Putting patient benefits at the center of digital transformation and marketing strategies

Discover top tips and innovation insights from Vince Schaller, Managing Director at SGK Health, which aim to put patients and consumers at the center of a digital marketing strategy for pharma

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Pharma IQ

Following Pharma IQ’s exclusive one-day masterclass, we caught up with Vince Schaller, Managing Director at SGK Health, to discuss to how the pharma industry is evolving its digital world to transform healthcare from a product-driven marketplace to a patient-centric health ecosystem.

Pharma IQ: What are the main challenges of driving digital transformation and streamlining workflows to improve marketplace agility in pharma?

Vince Schaller: The pharma industry faces a challenge in driving digital transformation because it is a very different paradigm from its traditional methodology. It represents an enormous shift from talking about science and talking with healthcare providers (HCPs), to talking empathetically with patients and consumers. Traditionally the pharma industry is focused on the end-product and revenue value, rather than the consumer-patient value equation. Today, consumers and patients want to know what pharma companies are doing for them and in turn how pharma care is making the quality of their lives better.

Pharma IQ: How has digital transformation influenced the priorities of the pharma market?

VS: Many of the pharma companies we speak with at SGK Health realize the traditional methods of marketing such as adverts, media and print are simply not working anymore. The enormous shift by consumers in becoming more interested in their own health and doing their own research has created a large gap between consumers and pharma companies. Therefore, the pharma industry now has to digitally present itself to consumers and patients in more engaging ways in order to succeed.

Additionally, in many cases, HCP’s are no longer in a position to recommend a single brand to the patient and will only do so if that one brand is the only solution available. This may be the case if the patient has a rare disease. For the majority of medicines on the market, however, there are multiple choices available and HCPs are likely to recommend a series of products that may work for the patient. A good example of this is in the Statin market, where you might have 12 different products that can reduce cholesterol. Today, HCPs will more likely say to a patient they need to reduce their cholesterol to a particular level and will recommend a series of products that can help them achieve this.

Pharma IQ: When it comes to implementing patient-centric models and activities in pharma, where do you think the industry is currently making progress?

VS: The pharma industry is recognizing how important it is for them to change their traditional product approach toward the consumer-patient value equation. Companies are now demonstrating this through hiring Chief Marketing Officers, framed as Chief Patient Officers (CPOs) in pharma, from the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry. However, CPOs face a number of different challenges, namely push-back on internal cultural change. The methodologies that they want to bring in or deploy in the pharma industry are not always accepted and adopted.

Pharma companies have also come to realize that consumer-centric marketing is not their core competency, leading many companies to seek external marketing agencies to take full responsibility for their digital marketing. In some case, pharma companies are asking agencies to create smart partnerships with both creative agencies and content agencies, so that they can deliver the best-in-class for each discipline. For example, GSK recently partnered with Publicis Health and content agency Tag to enhance its digital marketing strategies and patient-brand value relationship.

Pharma IQ: What would be your top tips for transitioning to a patient-centric model?

VS: Covid-19 has really shone a bright light on both a problem and opportunity for pharma. Pharma companies realize they are not reaching consumers and patients as they should and it is hurting their top line. There is no time to waste in embracing change, so to achieve a patient-centric model will require implementing change management strategies. To begin this process of change, it is all about embracing design thinking and digital transformation approaches. As Heidi Padilla, Director of Customer Engagement at GSK, mentioned in her interview on patient-centricity in pharma, a 360-CRM solution is a great source for operationalizing patient engagement, but the question then becomes, is the pharma industry using CRM systems correctly from the offset – probably not. This is because leveraging content creation to the maximum is not pharma’s core business model. Looking at CRM systems and content creation through a very honest lens would be valuable in understanding where pharma is in its patient-centricity journey or having an assessment done to understand where the pharma industry sits on a benchmarking continuum.

Moreover, to build a successful patient-centric model, you have to humanize your brand. In the US, pharma companies heavily advertise their brands on television, but we are currently seeing a lot of people turning off their TV sets because of the overwhelming news of the Covid-19 pandemic and people getting tired of lockdown. Patients and consumers are moving to their laptops or computers to seek out information about their health online. Pharma companies in the US need to start digitally presenting their brands online where patients and consumers are spending their time.

Pharma IQ: How can the pharma industry adapt to improve patient engagement?

VS: I think the pharma industry can learn a lot from other industries like CPG or retail and how they build brand loyalty. Brands such as Apple and Nike have great brand loyalty presence, customers generally do not question the prices of their products, are willing to stand in line for hours to buy them and own almost everything the brand makes. This is because Apple and Nike have found a way to make a deeper emotional connection with their customers leading people to start identifying themselves with the brand. This may be considered a lofty goal for pharma as the industry’s role is to save lives, but if you are dealing with a serious disease like diabetes or cancer, then the most important thing in that patient’s life is surviving. Therefore, pharma companies do have a right to take that same place in patients’ hearts and minds to show how valuable they are to that person’s day-to-day quality of life.

The emphasis that can be made here is in the digital marketplace. You have to convince the patient and consumer that your product is the best product to improve their quality of life. Again, it is about that emotional brand-patient connection and giving patients the information that they need to show their interests are ahead of what the reputation of pharma has typically been in the past – product revenue.

Catch up on Pharma IQ’s exclusive one-day masterclass on demand to discover how design thinking, digital transformation and connected packaging can advance your digital communication strategy on the patient and amplify the customer-brand connection in an increasingly digitalized business world. Watch all sessions on demand here.