health and virtual care platform.

Additionally, Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) has made a $5.2 billion investment in VillageMD, increasing their ownership stake from 30% to 63%. Their goal is to accelerate the opening of at least 600 Village Medical clinics at Walgreens primary care practices in more than 30 U.S. markets by 2025 and 1,000 by 2027—and more than half of those practices are expected to be in medically underserved communities. Through its partnership with VillageMD, WBA offers full-service primary care practices with primary care physicians and pharmacists co-located at its stores, all under one roof at a large scale.

Most retailers have developed health and wellness strategies, but these approaches need to be carefully tailored to fully integrate retailers’ channels and earn the right to play in the healthcare space. This represents an opportunity for consumer health companies, and pharma marketing teams, to establish deeper brand connections with consumers through new retail channels.

Empower Consumer’s Digital Self-care

As consumers increasingly use technology to monitor their daily health and wellness indicators, consumer health companies have an opportunity to adapt and provide technology that serves their needs. For pharma marketers, they should have a clear understanding of this new consumer journey, and where and how they can meet the consumer along their path.

For example, Johnson & Johnson’s Zyrtec AllergyCast app provides the pollen count each day for the user’s zip code, along with an allergy impact number. Thanks to a proprietary algorithm, the app uses multiple factors such as weather and social media mentions of allergies in that zip code to provide an idea of how likely that person is to have symptoms each day. Asking Google Assistant to “talk to Zyrtec” pulls up the experience and asks consumers about their allergies, including their location, and what information they want to use to create personalized daily pollen reports. Weather factors such as wind, precipitation, and regional differences feed into the recommendations that are made.

J&J also developed the Neutrogena Skin360™ app, which enables a skin scanner to track the health of a consumer’s skin. The app analyzes how it is changing over time and helps the user confirm that their beauty regimen is achieving results. Each scan identifies over 2,000 facial attributes such as dark circles, wrinkles, fine lines, smoothness, and dark spots.

The relevant growth driver for consumer health companies is based on their ability to build a reliable platform for daily monitoring and proactive actions that the patient can trust and will commit to using. Consumer health companies able to prove their worth and develop a solid operational strategy will have a chance to become a trusted ally in this effort. Pharma marketing teams should consider how new products can tap into the continuous monitoring space and should understand the most valuable use cases to address healthcare challenges aligned to their product portfolio.

As consumer health companies innovate to meet these changing consumer demands, a starting point is to consider additional products and services that can evolve with consumer trends. Messaging will be key as brands seek to build trust and awareness with consumers. Those that can offer a pathway through meaningful advice and simple strategies for improving health have a chance to create an exciting business model that revolutionizes the consumer health space. The companies that can gain trust and deliver value have a chance to lead the pack.

  • Miguel Duarte

    Miguel Duarte is the EY U.S. Consumer Health Leader, where he advises healthcare and life sciences organizations on transforming their enterprises through a consumer-oriented lens. Miguel holds a BA in Economics from Coimbra University and an MS in Management from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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