To say that pharma marketing is rapidly changing is an understatement. With new tools and technologies, new marketing methods, and a new marketing environment, the marketer of the future could look and work very differently than they do today. PM360 asked 12 experts in the field to look forward and imagine, based on current trends, what marketers and marketing will look like in five to 10 years. We asked:
- What new skills will marketers need to be successful in their work?
- What types of collaborations and cross-functional abilities will pharma marketers need to build to ensure success and increase ROI?
- With the emergence of AI, VR, AR, and other remarkable technologies, which tools do you think will be most effective for pharma marketers? Which are you most excited about?
- What will be required to reach HCPs, especially those who have moved to large hospital systems?
- What role will empathy play in improving relationships with patients and physicians who may not believe pharma has their best interests at heart?
- What will great creative look like in the future?
- What will be the single biggest challenge/opportunity for future pharma marketers?
Marketers trained in being empathetic know that they’re not marketing to traditional “marketing personas,” but to real people, with real feelings, preconceptions, and relationships. Empathy training gives marketers the ability to understand patients’ pain points, and they move from building transactional communications to authentic patient-centric communications that actually address these pain points.
It’s sad, but the fact that we have to talk about empathy and empathy training means that we’ve been living with a really low bar for quality patient communications. It’s no wonder that patient engagement has been a challenging metric for pharma marketers to chase.
Our organization has spent the past year retraining our people and restructuring our processes around what we call Health Authenticity, which is another way of saying “empathy for the patient.” It hasn’t been without its challenges. We’ve found that what qualifies as authentic is often a moving target. And being authentic requires a whole person and whole team approach. But it has undoubtedly driven massive patient engagement and traffic growth for us. Readers respond to articles that come from a place of understanding of what their true intent, concern, and mindset is. So I can confidently say that the more pharma marketers can demonstrate true caring for and understanding of patients, the more patients will feel connected to their brand.
In medical device and diagnostics, we’ve seen huge strides around technologies that enable more proactive care, like point-of-care testing, connected-care devices, and interventional approaches. Because these devices mean significant changes in how care is delivered, companies must pivot their marketing from driving awareness to increasing adoption and use by (1) identifying techniques and approaches that improve outcomes and efficiency and (2) sharing those insights to improve adoption and reduce costs across the healthcare system.
For example, point-of-care testing needs to reflect the reality of their usage across multiple care settings. Marketers can no longer deliver a one-size-fits all brand campaign and instead must deliver programs that show health systems how their devices accelerate the delivery of care, relevant to each setting.
As HCPs become overwhelmed with the volume of data generated by connected-care, new resources and techniques are needed to manage this influx of information and support early intervention.
Similarly, as surgical procedures are shifting towards interventional approaches, providers, hospitals, and health systems have to make significant operational adjustments to accommodate shifts in patient volumes and facilitate improved collaboration between care teams.
To successfully grow the adoption and integration of these technologies, companies need to bridge the knowledge gap by identifying best-in-class techniques and approaches starting at the practitioner level and sharing those insights to improve implementation and adoption across the healthcare system.
To understand the future let’s examine the past. Twenty years of digital evolution has fundamentally changed people’s relationship with media forever. It’s changed their relationships not only socially, but also with brands and businesses. We now all consume content at the speed of light, have a seemingly infinite number of platforms and channels to choose from, and an insatiable appetite for learning, entertainment, and self-diagnosis (good and bad). We expect instant fulfilment, or at least same-day delivery!
Technology will mirror these attributes of consumer behavior and will be at the heart of every process. Pharma brands will be able to respond in real-time with data analytics informing every step. Greater understanding of compliance changes will facilitate better ideas driven by timeliness and relevance, which will streamline overall processes.
The built-for-TV external agency model will unravel. We will gradually stop working from our external ivory-laminated towers and move in with our clients to keep up with the minute-by-minute cycle of opportunity that exists everywhere. By doing so, we’ll discover what it’s like to be on the right side of the firewall and have more access to data, in a GDPR friendly way, than we ever imagined possible. In the future, everything pharma will be informed by the right data.
Despite my enthusiasm for onsite agency teams, not all of the work has to be done onsite, or in-agency. De-coupling production to more advantageous parts of the world (benefits of costs and times zones) will be commonplace as technology makes onsite, nearshore, and offshore working the norm, whether you’re a global business or a startup.
I’m most excited by the convergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and new interface technologies such as AR, as it is the combination of more powerful computing systems with new means for human-computer interaction that will change our lives most significantly in the coming decade. AI will indeed power the interactions we have across all applications—and will to varying degrees, be present in every touchpoint in health and wellness.
From diagnostic tools to ongoing care, from billing to doctor-patient interactions, we will see AI leverage streaming data and personalized health information to give us smarter, more efficient services, even as we get new tools to interact with those services. Experts we regularly convene with on AI and interaction design agree we will see characters (or avatars) powered by AI playing a significant role in our daily lives—all that within the next five years.
Health is one of the three major areas where experts in AI see the biggest impact—with education and entertainment being the second and third major areas. These AI interactions may even employ animated characters, or even hyper-realistic human avatars.
For instance, more mundane tasks may be handled by an AI character, with more complicated issues or questions surfaced to a human. Or, a child may interact with a playful character throughout a visit to a medical facility, engaging in an entirely novel and unique conversation. Marketers will likely play a significant role in ushering in these new models of interaction. We will, though, need new rules to protect the interests of doctors and patients as automation evolves.
In the health tech sector (devices and diagnostics), our creative is usually handled in a fairly traditional way. I’d like to see the whole thing get flipped to a model where the client doesn’t pay for the creative at all. They pay for clicks, subscriptions, and ultimately sales. And the more results the agency delivers, the more it gets paid. So creative teams crank out ideas, pulse them through the market, constantly review the metrics, and revise the work almost daily to maximize results (and profits).
The era of “precious” creative is on its way out. In the future, the creative process is going to be a lot messier and a lot more collaborative. The walls of the agency will be plastered with previous rounds of creative, analytics reports, sketches, and headline options. We’ll develop whole lists of what works and what to avoid. Creative direction will be based on customer results, not on opinion—which means you’ll have to leave your ego at the door. And week after week, you’ll see the results get better and better. The process will be collaborative, humbling, and thrilling all at the same time. While we’ve seen the consumer products and other parts of the health marketing space operate similarly, this is an entirely new perspective for health tech.
This past year, we’ve done creative that inspired COPD patients to use their ventilators, interventional cardiologists to adopt new life-saving technology, and radiology departments to improve patient care. And we know for a fact that it was our creative that made it happen—we have the metrics to prove it. I think that’s the creative of the future, and I’m excited as hell to see it happen.
Establishing trust between pharma and a skeptical patient population will require more from marketers than empathy training, which would likely help them develop sympathy but not genuine empathy. Patients’ unique perspectives, motivations, and barriers to daily living have to be understood, prioritized, and made more tangible.
Marketers have to be empathetic—not just seem empathetic. Using creative concepts that relate to patients’ hidden, often uncomfortable, or ugly experiences is critical in building and maintaining trust. But just understanding those uncomfortable experiences is not enough. There are conditions that cannot be properly explained because the physical impairments are so dramatic or because the burdens are easily underestimated.
Symptom or experience simulators could help close this gap and provide a tangible option for marketers to a lived patient experience with some authenticity. We would like to see pharma invest in such virtual reality, even partnering with patient advocacy groups to develop immersive experiences that challenge marketers to create more impactful and memorable connections with patients.
Every worthy endeavor should begin with the patient—both in allowing patients to recommend ways for others to empathize with their lived experiences, and in continually collecting patient feedback on what has been developed. If pharma and pharma marketers can first demonstrate an ongoing commitment to identifying with patient communities by soliciting their involvement, and then committing funds, time, and expertise to the development and deployment of such technologies, patient trust and lasting high-value relationships will follow naturally.
We live within a loop of data, the healthcare ecosystem being no exception. Marketers and other decision-makers now have access to unprecedented types and amounts of data. These include medical and prescription records, digital and mobile activity, as well as various real-world patient data sets, ranging from traditionally solicited primary market research to patient reported outcomes and social media content.
Finding and acquiring patient, caregiver, provider, and even payer data is no longer a challenge. Rather, the main challenge is not drowning in it all. To have a chance at swimming, decision makers will first need to be able to discern the value and, more importantly, the limitations of each data set, as a crucial step toward matching each to the most applicable business questions and objectives.
More than ever, marketers’ challenges are complex, as after all, they involve complex humans in complex situations. Consequently, the future involves moving beyond the belief that there are skeleton-key data sets. It is time we accept that no single data set is going to answer a strategic question, paint a comprehensive picture of a healthcare reality, or solve a marketing challenge. A key skill is and will be the ability to meaningfully integrate the most relevant data sets for a particular issue or task, including “un-siloing” typically siloed data sets, such as quantitative and qualitative, physician and patient, structured and unstructured, and behavioral and emotional.
Then, crucially and on top of that, we can’t lose touch with the humans behind all that data.
While difficult to predict the future of pharma marketing, it is clear that analytics will play a significant role in the future. By employing AI tools to identify patients prior to official diagnosis and to assist with predicting when a patient is a candidate for a change in therapy, pharma marketing efforts will focus more on the patient and target specific decisions made throughout the patient journey.
The biggest challenge and opportunity really differ by the size of the market that is being addressed. As we have seen over the last decade, the advent of more specialty medications has moved focus away from broad markets that have been highly saturated.
For marketing into orphan or specialty markets, the challenge and opportunity will be identifying patients. We are asked with increasing frequency to find these patients, including those that haven’t been diagnosed yet, but from all other interventions, appear likely to have the diagnosis of interest.
In broad markets, the challenge is whether products can be developed that aren’t simply a continuous innovation but a discontinuous one, revamping the excitement and interest in broad market products and their potential.
Leverage Data to Find the Right Patients
The current role of big data in marketing and the constant push for more quantifiable metrics will force marketers to consider new paths in the ways they leverage data. They will need to build more facility with a wide variety of data sets to reach the right patients at the most relevant moments, and then be able to quickly measure the results of their campaigns to optimize spend and maximize returns. While marketers would not be expected to be data experts themselves, they must know how to select providers that deliver the needed services, expertise, and scale.
By working with trusted partners who can identify targeted, receptive patient populations, marketers will be able to “do more with less” and achieve higher ROIs on increasingly tighter budgets. This means choosing partners who not only have access to the data but who also know how to navigate it to create the best audiences in the most effective media environments.
Seize New Media Opportunities
The most successful pharma marketers will also need to expand their horizons and think very differently about how they define “media.” With their active focus on health and wellness, for example, pharmacies represent an influential media space that can seamlessly integrate with programmatic marketing techniques. Coupled with timely and actionable measurement, the data available in both platforms can now provide a closed-loop that enables higher ROI and drives prescription sales. The ability to act on opportunities like these will exemplify the best marketers of the future.
It will become increasingly important for marketers to focus on incorporating new technologies that will allow their brands to interact with their targets cost-effectively based on how, when, and where HCPs and patients desire to consume content and engage with the brand. Our newest innovation in virtual meeting technology, Pando, enables face-to-face dialogue and is an example of how a progressive virtual meeting platform can reach pharma’s target audiences in a nimble and efficient manner while ensuring that engagement is not compromised. We have most successfully utilized Pando while working collaboratively with medical communication agencies and brand marketers to ensure that the brand content works in harmony with the technology and that the content is consumed most effectively. It is important that brand marketers and procurement leaders do not disintermediate content and technology providers but work together seamlessly to achieve optimal impact and ROI.
Reaching Docs in Hospital Systems
As physicians increasingly become part of and employed by healthcare systems, they are more difficult to reach and engage with traditional research, education, marketing, and sales approaches such as live advisory boards and speaker training meetings, dinner programs, and direct sales efforts. There are a variety of reasons for these challenges including healthcare system policies that limit employed physicians time out of office, daily patient volume requirements, and Sunshine Act restrictions that are strictly enforced by the systems. Based on these dynamics, deploying the most current innovations in virtual meeting technology that do not compromise engagement will become increasingly important to reach healthcare system physicians. In addition, today’s Millennial physicians, who grew up in the most technology advanced era and are replacing the retiring Baby Boomer workforce, desire to engage with efficient technology solutions as a preferred method of acquiring scientific education.
Rather than a new skill, it is a new mindset that will be required to be successful. Have you heard it? A slow but earth-shattering shift in our industry from being product-focused to being patient-focused. What does this mean for the marketer? When they stop focusing on marketing their product and start focusing on marketing better patient outcomes, the changes in language, behavior, and decisions will become clear. Our marketers should not be marketing pills. They should be marketing life.
And in terms of empathy, the literature is clear. People, brands, and organizations who focus on the difference they make in the world are the most successful. Period. So how do we help our people connect to their purpose?
First, we need to help them witness how their work impacts others. That’s where empathy training comes into play; experiential exercises, bringing the patient to the front of the room, sharing patient stories, etc.
Secondly, and this is done far less frequently, we need to help our people connect with, develop, and share their own story about the why of their work. Once they share this story, they are more engaged and engaging. The walls come down, collaboration goes up. “You’re just like us!” HCPs say while they embrace the pharma person as a partner to help them create better patient outcomes. We call it The Power of Purpose. Having helped thousands of pharma people create and share their Purpose Story, we are certain that this is the missing ingredient to helping patients and HCPs realize we have their best interest at heart so we can collaborate and create better outcomes together faster than anyone can alone.
The opportunities for pharma brands to deliver value direct to consumers has never been greater. Advances in conversational tech and AI provide amazing venues for pharma marketers to build connection and mindshare with audiences in all new ways.
Historically, pharma has been very internally focused, relying on marketers who have honed their skills around traditional marketing tactics. Most of today’s pharma marketing budgets are segmented by channel (such as email, display, or website). This limits the ability to develop cross-channel attribution models that reveal true conversion rates and provide insight into the full user experience. Alarmingly, multi-million-dollar spending decisions are made based on misunderstood and incomplete data.
Yet the disruption of traditional marketing and business models isn’t passing pharma by. As in other industries, consumers bring high expectations for personalized experiences and answers to their questions, at the right time and place. Pharma and other medical and healthcare-related companies need the expertise in place if they want to deliver value directly to consumers.
As digital spend increases, ROI is plummeting. Across all industries, ROI on paid search, display, and digital video ads drops precipitously year after year. Why? Digital marketing platforms have become more crowded with content, while audience demand has stayed flat. The demand for quality is ever-rising.
More advertisers are competing for the same users, and those users all want a better experience. Pharma brands are still winning user attention, but at an increasingly higher cost. The most successful marketers will hedge against these trends by using more sophisticated reporting strategies, advanced technology platforms such as chatbots and AI, and targeted personalization strategies to deliver relevant messages to the users who are most likely to respond.