After two decades of working in pharmaceutical company marketing and healthcare advertising, a fellow industry veteran and I had come — independently — to the same conclusion: "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” To use the line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet aptly summarized the current state of affairs in the branded medicine marketing industry, where once-valued and commonly used tactics now seem inappropriate and ineffective in today’s changing business climate.
With both the healthcare and regulatory environment undergoing constant changes, and patient access to information and overall empowerment level dramatically increasing, the marketing of healthcare products was simply not keeping up — remaining, by and large, how it was a decade ago.
It was time to usher in a new way of thinking. Observing the application of patient experience thinking to healthcare provision made us ask,"Could this same approach be applied to the marketing of pharmaceuticals?”
We decided to look beyond the traditional pharmaceutical marketing approaches that entailed influencing physicians with data and encouraging potential patients to ask their physicians about drug X or Y. Inspired by patient-experience-based thinking, we thought instead about being the patient: you, me or our loved ones. We asked ourselves: "Do we have a tangible experience of our medicines when we are ill and in need of treatment? Do those experiences influence our treatment success? Our relationship with our physicians? Our choice of options available?” We concluded that yes, they did, and began working on a new way to market medicines.
The patient-centered approach to medicine-taking and medicine-making stems from a shockingly simple six-point epiphany that we share with pharmaceutical manufacturers:
- As patients, we use the products that pharmaceutical companies make.
- Our use of those products results in an experience.
- This experience is physical, emotional, cognitive, psychological and financial in nature.
- Based upon our experience, we (as patients) are more or less likely to continue using a product.
- We report our experiences back to our HCP teams.
- Based upon these reports, HCP teams are more or less likely to prescribe a product again.
It is our belief that the way for a pharmaceutical brand to compete in today’s competitive environment is to employ this behavioral science approach to understanding the beliefs and behaviors that shape a patient’s relationship with medicine brands. Adopting this approach opens the door to addressing core experiential questions, such as what should an optimal brand experience look like? Once you break the patient brand experience down into its core components — those that result in a good, bad or indifferent experience for the patient — it’s possible to invest in making the brand experience for your medicine as good as it can possibly be by applying this insight to your core marketing platform. What’s good for patients and physicians is also good for business, while providing us with an ethical, authentic approach in the new world of healthcare — which is the right way to pursue medicine marketing.
A time of change is here, and pharmaceutical manufacturers are beginning to embrace what their health care counterparts already know: to build a stronger brand, you must start with the patient experience.
Robbie McCarthy is Principal and Managing Director of The Patient Experience Project (PEP), a behaviorally based communications firm that specializes in marketing for the pharmaceutical, medical device and patient care industries. His current mission is to help organizations reap the benefits of re-framed, patient-first marketing strategy. Connect with Robbie on LinkedIn, and Google+.