The life of a life sciences marketer is never easy. They face a multitude of hurdles and obstacles that they must successfully navigate to put their marketing plan in place. And it can come from any direction. The FDA has its say on what can be said. Higher ups at the company want to know what kind of ROI the plan can deliver before moving forward. Physicians are closing their doors to sales reps. Consumers are distrustful of the industry—and these constant pricing controversies aren’t helping that. And politicians are fighting over policies that can affect access to products. Yes, it appears the ACA will remain in place, but politicians still have high drug prices in their crosshairs. That is why PM360 asked 10 industry experts to help you by answering the following questions:
- In your opinion what is the biggest roadblock that pharma marketers face today?
- What can marketers do to overcome this roadblock?
- Do you foresee any new roadblocks that may not be a major concern now, but could become one in the near future?
- How would you recommend marketers prepare for this potential new roadblock?
Procuring physician/stakeholder access and attention—in all its iterations—is one of the toughest challenges pharma marketers face today. This goes for targeted physicians and KOLs as well as NPs, PAs, associations, and others.
No surprise here—physicians are moving away from in-person meetings and favoring self-directed, multichannel engagement with trusted sources. Are you 100% sure your brand plan is optimized for this environment?
The Integration Challenge
Today’s pharma marketer needs to have expertise across many suppliers, platforms, databases, and channels. Pulling all this together is a daunting task. Where it used to be all about Salesforce messaging to high-writing docs, today’s challenges are more difficult and include:
- Having multichannel access to the right doctor at the right time.
- Ensuring proper context and content to introduce your targeted communications.
- Securing personalized tactics and messaging given the brand’s strategic directives.
- Employing relevant peer-to-peer communications for effective engagement.
- Measuring the results to ensure ongoing success.
In the current milieu, no single resource can better integrate these capabilities than full-service medical publishers. Big publishers are in the physician access and attention business—serving up multichannel medical news and clinical content as a “go to” trusted source every day. And they possess extended specialty-specific editorial boards with the top clinical minds in their field! These boards are a breeding ground for new ideas and influence—as well as a resource for credible peer-to-peer communications and education.
The Secret Sauce
From a marketing perspective, the last piece of the puzzle may be the most important. Publisher brand consultants are experts at harnessing the right mix of digital, print, and live resources; KOLs; communication tactics; and channels to effectively achieve optimal physician access, attention, and engagement.
What other single entity has the wherewithal to achieve such a lofty integrated goal of MD access and attention? My guess it would be very hard to find.
One of the biggest perceived roadblocks for many marketers in the promotional space can oftentimes be the regulatory “grey area” limitations on the stories we want to tell. Regulations are in place for a reason, but it can be frustrating for a marketer, especially compared to marketers in other industries who don’t face the same challenges.
We see it over and over again—we get emotionally involved in our products and our patients, and we work so hard to generate insight-driven work that will allow us to “cut through” and unlock the customer behavioral change that will validate the sweat and hours we put into our jobs. Then, we hit a wall. “Overstatement of efficacy” or “Superiority claims” haunt our post-regulatory meeting aftermath, as we pursue another round of revisions that (in our minds) threaten to water down our perfectly crafted story, concept, or initiative.
Partnering with Regulatory
It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own promo worlds until it’s time to “toss it over the wall” to our regulatory colleagues. But marketing and regulatory roles actually overlap in many ways, and marketers can make this process much easier: First by actually becoming part-regulatory. This means reading regulatory publications and attending regulatory conferences in addition to marketing pubs and conferences. Second, truly work side-by-side with regulatory colleagues as close partners (when appropriate) from the very beginning of any high-level strategy all the way down to individual tactics.
Knowledge is power, and any stress-inducing, timeline-killing regulatory roadblocks can be lowered through deep knowledge of our own regulation boundaries, along with our very close early partnership with regulatory colleagues who can guide us along our path from the very beginning. This way, we can all share in our ultimate success as a true team effort that creates the brand story in our unique industry—not just as “marketers” and “reviewers.”
The famous quote, “we have met the enemy, and he is us,” is a humorous twist on the original line from Commodore Perry from the War of 1812. But for today’s pharma/biotech/device marketers the line may hold more truth than wry humor.
Among all the obstacles that marketers face, perhaps the most dangerous is “silo” thinking, a result of old and outdated organizational structures inside their own companies. Too many marketers live inside a structure that has a healthcare professional (HCP) marketing lead, a direct-to-patient marketing lead, another associate focusing on medical education for the brand, and yet another focusing on PR. Usually all of these marketers each use different agencies, which means the brand gets lost in the mix of silos and calendar management. Who is the true steward of the brand?
So, what’s a brand marketer to do? Hold the bar and demand an agency partner that is an integrator. It is not unfair to ask a single agency to be the strategic steward, expertly crafting the work for the HCP, the patient, and caregiver audiences. Select an agency that has proven it can think in a truly “digital first” environment so that messages are delivered when and where customers want them.
Gather data about your customers, campaigns, channels, and Rx or other outcomes in a single place. One of the biggest mistakes health marketers make is treating data from multiple sources using different analytics as equal across the brand. A siloed approach may lead to uneven or ineffective analytics, which means a lot of money spent without getting the most out of the marketing strategy and customer relationships.
Silos are terrific for holding grain. Silos are not good for pharma marketers.
The most significant roadblock that pharma marketers face is their ability to effectively align their tactics with the pharmacy retailers’ tools. At the 30,000-foot strategic level, marketers and retail pharmacies are aligned—namely, their goals are to acquire the right patients, ensure that they adhere to their regimens, and achieve positive outcomes. Where the paths diverge is at the tactical level. They are often not on the same page on core matters such as dollar resource allocation, decisions about patient marketing programs, and usage of data. As a result, communication breaks down and potentially valuable opportunities disappear.
Understand Retailer Tools
Pharma marketers have a tendency to “swim against the current” rather than going with it; instead, they need to make every effort to understand the countless value-added retailer tools that are available. Ad agencies as well should be required to learn about and leverage opportunities in the retail landscape. Think about the critical role that the pharmacy plays in the life of a prescription medication, from pre-diagnosis through usage and adherence. After the diagnosis is made and the Rx is prescribed, the pharmacist is usually the first face that patients will see as they embark on the treatment continuum.
With the diversity of healthcare services and products they offer, today’s pharmacies are far more than a trade channel—they’ve become a center of attention for multiple patient connection points. It’s time for smarter partnerships. By working more effectively with retailers, pharma marketers can grow their brands, validate their spending decisions, promote better patient engagement, and ultimately achieve improved follow-through with their medications. Swim with the current!
The top roadblock: Regulation. Some of it is the reality of regulation and some is the interpretation of the regulation. In the world of digital promotion, social media, and the Internet of Things, there has been little to no guidance from The Office of Prescription Drug Promotion (OPDP) to pharma on what they can/cannot do. Because of the historical nature and conservativism of pharma, the OPDP have taken what could be seen as a risk-adverse approach to how marketers can engage with customers across digital channels. Yet expectations of consumers have increased and so has the need for pharma marketers to be more personalized in the way they communicate.
Without addressing the way that promotional content is reviewed and approved, pharma marketers will continue to struggle to engage their customers in a different, innovative way. A marketer might have the best customer segmentation strategy, customer data, and digital capabilities, but if the approval process is littered with roadblocks, they will be challenged to market in the ways they aspire to.
Focus on the High Value
Pharma marketers should prepare to make the shift to a more customer-centric promotional model. When their Medical, Legal, and Regulatory teams are ready to change, pharma marketers need to have the foundation in place to make the pivot. To do this, marketers need to turn away from focusing on the low-value, low-return efforts and start focusing more on the high value—differentiation. High value = They need to focus on understanding their customers better—who are they; their needs across the care continuum; what information, products, and services are most relevant to support; and how do they like to engage. Then build the compelling experiences to deliver this to them. Low value = Unintegrated tactics not routed in customer needs without clear return on investment.
Roadblocks in pharma marketing are, in some ways, like icebergs. They are well-known, dynamically changing facts of life that come in all shapes and sizes (e.g., regulations, cost pressures, political pressures, access). Getting around them requires innovative thinking and the creative use of modern technology. The real question is: If we’ve greatly improved our radar and satellite capabilities to avoid naval disasters, why are we still using outdated, traditional marketing strategies and tactics to deal with our industry’s current, more visible obstacles?
Despite growing challenges to physician access, for example, many companies still allocate the greatest portion of their marketing budget to direct sales. In the face of escalating out-of-pocket cost concerns, many companies offer only traditional co-pay discount cards in response. Although digital platforms and social media present intriguing opportunities for novel marketing techniques, many in pharma are still figuring out how to leverage these venues appropriately.
New Ways of Thinking
The bottom line is that we can’t rely on solutions that worked in the past to address current roadblocks and prepare for those that are likely lurking below the surface. We need to stop falling back on traditional marketing techniques and business strategies. We need to think creatively about how to build relationships with physicians and patients through non-personal venues and how to deal with rising costs and declining revenues. Creativity isn’t limited to the artistic images and messages of promotional campaigns, it includes imaginative strategic thinking throughout all departments of pharmaceutical companies. It involves collaboration among those who may not have traditionally contributed to the strategic process, such as finance, information technology, legal, and manufacturing.
In today’s environment, business strategy and brand strategy are critical to navigating these choppy waters. The most creative, brave, forward-thinking marketers are the ones most likely to arrive safely and successfully at their destinations.
One of the biggest roadblocks that pharma marketers face today is the continual disconnect between HCPs and patients when it comes to how healthcare decisions are made. We are currently witnessing a sea change in the power of decision making in healthcare treatment. “Empowered patients” are not only beginning to influence many aspects of their care—while acquiring a deeper understanding of their disease—but are also a force to be valued by the HCP when establishing a successful treatment plan. This necessitates having the HCP appreciate this dynamic change, not be resistant to it, and learn to recognize and leverage the benefits of this new type of patient who presents to them each day.
For example, the burden an individual disease has on patients may often be an hourly or a daily reminder of their poor quality of life—and their attitude on a treatment’s success—and may even contribute to their lack of adherence to the overall treatment solution. This disconnect, between the patient’s unspoken reality and the HCP’s sometimes generalized approach to evaluating and treating diseases, must change.
Bridge the Patient-HCP Divide
An approach to bridge this divide can be accomplished by creating a platform that unites patients and HCPs through empathy, understanding, and shared responsibility. For the pharma marketer, learning how to communicate to patients and HCPs in a singular, focused, unified way—through a brand’s voice—will help bridge the chasm that once existed in treatment influence. In turn, this approach can build the strongest bridge possible between these audiences to ensure that shared decision making is at the heart of treatment initiation, which will lead to greater long-term success for the patient, to HCP satisfaction and, ultimately, to the brand.
Two roadblocks in particular are keeping marketers from reaching peak effectiveness: Changing expectations and changing regulations. More than half of all practitioners are now “digitally native,” so they expect information to come to them electronically. Further, regulations are always evolving and growing in complexity. In the U.S., for example, some cities are setting their own regulations on top of federal and state requirements. It’s more important than ever to provide the right information about the right product to the right prescriber—there’s a lot at stake if you don’t. Customer data that is both robust and fresh is key to both staying compliant and meeting prescribers’ expectation for multichannel digital engagement.
Maintaining Data Excellence
A cloud-based data management model can help commercial teams better understand their customers and engage them on their terms. It starts with multi-sourced and verified information about each practitioner, including their locations, affiliations, and compliance details such as medical specialty and license status. In this model, companies benefit from real-time input by thousands of reps in the field who submit data change requests based on their daily customer interactions. Changes should then be validated quickly—in hours, not weeks, as is common with more traditional models. This continuous feedback cycle keeps data fresh, so marketing and sales teams can connect with customers compliantly every time.
To create a foundation for digital engagement, marketers also need trustworthy email data that’s ethically sourced like a professional email, rather than personal email or an address that’s going to bounce. Innovative technologies are now available that make it fast and easy for teams to send reliable, compliant emails using pre-approved templates that are designed to improve both open rates and click-throughs. Just as important, they also can help to improve commercial efficiency and connect with prescribers using their preferred channels.
In stark contrast to our passion, dedication, and contribution towards improving lives, public esteem for the pharmaceutical industry continues to sink. It’s one of the worst-rated U.S. industries in Gallup’s annual measure of U.S. business sectors. In fact, in Gallup’s 2016 poll, only the federal government had a more negative perception among consumers than the pharma industry. Meanwhile, according to a 2016 Harris poll, only one-third of U.S. citizens have a positive opinion of big pharma. And only 9% of U.S. consumers believe pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies put patients over profits. All of which makes the perception of the industry marketers’ biggest roadblock. That’s why our marketing efforts must work harder than ever to earn credibility. At the same time, we must effectively differentiate the brand across today’s fragmented media.
People are the Essential Channel
Furthermore, brands must bring value. And value relies on relationships. Today, people are the essential channel, and relationships are everything. At CreateTech 2016, Tom Goodwin, EVP, Head of Innovation at Zenith points out “technologies have changed—but consumer needs have not. Why aren’t we striving for more innovation?” Goodwin cited how e-commerce page designs are similar to old-fashioned catalogues, and social media ads are similar to one-page print ads. He urged the industry to find more innovative practices—to imagine a world where everyone has a device and where trust is behind everything that we do.
This is a good mindset for pharma. Customer need must outweigh customer perception. Co-inspiration is key. Inspiring creativity in others—colleagues and customers alike—can increase innovation and impact by motivating everyone to solve today’s more complex challenges.
“Collective wisdom always beats a rock star in the corner.” It’s how to create coveted consumable content, associating the brand with content people love to consume, which inevitably gets pulled through the people channel.
In today’s increasingly tech-driven marketing environment, the biggest roadblock that pharma marketers currently face is also their biggest opportunity—namely the ongoing integration of Commercial Marketing with IT Services. As marketing campaigns increasingly rely on sophisticated marketing automation platforms, integrated customer touchpoints, sophisticated tracking and analytics, and deployment across multiple devices, pharma marketers must not only manage the usual regulatory approval process, but also ensure their content engages with customers across an always-on network of digital channels and devices.
Increasingly, pharma companies are closely integrating their IT and Marketing teams, helping to insure the seamless design, delivery, and ongoing management of their marketing assets—not only at the time of launch, but throughout the lifecycle of the brand. This approach is both strategic and executional in nature, as creative assets must be designed from the very beginning to engage customers in a multichannel digital environment. Additionally, it must be crafted in such a way that it can be easily repurposed and deployed in a variety of different channels.
Preparing for Future Roadblocks
General Eisenhower once said, “In preparing for battle, plans are useless but planning is indispensable.” For marketers, it’s easy to get caught up in creating and following “the marketing plan”—while missing sight of the power and agility that comes from an ongoing planning process. When experiencing a state of constant change like we’re seeing in pharma marketing, teams need to embrace the fact that planning is not just something that can be done for a couple of weeks every summer—it has to be done on a weekly or even daily basis as new opportunities and challenges arise. This type of agile thinking is not something many pharma teams are used to, but it is the only way to manage for success in this dynamic marketing environment.