It seems pharma has been hit from all sides: New technologies are appearing faster than they can be understood, regulations are unclear (especially in social media), the industry is moving from product-centricity to patient (customer) centricity, the sales force has been cut, budgets have been cut…and the list goes on. PM360 decided to ask thought leaders from other regulated industries—finance, alcohol, gaming, cigarette, firearms and neurotesting—what they believe pharma can learn from them in terms of navigating marketing restrictions and regulations; breaking into social media marketing; moving from a product-centric culture to a customer-centric, or service-oriented, culture; and handling the onslaught of sales and marketing technologies. Finally, we asked our contributors for the best piece of advice they could pass along to pharma marketers that they learned while working in their industry. Here’s what they had to say.

Rob Knowles



We believe in the product credentials of the alcohol brands we represent, so we are able to maintain a level of product-centric culture. Ultimately, it’s the consumer that keeps us employed and our shareholders happy.

With the explosion of social media, we have 1,000 ways for our customers to digest information about our products—individually, with friends, and now with huge audiences. We seek to create positive experiences, both physical and digital, that allow customer engagement and a sense of empowerment with the brands we represent, such as The Balvenie Single Malt Scotch or Hendrick’s Gin. We are active social listeners on all of the brands we represent.

By creating experiences, content or campaigns that speak to our various audiences, we generate opportunities for them to share that information, building concentric circles-of-influence with our product ultimately and ideally benefitting. Hendrick’s Gin, for example, has shown tremendous growth over the past five years, regularly growing more than 30% YOY because we hold true to brand values and prize the input of our most loyal consumers.

Become an Expert in Regulation

Regulations can get in the way, but we find many companies are not fully aware of them. To succeed, become an expert in that which regulates you. We stay current on all regulations and changes to laws, which vary state-to-state and even down to the municipal level. Our Field Staff maintains, at a minimum, all local certifications required. If it’s not required, we use a nationally recognized certification program (i.e., TIPS).

When opportunities come along to participate at an event, launch a brand, etc., we have to know immediately (a) if we can participate and, if yes, (b) how we can do it in a responsible manner. To maintain efficiency, we minimize or eliminate concepts that will not pass legal. Once we receive legal approval, we can quickly move from concept to activation. By staying on top of regulations, we become a trusted partner for our client.

Dave Martin


Often, regulation support is the price of admittance to the oil and gas industry. For example, the U.S. Department of Defense 5015-2 (DoD 5015-2) certification for records management solutions is something that we have done at great cost and effort. It is a very stringent set of guidelines for how a federal agency must manage electronic records.

This set of guidelines is the gold standard to which all records solutions are measured—in the federal government and by commercial organizations. In all my years deploying records solutions, roughly 5% of deployments have actually met all the requirements outlined in the DoD 5015.2 specification, but nearly 100% of all requests for proposal (RFP) state that the vendor solution must be certified against the standard. So even if we rarely fully deploy a customer’s records solution against DoD 5015.2, we always need to be able to tick that checkbox in the RFP that says we’re certified against it just to be considered for deployment of our solution.

Create a Governance Requirement Strategy

That said, the responsibility for governance (the umbrella that regulatory and compliance responsibilities fall under) remains at home, regardless of the industry. We don’t expect a vendor solution that purportedly solves regulatory problems, or fulfills organizational compliance requirements, to do it all. Every organization has unique governance requirements and needs to define a strategy and a plan to execute it on their own. A vendor solution or third-party consulting service for governance can help define that strategy and plan, but it starts with leadership and ownership from within. The best example I can give: Cloud governance.

Because you are outsourcing infrastructure when adopting a cloud solution, you’d think that would outsource the governance part as well: That’s not the case. The cloud provider may have tools to help execute and support your regulatory requirements, but the negative impact—if anything goes wrong—lands squarely on the organization buying the cloud services, not the cloud services provider.

Pranav Yadav


Selling in a regulated market is a real challenge—and we know that in pharma particularly there’s a great deal of work to be done both adapting to regulation and building conversation with regulators. We’re a neuromarketing firm that uses a patented neurological technology to measure consumers’ brain responses to content of various kinds. By passively reading the electrical patterns in different structures of the brain, we’re able to create second-by-second graphs showing the strength of viewers’ visual, emotional and memory reactions. Long-term memory reactions are especially important—we’ve done peer-reviewed and published scientific research showing that increased levels of memory encoding correlate with consumer choice and market effects.

We work in a number of spaces, but most commonly for brand clients to test and optimize their television advertising. Because our metrics have second-by-second granularity and don’t suffer from the various biases of other kinds of TVC testing, we can give much deeper and more actionable insights than many conventional researchers do. We’ve worked extensively in the banking and insurance industries, for example—testing animatics, storyboards and finished TVCs to make sure brands are getting the best impact.

Fine Tune Fair Balance

In pharma, we think neuro might be a very exciting way to investigate fair balance executions. By looking at different fair balance placements and executions, the best ways of complying with these regulations while keeping viewers’ memory and engagement levels up, could be found. Small changes in fair balance executions might supercharge campaigns, and rigorous, conclusive neuro data might help cool down some of the ongoing over-targeting conversations. The challenge isn’t to evade restrictions; it’s to find a way to do direct, appealing marketing to consumers that complies.

Companies often talk about putting the consumer at the center of their product development and marketing efforts. We believe that neuro is the closest we can come in research to this goal. Instead of using “rationally-filtered” focus groups and survey techniques, neuro measures a pure, unfiltered response. This is truly listening to the consumer.

Robert Carmignani


The most critical factor in successfully transitioning from a product-centric to a customer-centric, or service-oriented, culture is to understand the customer journey as deeply as your own product. As a former casino gaming executive, I saw firsthand that the casino industry is particularly adept at this skill—in-depth analysis is performed on every aspect of the customer experience to ensure ongoing service improvement. This doesn’t mean simply acknowledging the process by which a customer acquires your product or uses your service. It’s much more, and it’s the lifeblood of successful service organizations.

For example, everyone in the organization is responsible for superior customer service at all times. It’s a fully integrated effort to understand and deliver on that promise. Moreover, in casino gaming, and hospitality, customer experiences and service delivery are constantly monitored, measured and analyzed throughout the organization. Every customer touch point is reviewed with an eye toward improvement and a clear expectation that service failures will be addressed immediately and service excellence will be reinforced accordingly.

Identifying Exact Motivation

But to understand the customer journey is to truly walk in the customers’ shoes from the first moment they are exposed to your product message through the last moment they experience your product and service delivery. It means envisioning the very moment at which a customer decides to adopt your product and identifying exactly what motivated that action.

That requires a constant analysis of every customer interaction with your product in order to understand what influences individual behavior—it’s a relentless pursuit to provide superior customer experiences, such as the perfectly executed greeting upon arrival. To the customer, it appears virtually effortless, but in reality that greeting results from hours of training, employee commitment, management reinforcement and a dedicated service culture.

Kris Gabbard


Having worked in several industries, including pharma and now financial services, promotional regulation is a real challenge, especially when standards are specific and stringent, like with the FDA’s OPDP. But regulations can create stronger marketers who use compelling, fact-based messages and complex, targeted campaigns. Best advice: Don’t outsource marketing expertise to agencies and third-party subject matter experts. Develop people into real marketers—not just project managers of other people’s marketing work. Understand what marketing takes and build an internal capability far superior in its ability to impact the marketplace.

Moving from a product-centric to a customer-centric, or service-oriented, culture also impacts the marketplace. It puts less emphasis on brand names and more focus on lifestyle—not “walking on the beach” commercials where fair balance drowns out the emotional connection the product is trying to make. Mixed emotions abound about unbranded pharma promotions—but this approach allows for greater consideration of the customer’s viewpoint without diving into “I’m ABC drug, here’s what I do and here’s my fair balance.” Yes, brand your products, but my advice is to stop building marketing tactics, like apps, to change lives. Let your products do that by integrating them into your customers’ lives.

Handling New Technologies

“New” technology moves slowly into larger pharma. That may result from building proprietary systems or customizing platforms to a point of inflexibility to be “secure and compliant.” With wireless infrastructure, mobile device critical mass, and common cloud platforms, an expectation of getting access to everything and interacting in real time exists.

Pharma needs to open up, build systems that “play well with others” and allow technology to ensure that sales and marketing operations and customer interactions benefit from accessibility. While legal and regulatory affairs will cringe, grant permission for personal smartphones and tablets to do more than email, knowing that security isn’t a firewall. The more pharma lets natural tech trends connect its employees to their work, the more benefit the company, the employee and the customers will receive.

 Mechele Flaum


To answer what marketers in other regulated industries believe pharma can learn from them, I searched the BoomerHead database and questioned colleagues involved in marketing prescription meds, alcohol, tobacco, firearms and gaming in “no attribution” conversations. My query: What is the best piece of advice you could give marketers in other regulated industries that you learned while working in your industry?

Getting Consumers into Your Tent

The “naughty but nice” regulated industries have in common more “full of life” involved communication with consumers. Their point of view: “Even if you’re not directly speaking to them, you want to hang out with your user and engage under a protected setting and get them into your tent.” They aim to build like-minded communities with engaged users. Their target is narrow—people who are qualified and within legal bounds. This pinpoint targeting permits them to get to the right people—core users—and add them into their database. Because impressions are very tightly focused, marketing is simple: Narrowcast messaging to their primary interested user.

Pharma, even though it’s legal, is not known for inviting user-generated content to their sites and public forums. Contending with traditionally restrictive environments, pharma marketers fight uphill for that community mindset. Other regulated industries in many cases have professional writers authoring their sites and time-delay all postings to comply with legal strictures. Yet, consumers are fine with this filtered message and read the banter.

Where the “naughty but nice” regulated industries outshine pharma is in making efforts and investing funds to understand their users’ psyches. These marketers seek out consumer opinions at salon-esque focus groups and bar parties designed to relax users and encourage open dialogue about product use and even concerns. Their websites are clubby and some have “IQ” sections with the do’s and don’ts of responsible product use.

Best piece of advice: Pharma marketers need to consistently ask—and respond to—the question that marketers in other regulated industries do: What do my followers want?


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