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The Pulse of the Pharmaceutical Industry

Special Feature — Agenda 2016: Bigger, better, faster, more

Written by: | | Dated: Wednesday, February 10th, 2016



Or, why 2016 might look a little different than 2015 for pharmaceutical marketers.



Based on the early returns, 2016 is looking like the supersize version of 2015 for pharma marketers, with a whole lot more of everything. With the presidential election just eight months away, the candidates are certainly talking more, presenting a smorgasboard of health care policies with potential impact that remains to be seen. Drug pricing, an issue that’s been lurking inside the health care debate for a long time, has become much more prominent thanks to a few high-profile products and price jumps. Big data just keeps getting bigger, and marketers are beginning to find ways to convert it into actionable intelligence. Due to rising expectations from clients, marketing agencies are being forced to do more and know more about more. Biosimilars are about to present one more headache to innovator brand managers already fed up with traditional small molecule generics. And the rising tide of technology means more new media – wearables in particular – are becoming a part of the lives of more patients. For more about all this, read on.

The election/pricing

As with any year that includes February 29th, the U.S. presidential election and its associated health care policy implications will be taking center stage in pharma in 2016. While the usual controversies over ACA remain on that list of implications, a combination of growing financial responsibility falling to consumers and some prominent high-priced drugs and
“hikes” (we’re looking at you, Martin Shkreli) have pushed the issue of pharma pricing into the political arena as well.

According to Michael Zilligen, president of Ogilvy CommonHealth Payer Marketing, the present menu of presidential candidates offers options for nearly every taste. On the far left, Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders is advocating for a single payer, tax-supported, Medicare-like plan for all (a “universal health plan”). Moving toward the political middle, Hillary Clinton is the only potential nominee to defend the ACA and to propose keeping the basic structures of Medicare, Medicaid, and the Obama health law in place. Both Sanders and Clinton have discussed other government actions to help influence, if not control, drug prices, an area the ACA did not address. They both have called for empowering Medicare to take advantage of its massive buying power to negotiate bulk discounts from pharma to lower drug prices for seniors, and to allow Americans to import drugs from other countries. Additionally, they are both proposing eliminating so-called pay-for-delay settlements in patent litigation (in which brand name manufacturers pay generic competitors to hold off on marketing less expensive generics). And Clinton has advocated policies that include shortening the exclusive marketing period for new biologics from 12 to seven years.

On the right side of the spectrum are the Republicans, who are united on repealing President Obama’s health care law and decentralizing Medicaid by proposing block grants that can be managed by the states. The GOP, Zilligen notes, has generally been criticized for focusing on repeal without offering a full or partial replacement. Nonetheless, the presidential front-runners’ approaches steer clear of Medicare (or other) price negotiation or control and tend to allow a “free-er” market system to work. Simply put, the Republican candidates have not proposed actions that attempt to control drug prices.

Whatever the Republicans might be saying, though, actual repeal of ACA seems unlikely.

“As the field narrows, candidates will likely tone down their healthcare hyperbole and direct their attention to healthcare legislation that focuses on revising the ACA and the healthcare system rather than repealing it,” says Geoff Melick, chief innovation officer, Sandbox. “Considering the majority of the ACA provisions are already in effect, with more than 11 million consumers receiving insurance subsidies through the exchanges and another 10 million enrolled in the Medicaid program, the repeal of the ACA doesn’t seem like a viable option. Whether some believe it should be struck down or not, it’s illogical that any new sitting president is going to take that coverage away and leave 21 million people without insurance.”

But no matter what happens with the ACA, the ongoing controversy over pricing of drugs will continue.

“No matter the outcome of the presidential contest, what is more certain is that consumers, and not just politicians, will continue to pressure the pharma industry to drive consumer costs down,” Zilligen says. “Consumers are assuming (voluntarily or involuntarily) more financial responsibility for premiums, copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles, and therefore are exercising more influence on drug selection and use. So, the industry needs to continue improving its ability to communicate the value proposition of therapeutic advances (in consumer language) — including outcomes and real world evidence. In the absence of compelling value messages, the national and political spotlights will remain on drug prices. Manufacturers need to continue developing two approaches: scrutinize the proposed policies as closely as possible in order to be prepared for multiple scenarios, and develop and refine value propositions.”

Regarding pricing, many inside the industry are advocating internal action before government has a chance to drop the hammer. “Certainly new pricing models, more outcomes data and clearer value propositions should be driving pricing efforts, but at the end of the day, marketers should be working towards reasonable pricing as their target,” says Steve Stefano, managing director, Ashfield Market Access. “Patients should be able to have access to medicines that can help them. This is really the take-home message.”

Stefano notes many incidents in the recent past where pricing models, outcomes data, and value propositions did not support the kinds of price increases that companies took. “In my opinion, the current case of the former hedge fund manager, Martin Shkreli, artificially inflating the cost of an older drug has certainly highlighted a kind of inappropriate pricing which has tarred the whole industry with the same brush,” he says.

Payers on the private side, though, have succeeded in doing what the government has not yet been able to do: they are installing strict price controls within their contracts in response to the more egregious examples of pricing in the marketplace. “Definitely, if a new molecule commands a price, you should go for it,” Stefano says. “But it should still be the free market that drives the eventual price within the appropriate scale of magnitude. We need to leave behind the practices of those who have taken advantage and move towards a future where responsible pricing and responsible price increases are the norm.”

So what can pharma companies do proactively about pricing? Ed Schoonveld, managing principal at ZS Associates, suggests a three-pronged approach:

1. Communicate value to payers, physicians, medical societies, patient groups and the broader public in terms that each stakeholder understands. Public health benefits – such as survival rates, disease prevalence, hospitalization rates and other metrics of longer-term patient outcomes – drive societal need for funding. Absent of public health benefits, payers focus on short-term cost and tend to resist new treatments.

2. Address value evidence requirements by each stakeholder to ensure that they acknowledge value and engage their support. Evidence requirements have progressively intensified globally over the last few years. Payers increasingly demand to see head-to-head clinical and long-term patient outcomes data versus the standard of care before they endorse new drugs.

3. Seek dialogue with government/private payers, medical associations and patient groups to address patient access-related challenges. Communicating and potentially partnering with other health care stakeholders will help to overcome financial- or evidence-related concerns and provide opportunities to find solutions for patients in need.

“The pharmaceutical industry has ample reason to be proud of the impact that its innovations continue to have on patient lives – from initial launch to long beyond patent expiration,” Schoonveld says. “High drug cost is an unfortunate limitation on the ability to broadly bring treatments to patients, but it does not make sense to blame a pharmaceutical company – just as it does not make sense to blame a truck manufacturer for the cost of an ambulance.”

Whether it makes sense or not, though, the blame is coming the industry’s way – and a good part of the reason comes down to trust.

“At the heart of the pricing conversation is an inherent lack of trust in pharma brands,” says Julie Hamilton, senior VP, account director, Sandbox. “This tension is magnified by consumers’ longing for transparency and a sense that a manufacturer is on their side with the payer and provider. To be effective, we have to elevate the conversation to a new value equation, not perceived price. Whether it be the great lengths that are taken to ensure quality, the support mechanisms that navigate access, affordability and administration, R&D or discussions around cost vs. outcomes, it’s critical that we focus on communicating the brand’s overall value. A consumer-centric and transparent approach is key to truly making an impact on the conversation around price.”

The new agency

The ground has been shifting underneath pharma marketing agencies for some time now. With patient and physician expectations growing exponentially and the number of moving parts in a typical brand’s marketing plan increasing alongside, brand managers are expecting far more from their agency partners than they did even a few years ago.

“In the continually evolving healthcare marketplace, agencies must adapt their strategic and marketing skills to help brand managers on multiple fronts: addressing the impact of patients, payers, and healthcare providers on prescribing decisions; leveraging new types of data to strengthen connections with customers; and taking full advantage of all communication channels (especially digital) to bring information to the people rather than hoping the people will find it,” says Joel Jacob, M.D., VP, medical and scientific strategy, Natrel. “Various forces have combined to create a patient population that is more engaged, informed, and invested in their healthcare than ever before.”

Thanks to those forces, patients are walking into the exam room seeking more in-depth answers than what they’ve already found on their own. “They may not hesitate to ask about cost-effective treatment options,” Jacob says. “Agencies and their clients need to look for unique and effective ways to build brand loyalty among patients as well as enhance the patient-provider dialogue. And changes to the health insurance system have certainly increased the need to convince patients that the extra cost of a branded product copay is ‘worth it’ because the treatment may actually modify the course of the disease, not just treat the symptoms.”

Alongside direct communications with patients, agencies must deal with managed care, the unavoidable elephant in the room. “Its influence is powerful and continuing to grow,” Jacob says. “Agencies can no longer put managed care tactics in a separate silo. In building the case for branded versus generic products, brand managers will expect agencies to dig deeper into the data – BOTH scientific and behavioral – to leverage any and all angles regarding treatment outcomes.”

And then there’s the expansion of what “healthcare professionals” means in the first place.

“As institutions such as managed care continue to drive efficiencies in the delivery of healthcare, the term ‘healthcare professionals’ has broadened to include individuals who may play key roles in brand recommendation and prescribing,” Jacob says. “Agencies and marketers need to capitalize on ever-increasing opportunities to engage with and establish loyalty among PAs, NPs, and pharmacists.”

Just as these audiences – patients, payers, and healthcare providers – have evolved, the nature of information itself has changed. Marketers now have more data in their arsenals to support and add depth to a marketing story. One growing trend in this area, Jacob suggests, is the increasing availability of “real-world” data that can help doctors look beyond the charts and graphs of clinical trial outcomes to results that more closely align with their own clinical experiences.

So how does the modern agency connect all these dots? “As with many aspects of modern life, the role of technology in medical marketing is fundamental and constantly evolving,” Jacob says. “But digital tools are only as useful as their content, design, and programming allow. For example, agencies need to help their clients recognize that promotion should increasingly be optimized to address the growing area of mobile health. And although there are a lot of good websites out there, agencies and clients need to find more effective ways of driving traffic to these sites, including smarter use of search optimization and social media.”

And it may not be possible for a single agency to connect all those dots on its own. According to some in the agency world, the sheer scope of skills required to handle a modern brand makes the idea of “generalist” agencies obsolete.

“Using the same firm for expertise across all customer engagement disciplines made more sense when the number of disciplines was manageable,” says Gregg Fisher, managing partner, The Stem. “In today’s environment, however, that assumption is no longer valid as specialty count has grown tremendously. In addition to well-known specializations like audience (patient, payer, provider, consumer) we now have channel specialization (social, mobile, CRM, paid media, search, etc.), content specialization (video, animations), functional specialization (analytics, data, creative, technology), to name just a few. As a result, it has become a near impossibility for a single firm to excel at it all and it has become unwise for marketers to believe firms who say they can do it all.”

Also, as a result of infrastructure improvements, efficiency initiatives, and the ubiquitous Corporate Integrity Agreement, the very mechanics at the base of a brand-agency relationship have changed significantly, especially when it comes to digital and multichannel marketing. According to Donna Wray, VP of digital and multichannel marketing for TGaS Advisors, the new standard contains three key features.

“First, content management systems to store pharma’s marketing materials,” Wray says. “These may take more work in the short-term as an agency learns the system, but it results in easier reuse of assets and a better virtual paper trail to understand that what is in market is what is supposed to be in market. Eight out of 10 large pharma companies who participated in TGaS Advisors’ December 2015 study currently use a content management system for at least some of their digital/multichannel marketing. With increasing frequency, companies are expecting agencies to hand over creative assets so that another vendor can develop the final digital version (for iPad, websites, etc.).

“Second, data feeds to pharma’s specs, so that reporting and analytics can be aggregated across vendors. And finally, aiming for true, integrated, multichannel marketing, which may mean ‘playing nice’ with the other vendors in the sandbox.”

Additionally, expertise in EMR and a strong grasp of the use of data analytics across all components of a marketing plan are no longer added bonuses for agencies – they are basic requirements to even get in the door.

“Two interrelated skills that brand managers will – or should – expect from their agencies of record in 2016 include the ability to execute in the blossoming EMR/EHR space and the ability to apply data-driven analytics to every promotional investment,” says Matt Giegerich, chairman and CEO, Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide. “The numbers surrounding the adoption of EMR/EHR platforms across the United States are astounding – well in advance of the looming government-mandated deadline – and the opportunities for contextually relevant engagements these platforms offer are extraordinary. Marketers need to take advantage of this unique and powerful communications channel, and help ensure its long-term viability by leveraging it not simply as an advertising medium but as a communications conduit. It can help extend brand value with the healthcare professional community via micro-targeted content, including education, service and support. With regard to data and analytics, 2016 may well be the year that healthcare marketers finally decide that if they can’t measure and optimize a promotional investment’s effectiveness, they will simply leave it on the cutting room floor.”

No matter what the medium or specialty might be, though, the best way to keep brand managers happy is to provide that key insight.

“The key to great promotion continues to be great insights,” says Jay Carter, senior VP, director of strategy services, AbelsonTaylor. “Look for agencies and consultancies to sharpen their tools to get to truly deep and actionable insights – or, at least, make it look like their tools are sharper. Expect the term ‘digital agency’ to die. Today, if you aren’t digital, you aren’t viable in our business.”

Big data

Big data is clearly no longer just a buzzword for pharma marketers; as implied above, it’s become a real, live tool with real, live implications for brands if used effectively. But marketers are still working on taking the next big step with big data – moving from sheer accumulation and basic insight to actually being able to draw critical strategic and tactical conclusions that drive more effective action.

“2016 may well be the year big data comes into its own in the marketing of drugs,” says Iyiola Obayomi, senior director of analytics, Ogilvy Healthworld. “Big data will be bigger, faster, cloudier, more diverse, and more insightful. The excitement that big data stimulated in recent years helped to raise awareness for and interest in data-driven marketing across several verticals, including marketing. One positive development in my view has been the increased emphasis on approaches for extracting implications and marketing decisions from the data (analytics), an essential development in justifying the investment in underlying data and technology.”

Crossing that extraction threshold is sure to shake up many aspects of drug marketing, including marketing to consumers, to HCPs, and to payers. “The potential areas of impact are too numerous to list, as the application of big data will be limited only by the creativity of the brands and their marketing consultants,” Obayomi says. Some potential examples of data-driven applications to expect include content relevance prediction that will improve customer engagement or make a stronger case for prescription approval, and the discovery of a broader range of engagements and behaviors that are valid leading indicators of desired marketing outcomes. Planners, Obayomi suggests, will be able to develop plans with digital engagements across any range of tactics not for engagement’s sake alone, but with better understanding of the expected business outcomes.

On the technical side, Obayomi expects to see analytics improvements in the area of enhanced capabilities in pattern recognition, cognitive computing, and data visualization. But the major impact in the coming years will be facilitated by the broader adoption of big data applications and the experimentation and use cases that a broader base of marketing consultants will put these through. “It is the inclusion of the broader base of marketing consultants that will translate the potential of big data into new and sometimes non-anticipatable areas,” Obayomi says.

But before big data can achieve anything close to its potential, its users have plenty of basic challenges to work through. “As data volumes continue to increase, companies are struggling both with the collection and storage of this information as an initial concern,” says Ramon Chen, chief marketing officer, Reltio. “Many are looking to data lakes, and the continued use of open source technologies such as Hadoop in an effort to house this data and process it at scale. Meanwhile sales and marketing teams need relevant, targeted insights that are personalized to their business objectives. They have a variety of legacy applications (CRM, Marketing Automation etc.) that are unable to store and manage big data, and are already struggling to identify and correlate information across these siloed systems.”

According to Chen, the new year will bring an increased emphasis on bringing all this data together, making it reliable and helping frontline business users make sense of it all. “This goes beyond IT projects using the latest open source technologies, data scientists exploring large data sets, and even BI visualizations for self-service,” Chen says. “It’s about a fully integrated and cohesive set of data-driven applications that can truly help business users on an ongoing basis. This is what is needed for all of this new data to contribute meaningfully towards better marketing of drugs.”

“Integrated” is the key word here – in order to best take advantage of big data, companies will have to find ways to unify their various data pools.

“To capture all this information efficiently and completely, more life sciences companies will also need to leverage a single, global database that brings together a unique combination of all relevant data – marrying traditional KOL data, nontraditional stakeholder information, and other important sources such as survey research, expert interviews, claims data, and social media insights,” says Paul Shawah, VP, product marketing, Veeva Systems. “Empowered with this new set of in-depth profiles, customer-facing teams can much more efficiently engage all relevant influencers worldwide and make the best resource allocation and targeting decisions.”

Driven by the need to unify data pools and speed up the process of mining insight from the haystack, Shawah anticipates seeing the emergence of a new data delivery model – one that will be potentially transformative in its impact on the use of stakeholder data in the life sciences industry.

“In 2016, data delivered as a one-off service (and its delays) will be replaced by continuously up-to-date data feeds,” he says. “Instead of having to stitch together disparate information from different, incomplete data sources, organizations will have one, consolidated, and always-current view that’s easily accessible by all. So, rather than MSLs wasting hours searching for and analyzing data, they will have all the critical information they need at their fingertips. Combined with new qualitative insights, the industry will enjoy a much deeper understanding of what motivates customers, giving both commercial and medical strategy a whole new level of focus. The result will be improved targeting and increasingly relevant, smarter conversations that will strengthen critical relationships with all key stakeholders.”

And the tools to achieve this are already at hand. “Modern data management platforms are now available that bring together and make data reliable across all sources, in any variety at scale,” Chen says. “These platforms are no longer standalone, with IT managing data and then distributing it to legacy applications. A new breed of data-driven applications with the capabilities and ease-of-use of consumer products such as LinkedIn and Facebook, are now available across any use case and function within a life sciences organization. These applications deliver a personalized set of relevant insights that help the business user achieve their goals by using machine learning capabilities to recommend the right course of action to ensure better outcomes. Because these are applications, and not just reports, any activities taken and feedback provided around the data they use is shared for continuous refinement, benefiting everyone across the enterprise. The ability to use the right data, to address the right problem, by role and goals of user, and to have the data be augmented and refined in concert is an unprecedented innovation that will alter the competitive advantage of every company that adopts this new technology.”


After many years of anticipation, in March 2015 FDA finally approved its first product under the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act of 2009 – the first real biosimilar. Sandoz’s Zarxio is now approved for all the same indications as Amgen’s Neupogen, and others are percolating through the regulatory process, which has brought the challenge of biosimilars to the forefront of marketers’ thinking.

“Biosimilars are going to force the original biologic brands to continue promotion based on their proven clinical track records and trusted manufacturing processes,” says Ryan Van Pelt, senior VP, managing director, Sandbox.

“Biologics are complex molecules subject to manufacturers, processes, so companies will continue reinforcing the message that all biologics are not the same. To maintain share, the original biologic brands will need to leverage long-term relationships with prescribers and their ability to seamlessly provide patient access.”

On the flip side, follow-on product brand managers will need to overcome the barriers to entry in the market by convincing healthcare professionals that they offer an equally effective product, i.e., that their biosimilar delivers the same clinical outcomes as the original product because they have the expertise to manufacture these complex biologic products consistently. “Biosimilar manufacturers will also need to deliver the same or an even better patient-access program to justify any discounts in price,” Van Pelt says.

Like any major new market development, the impact of biosimilars remains decidedly uncertain. According to Art Cook, principal, ZS Associates, a number of key questions remains as to how the various constituencies will response.

These include:

1. How attached will providers be to the branded, life-changing biologics they have used throughout their careers?

2. How much will payers lean on providers to prefer biosimilars over branded products?

3. How will politicians shape policy to balance incentivizing innovation with the originators and managing costs with providers and patients through biosimilar adoption?

4. In what situations will product economics outweigh patient confidence in the originator?

5. When, if ever, will pharmacies substitute biosimilars for their branded counterparts?

“With so many uncertainties, the approach to stakeholder management harkens back to the nuts and bolts of brand marketing,” Cook comments. “Whether the marketer is responsible for a biosimilar or a branded product, excellence in strategic and tactical marketing will be critical for success. Deep insights into stakeholder behavior across the health care ecosystem, and an ability to develop cohesive, impactful plans that leverage the best of your branded or biosimilar product in meeting the needs of the most valuable segments of stakeholders, will be paramount.”

Given the number of biologics in the space, one category that has the potential for significant disruption from biosimilars is rheumatology. But to do so, the biosimilar marketers had best come correct. “Manufacturers entering the biosimilar marketplace will need to do so with a fully integrated commercial team: marketing, sales, account management, pricing and contracting, medical affairs, and patient access services,” says Shaun Urban, managing partner, Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide. “Upon launch, biosimilar manufacturers will be focused on physician education, to overcome any hesitancy to adopt and prescribe due to concerns over interchangeability. Allaying physician fears and driving adoption for both new and existing patients will be critical for biosimilars to reach their full sales potential, and will require innovative multichannel marketing investments to ensure broad physician engagement in light of the scaled-back sales teams that will be supporting these brands. In addition, an emphasis will be placed on leveraging net-cost advantages to secure favorable reimbursement while supporting patients (and their caregivers) adequately through hub service offerings that must be competitive with the innovator brands.”

As for innovator brands, they have to exercise all of all the inherent advantages of being Goliath. “Marketers of innovator brands threatened by biosimilars will need to continue to leverage their size and scale advantages across all areas of the marketing mix,” Urban says. “This includes areas such as DTC, where the ROI may not be justified for biosimilars. Furthermore, innovator brands should look at ways to bolster their patient access services offerings, to create an even more enduring bond with both patients and HCPs while establishing a ‘bar to reach’ that will be challenging for biosimilar competitors to achieve. And finally, innovator brands will need to demonstrate the lack of ROI to payers associated with the potential business disruption created by biosimilar entrants, while resisting the potential to get into net cost/pricing wars, which can erode the value of the category and market entirely.”

Whatever paths are chosen on either side of the battle, one should not expect biosimilars to catch on overnight. Even in Europe, where biosimilars have been available for a decade, they have yet to provide a net return on investment.

“Depending on the country, biosimilars have had some success,” says Ashik Desai, executive VP of business growth and analytics, ContextMedia. “In the United States, it’s still much too early to anticipate the full impact of the introduction into the marketplace, but regardless, pharma is investing heavily in it, because for biosimilars to succeed, they must succeed here. High costs of biologics in the U.S. mean that biosimilars could significantly undercut existing biologics, so brands should be nimble to adapt to the potential success, which could be huge. As with any innovation, you don’t want to be left behind. If they do succeed, brand managers will really have to educate patients about biosimilars. We can anticipate that this process will resemble the introduction of generics, which took at least a decade for patients to become comfortable with quality and safety.”


Ambient health monitoring technologies – “wearables” – have been making their presence felt in the consumer marketplace for some time now, and one can only expect their footprint to expand as the related technologies grow more powerful. Whether pharma will be able to take advantage of wearables, though, remains an open question.

“Wearables aren’t slowing down any time soon, but marketers haven’t yet cracked the code on how to most effectively engage in this space,” says Jesse Pease, head of digital, Triple Threat Communications.

“As sensors and the health indicators they can detect and track continue to grow and improve, we’ll have new opportunities to integrate with patients’ lives in meaningful ways. This, however, will require marketers to focus less on delivering branded messages, and more on delivering tools and services that more holistically help patients manage their conditions, in turn delivering better adherence and brand loyalty.”

And pharma is in fact beginning to dip its toes into the wearables space on a limited basis. In early January, Novartis announced a collaboration with Qualcomm through which Qualcomm Life will provide the technology solution for the connectivity of the next generation of the Breezhaler inhaler, a device used for Novartis’ portfolio of COPD treatments of Onbrez Breezhaler, Seebri Breezhaler, and Ultibro Breezhaler. This next generation of the Breezhaler, Novartis executives say, will enable patients to have access to their own data on the use of their inhaler in near real time. The small, disposable and low-power module contained within the inhaler device can detect and report usage, the time that the inhaler is used, and additional relevant information for patients and physicians. The module then wirelessly sends the data to the patient’s smartphone and a Novartis COPD mobile application, which sends the data to the cloud, allowing patients and potentially their healthcare providers to monitor their COPD. While the Breezhaler isn’t exactly a “wearable” in the tradition of a FitBit or Apple Watch, its data monitoring capabilities are certainly a step in the right direction.

“At this point, ambient technology is so fast-moving that the key is understanding, with each innovation, how does this help us provide value to the consumer or patient user?” asks David Moore, group director, Ashfield Healthcare Communications. “How does it help answer that fundamental question? Our end goal must be to improve patient lives and outcomes. Wearables may help us identify and focus on which conditions and individuals might best benefit. For one thing, they can help us make sure we have the right insights and partnerships with patients.”

As an example of this, Moore notes one of his company’s pharma client’s sponsorship of a large hackathon around ambient devices. It involved patient groups, a teaching university, tech experts, and HCPs. “We learned that ambient technologies offer an advantage only when they actually help in daily lives,” Moore says. “Think of it as the difference between observing something and actually changing it. It turned out, patients need to engage with healthcare providers who understand their daily challenges and can show them how to make the ambient device an effective part of their treatment regimen.”

What’s to come in the new year? According to Ritesh Patel, executive VP, chief digital officer, US, Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide, 2016 will see a new generation of wearables entering the market from a multitude of companies that will focus on medical and clinical data. This new generation will be equipped with sophisticated sensing, data capture, and analytic functions.

“We predict that the market will also move from mainly device-oriented wearables (on your wrist or as a patch) to more integrated solutions, such as integration into the fabric of clothing,” Patel says. “Under Armour has pioneered the embedding of sensor capabilities in their clothing. This will accelerate in the healthcare field.”

Integration of data into more analytics and predictive modeling tools will also accelerate. “We see IBM Watson playing a major role in wearable integration to provide the patient and the HCP with insights on the data being collected,” Patel predicts. He also foresees consolidation, as major players in retail and technology move into this marketplace. “Expect these companies to be highly active in exploring strategic acquisitions of early-stage wearable technology companies,” Patel says.”

So what to do? “Our advice to pharma is to start thinking about partnerships with the new players emerging and how they can add value to the ‘beyond-the-pill’ services pharma can offer,” Patel says. “We also advise pharma to consider what data can be applied from a ‘real-world’ perspective to the clinical development business, as well as to meeting marketing goals and objectives. IBM Watson is making major strides toward providing cognitive computing capabilities for predictive modeling. This will be a huge area for pharma.”

New media

Given the industry’s regulatory entanglements, it is no surprise that pharma is rarely first in line to try out new media for marketing purposes. Back when the fax machine counted as new media, that wasn’t such a big deal – but today new media are popping up seemingly every day and becoming part of patients’ lives just as quickly. So if marketers plan on reaching their audiences “where they live,” they have some catching up to do.
“We see new media avenues opening up all the time,” Patel says. “Everything from real-time feeds on Facebook and Twitter (via Periscope) to user-generated storytelling apps. A lot of these consumer apps are not ready for pharma, primarily due to regulatory considerations.”

One of Patel’s favorite new apps is providing the ability to finally create user-generated content in pharma. Storyvine Health provides a video app that enables the collection of user-generated content alongside the ability for regulatory review and approval. The content can then be used in a number of places.

Two of his other favorites are Periscope and “Periscope is another great app that we believe will be used well in 2016,” Patel says. “It’s primarily focused on data presentations at medical meetings. What a good way to engage an audience on Twitter! Pharma had embraced Tweet chats in 2014/15, which became all the rage. In 2016 Periscope should take that one step further with live streaming. And is an interesting tool that could be used for connecting KOLs and doctors on Twitter with live broadcasts of 30-minute health care shows.”

While not really a new medium in itself, online video offers an extraordinary opportunity to pharma marketers – if they can keep their video channels updated.

“Video development and online distribution is an area to look out for in 2016,” says Sue Lipinski, executive director, digital and multichannel marketing, TGaS Advisors. “Although video is not a new medium, producing videos as distributed content is an approach that pharma has yet to embrace. We know that videos can clearly demonstrate how a product works, how it is administered, how a patient has been helped by a product and how physicians and other thought leaders help treat patients with certain conditions. With some pre-planning, videos can and should be developed for multiple channel use, for distribution on video content platforms and refreshed every two to three weeks. We definitely see both unbranded and branded videos on video content platforms, but more often than not, channels haven’t been updated with new content in six months or a year. Videos require the same amount of attention as any campaign, and the ‘set it and forget it’ approach will grow stale quickly.”

Based on her company’s latest survey data, Lipinski also expects growth in use of another “old-new” medium: social.

“In late 2015, TGaS completed a branded social media landscape study, which indicated a slight resurgence of brands using social media to convey branded promotional messages and savings offers,” she says. “Although the number of brands and companies participating in branded social media is still small, with more digital marketing effort focused on content strategy and message, social media as a whole could see an uptick in 2016. The companies currently forging ahead with branded social media channels see them as a core business driver and a service to the patients they support. A tipping point for pharma may be if #Twitter10k (10,000 character limit for Twitter) becomes a reality. Brand marketers could use this channel to not only increase their social presence but their SEO rankings as well.”

And then there’s the barely explored “Internet of Things.”

“The Internet of Things continues to grow rapidly, and that will create vast new opportunities for digital marketers as well,” Pease says. “Think of all the possible connected devices in a patient’s life, and the potential associated touchpoints: home monitoring systems, environment control systems, smart TVs, smart refrigerators, connected vehicles, smart health devices such as inhalers, heart and blood monitors … the list goes on and on. This world of connected things will change the way we think about engaging with our customers in the coming years.”

Whatever the “next big channel” might be, new channels are rising and falling with such rapidity that the act of keeping up has almost become an end in itself. When asked what might be next, Ashfield’s Moore does not even guess.

“The answer here is we don’t know,” he says. “And that’s what makes it interesting. The digital media landscape will continue to be fluid and consumer global trends will continue to drive it. So brand managers need to have platforms and processes in place to understand and take advantage of the appropriate channels as they go in and out of favor with consumers.”

One of the related challenges, Moore says, will be having the right capabilities. “Do they need dedicated digital teams or multi-channel teams? When a new channel arises, how can they move quickly to understand and make use of it to engage with their customers?”

Agency partners can help, Moore believes. “Brand managers are looking for real understanding of how to make the best use of each channel in a multi-channel approach. They want true partners to help make decisions about which channels can benefit which patients — to decide rather than simply do. The delivery of content and even technology is relatively straightforward; what’s complex is understanding how to use the channels based on consumer and HCP targets, preferences, geography and other variables. It’s really about supporting brand managers with strategy, not just tactics.”

But not everyone is enthusiastically advocating a leap into the new-media unknown. According to Pete Mehr, principal, ZS Associates, pharma brand managers have good reasons to be skeptical of the “latest thing” — as the latest thing usually comes with unclear regulatory guidelines and questionable return on investment.

“While the prospect of using new media to reach a large number of customers at a reasonable cost is exciting, the government has been slow to issue guidelines on how pharma marketers can safely use new media,” Mehr says. “Also, over the past several years, pharma marketers have increased their marketing spend across all media in an effort to reach customers more effectively. In fact, the amount spent on marketing has grown by 37 percent per year since 2010. This significant increase in both existing and new media has brought expectations on what pharma marketers expect in return and whether they achieved those returns with the money spent to date.”

Alternatively, Mehr suggests greater focus on those “old-new” channels that the industry is already using, but could be using better and in a more integrated fashion.

“While undoubtedly new channels will become available in 2016, we believe the focus will be on using channels that already exist more effectively,” he says.

“Specifically, the industry will move away from a ‘fish where the fish are’ strategy, which led to the proliferation of brand/tactic siloed promotion channels, toward a customer experience strategy. In a customer experience strategy, the focus remains to understand and leverage customer preferences for channels and content, and proactively design and deploy a customer engagement journey across channels. While this change won’t be easy, learning to engage customers on their terms instead of forcing them to engage on pharma’s terms is the key to growth in customer engagement and top-line revenue.” 




Career paths

When building the Agenda article, Med Ad News always asks industry leaders to tell us what questions we forgot to ask. Curt Staab of TGaS Advisors told us we forgot about career change.

One ongoing trend, in part a result of election year uncertainty, relates to career change. As large tier companies continue to restructure, an increasing number of pharmaceutical leaders are finding career opportunities in emerging life sciences companies. In late 2015, TGaS Advisors conducted an Organizational Career Path Study showing that 92 percent of large tier pharma responders experienced a significant restructuring in the past 24 months. This pace of change is likely to continue throughout 2016.   

Pharma leaders impacted by restructuring in large tier companies will often find new opportunities for career advancement in smaller emerging pharmaceutical companies that need to build their commercial infrastructure.

While many of the skill sets they accumulated throughout their career are transferable, they may struggle initially with fewer resources, i.e., budget and staff. Much of the internal support structure they are used to is nonexistent or needs to be developed quickly.

These leaders must immediately identify their budget and staffing needs and hire staff quickly. Understanding the timing of these hires and how to build an organization structure for future growth is often top of mind in these new roles. They may also need more vendor support, a reliable list of vendor offerings and an understanding of vendors’ core competencies.

Once they have hired staff and decided on the level of vendor support, these new leaders in emerging life sciences need to develop the guiding principles and standard operating procedures to execute on the commercial plan. In the absence of any institutional knowledge at these companies, leaders will often rely on industry benchmarks and standards during this initial commercialization phase.

As uncertainty in the industry continues unabated, pharma leaders should look for opportunities in emerging life sciences companies to leverage their current expertise along with expanding their skill set to include building a commercial infrastructure from scratch.

— Curt Staab is VP of emerging life sciences network of TGaS Advisors.

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