If you're a pharmaceutical marketing professional today, you don't need special 3D glasses to see barriers and problems coming
at you from all directions. REMS programs, accountable care organizations, Internet information (and misinformation) overload,
aging populations, payer restrictions, tightening FDA restrictions, specialty product distribution, the relentless growth
of generics...I'll pause here and let you continue the list for your brand. Every one of these issues adds another layer to
the complexity of what was once a fairly straightforward transaction: Find the customer's unmet need and fill it.
Here's how it worked. Patients had illnesses, physicians diagnosed and treated those illnesses, and pharmaceutical manufacturers
supported them by creating and marketing products to treat those illnesses better, with greater safety, or (insert unique
brand benefit here). We as marketers helped to solve the core unmet needs of physicians and patients and to support the moment
of truth in the physician's office—that moment when our brand was chosen because it solved the unmet needs better than any
The job of the sales rep was to bring the brand story—data, mechanism of action, and brand benefits—into the physician's office.
Probe for concerns, discuss the advantages, and ask for a trial.
And in the days of thousands-strong sales forces, it worked. Company to physician, physician to patient, a successful model
of modern medicine. Life spans have grown longer, diseases have been eliminated or contained, and for many, the quality of
life has improved.
Then the healthcare market began to change. More regulations, changes, and barriers coming soon to a market near you. Finding
a customer's unmet need and filling it is just the starting point (in fact, exactly who the customer is now isn't always clear).
To be successful, we have to look at the market differently, understand how multiple forces are creating a new dynamic at
the point of care, and design our programs accordingly.
Back to the unmet need
Even with added influencers and barriers, we can safely say the key players in terms of core pharmaceutical marketing communication
are the pharma manufacturer/marketer, the healthcare practitioner, and the patient. What we can't say is that they need the
same things from a brand and a company that they used to or are impacted the same way.
Let's start with you, the pharma manufacturer and marketer. Frankly, your needs haven't changed all that much. You still need
to deliver to your shareholders and stakeholders—revenue, profit share, innovation, and satisfied customers. And you still
need to deliver on your mission to contribute to the health and well-being of patients (which is why you got into this business,
Physicians, however, are another story. They now practice in an environment that's radically different from just a few years
ago. New discoveries have made the science of disease treatment more complicated and the drugs in the physician's armamentarium
more complex. Regulations and payment issues have added more than paperwork to their practice, and keeping up with it takes
more and more of their already limited time. Patients walk into their exam room with stacks of articles downloaded from the
Internet—some helpful, some misleading, some downright wacky. And they might not be alone—their caregiver is often in the
office as well, expecting their fair share of the physician's time. If you ask today's physician what they need, you may hear
something like this: "I'm not as comfortable treating many of my patients. I can't always treat their condition the way I'd
like to or the way I've been trained to. I don't have the time to sit with each patient, explain their condition and treatment
over and over, and correct the misinformation they have found or heard. I need more time. I need more help."
Add to that the fact that the prescriber isn't always the physician anymore. Physician assistants and nurse practitioners
continue to grow in influence and bring a whole new set of needs into the equation. Patients have changed as well. They no
longer salute the doctor's white coat and do exactly what they are told. They have multiple sources of information, loads
of questions, and help from family, friends, and caregivers, and they expect to play a major role in treating their health
problems (in spite of their lack of medical training, experience, or credentials). Led by the large, diverse generation of
Baby Boomers, today's patients expect more from their physician and healthcare practitioners. They now see themselves as partners
in treating their disease. And what do they need?
"I expect to play a role in this process. I can think for myself and don't take everything my doctor says as gospel (because
quite frankly, my doctor doesn't give me all that much time). I need to be in control of my body, my situation, my disease."
Doctors are getting more frustrated, patients more assertive, and marketers more challenged. Discomfort and disconnects are
everywhere. But so is opportunity...for companies and brands that are willing to embrace and work within this new dynamic
in this multidimensional marketplace.