10 Principles of Modern (Pharma) Marketing

Adopting the best new practices is not enough; success also requires rethinking and refining proven, classic approaches.

Technology has dramatically altered every aspect of how pharma marketers design, plan, execute, and measure their marketing efforts.  But successful marketers understand the need to pay equal attention to classic marketing disciplines as well.

With more than 30 years of experience each in the practice and study of marketing, Kevin Lane Keller (Professor of Marketing at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business) and Ann Lewnes (CMO at Adobe) have recently published a set of principles that reflects both classic and new approaches. (“10 Principles of Modern Marketing,” MIT Sloan Management Review, April 03, 2019, www.sloanreview.mit.edu.)

While the insights in their article are applicable to any industry, it isn’t hard to envision how each of these ten principles apply specifically to pharmaceutical marketing:

1. Technology Is Just the First Step

To thrive in this new era, it is imperative that marketers embrace developments in technology and test and adopt new advancements that fit their business. But mastering new technology is not the sole determinant of success in the modern marketing era — the right people and processes must also be put in place. In addition to techno-experts, teams should include members who bring strategic, creative and analytical capabilities.

2. Experience Is the New Brand

Not long ago, the customer journey and marketing process was fairly straightforward; customers entered the sales and marketing funnel with marketers intervening at well-understood times and places to convert and retain them.  Although having a safe, effective product is still of utmost importance, the ever-widening array of touchpoints available for customer interaction - both online and offline - means that pharma marketers can no longer focus on product features alone, nor can they be merely transactional when interacting with patients, prescribers, or payers. According to Lewnes and Keller, to keep today’s healthcare customers from defecting, marketers “must create full-on, immersive experiences for customers that build strong ties to the company and the brand as a whole. Experiences are the new competitive battlefield and a means to create powerful differentiation from competitors.”

3. A New Type of Customer Relationship Prevails

Gone are the days of the “one-way” relationship between marketers and customers, punctuated by stilted interactions and outbound communications. Keller and Lewnes believe that, in many ways, today’s consumers own the brands they use and interact with just as much as the marketing teams do. It’s incumbent on today’s marketers to foster that ownership by encouraging feedback and understanding what customers do and do not want from the brand. In pharma, our ability to interact with customers is fairly constrained by med/reg/legal concerns, but we still need to understand and manage customer expectations. This requires deep insight into motivations, barriers, and behaviors. What problems are patients/prescribers/payers really trying to solve? What things - and thinking - really stand in their way? How can we really best help them solve their problems and achieve their goals beyond just providing medicines?

4. Connect With Customers Online and Offline

The amount of data available today - and the ability to analyze it - makes it both possible and critical to effectively understand and interact with patients, providers, and even payers, online. But it is still important to actually engage with them offline as well. Sales calls, conventions, advisory boards, promotional education, market research, etc are the traditional venues for in-person contact. Keller and Lewnes are quick to point out that “it will probably always be the case that nothing beats the power of companies and their customers coming together in person to learn and get inspired.”

5. Value Creation, Communication, and Delivery Still Rule

In pharma we are both blessed and cursed with the availability of well-defined measures of value in terms of efficacy, safety, and pharmacoeconomic benefits. But effective, compelling brands elevate their value above mere functional benefits and encompass larger psychological, emotional, and even societal benefits. For all the advances in marketing technology, there’s no escaping the need for pharma brands to deeply connect with their customers and continue to create, communicate, and deliver upon a value proposition that goes well beyond what can be found in clinical trials and labeling.  

6. Data and Testing Are the New Lifeblood

Another area where pharmaceutical marketers are both blessed and cursed. Long before the “digital age” prescription data had given us the ability to track, test, measure, analyze, and refine in ways that most consumer products couldn’t. However it has always been too easy to fall victim to over-analyzing, over-testing, and under-implementing. According to Keller and Lewnes, we need to embrace data and testing as gifts that enable us to learn, activate, and refine in an iterative, rather than linear fashion. According to their research, “to successfully activate different insights to improve the customer experience, it is imperative to work across the organization to integrate data and build real-time data models and decision-driving platforms.”  But for everything that data science promises, there is still much art to marketing. Not everything can be be programmed and automated. “Instinct and judgment still — and always will — matter.”

7. Creativity Remains King

While pharma - like every other industry - has seen staggering technological change and an ever-increasing number of data points, great marketing still requires a cornerstone of great creative. “The emotional hook that marketing has always been able to create with customers absolutely remains necessary,” according to Keller and Lewnes. In fact, recent McKinsey & Co. research reports that companies that successfully manage to integrate creativity and data report a “two-times difference in revenue growth.” ("Fusing Data and Creativity Boosts Revenue," WARC, July 30, 2018, www.warc.com.)

8. Don’t Try to Do It Alone

In a marketplace as complex as most pharma categories it is difficult for most brands to reach the market on their own. When it comes to healthcare, there are myriad stakeholders and constituencies… each offering a brand the opportunity for inclusion and collaboration on something bigger than any single organization could offer on their own. Too often pharma brands have sought to reinvent their own wheel rather than partnering with others who already have a wheel. No, it’s not often easy for brands to forge effective partnerships with patient groups, professional organizations, payers or even within the walls of their own organizations. But the synergies and relationships that can be forged by such partnerships have value that warrant addressing and overcoming the challenges.

9. Marketing Leadership Has Changed

Not a day goes by without an article announcing, variously, the “death of” or “rise of” of the CMO. Clearly, evolution vs revolution is the order of the day. In pharmaceuticals, of course, the patient is at the center of everything. And of course delivery of new products by R&D is critical. And in today’s marketplace, data and technology are key drivers. But the modern marketing leader needs to be the intersection of these things. No one can be the champion of the customer like the marketing leader can, taking great medicines and building meaningful experiences beyond the molecules themselves. Marketers are uniquely qualified to combine products and insights in a way that drives growth.

10. Have a Bigger Purpose: Do Good

Pharma has a tremendous opportunity here; to reclaim the high ground that was once rightfully ours. In today’s world, customers are increasingly expecting the brands and companies they engage with to be “doing good” at the same time they are doing business. People expect the companies that sell them coffee, sneakers, cars, cosmetics, and everything else to elevate “the good” they provide… and these companies are tripping over themselves in an effort to create the perception that their brands are aligned with some or other societal good. But the brands we market are ALREADY aligned with a clear, compelling societal good. We extend and enhance human life. We alleviate pain and suffering. We ward off disease and illness. We protect mothers, fathers, children, grandparents. Our friends and neighbors. Loved ones and strangers alike. What other industry can tally the number of lives we’ve saved, protected, or touched in some meaningful way in numbers well into the billions? Sadly, we’re currently best-known for fighting battles over things like pricing and profits. Effective, modern marketing can help us get past such issues. Back to communicating the true purpose and societal good that has drawn so many of us to pharmaceutical marketing.

Although it’s important to keep up with new advancements, many basic marketing principles still apply, albeit often in an updated or modified form. Marketing success for organizations in the 21st century will require adopting the best new modern practices as well as rethinking and refining classic approaches.
— Kevin Lane Keller & Ann Lewnes

The full article - "10 Principles of Modern Marketing" - by Ann Lewnes (CMO at Adobe) and Kevin Lane Keller (E.B. Osborn Professor of Marketing at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business) can be found here: https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/10-principles-of-modern-marketing/.