Reforming Pharma Marketing - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Reforming Pharma Marketing

Pharmaceutical Executive


Emotional drivers

While all of this suggests a heavily rational approach to positioning and messaging, the emotional component will also become increasingly important in a post-ACA world where shared decision making (SDM) continues to grow. Through a variety of online media options, patients are more informed than ever about their treatment options and are taking an active role in many decisions.

Reform legislation calls for pilot projects exploring SDM, which creates a formal process that lets patients participate in making "informed choices" about elective procedures. Both the Mayo Clinic and Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center have already embraced the concept and have launched shared decision making centers where doctors and decision-making coaches use aids to help patients weigh options on intervention and testing.

To patients and physicians, "outcomes" mean more than economics and analytics. There's a privilege and responsibility that comes with working in an industry that can advance human health and improve lives. Expressing outcomes through emotional drivers like quality of life will reach both caregivers and patients on a more visceral level.

Launch execution

There are relatively few industries where you can launch a product and know with virtual certainty how large your target market is, who the best customers should be, how and where you can reach them and what competitive products they're currently using. Plus, if any competitors try to enter the market, you'll have years of advance notice because all of the competitive data will be available in the public record.

Pharmaceutical marketers have operated under these favorable conditions for decades. Given the drug development cycle, by the time a product receives market clearance, pharmaceutical marketers are intimately familiar with their target customers, purchasing drivers, and how they intend to deploy their sales and marketing resources. The combination of pre-market conditioning leading up to launch, combined with the full-court press of an integrated commercial plan, provides a very efficient means to get immediate traction.

But the ACA creates scenarios that will force manufacturers to rethink their approach. Specifically, the move to tie financial incentives to a performance model rather than the standard "fee for service" model will necessitate a change in the marketing strategy and tactical approach for pharma manufacturers.

Guidelines for accountable care organizations are designed to integrate hospitals, doctors, and caregivers into a seamless entity to deliver cost-effective care. Providers will be rewarded for achieving clinical standards and performance benchmarks rather than procedures.

Adapt or die

When the customer set or purchasing drivers change or expand, strategies by definition must follow suit. In nature as in business, the concept of "adapt or die" is as relevant as ever. The graves of many a once successful brand are marked by a steadfast dedication to the status quo.

What this means for commercializing pharmaceuticals is a shift in both the message and method of how products go to market. The direct selling method to physicians will no longer be viable on its own. A more organizational sales approach will be required to reach a multi-disciplinary team of decision makers that range from clinical subject experts to laypeople. This shift will have major downstream implications on the tactics used to support the marketing strategy. For example, sales teams will have to shift toward business-to-business sales strategies instead of relying on high frequency visits and sampling. Marketing channels should expand beyond the traditional media mix to include a broader, integrated approach designed to reach a more diverse audience. And multiple, customized communication vehicles will be required to address the varied interests, purchasing drivers, and clinical understanding of the key stakeholders.

Without question, the ACA will significantly impact how healthcare will be packaged, sold, delivered, and consumed. It also provides unprecedented opportunities for pharmaceutical manufacturers to access an enormous pool of new consumers. To capitalize on these new opportunities and to protect the franchises they've already built, pharmaceutical companies will be required to transform their thinking around long-held beliefs and basic assumptions, starting with identifying their customers and understanding their needs.

Gregg DiPietro is Senior Principal at Back Bay Life Science Advisors. He can be reached at
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