Learning is something you can never finish. That’s something the entire industry knows and grapples with—and developments in 2016 proved this to be true on a number of levels. On these pages, 12 industry professionals talk about the biggest lessons they learned this year—from their own expertise standpoints—that not only turned their own thinking on its head, but that will better prepare them, and the industry at large, for the challenges coming in 2017.
Some of the largest changes in our industry this year have come from the way in which companies approach innovation. There’s a shift away from traditional agency models helping to find innovative solutions and into developing partnerships with many non-traditional companies, such as Google, Amazon, or Apple. Prior to 2016, innovation was considered risky. Today, the risk is not being innovative and disrupting the status quo. Innovation departments and innovation accelerators are becoming the norm. This is fueling a universal shift toward next-gen marketing that demands adaptability and innovation to succeed. Companies need to seek out exponential thinkers who demonstrate these capabilities.
AI, Bots, and Robots
Over the past year, we’ve seen the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, Bots, and even Robots as they begin to have real application and impact in the life sciences industry. They will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on the industry and world at large and will become a strong component of integrated marketing programs. As we move into 2017, blockchains and cybersecurity will be added to the list. Many of these trends are taking the buzzwords of the past, such as “Big Data,” and turning them into viable strategies and, in doing so, are delivering on the promise of true ROI measurement, making it an exciting time to be a part of the industry.
In 2016, mergers and acquisitions among pharma, biotech, and medical device companies has been the most disruptive force in the industry from our perspective. While these activities represent great opportunities for well-positioned agencies such as 2e to access new brands, M&A tends to have a cooling effect on momentum within brand teams.
We expect M&A activity to continue at this pace throughout 2017, and are gearing up to manage the politics of change management as client organizations navigate these waters. Because our value proposition as an agency is so perfectly aligned with the evolving desires of modern brand marketers, it will be critical for us to manage growth responsibly, ensuring quality and culture are not sacrificed in the process.
“Active Patient Empowerment”
With all my heart, I hope the healthcare marketing industry will stop using the phrase “Digital Transformation” as a buzzwordy placeholder for the idea of engaging patients through web and mobile. The fact is, evolutions in policy, coupled with an emerging generation of digitally emboldened healthcare marketers, have opened the industry to engaging patients and HCPs through digital channels. We love this, but it shouldn’t be confused with “Digital Transformation,” which defines digital competence and literacy as a society.
As far as projected buzzwords, we’d like to see “Active Patient Empowerment” become a focus for the industry, as a definition for the dedicated empowerment of patient advocacy in driving health change across all channels, both “traditional” and digital.
The trend in data analytics over the last year has been to shift towards objective, quantitative analytics solutions. In order to build the most accurate data models, we need to examine actual clinical behavior. We cannot rely on who clinicians say influence them, or whom they are connected to on social media. If you asked someone what they watched on television Sunday night, they might say 60 Minutes. But if you examine their actual behavior, you may find that they were, in actuality, binge-watching episodes of a reality television show, thus highlighting the importance of quantitative analytics.
The availability of patient-clinician encounter data is growing faster than ever before, and clients rely on us to help them leverage this treasure trove of information to help them accurately predict clinician behavior. More often than not, they need to reach and influence tens of thousands of clinicians. We no longer need to settle for using web-based surveys with small sample sizes. Our predictive, machine learning-based analytics can reliably define influence on the full cohort of clinicians in a given disease state. Furthermore, our models do not just identify connections between clinicians, but also weigh the value of those connections based on actual clinical practice—not just through their social interactions.
In 2017, our clients will continue to demand ever more accurate and comprehensive influence maps, and since analytic techniques are always growing, we can better define each ecosystem within a given disease state and provide actionable intelligence that can be leveraged to help clients grow their business.
Ironically, I think some of the biggest challenges this year in the life sciences sector were presented as a result of a more positive economic environment. In terms of our existing business, client demand for our services has been strong this year. While that’s clearly a good thing, ramping up to meet that demand has taken some very detailed planning between our Sales and Operations teams.
Competing for Mindshare
Furthermore, in this environment of increased activity, it can also mean meeting greater challenges with regard to the acquisition of new business. Clients have more providers to choose from, and distinguishing a brand and building relationships in a crowded space can be more of a challenge than in a space where there is a lot of consolidation happening. We find ourselves competing for mindshare amid a variety of different options that our clients are presented with, often trying to distinguish ourselves on some highly technical or specialized points against a field of varied providers.
Last, employees and people have more choices today—a good thing—but it can mean that open roles take longer to source and fill than they would in a more constrained environment. Attracting and retaining the best talent always has to be high on a manager’s list, but when employment options abound, it becomes a challenge that’s never far from mind.
Today’s focus is on achieving lower costs, better care, and driving patient outcomes. Success in the marketplace requires the more comprehensive and innovative approach inherent of a multichannel marketing and sales strategy. An approach that can pull through the appropriate demand of a drug, engage patients throughout the entirety of their treatment journey, and educate healthcare providers to the true clinical value of a therapy, is essential. Emphasis on patient outcomes also spotlights adherence—the two go hand-in-hand to increase treatment efficacy. Too often, however, patient support is sub-optimal, which can result in poor compliance, a challenge for which innovative healthcare solutions and patient support services can help.
An integrated, technology-driven approach will continue to trend in 2017. With it, comes the ability to deliver a positive patient and physician experience. Tactical solutions within the engagement program, such as messaging, electronic patient reported outcomes (ePRO) collection, digital health apps/wearable connections, direct patient reimbursement and call center escalation, should be simple and fluid in design for the study stakeholders. To be successful, the platform should provide an experience that is intuitive, and user-friendly. The platform and tools used to coordinate the direct-to-patient design need to be secure and provide analytical insights to continually confirm the effectiveness of the design.
In 2016, the industry experienced an unprecedented level of public participation in conversations regarding the development, approval, and commercialization of pharmaceutical products. From deep, personal engagement with the FDA regarding the approval of orphan medicines, to congressional inquiries about pricing practices, we believe 2017 will see a continuing evolution of the public’s focus on the industry, and will present exciting opportunities for all of us to engage in meaningful conversations with the people who have the most at stake in medicine: Patients and families facing the threat of serious diseases.
Patient-centric. For our clients, this isn’t a buzzword or a trend. It’s a mission, and one we believe will continue to gain prominence for our clients and across the industry. Increasingly, people facing serious conditions are becoming more actively involved with their health, connecting and sharing their experiences with others to spread knowledge. Companies and brands that can effectively engage and empathize with patient audiences across the entire spectrum of their journeys—from diagnosis to treatment initiation and beyond—will find lasting success. Getting there isn’t always easy, however. Developing best practices, processes, and engagement strategies requires commitment across organizations and brand teams, as well as agency partners.
With the impact of the patent cliff, payer/value dynamics, the Affordable Care Act and the Sunshine Act are now clearly entrenched in the U.S. marketplace, and what has emerged is a biopharmaceutical industry that is leaner, more oriented around breakthrough specialty-medicine, and more focused on driving short-term profit growth in the absence of significant top-line gains. Ongoing industry deals, mergers, and acquisitions are the biggest manifestations of this shift, but others, including sales force and marketing department downsizings, budget frontloading and fencing, and the increasing involvement of procurement, all highlight an industry that has reinvented its commercial model to be far less dependent on primary care-driven blockbuster drugs, traditional promotional spending trajectories, and demand generation activities.
Focus on Analytics and Metrics
Healthcare agency partners must adapt accordingly, as a result of these dynamics. Some of these specific adaptations include: Becoming more flexible and nimble in how we work with clients; engaging with procurement groups to ensure they understand and appreciate the breadth of services and unique offerings of the agency; focusing on diversifying client rosters both across biopharma and within the broader health and wellness sector; and proving the impact of advertising and communication programs with a necessary focus on analytics and metrics.
Patient centricity will remain a priority in our healthcare system and will have that staying power in 2017. With information more accessible than ever through digital channels, and continued cost increases burdening patients and their families, patients will increasingly become more discerning consumers. More effectively engaging with patients and families through social channels, providing resources to help patients discern value, facilitating decision making between patients and care teams, and assisting patients in obtaining coverage and reimbursement for products and services, will be mainstays in how the industry engages the new healthcare consumer in 2017.
I recently attended a career fair at Miami Ad School in search of show-stopping digital craftspeople—designers, copywriters, and videographers with highly refined skills. We gave them our pitch, sharing about ourselves, our work, and why we chose healthcare.
To my surprise, many of the students we met were moving past the digital tidal wave that’s hit our industry so hard. These digital natives were seeking positions that allowed them to design and write for print or television. Paradoxically, the craftspeople, who were experts in digital, were looking for jobs that let them flex more traditional creative muscles.
Herein lies the dilemma: As projects become more complex, we look for creatives who can specialize in one medium or craft. Meanwhile, many creatives are eager to practice skills outside of their craft. You can see this with the rise of the Maker Movement, for example. Makers oftentimes start as digital experts who explore alternative, more traditional fixes to existing problems. Their innovations challenge the status quo and make us rethink aspects of our campaigns.
We now compete with consumer agencies for both employees and award recognition. We see this at the big award shows such as Cannes Lions Health, where the bulk of the winning agencies aren’t from health backgrounds. Despite this fast-paced change, I love knowing that the creative bar in the health industry continues to rise. Trends like the Maker Movement and the invasion of consumer agencies into healthcare mean that our space is innovating rapidly, and it’s leaving some brands behind.
We’re fortunate to be a part of a larger network that recruits top talent and encourages experimentation beyond a single craft. In that vein, I predict traditional media will play a larger role in 2017—both in recruiting new talent and in delivering client-facing solutions.
In 2017, the healthcare landscape will continue to evolve and become more complex. In our globally linked information society, patients will continue to educate themselves and behave more like consumers from non-health categories. Providers—who are now compensated not only on health outcomes, but also on patient satisfaction measures—will search for technological solutions to simplify and improve the patient experience.
While this evolution has been taking shape for some time, in 2017 we expect to see technology integrated even further into multichannel marketing strategies. Leveraging technology at the point-of-care (POC) will become an integral part of the solution for brands that want to lead, which is true for pharmaceutical and OTC brands, as well as for healthcare providers. Because of its mix in educational content and interactive technology, we expect significant growth in POC marketing. From 3D interactive technology to mobile apps for physicians, POC offers technology integration opportunities that brands can’t capitalize on elsewhere.
With POC growth, it will be important for marketers to ask their partners to deliver measurable, validated results—not just flashy tech without effective and actionable content. Both physician provider groups and pharma marketers need POC partners who can be trusted and who deliver real value. Brand impact in measurable results of script lift or ROI is what’s important, so the content needs to engage, inform, and empower patients and physicians. In 2017, we’ll see this play out further as pharma standardizes evaluations.
DTC will face increasing regulatory pressure. With tighter restrictions on advertising, and as more physician offices restrict or block sales rep calls, POC offers opportunities to educate patients and provide more content than a 60-second TV spot or static print ad. In 2017, POC will become the primary communication channel for brands that want to build relationships with physicians and patients.
The traditional approach to drug pricing (clinical value, fixed price, rebates, volume arrangements) may still be widely used, but it does not itself drive incremental value in terms of care quality and cost-effectiveness. Consequently, new outcomes-based contracting (OBC) models are emerging. OBC enables a stronger alignment of interests between pharma and payers by tying the payment to the real-world value delivered by drug therapies, but few examples to date have worked. To truly achieve success, OBC is increasingly harnessing innovation. We believe digital health solutions can catalyze the OBC trend and help address some of the challenges that limit its success.
OBC relies on value derived from real-world outcomes. It is essential that payers and manufacturers agree on the definition of value drivers and the key measurement metrics. This lets them assess and share the real-world value, but the practical deployment of the OBC will also involve providers and patients. Indeed, the successful implementation of OBC requires strong coordination of the care team around the patient and across the continuum of care. Without shared objectives and shared data, it is impossible to deliver on the value attributes agreed upon. As such, the real-world data generated by patients and providers must be collected, measured, and turned into actionable insights in order to evaluate whether the value metric was achieved.
We can foresee a future in which clinical-grade digital health solutions will help overcome these challenges. They collect patient real-world data and, based on embedded clinical algorithms, provide real-time feedback to the patient and care team. By providing digital interventions, these FDA-regulated solutions could help increase adherence and persistence, empower patients, and deliver improved outcomes.
With so many different options for platforms and various approaches to data management, the most difficult challenge of 2016 was getting data to work harder for pharma companies. Understanding, and then successfully using technology to create actionable plans, data-driven toolsets, myriad platforms and software, and a variety of data interpretations, is now a critical component of healthcare marketing. Some best practices have emerged regarding how to be smarter about leveraging data, but because they’re fragmented it can be difficult to get cross-team, -company, or -agency alignment. The key lesson I’ve learned is that defining a core set of principles across a large marketing team goes a long way in setting everyone up for future success. This means getting consensus very early on as to how data will be identified, aligned to business objectives, and turned into action. This requires transparency across functions, as well as guidance on implementation.
Agency Roles Increase
“Data-driven marketing” and “accountable marketing” are climbing the buzzword charts, and I don’t think they’ll fall off anytime soon. With the giant shifts taking place across pharma and marketing, agency partners are going to be asked to take on new roles in data-driven channel planning, marketing innovation, and ROI modeling and analysis. Data will not disappear as an integral part of marketing decisions, and various tools and platforms that clean, organize, and visualize data will only become better and more intuitive to use, increasing companies’ abilities to make the most of their valuable data troves.
The early part of this decade saw unprecedented funding for early-stage pharmaceutical/biotech companies. This increasingly allowed companies to develop their pipelines, from inception through launch. These companies tend to have strong clinical expertise, but lack expertise in other areas needed to successfully launch a drug, specifically the commercial side of the business. As a specialty strategic consulting firm, we have been challenged to provide these companies with commercial support so they can independently develop and launch their drugs. Key areas in which we have supported companies include launch planning; providing a commercial lens for clinical trial planning; and developing infrastructure such as sales force and marketing teams. Experience in these areas has taught us the importance of leveraging not only the commercial, but also payer/access and patient perspectives throughout pre-launch work.
Challenges in Value Communication
Pharma and biotech companies continue to be challenged in communicating the value of the drugs they bring to market. Specifically, within the specialty drug market, prices continue to increase, making it imperative that a clear value story is provided to the healthcare community. This year, we witnessed several promising new drugs (PCSK9 inhibitors, Entresto) receive significant pushback from both payers and physicians regarding their value to patients. In 2017, we expect to see companies increase focus on conveying the value of their products to these stakeholders. For example, proactive health economic and outcomes data will complement traditional clinical data, demonstrating long-term quality of life and cost effectiveness.
Companies will also leverage traditional sales representatives to provide more holistic physician, payer, and patient education. We expect this will improve the transparency of the high-priced drugs on, or coming to, the market.