Pharma's Love Affair with Buzzwords

March 3, 2015

How pharma can finally put true meaning behind its juiced-up jargon and turn the bluster into reality, by Lundbeck's Timothy White.


One unusual fact that I’ve learned from working in the life sciences sector for the greater part of this past decade is that we on the commercial side of the business have an unhealthy obsession with “buzzwords.” From Value Added “Beyond the Pill” Patient-Centric Services to Integrated Multichannel Customer Centric Closed Loop Marketing, it often seems we spend more time marketing our own innovative ideas than actually innovating for patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals (HCPs).

Even I admit that my own job title (see below) could be considered a case study in this “buzzword-driven” reality and, as a result, I’m often approached by individuals asking me exactly what it is that I do. Yet with all of these words, the reality is that, while we are making some progress toward patient and customer centricity, we are too often distracted by trying to “look” innovative. True progress tends to stall quickly. By focusing on some fundamentals, however, I have faith that we can not only turn these words into reality, but also utilize them to improve the overall perception of our industry.

Case study

As a practical example, let’s first look at the current industry buzzword of building “beyond the pill” mobile health services through an admittedly generalized story (although one that I’ve both seen and heard numerous times from others in the industry).

Product manager X is tasked with developing an innovative “beyond the pill” mobile health service with a business case firmly rooted in improving patient compliance to treatment. Said product manager calls up digital agency Y that develops the Mercedes of treatment trackers designed using the most cutting-edge wisdom in behavioral psychology, user experience, and graphic design.

Product manager X and his director decide to limit the application’s usage to only patients that are currently being prescribed their product in order to meet the numbers promised in the business case. The application is launched on the App Store and promoted by the field force with business cards that include the top-secret login code for patient access. In the end, the app is used by only a handful of patients, yet product manager X is lauded for this innovative work, and the agency walks away with a few industry awards and case-study slides to use for future pitches.

So how could the above have been turned around? First, the reality that should have been understood from the beginning was that launching this service was, in itself, launching a new product. There were competitors, market dynamics, product positioning, and a limited number of unmet patient needs. A quick search on the App Store (Google or Apple) would have delivered double-digit results of pre-existing patient service apps in the therapy area, many of which were actually developed by patients for patients. Equally, if the business case for the service was developed solely to maintain treatment adherence (thereby increasing prescriptions), the application was already doomed to fail as this goal was never a perceived unmet need by the end-user; so much for “patient centricity.”  

The truth is, getting serious about developing these “value-added services” is hard work…almost as hard as launching a new treatment. It’s no wonder that the likes of Google, Apple, and the big Silicon Valley venture capital firms are betting heavily on the future of digital health because there is so much opportunity to be had. The advancements in sensors to detect an increasing number of symptoms or other health data points is truly remarkable and when you combine this technology with the existing mobile devices that we all carry with us, the future for digital health technology is very bright.  
 

That’s why we need to start thinking about these services as the products are being developed in the labs and not as a marketing add-on at the end of the value chain. Moreover, we need to build the proper skills, processes, capabilities, and reward systems in our organizations to do this and, only then, will a buzzword like “beyond the pill” truly take on a value-adding role for patients as the words so confidently suggest.

Lost in translation

The other area where I see these buzzwords prevailing is in the current innovation in how we communicate our products.  Terms like “closed loop marketing” and “multichannel” are prevalent in almost any chief marketing officer’s handbook these days, but if you ask many of them, they’d be hard-pressed to quickly explain the value or how it drives customer centricity.  If you look at the situation from the outside, there actually is a lot of value to be derived from all of this new technology provided by innovation-driven cloud technology companies. Our sales teams can now have the most up-to-date information available in real time on mobile devices. Marketing content and other resources can be tailored to customer needs, and we now have many new channels of communications to improve communications to our customers.

But if companies just use all this powerful technology to bombard our customers with the same brand messaging or to monitor and measure our sales teams to the point where every single slide shown is being looked at for potential commercial impact, then we’re simply missing the point. HCPs are being asked to see more and more patients with less time, they’re being bombarded with information, so it’s no wonder that it’s becoming harder for our field teams to gain access to physicians--closed loop marketing and iPads alone won’t fix that.

Now, if this technology is harnessed to create a more valuable customer experience where sales teams provide relevant, timely, and iterative information to HCPs through their channels of choice, then the concept of “customer centricity” starts to shine. I have seen this work, and it is indeed inspiring when a physician walks away from an interaction with a pharmaceutical company like it was his or her preferred bank, retailer, or other customer-experience leader. The technology is here now. It’s now more about how we leverage all that it offers.

From marketing to sales to analytics to general management, building a great customer experience starts with people and is only empowered by the technology. We need to focus on building new internal capabilities and shifting the overall mindset on how we develop insight, plan, and execute our commercial strategies to truly become customer centric.

Beyond the buzz

Let’s imagine a world where all these common buzzwords were real, where we were developing truly innovative services in combination with our novel new compounds that were improving or extending the lives of people; where pharmaceutical representatives were trusted advisors to medical professionals, relied upon to both educate about new treatments AND facilitate and coordinate various services for patients. While I don’t think we’ll ever see patients or HCPs lining up for the release of Phase III data the way that fan-boys do for the release of a sexy new Apple gadget, I have to imagine that if these visions became a reality, the truth wouldn’t be so far off.

About the author

Timothy White is Senior Director & Head of Global Customer Interaction Management, Lundbeck. He can be reached at TIMW@lundbeck.com