An inside peek into pharma marketing at PM Society learning event – part i

Views & Analysis

The PM Society’s ‘Is Pharma Marketing built on Straw, Sticks, or Bricks?’ interactive information afternoon, held at The Royal Society of Medicine in London on Tuesday 6th December, set out to bring together pharma marketeers and get them working – not just on strategy – but on leadership qualities and their own self-betterment.

Providing an insight into the world of bringing needed medicines to the right patients, opening remarks were delivered by customer engagement consultant Mike Orriss, who ran through the afternoon’s agenda and introduced those in attendance to the PM Society’s Learning & Development Interest Group.

Himself a volunteer for the society, Orriss is also its co-chair, together with Paul Reynolds, consultant and founder of Growth Strategy Direction. PM Society itself was founded in 1977 and provides a number of courses, in addition to interest groups such as this one, to drive the industry – including pharma executives, agency professionals, and health consultants – forward by sparking conversations that encompass concerns and providing an arena in which to discuss needed improvements.

Orriss stated that PM Society wants to build a community and invited attendees to “be with them on the journey, involved in some way”. For the afternoon, however, that involvement concerned only consideration of five key topics: customer insights, customer engagement, the Red Thread, being handed the keys to the brand plan! (exclamation mark included), and pharma marketing L&D.

Customer insights – quality over quantity to create meaningful understanding

Paul Reynolds introduced and moderated the afternoon’s customer insights speaker, compelling Scotsman Bruce Ritchie, founder of The Green Room and Spoken Brand Narratives. Having known each other from their time both at Novartis and more recent work on insights, Paul warned the audience that Ritchie could talk for Scotland…

Perhaps, but what he said had substance. Quality, Ritchie said, is hard to come by when there are so many congresses and ad boards, so much market research and multiple conversations with reps and MSLs, as well as field visits. The opportunity to truly glean what is valuable is limited, especially when time is also leached by additional rules and boxes and form filling. In short, the increased hassle equates to less insight gathering actually undergone and that, Ritchie said, is why fewer projects can produce much greater results than many.

Overall, the PM Society event was an afternoon full of such reflections, as plentiful as those within Ritchie’s slides, and as numerous as the questions and answers that eventuated. Nonetheless, the perspectives put forward – such as grace time recouped by speaking to six people many times, say, instead of 60 people only once; a structured gathering of information that results in motivation of teams – made good use of previous marketing reference points in the discussion of cost and compliance and effectiveness.

Questioning whether a brand-centric or customer-centric mindset is the optimal path, short of having “an approving medico from the get-go” in the pharma scenario, Ritchie said, he instead used a non-pharmaceutical example of electric car manufacturers Nissan versus Tesla. The former – and the video support Ritchie’s point – had acted brand-centrically and missed out on the fruits of specificity. In contrast, Tesla’s ad had been idea-led and emotionally driven (based on a customer concept).

To close, Ritchie compared the pharma example of the biosimilar filgrastim Zarzio, developed by Novartis Sandoz; its advert an exemplary exercise in asking the right questions. A thought to grow green leaves, indeed.

Customer engagement – why a multichannel plan is not enough

Mark Harrison, senior brand manager at Jazz Pharmaceuticals introduced the next speaker, Ben Head, digital customer engagement and innovation head at Novartis, dubbing him a “certified customer experience master”.

Well-placed to discuss the role of omnichannel strategy in marketing efforts – with 16 years at MSD before Novartis – Head went over how multichannel was being done a decade ago and was rooted in solos, but that it is omnichannel engagement that is right for now. A seemingly simple thing in theory, but in practice not so, omnichannel engagement requires that every single touchpoint with a customer is looked at.

Indeed, the omnichannel customer experience is a continuous loop, Head said, that starts and ends with data and insights. It, therefore, requires a robust brand strategy, understanding of customers/personas, content strategy, understanding of the customer journey/pain points, and the KPI setting (aka the measure of success). And that overall continuous loop must be tested, applied, and learning gleaned. Failure is okay, as long as you learn from it.

Mark Harrison interjected to ask how a marketer can, once a customer has been activated, nurture that customer. Head replied that a content pyramid or framework is useful, because content connects and educates. Medical or evergreen educative content – if done right – makes for a hook to bring the customer into the right environment, he said.

Once done right, the channels can be layered on. The biggest crime, Head said, is when an event doesn’t follow up on attendees: surveys and invites to the next event must follow. It’s not just about the first wave, Head said, but about communicating end-to-end through the entire process. After all, customer experience is critically important and enhances the whole omnichannel experience.

Questioning and coffee – contemplation of assertions

Before a caffeination break, Mike Orriss brought Bruce Ritchie back to the stage to join Ben Head for a round of audience questions. He posited that insights are the perennial question and queried whether the audience had any ideas on why pharma marketers struggle with the market. One person said it was because they make decisions based on assumptions. Another suggested that such a marketer probably doesn’t know what an insight is. Orriss agreed that it was a broad term. However, Paul Reynolds noted that there does often exist a disconnection between market research and market insights.

On this point, Ritchie agreed that they are architecturally different thought processes with different innovation premises. Another audience member suggested that perhaps there was a lack of forum dialogue to implement the necessary dialogue, a point with which Ritchie agreed. Working with multidisciplinary teams of salespeople is about asking what the customer thinks and wants to achieve. Yet, no one has time to think anymore. Instead, they have lists of things to do, items requiring box ticking and functions demanding a machine, he said.

It was concluded at this point in the afternoon that some of the most helpful things for people in pharma marketing today are velocity and amplification. Head, a keen advocate of a highly visible central content calendar, said there must ideally be transparency for all involved. Additionally, pacing the content throughout the year. However, essentially, it all starts with data and insights.