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Pharma brands must think first about patients’ lives, then how their products can improve those lives

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Brian Fox, as global leader, Marketing & Sales practice, Pharmaceuticals & Medical Products, McKinsey & Company, as well as a member of Google’s Healthcare Advisory Board, has advised many pharma companies as they transition towards digital platforms. He shares some insights with Viveka Roychowdhury

As a social psychology major, what are the major social issues which shape the buying decisions of a patient/ consumer/ caregiver when they need to make buying decisions regarding pharma and medical products and services?

Brian Fox

I think it’s very important that when thinking about the decisions people make about their medications we don’t imagine those decisions to be isolated from the rest of the lives that people live.  As an example, people aren’t specifically hoping to modify the progression of their rheumatoid arthritis when they decide on a particular drug, they’re looking to be able to pick up their child without pain. People aren’t specifically hoping to reduce the duration of their acne, they’re hoping to be more confident when seeing their peers, or more attractive in their photos on social media. Pharma brands must think first about the lives of their patients and the experiences they’re having. Then, they need to focus on how their products can improve those lives and enhance experiences.  The 3Ds of the book are all about this – discovering what truly matters in people’s lives; designing experiences that are enhanced through the relationship a person has with the pharmaceutical company; and delivering those experiences consistently and excellently.

How does digital health fit into this framework?

People are not digitally connected and oriented when they’re living the rest of their lives and then someone different when handling their health. The same behaviours that we observe in other domains (e.g., retail, travel) bleed directly into healthcare. That’s why 1 in 20 Google searches are now health-related (a number that has grown steadily, by 15 per cent a year, for the past five years), or why there’s now 8.2 billion views of health-related YouTube videos each year. People are reaching for the same tools and sources when seeking insight on an appliance or a medication. The rise of health-related apps and wearables helps accelerate that trend.

What are the hallmarks of a successful digital health marketing platform and strategy? Which markets, from a geographic and socio-economic point of view, have similarities to India?

A successful digital health strategy starts with the patient and physician, understands (or discovers) what motivates them to make decisions as they do, designs new experiences that fit in with and enhance the experiences of those decision-makers and then delivers those experiences consistently and superbly.  That’s why we named our book, Pharma 3D, after Discover, Design and Deliver, which are the three keys to marketing in the digital age. There are a handful of brands that have done this exceptionally well. In the book, we profile Pfizer’s BeLive and P&G’s Intimate Words campaign in Mexico.  Each of these markets has some similarities to the India market.  The opportunity to design and execute unique experiences, however, is not limited by geography – there are clear benefits in every part of the world.

How can digital marketing help organisations extract better performance across the value chain? Can you illustrate with some examples.

First, it’s important to emphasise that we shouldn’t think of digital marketing as distinct from other types of marketing. In today’s digital age, patients, physicians and other healthcare stakeholders are interacting far more through digital channels. As a result, marketers (if they want to connect to these decision-makers) need to be far more fluent in the same digital channels, tools and technologies. That said, there is a clear role for traditional media and engagement channels. The key is for execution across all channels to be complementary with one another. Making that happen starts with having a deep understanding of the behaviours and drivers of decisions amongst patients and physicians and designing innovative experiences based on those behavioural insights. Companies that do that see steadier sales growth and more predictability in their supply chains. Retailers like Burberry and Williams Sonoma have really benefitted from their digital investments. Burberry’s sales growth is twice that of its average peers.  That type of performance has great benefits enterprise-wide.

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