The Top Trends to Look Out For in 2015

In 2014, words such as Big Data, programmatic buying, content marketing, real-time marketing and point of care rose to prominence in the healthcare marketing industry. Not all of those were new concepts. Some carried over from 2013, while others (like content marketing) have been around for quite some time. But they all represent the fact that healthcare marketers were willing to explore new ideas to achieve better results. And every New Year brings fresh buzzwords that marketers will either embrace or bemoan as they continue to search for new ways to better serve their target audiences.

In order to ensure you are properly prepared for what new or revised ideas might emerge in 2015, we asked eight industry experts to tell us what to expect in the New Year. More specifically, we asked:

  • What will be the biggest trends in 2015 that will simply be unavoidable?
  • What will marketers need to do differently in 2015 than in years past?
  • What is the greatest challenge marketers will face in 2015?

David Davidovic

David Davidovic

The Biggest Trends That Will Simply Be Unavoidable

1. The Continuing Debate Over U.S. Healthcare Reform

The never-ending debate will go on. As the new Republican-led Congress takes their seats, there will be a lot of internal struggle between two sides of the same party. There will be those who believe they were elected with a mandate to completely repeal Obamacare and those who see a more pragmatic view and will simply want to make evolutionary changes to show that the party can govern come the 2016 elections.

This internal struggle will likely continue to freeze Congress from doing much—and life will go on, but not without continued uncertainty.

2. R&D Productivity

The industry will come out of years of relatively unproductive R&D and we will see stronger pipelines and more products coming to market. Some will be evolutionary products and simply new generations of existing therapies but there will also be a slew of new highly innovative products based on novel and exciting science.

This will bode well for the industry and for healthcare, but will put a lot of pressure on payers especially as many of these products will likely command premium prices consistent with their differentiated features and benefits.

3. Generics, Not So Cheap Anymore

With consolidation in the generics industry, increased enforcement actions on certain generics manufacturers—including the shutdown of production lines—and a relative slowdown in the rate of blockbuster drugs going off-patent, we will see an increase in the ex-manufacturer prices of generics.

Payers will see fewer savings from their generic strategies and the growth rate in the price of the generics “basket” will greatly outpace that of branded products. We are still unsure where they will focus their search for cost reductions.

4. Biosimilars, More But Slowly

We will finally see more of these entering the market. These will be mostly “low-hanging fruit” products but we’re still years away from having a clear regulatory pathway that satisfies everyone for the next generation of products.

5. EHR and Health IT

The proliferation and maturation of EHR systems, and Health IT overall, will continue, though still a long ways to go before they realize their full potential.

Biopharma companies will increase their understanding of these systems and there will be a greater number of collaborations among EHR companies, payers, HCOs and life sciences companies. It will be a bit tricky at first, but we will start to hear good stories from this collaboration.

What Marketers Need To Do Differently

1. Get Clarity Around “Multichannel”

Marketers and their agencies and vendors will continue to talk multichannel, but, unlike efforts so far which have been largely “multi-silo,” we will see more integration and leverage among various channels.

For this to happen, there will need to be a breakdown of silos in both the client side and the agency side—which is easier said than done.

2. Driving Execution Excellence

Many people want to get into marketing because they see it as a “strategic” function with a lot of seductive qualities. But strategic thinking is far from sufficient. The ability to execute flawlessly will continue to grow as a non-negotiable skill. This means being excellent at collaboration communications, project management, multi-disciplinary knowledge, change-management and more.

In the past, the line was “we want some strategists and some execution experts on the team.”  The new trend will be to look for people who are both. They are often found in small companies, with small teams and small budgets—but managing big challenges nonetheless.

Wendy Blackburn

Wendy Blackburn

I’ve Seen the Future, And It’s Data-Driven

What will be unavoidable in 2015? The pervasiveness, accessibility and inherent opportunities that data brings.

Data allows you to move from mass advertising to one-to-one, precision-targeted communications. Data enables you to build personalized continuous relationships, fine-tuned to the needs of patients and HCPs. Data helps you speak to the patient based precisely on where they are in their journey. Data makes marketers smarter, more prudent and more effective. In other words, data will become the most important tool in the marketing mix—the tool that predicts, informs, optimizes and transforms.

The pharma industry has been building towards delivering against the promise of a customer-centric model that provides value beyond the pill. Effective use of gathering and analyzing data will allow us to make this promise become reality at the individual level.

The difference? 2015 will be the year we stop just talking about data and start doing more with it.

The greatest challenge is wrangling all this data. Understanding the best way to gather and capture it. Identifying what’s valuable and actionable, and what’s just noise. Identifying the platforms to manage and automate the sophisticated marketing model. It requires a patient, holistic, thoughtful up-front approach that directly ties to brand’s goals. And it requires finding the staff and partners to help you get there quickly.

Customer-centricity. Digitally connected health. Personalization and customization. Value beyond the pill. These popular buzzword concepts all sound great. But often—and understandably—I hear the question from clients: “Where is the value in all this for ME, the product manager, and for my company?”

That’s the beauty of data. While data enables you to deliver upon the customer-centric model, it’s also data that connects all the dots to measure, prove and optimize ROI for your brand.

Ken Begasse

Ken Begasse Web

2015: The Year of Engagement

Engagement is what drives brand success—more than ever. We are used to high-level online engagement in our daily lives and interactions due to the proliferation of social media channels, and there is tremendous opportunity in making sure we provide that same level of engagement to customers’ brand interactions.

When we use engagement as our key metric, it opens us up to a world of possibility. You are no longer hamstrung by what’s “always been done.” Instead, you pursue what will engage customers effectively. For instance, the value of unbranded campaigns has been debated, but if an unbranded campaign brings engagement, it’s of value to your brand.

Customers are increasingly looking for “experiences,” and other industries are doing a great job of marketing them to customers. Now it’s time for us to do it as successfully as they have by first creating engagement, then ensuring the quality of that engagement. What transpires as a result is brand relevancy in a marketplace where relevancy has always been fleeting. Engagement cements the customer relationship in a way that nothing else can.

Engagement also solves the persistent problems inherent in agency relations. With engagement as the primary objective, it doesn’t matter how many agencies you have; that objective automatically aligns internal and external resources in an effective and immediate way. Finally, the complexity of agency relations is simplified.


In 2015, pricing matters. Healthcare costs have risen 131% while U.S. wages have increased by only 38%. That disparity has to be effectively addressed by marketers. It requires a balanced price communication approach that addresses the concerns of a variety of players—patients, payers and healthcare professionals. As for patients, marketers will be tasked with creating communication strategies that communicate, in a nuanced way, both the short- and long-term costs benefits of a given medication.

In this environment, physicians require materials that go beyond the benefit/risk scenario into price justification. We have to arm them with consultative tools that effectively and simply communicate not just the clinical value of a given medication, but the financial value as well.


Closely linked to pricing, viability is key in 2015. Look at what’s happening with Sovaldi. Gilead is being sued over the $84,000 per treatment price tag. This drug is truly a breakthrough—finally solving the complexity of treating hepatitis C—yet, it’s not viable due to its price. Pharma marketers and companies must limit complexity, starting with adoption. Before we go to market, we have to look at a brand’s viability and address it head-on.

Non-Personal Takes the Stage

Data shows that sales reps are experiencing a 12% to 20% drop in physician access. If that continues, the sales model as we have known it may be dead by 2017. The decrease in rep access to physicians will create a corresponding increase in the growth of direct, non-personal communication with physicians. The good news is that the ROI potential of non-personal physician access versus that of the traditional sales rep model is arguably higher.

So, embrace non-personal engagement. It’s time to change the playbook, because the game has changed. The healthcare environment is exceedingly complex, and that creates the need for safety, which is why we’ve seen a lot of talk about non-personal, but much less adoption. It’s human nature to grab onto what’s familiar and safe. Ultimately, though, sticking with a dying model is not safe—it’s dangerous.

Trish Nettleship

Trish Nettleship

1. Mobile First: We’ve been talking about optimizing for mobile for a while; in 2015 we need to move to thinking mobile first. With mobile Internet usage outpacing desktop usage, we have to start with mobile. The challenge with mobile first is it’s all about the experience. We must focus on simplicity and relevancy. If you don’t get it right in the first three seconds, you will lose your audience.

2. Convergence: Customers are active across a range of channels and we need to be as well. The convergence of mobile, social, search and traditional marketing will be necessary to ensure a consistent experience for our audience, wherever they choose to engage with our brand. People don’t care about our internal silos, they care about the experience they have with our brand. We need to make a more conscious effort to bring disparate groups to the table to learn how to collaborate across channels.

3. Native Advertising: Pharma has shied away from native advertising due to regulatory concerns. With marketing budgets shrinking, we have to find cost effective ways to reach our audience and native ads are extremely effective. One study showed consumers look at native ads 53% more frequently than banner ads. We can no longer hide behind regulatory concerns; we must learn to leverage native advertising in our marketing efforts to provide a more valuable experience for our audience.

  4. Visual Storytelling: Content marketing via storytelling is a great way for brands to establish authority and gain trust. In order to break through the clutter, we must garner attention through visual storytelling. The visual aspect gains the attention while the storytelling keeps the audience engaged.

Cam Bedford

Cam Bedford Web

Focus on Remaining Relevant

Meaningful Use requirements are demanding that physicians provide education and health data to their patients. New communication channels, partnerships and services are being expanded and launched to connect HCPs with patients and their data. These channels and services are able to track activity and measure a physician’s ability to deliver on the Meaningful Use requirements. Pharma marketers need to start exploring opportunities to participate or provide content in these channels rather than just delivering standalone branded patient education that is not traceable back to Meaningful Use. By starting early, marketers may even be able to work with new partners to help shape and increase the value of the educational information provided.

Delivering Measurable ROI

Marketers have more options than ever before to reach patients and provide information, education and support. At the same time, pharma companies are demanding more accountability for their marketing dollars. The challenge of connecting patient engagement in marketing communications to its impact on Rx is becoming more complex as new channels and activities become available. But all is not lost—benchmarks can be created that provide performance proxies and an increasing number of Rx data partners are expanding their capabilities to isolate and then correlate marketing activities to Rx to measure impact. Working with analytics experts will allow pharma companies to align the marketing activities with the performance data and Rx data to determine ROI and then optimize their marketing spends.

Kurt Kessler

Kurt Kessler Web

The Unavoidable Trend of 2015

The most influential trend is the shift in power away from the individual physician. To that end, we must transform the way we promote to the remaining stakeholders as their influence rises.

For example, integrated delivery networks are increasing their share as a point of dominance in some local markets, and by extension present an increasingly sophisticated negotiator for manufacturers. As more and more providers link together, a sharper premium is placed on manufacturers’ ability to effectively influence physician behavior at an account level. This influx proves that key account management is here to stay.

Then there are payers who exercise more control over spend, which requires manufacturers to address market access questions early in the development discussions and decisions that bring a molecule to market. The rising influence of the payers means that our promotion must make an increasingly sophisticated economic case to support access and reimbursement.

Finally, patients continue to grow in sophistication and further raise their voices when asked to bear the financial burden of treatment. It’s not just access to information that is changing, but the willingness of patients to seek and consider costs—in addition to health information—as part of their decision-making process.

Approaches in Need of a Different Approach

Point of care: While the explosion of digital channels allows marketers to better connect with patients, point of care promotion—which is somewhat more traditional—has received far less attention.

Since consumers live in a world awash with noise, they only notice a small fraction of the messages around them. Perhaps less glamorous than solely digital channels, point of care promotion is nonetheless very effective—especially since that moment in the point of care venue (hospital, pharmacy or doctor’s office) greatly increases the likelihood that a marketer’s message will be heard.

Apps: Marketers must use apps in 2015 to help patients stay committed to therapy. The industry spends an enormous amount of money to get through many hurdles with many stakeholders to win a prescription for the brand. But many patients do not adhere to therapy properly (assuming they start at all), which means manufacturers lose huge sums of revenue and patients receive poorer health outcomes. The adherence problem is far too complex to be solved with a single tool, but now is the time to at least try to gain modest improvement with an app.

A Marketer’s Greatest Challenge in 2015

Marketers must get customer-centric marketing right in 2015.

The key to competitive differentiation is to create an easier, more enjoyable experience for the customer. This requires the adoption of a human-centric approach to how we design customer engagement. This design involves co-creation with related stakeholders in an effort to improve the experience across touch points on their journey.

To enable such capabilities, marketers must have a clear view of the customer, linking online and offline customer data so they can engage in sequenced campaigns that account for individual customer needs and wants. Many will find that the sales rep is better empowered by all of the additional channels rather than threatened by the same. An email as a promised follow-up to a rep visit has a seven times higher open rate than the same email without the rep engagement.

The barriers of the past are falling. From a technology standpoint, it is neither too difficult nor too expensive anymore to accomplish a more well-rounded view of the customer—the key to making customer-centric marketing a reality.

Eric Pilkington

Eric Pilkington Web

Predicting the future, especially in pharma, is never easy. But it is always interesting. That said, 2015 will surely be a bit of dystopia and a brave new world for pharma, as websites, social, mobile and applications all converge:

 1. Mobile-only/Mobile-first will be the rule, not the exception. I know, I said this too in 2014. But the Internet today is mobile and in 2015, more than one billion people will use mobile as their only form of Internet access.

These mobile-only and mobile-first consumers stand to influence online media consumption in a number of ways. UX is everything in mobile and the focus must be on sophistication and simplicity. Pharma companies and their brands spend millions of dollars perfecting their brand story and brand DNA, only to have it dashed in literally three seconds by a complicated, or lazy mobile experience.

And everything changes on a tiny screen. Do not be the brand that simply imports your website to mobile—you will lose points immediately with patients or HCPs if your fonts are tiny and it’s hard to navigate. It’s too easy for health consumers to move on to another brand that “gets mobile” and leave you in the dust.

2. Pretargeting is the new real time. Pretargeting and pretargeted ads and curated experiences will use “Big Data” to predict a customer’s preferences with relevant and smart messages while they’re actively engaged, not post.

3. Pharma will finally embrace the IoT and wearable technology. No question that Internet of Things solutions are changing our personal and business lives. From smart thermostats to smart cars, consumers are intrigued by managing their own ecosystems via their connected devices and smartphones.

2015 will see the addition of wearables into the mix in a big way. Phones and wearable devices are now part of an expanded computing environment that includes such things as consumer electronics and connected screens in the workplace and public space. And this will become critically important as more brands try to move “beyond the pill.”

4. Advanced and predictive analytics will take center stage. In 2015 we’ll see smart companies and brands adopting data-driven strategies that move beyond just accessing Big Data to actually integrating data into everyday marketing decisions, product development and campaign planning.

This means that Big Data and advanced analytics can be used to enhance user experience while achieving more effective methods marketing and advertising. After all, identifying the right consumers and presenting them with the timely, relevant messaging and experiences at critical moments is the Holy Grail of advertising.

Neil Matheson

Neil Matheson Web

There are several challenges that marketers must address in 2015 if they are going to be successful.  They include but are not limited to: 1) Value beyond the pill, 2) The power of the patient, 3) Limited access to HCPs, and 4) The increasing need to create engaging content that is disseminated to multiple audiences utilizing multiple channels in a totally integrated manner.

Marketers are brand focused and have focused on communicating their brand’s competitive advantage to healthcare professionals using data from clinical trials which often do not reflect the reality of managing patients in the “real world.” It is now time to demonstrate value beyond the pill and marketers will need a different mindset to address the things their customers want to know about:  The reputation of the company, the work the company does to promote health and well-being, and the programs the company provides to improve meaningful and relevant patient outcomes.

Patients are now empowered by social media and they are demanding more than the large amounts of information available on branded industry websites. They want to use the same tools they use in consumer land—they want to comparative shop, understand how the medicine they were prescribed will impact their overall health and well-being and understand the disease or condition and the treatment options available to them. They also want honesty and transparency and to know that the information they are receiving has been credentialed in some way to ensure its credibility.

Decreasing access to healthcare professionals requires marketers to take a totally new approach to communications. Marketers need to understand how to deliver the right content via the right channels at the right time—when it is relevant. The need for consistency of message across audiences and across channels will be the cause of increasing frustration as marketers realize their companies and teams are not structured and/or organized to deliver such programs. For example, who is responsible for social marketing? Is it the ad agency, digital agency, PR agency, the social agency or all of the above? It’s time to rethink how integrated programs are implemented using a team approach at both the client and agency level.


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