What ails pharmaceutical marketing in India?

Priti Mohile

MediaMedic Communications Pvt.Ltd.

Priti Mohile discusses pharmaceutical marketing in India and how little has changed of late. She investigates what needs to change and the challenges and opportunities presented in this area.

The emerging markets (BRIC nations) are projected to account for 41% of the world’s market capitalization by 2030 (Jim O’Neill. Chairman, Goldman Sachs). The world thus has its eyes set on India.

When it comes to healthcare and pharma, India is uniquely positioned with its technical capabilities and large population size. But , it also has its unique set of problems.

With an immense knowledge and skill base, as well as technological capabilities, the Indian Pharmaceutical industry is a force to reckon with. Reverse engineering to produce high quality-low cost products, meeting international standards of manufacture, as well as foray into research for new molecules, makes it one of the most advanced regions. But is pharmaceutical marketing meeting such standards and pace?

Talking of ‘pace’, in a fast growing world, standing still is equivalent to regression. From this standpoint, pharmaceutical marketing in India has regressed. Hardly anything has changed. The same old visual aids (in some cases digitalized for the iPad), leave behind literatures, the so-called doctor CRM, are but a few things to name.

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“When it comes to healthcare and pharma, India is uniquely positioned with its technical capabilities and large population size.”

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Given the multiple companies and multiple brands that dominate the Indian pharma scene, the task of the pharma marketer is indeed difficult. With the doctor being faced with multiple medical representatives vying for their prescription share of the same molecule, malpractices have entered into the system. And despite the presence of guidelines and codes of conduct for both the medical profession and the pharma industry respectively, not much heed is paid to this. It seems to follow the typical behavior pattern of the animal kingdom where too much competition for limited resources leads to tactics for ‘survival’. India is a country where self-regulation is expected in most areas. But in scenarios such as these, where competition is intense, not much can be expected by way of self-regulation. No wonder then, that strict implementation of the code is under consideration.

Taking a look at the challenges and opportunities

1. Challenges

Shift from acute to chronic

With the disease burden shifting from acute to chronic and lifestyle changing, product portfolios of companies are also changing rapidly to include long-term therapies. That brings in greater challenges of ‘adherence’ to therapy for better patient outcomes. In the case of infectious diseases, the problem of drug resistance is looming large too.

Consumer mindset towards health

Proactively attending to health seems to be the last thing on the Indian consumer’s mind. Unless one falls sick, he does not seek medical attention. And even after he falls sick, the inclination is towards a quick recovery so that he can get back to work. Only recently, this is beginning to change amongst a certain section who have begun to take preventive health check up seriously, and pay attention to nutrition and lifestyle for better health.

Doctor mindset

With the ratio of doctor: people being very low, doctors are extremely busy treating patients. With less time on hand, they cannot pay attention to patient education or counselling. Nor are they able to give enough time to update their knowledge, even if they wish to. Thus with newer therapies being made available, continuing medical education programs for doctors are becoming increasingly important. Such seminars, conferences and the internet meet this need.

Multiple brands, reduced differentiation

With hundreds of companies marketing the same molecules with different brand names, no differentiation between brands, doctors giving just a minute or so to detail, the challenges for today’s pharma marketer are immense.

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“…the challenges for today’s pharma marketer are immense.”

 

Geographical reach, huge field forces

Every company in the country is using expansion of their field force to reach more areas with the addition of newer specialty divisions and hence multiple field forces. But the availability of quality people for such jobs is declining, resulting in question marks on the effectiveness of people. This issue is already bothering company heads.

2. Opportunities

Improving healthcare infrastructure

With more and more private hospitals being constructed, government spending on healthcare increasing and more number of people accessing health insurance, the domestic market does provide greater opportunities. However, the mind-set and skill-set needs to be tuned for this.

Access to information on health

With Dr.Google now at the fingertips of many, people are increasingly accessing information on health, some of which is correct, but most other being confusing and inaccurate. Doctors are facing questions from patients too. This offers a great opportunity for the pharma marketers to provide cutting edge tools to the doctor to help him stay updated, and to reach patients with educational and accurate information. This also opens doors to marketers of OTC and nutraceutical products to reach consumers.

Addressing the consumer mindset

The reluctance to take action about one’s health is deep-rooted and needs to be addressed to grow the markets. The same attitude also results in non-adherence to therapy that leads to ‘less than desired’ health outcomes as well as loss in sales. To address this, purposeful steps need to be taken using PR, digital &amp, social media and other creative ways of messaging.

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“Some companies have already taken steps to reach rural markets.”

 

Penetrating rural markets

Some companies have already taken steps to reach rural markets. More innovative strategies to reach these markets are needed for growth. Here again, using technology could be the key. Penetration of the mobile being large in India, this medium offers great opportunity.

Field force excellence

Time has certainly come to pay greater attention to improving field force excellence. One cannot ignore the importance of the field ‘person’ in this industry. Attracting better talent, building new skill-sets, moving away from ‘transactional’ interactions to a ‘value and relationship’ building model in its true sense will be needed. Most importantly, the role and skills of the front line manager need to be upgraded.

It is thus time for innovative thinking and action to meet these unique challenges. Especially when the newer drugs are being launched that need to be understood better and communicated even better.

Greater differentiation based on micro analysis of needs and psychographics, better presentation of these messages are needed. For best results, integration of traditional offline medical representative interactions with online initiatives should be considered. Connecting through digital platforms and social media routes can help open doors for representatives and increase new prescriptions and loyalty. But the marketers need to be ready to try the new medium. The pace at which new technology is changing baffles a traditional marketer. Taking calculated risks, using experts that understand the new medium, pharma communication as well as regulations, can result in the accelerated growths and market penetration needed in this emerging market.

And for this, the senior management must be open to change.

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About the author:

Priti Mohile has over 30 years of experience in the Indian pharmaceutical industry.

Armed with a post graduate degree in pharmacy (specialization pharmacology) as well as marketing management, she followed her passion to pursue a career in pharmaceutical marketing growing to head the marketing function in a large Indian pharma company where she had many successful brands to her credit. She started her own venture in the field of brand communications.

Her company MediaMedic Communications forayed into using healthPR, digital and social media for pharma and healthcare, and is now the India partner of the Global HealthPR. Her industry experience in the senior position helps her company deliver strategic and integrated communication solutions for the pharma industry.

What needs to change to improve pharmaceutical marketing in India?