Success in pharmaceutical industry depends on innovation. We are in the constant race with mutating microbes, viruses and cells. New regulations, stakeholders and disruptive competitors are changing industry landscape every day.
At the recent Pharma Customer Experience Management Summit in Berlin, where I was one of the speakers, the innovation was a leitmotif. One particularly strong accord was played by Alexander Simidchiev from GSK. In his presentation, Customer-Centric Approach in Pharma: Future of Healthcare?, Alex has pointed out what I believe is the best approach to smart innovation in pharmaceutical marketing.
Inspired by Daniel Burrus’ methodology described in the book Flash Foresight, Alex advises pharma marketers to look for the “hard trends”.
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Hard trend is a projection based on measurable, tangible, and fully predictable facts, events, or objects. It is something that will happen: a future fact that cannot be changed.
In the day to day practice of pharma marketing we can often see urge to innovate based on the opposition of the hard trend. Something, that Burrus would call a “soft trend”, something, that only might happen.
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Soft trend is a projection based on statistics that have the appearance of being tangible, fully predictable facts. It’s something that might happen: a future maybe.
Such “soft trend” is easy to be sold by marketers and consultants. You may hear that we should go mobile (the smartphones are on the rise, aren’t they?). You may learn, that eDetailing on tablets is a must (everyone has an iPad, buy one too, quickly!).
It is not a bad thing to identify such soft trends and use them for your innovation. The thing is, however, that soft trend can be influenced and changed. It is the change of this trend that innovator should capitalize on. Followers of those soft trends risk being punished with the next disruption.
However, such approach is not enough. As Alexander Simidchiev said, basing on his experience in pharmaceutical industry, for K-message.com:
Most of what I currently percieve is cosmetic changes in the industry which has changed little since the hayday of anilin based medical wonders, currently addressing mainly short term priorities and tactical issues. The result is that the industry chronically suffers from suboptimal reputation, and we are always “on the back foot” trying to defend past practices, instead of treading the virgin soil (together with other partners and stakeholders) of how to overcome the current challenges facing the healthcare system, for which (my personal deep belief) pharma is one of the possible, if not dominantly positive solutions. This requires that current marketing practices refocus from talking product to joint solutions for societal needs.
To be prepared for what will happen, you need to look at hard trends. This will not change, and it provides a solid foundation for growth. Hard trends are derived from demographics, regulations and technological advances (in terms of growth of “three digital accelerators”: processing power, storage and bandwidth).
Alexander Simidchiev in his presentation has applied this approach to look at pharmaceutical industry. Hard trends derived from demographics facts are stunning. Simple combination of current knowledge of age profiles for public expenditure on healthcare in EU countries (how much is spend for the healthcare of people in certain age), with data on ageing of the population shows, that current system cannot be sustainable in the near future.
On the other hand the same fact of ageing population affects how HCPs of today are working. 2014 was a tipping point, when the majority of HCPs in the EU is digitally native. All newly qualified doctors now, were born after 1988, and started their studied in 2005, which means they used the Internet to learn medicine (PubMed has started in 2006). They find digital more natural than printed materials for acquiring professional knowledge.
Those are hard trends, not guesses, and pharma marketers have to face it or their companies will struggle. We need to be prepared for dramatic shift in our business model, with less money for much bigger population in public healthcare system. We have to use digital channels to be understood by new generation of HCPs, and to provide information the new, digitally savvy patients.
It is not about nice mobile apps or shiny presentations on iPad. It is about the future. As Alexander Simidchiev, quoting Peter Drucker, has closed his presentation: The best way to predict the future is to create it.