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Pharma 2023: Marketing to the Masses


Digital and innovation leader takes issue with the current state of pharma marketing and suggests new approaches are needed.

Internet of things conceptual. Omni Channels icons and blurred shopping center. Image Credit: Adobe Stock Images/livertoon

Andrew Binns, head of digital and innovation, AstraZeneca, took the stage last week at Pharma 2023 in Barcelona, with Paul Tunnah, chief content officer and UK MD, Healthware Group, and founder, pharmaphorum, in a fireside chat that left no stone unturned for pharma marketers. Coming from the hospitality industry only five years ago, Binns quickly learned that there were many barriers in pharma marketing, and maybe, he mused, many of them self-imposed. “People need to be persuaded to believe in the product, and there is nothing wrong with that,” said Binns.

Binn takes issue that “we don’t acknowledge the amazing things we do in pharma.” Pharma marketing can tend to focus on the scientific side, but he believes industry needs more people awareness. And that means to take a content-first approach, not the science-first approach. He used this analogy: “Everyone liked Game of Thrones because it was a great show, not because it was on HBO Max.”

To Binns, omnichannel may be to blame and, at the same time, has become a meaningless word. “We became obsessed with what it looks like to be omnichannel,” he said. “It’s very arrogant of pharma to invest millions into a platform, expecting people to flock to it.” Binns believes that current practices are trying to start a conversation vs. engaging in a conversation. And in the pursuit of channel, he believes marketing has forgot about the stories.

“How do we keep the stories?” asked Binns. “You should have power over the content you produce”—and not be overly focused on the outcome or the behaviors of those receiving the content. In pharma, Binns urged the need to empathize, and create content that empathizes with the audience, “not churns out the [company] message.”

There are some mantras that are oft-repeated in pharma marketing, and again, as Binns said, these may be self-imposed. Take into consideration the following:

#1. “Doctors are too busy.” Binns response is that everyone is busy. “It’s that we aren’t giving them what they need. We can’t just throw crap content at them.”

#2. “Words matter in a regulated industry.” Binns agrees pharma is regulated, but so is the banking and legal industry. “As a marketer, it’s your job to put out material in engaging and compliant ways,” said Binns. “Compliance can still work. If you bring all your teams in right at the beginning—legal, content, medical, marketing, etc.—and bring their expertise that pharma pays good money for to talk through the issues. Then you aren’t doing [compliance] as a box-ticking exercise.”

#3. “Patients first.” Binns says, “Patients should be first because then it wouldn’t be about the departments.” Binn believes that the fragmentation within pharma is self-imposed. That commercial being split from medical and split from market access strategy, is not the solution to patients first. “That’s why all the departments need to work together,” Binns concluded.

Reference: Pharma 2023, “Fireside Chat with Andrew Binns, Head of Digital and Innovation, AstraZeneca. April 20, 2023.

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