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The Pulse of the Pharmaceutical Industry

Agenda 2018: The AMAZON-IFICATION of health is here

Written by: | | Dated: Friday, February 16th, 2018


But it’s not what you expect it to be


By Wendy Blackburn, executive VP, Intouch Solutions

It’s not a new trend. For years, there’s been massive speculation on the many ways Amazon could be getting into healthcare. But if you look past the hype, beyond Amazon’s theoretical intentions, and focus more closely on today’s consumer, there is a colossal healthcare trend underway even without Amazon getting in on the game. One can learn a lot from the trend of Amazon’s influence on the business of doing business. So let’s take a closer look.

What do consumers love about Amazon? In case you’ve been living under a rock, Amazon isn’t just books anymore, and it hasn’t been for some time. The Amazon of today is electronics, clothing, wedding dresses, and appliances. It’s handmade arts and crafts and difficult-to-find items from around the world. It’s apps, video games, and other software. It’s voice-activated home assistants integrated with the rest of your life. You can even buy a Tesla on Amazon. If Amazon doesn’t have it, it probably doesn’t exist. And if someone else also offers it, it’s probably cheaper on Amazon.

In addition to traditional consumer goods, Amazon is a master at subscription-style services. There’s streaming music and video. There’s Pantry, Subscribe-and-Save auto-delivery and Dash Button for mindless re-ordering of household items. There’s Amazon Fresh for food and product-of-the-month clubs a-la Birchbox. And it offers services-within-a-service: Amazon is giving Angie’s List a run for its money by serving as a clearinghouse for home and business services such as housecleaning, lawn and yard, plumbers and more.

And still – it’s not the vast array of products and services that make Amazon the company to emulate. Amazon could have all that and more, but if the experience they provided wasn’t remarkable, they wouldn’t have a corner on all these markets.

Amazon just makes it easy. The website itself is simple to use, and hasn’t changed dramatically over time, so it feels familiar. Customers enjoy free shipping and one-click ordering, and Amazon is known for frictionless returns. Same-day delivery and Whole Foods in-store pickup brings their products even more within reach. And the reliable and voluminous product peer reviews provide data for consumers to make fast, informed decisions.

By its own admission, Amazon has long been “customer-obsessed.” That fact not only shows, it pays. Often cited as one of the most successful companies in the world, Amazon downright dominates the e-commerce universe, is taking a larger share of traditional retail, and its stock continues to soar.

So how can pharmaceutical companies learn from Amazon’s success?

The Amazonification of health is already happening. Not because Amazon or the health industry is driving it, but because the consumer is demanding it.

Amazon understands that being customer-obsessed means understanding the customer better than they understand themselves. Today’s empowered patients are feisty, cynical, independent consumers who understand their own health better than ever before, who want control over their experience, and who demand the same quality from healthcare that they receive from the rest of their shopping and technology interactions. The same old creative campaigns won’t cut it. “What she gets from a few brands, she now expects from all brands,” says Greg Schutta, VP, Client Services, Intouch Solutions. “Let’s face it, you can’t just ‘campaign’ your way into people’s lives anymore.”

When it comes to offerings, pharmas must get beyond the blinders-on mentality of manufacturing and selling only medicines. Customers expect options and extras to win them over, like adjunct products and complementary services to make treatment more tolerable, efficient, affordable and effective. Patient programs are ripe for innovation here. Digital health represents another new frontier. Here, for example, mobile apps used in conjunction with traditional treatments are being clinically proven to improve outcomes.

Healthcare delivery itself must become more effortless, as the public grows accustomed to streaming entertainment, click-to-chat, same-day delivery, and services that make everything from cars to apartments easier to get. Tech-enabled services like digital diagnostics continue to gain headlines. Others are taking longer: for instance, Medicare still is hesitant to reimburse for telehealth – but, as Rock Health has noted, they will ultimately “come around.”

Most importantly, pharma must strive to deliver uncomplicated, connected experiences to the patients, healthcare professionals and payers that it serves. Customers want frictionless interactions that provide more control and increased transparency. Hyper-personalized experiences are the norm – and pharma must measure up.

To deliver on all this, of course, takes data. Loads of data, and the knowledge of how to use it. With an estimated 310 million active customer accounts worldwide and 43 percent of U.S. online retail sales, data is Amazon’s proverbial goldmine.

While Amazon historically doesn’t reveal much about its marketing practices, there’s no argument they are masters at the craft of using customer behavior data to drive revenue. CEO Jeff Bezos has publicly shared that Amazon uses data – specifically machine learning and artificial intelligence – to predict purchases, to improve search results and product recommendations, to improve forecasting and inventory management, and “literally hundreds of other things beneath the surface.” While pharma dabbles with the idea of big data and artificial intelligence, Amazon is literally inventing new uses for it. Through Amazon Web Services, they even offer consulting expertise to bring artificial intelligence to companies who lack the talent.

The smartest marketers will embrace Amazon’s example to ensure every marketing decision is deliberately data-driven. When pharma someday learns to apply data like Amazon does, the customer experience will not only be vastly improved, but marketing itself will become smarter, more automated, and much more efficient.

The Amazonification of health is happening – slowly but surely – whether pharma is ready or not. To maintain and build relationships with their customers, pharma marketers must reach for the “Amazon bar” – successfully providing customers with convenient products, tools and information, while finding ever better ways to reach and understand them.


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