Pharma Communications Beyond The Pill: Pharma Meets FMCG

In our report about developing data and insight – driven communication strategies for pharma, we highlighted the importance of adopting an FMCG approach to pharma communications. In this blog post we will elaborate on the rationale behind this proposition and will focus on how pharma communications professionals can use consumer marketing techniques to further their communication objectives.

Pharma communications are currently in a state of flux: the core industry’s customer base is changing as drug prescribing is nowadays controlled by payers through ‘formularies’ (lists of approved drugs), which can limit the number of choices open to physicians, and can make it difficult for new therapies to break through.

These seismic changes are taking place in the context of ever rising healthcare costs, due partly to an aging population and due partly to modern life encouraging increasingly unhealthy and sedentary lifestyle, leading to diabetes and obesity. The latter changes what pharma’s customers are looking for – from focusing on a single treatment to searching for long-term solutions that create better patient health outcomes across a broad population.

In this regard, health authorities around the world are looking at ways to help the population manage their health better by educating them about healthier lifestyles, but so far they are fighting a losing battle against the rise of convenience foods and the appeal of sedentary lifestyles. For instance, the prevalence of diabetes is one of the biggest health concerns of many countries around the world, as the costs of treating the side effects of the disease are so high.

The biggest challenge for pharma, therefore, is to shift its operating model from one of producing and selling drugs, to one of meeting the needs of its customers in their wider health issues. Meanwhile, technology giants such as Apple, Samsung, Philips and others, are disrupting the connected health space and may shut pharma out if it does not adequately respond.

The parallels with the consumer world are clear. The rise of “brand experience marketing’ has led to successful ventures such as the Apple stores, the Nike+ running clubs and the Mercedes Driving Experience centers, together with many other examples of brands meeting customers’ wider needs as opposed to just what the core product can deliver.

More recently, we have witnessed the rise of the so called “brand therapists.”  In an effort to promote wellness and deepen relationships with consumers, brands are moving beyond their products to offer services and experiences that encourage self-reflection, relaxation and rejuvenation. Thus, the German supermarket chain Lidl hosted a series of 2018 summer pop-ups in Ireland, encouraging young people to speak openly about mental health issues; Dutch fashion designer Schueller de Waal presented a wellness center with massages and a hypnotherapy film in place of a new collection during Paris Fashion Week in October 2018; and women’s wellness company Lola is working to destigmatize sexual health with its “Let’s Talk About It” 2018 campaign, which features a public hotline with prerecorded messages about common sex questions and concerns.

In pharma, innovative companies are already using experiential PR campaigns to launch prescription products and engage both doctors and consumers. For example, Synergy Pharmaceuticals in the US designed a gaming experience at a trade show to teach doctors about a chemical component featured in one of its soon-to-be-launched chronic constipation medicines. The main insight behind the campaign, namely that chronic constipation patients feel trapped by the condition, was brought to life by putting up a customized escape room “Escape the Bathroom,” where doctors needed to solve component – related puzzles to exit the game.

There is now much discussion about whether the world of health marketing has the potential to follow and exploit this trend. In this context, we discuss how the mainstay of FMCG marketing – the STP framework (STP = segmentation, targeting, and positioning) – can be modelled to give healthcare communications a strategic edge.

Use Segmentation Based Approaches on Behavioral Economics

Existing segmentation approaches in healthcare are typically based on health status and are usually industry-specific. But health status has relatively little to do with healthy behaviors. There are very healthy people who are passionately health conscious and who religiously engage in healthy activities. But there are also very unhealthy people who exhibit those same behaviors – largely because they must.

Segmentation approaches in healthcare thus seldom take into account how people process health and wellness information. Most healthcare communication campaigns are predicated on providing extensive information and rational arguments, often coupled with fear appeals. They require what behavioral economists describe as ‘slow thinking’ forms of information processing. But these models have done little to foster proactive change. As a result, many people tend to use shortcuts to ‘fast process’ health and wellness information, or ignore it altogether.  In general, people know they should engage in healthy behaviors, yet they aren’t acting rationally to benefit their own health.

The central focus of behavioral economics is understanding people’s irrational behavior, which can be used to inform pharma communication strategies for encouraging engagement in healthy behavior. To do that, we start by understanding how people actually think/feel/act in relation to their own health, and then design optimal messaging accordingly. We can then create solutions that optimize healthy behavior and encourage better decision-making, often in subtle ways.

One way to design health-related consumer segmentation based on behavioral economics is to use two attitudinal measures: (i) beliefs and attitudes towards health and wellness overall, reflective of the degree and nature of a person’s engagement, i.e. already engaged or disengaged ; and (ii)  orientation towards information processing in the health space, i.e. fast or slow thinking (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Segmentation based on behavioural economics

Such segmentation allows us to predict current behavior and to develop cross-sector communication strategies that can produce the desired shift to prevention.

For example, people who fall in the “Already Engaged, Thinking Slow” segment (we call them “Healthy Mavens”) are usually obsessed about health and wellness, they like to self – monitor and to delve into research and study the latest health developments. The strategy here should be to continue to saturate them with information and innovation, and to turn them from consumers to advocates. They are the most appropriate target for micro influencer marketing campaigns.

Consumers who are already engaged and thinking fast (“Healthy Habits”) are usually routine-driven health aspirers who put in effort because they know they should but they lack passion for it. The strategy for them should be to avoid shattering their routine, and to offer upgraded but easy ways to incorporate healthy behaviors into their daily routine as they usually don’t want to spend time learning or thinking about their health.

The disengaged segments are quite difficult to influence due to the various barriers that marketers need to overcome. The only exception are the so called “Easy Riders” – optimistic individuals who have a history of good health and hence a complacent, relaxed attitude about it, so they see no need to worry or invest much time in thinking about the category.  Communication strategies targeted at this segment should link prevention to life happiness and fun, and should avoid talking too much about health.

Lazy Bones are avid avoiders who are totally negligent about their health. They know they should change but they struggle with non – existent will power and poor eating habits. They are the most difficult to influence and hence represent the lowest priority for pharma marketers. The most appropriate strategy here is to influence them without their knowledge by offering easy unobtrusive solutions.

Struggling Dieters are mainly women who are concerned with weight loss and body image more than health. They yo-yo diet and show no sign of improvement as they face psychological barriers that prevent them from making progress. Strategies offering immediate solutions with long-term benefits can prove effective in breaking the cycle of failure and addressing both psychological and physical barriers.

Target Consumers in Key Moments of the Patient Journey

The Patient Journey is a description of how patients experience a disease or condition from their first awareness of symptoms through all stages of presentation, diagnosis, referral and treatment, fulfillment and adherence, finally culminating in a cure, remission or death (Gupta, 2012). Although the value of seeing the treatment process through the eyes of the consumer has been widely used in the consumer world, it is new to healthcare, where the “voice of the patient” was a minor component, or even completely missing from pharma brand strategies.

The focus of the patient journey approach is to put the patient at the center of the analysis, to understand exactly what decisions they are directly faced with that can impact on treatment choice, even in pure prescription markets where the doctor has traditionally been regarded as the key commercial stakeholder. It is a powerful tool for market sensing and designing successful and sustainable pharma brand strategies with a significant impact on the way new treatments are adopted by regulators, physicians and payers.

Looking at the patient journey through consumer lens brings us to the concept of customer experience, which can be described as the customer’s perception of their rational, physical, emotional, and psychological interaction with any part of an organization. Customer experience has been an overriding concern for many companies and brands threatened by category disruption. As mentioned earlier, the healthcare sector is already being disrupted by challenger brands with alternative business models that focus on human centric innovation and commonly capitalize on the opportunities presented by digital technologies. The good news for pharma is that technology is not a panacea as technological solutions are effective only with select groups of healthcare consumers.

The key consideration for designing effective patient journeys is to target consumers in key moments of the journey, the so called “leverage points”. As more than half of the experience underlying the patient journey is how the patient feels about the experience, it is essential to identify which emotions drive and destroy value for an experience.

In this regard, identifying the leverage points in the patient journey which have a major impact on the patient experience requires finding the ‘dips’ or ‘troughs’ in the patient’s flow of emotion (see Figure 2). On the journey map in Figure 2, the patient’s flow of emotion is represented by the dotted line, and the dips in the flow are marked by negative/value-destroying emotions.

Having a good grasp of these means that pharma companies can leverage these points and design services or communications to create a better experience for patients and turn value-destroying into value-creating emotions.

Figure 2: Patient Journey Map 

Value-destroying and value-creating emotions can be clustered in a hierarchy of emotional value as shown in Figure 3: Destroying Cluster, Attention Cluster, Recommendation Cluster, and Advocacy Cluster.

Managing emotions throughout the patient journey should revolve around moving the patient experience to the next level in the hierarchy.

Figure 3: Hierarchy of Emotional Value

Source: Colin Shaw, Beyond Philosophy (2018)

Do you want to learn more on successful approaches in developing pharma communications strategies?

Download the exclusive 16-page report “Data & Insights Driven Approach to Developing Pharma Communications Strategies” conducted by United Partners’ Strategy & Insights team. The research provides an advanced analytical framework for strategic decision making in pharma communications, based on extensive media analysis.