Marketing ROI: where are we going wrong?

November 20, 2007

At the recent eyeforpharma Marketing ROI conference in Barcelona, one thing struck me forcefully: just how far behind the times the pharma industry is lagging.

At the recent eyeforpharma Marketing ROI conference in Barcelona, one thing struck me forcefully: just how far behind the times the pharma industry is lagging. Only a small portion of the conference (two hours at the end of the event) was dedicated to new media and eMarketing, surely the biggest tool for optimizing ROI available to marketers (pharma or otherwise) today.

Let me just clarify: this is not a criticism of the event itself, as I believe it reflected accurately where the industry currently finds itself; certainly, none of the speakers outside the dedicated new media segment seemed to be clamouring to talk about how their organizations are leveraging new technologies and communication methods to enable them to interact with pharma's ever-expanding stakeholder base.

This is clearly a sentiment shared, on an individual basis, by those working in the industry. During one panel session at the conference, attendees were asked if they felt marketers received enough training to stay ahead of market developments. Only 5% of respondents answered "yes", with a shocking 80% answering that they felt the training they received was "minimal".

Why is an industry as innovative as ours so reluctant to exploit the channels that are available to us? Bearing in mind the perception of the pharma industry by the general public across the world, it's even more baffling that so few companies are taking the opportunity to reach out to their consumers, hear what they have to say and provide them with information, on a one-to-one basis, with no mediators to obscure the message.

Without doubt, a well-trained sales force, an intelligent and consistent brand and pricing considerations, amongst others, are all of the utmost importance for pharma marketers. However, the pharma sales environment is changing quickly (faster than the industry, at any rate), and new, just as important, considerations are cropping up all the time. Bearing in mind the problems looming in pharma's near future, perhaps it's time for the industry to start considering options other than across-the-board job cuts to preserve margins.

At the event, I spoke to two leaders in the pharma marketing field - Francisco Sanches Osorio, International Strategic Marketing Manager Urology Division, Pierre Fabre, and Giuseppe Chiericatti, Therapeutic Area Director, Corporate Marketing, Trinity-Chiesi Pharmaceuticals Ltd.

Pharm Exec Europe: What steps would you recommend companies take in light of the shifting stakeholder base?

Giuseppe Chiericatti: In general I recommend, during the planning phase, to start with the customer in mind. In other words: have a very clear perception of who are the key stakeholders for a given brand (GPs, nurses, specialists, budget holders, etc) and to tailor each activity to any of these clusters. For each activity, have a clear-cut, measurable objective and measure it. Since some stakeholders are relatively new for us pharma marketers, I would use lots of focus groups/advisory boards to ask the customers what they need, how a pharma company could help them.

The era of sales reps detailing PHPs (whether over the phone or face-to-face) is clearly drawing to a close. What elements of this model can we retain, moving forward?
GC:
I believe the tailored approach that top performer reps have with their customers is something to retain. I think reps will still have an important role in the future - probably more as key account managers, with a holistic approach to their territories. Having said that, I think that generating noise in the retail market - especially during the launch phase - is still key.

Will gifts continue to be an element of the rep/PHP relationship, and in what form?

Francisco Sanches Osorio: Today, even taking into account all the regulatory measures applied in different countries, it's my belief that "gifts" as brands reminders will continue to have a role, but not as a key element in the rep/PHP relationship. This relationship has to be founded in more solid bases with a deep knowledge of the PHP, in order to tailor-make both the messages themselves and their delivery. To understand PHP needs and to find the "perfect" solution, today's marketers should individualise their approach and communicate more with their sales force: they must be seen as a partner to achieve a result rather than the person inside the office that produces visual ads, buys gimmicks and every three months does a market presentation.
Philip Kotler says, "Marketing is not the art of finding clever ways to dispose of what you make. It is the art of creating genuine customer value."

Improved patient compliance can boost company revenues: should marketing departments increase their focus on this area?
GC:
The only way I see to improve compliance is to communicate directly with the patients. We need to develop specific projects to increase patients' awareness of their diseases and therapies. So far the results have not been successful - take, for example, the poor compliance in easy-to-diagnose areas with convenient therapies, such as hypertension and asthma.

How should marketers address the challenge of the many blockbusters facing patent expiration?
FSO:
Impending patent expiration is challenging for marketers in terms of forecasting the emergence of generic rivals and the global impact to the company. This challenge can be evaluated throughout a Portfolio & Carryover Analysis that will help the marketer to place the investment according to this event. This is also linked with a Life Cycle Analysis in order to implement the correct strategy by looking with two or three years of distance to the patent expiration date. To anticipate what will happen after is the critical success factor!

Microdosing, adaptive trials and early commercialisation can all help to streamline clinical trials and reduce time to market. Are implementing these measures a viable method of boosting marketing ROI?
FSO:
Microdosing, adaptive trials and early commercialisation can reduce time to market and will certainly boost marketing ROI. On top of everything, one needs to understand the market and prepare the company to these measures. To boost marketing ROI, a company needs efficient marketing that will improve Target Definition, to lead to an improvement of its accuracy and to a better positioning. Also, to target existing customers, because it is easier to retain an existing customer than to get a new one.

What do you think is the best way to approach cross-border marketing, if at all?
GC:
Having worked for years at the global level, I believe that the brand positioning should be the same everywhere, but it is key to leave a degree of flexibility at the local level to strengthen the brand. Local marketers must be involved in the brand-building process from the early stages.
FSO: Industry partnership is at an early stage. The first step will be when we stop regarding each other as competitors: we're partners with an equivalent mission. The competition is to have more and more patients treated with the drug with the best efficacy rate and least side effects. On the other hand, we need desperately to have more patients. This means that we need to unify our efforts to give a better patient information and act upon prevention.

Do you think Pfizer's partnership with doctors' networking website Sermo is a good move? Why (not)?
GC:
I like innovations, therefore I consider Sermo a very interesting approach to improve the industry/doctor relationship. It is too early to draw any conclusions.

Why do you think the industry is moving so slowly to capitalise on newly available marketing tools?
GC:
I think this has to do with, historically, the conservative approach of pharma companies, and therefore of the current pharma executives. With the next generation of managers things may change very quickly. Even if the pharma market is very regulated, I still believe there is room to leverage more on new media.
FSO: One of the biggest issues of today's marketers is how to manage time. A lot of companies are reducing their sales and marketing workforces because of R&D setbacks and the arrival of generic drugs. This means that the work is concentrated in fewer people than before and this is reflected in the implementation of some strategies.
The newly available marketing tools, especially those related to the evaluation of return-on-investment, are not easy to work with and require an investment of time. As I said, time is what marketers do not have! That's why these tools are not exploited as fully as they should be.