Many years ago, as a marketing professor teaching Introductory Marketing to the open minds of first and second-year business and commerce students, my task at hand was fairly straightforward. Leverage industry experience and understanding of the literature to shepherd students through the key elements of the principles of marketing. Over the course of my teaching tenure, the approach, content, principles, and case studies evolved, but the "4 Ps" of marketing kept us on track. Product, price, place and promotion served as a solid introduction and, conceptually, as a foundation to expand your thinking and studies into areas of logistics, consumer behavior, strategy, brand management, and an expanded world that looked at each of these key cornerstones in detail.I often feel that no matter how much effort is put forward to help pharma evolve its marketing efforts, they are still embracing the principles and 4 Ps of yesterday. Of course, products and pricing change, but the fundamentals of giving people real value in the goods and services they purchase remains the key tenet of modern day commerce (and healthcare).
Where the world has evolved faster than most of us can keep pace is the notion of place and promotion. The winning mix is no longer a full page advertisement in the leading therapeutic journal and a visit by a sales rep demonstrating a mode of action on a hand-held vis-aid. While the agencies and strategic consultants all know this, surprisingly, industry still struggles to break away from the tried and true approach.
Using in-process attribution modeling (and not just last touch attribution common in the industry), our internal research suggests that pharma reps influence about 30-35% of all new prescriptions, and that peers, key opinion leaders, digital and e-details, and social websites for physicians play a greater role in prescribing behavior. These approaches help them better engage with colleagues and peers on a variety of topics, creating virtual environments where they can learn, solicit feedback, and collaborate to improve performance within and around specific therapeutic areas.
While the approach (or non-approach) needs to change/evolve, and despite everything we know about the changing role of the key elements in the promotional mix, industry continues to assume the fall back position — namely, “Let’s figure out the call plan, and if there is any budget left, we will try to build out a non-personal promotional program to see how it works.” While we can sit back from our vantage point and espouse the virtues of a new/dynamic/integrated approach, in many respects, the industry finds itself in the classic prisoner’s dilemma. That is, while it is believed (more so with every passing month) that market/promotional gains could be realized by changing the fundamental approach to marketing, it is perceived/believed as being dangerous and possibly even expensive (lost revenue and wasted promotional spend) to change the approach.
So, this leads us to trying to figure out what the pharmaceutical industry’s marketing approach should truly entail, and it really comes down to one fundamental principle — customer centricity. As is often said, there are really only two types of marketing: brand centric, or customer centric. The traditional model of the 4 Ps, while intuitive and effective, was assumptive in its belief that all four elements working together generated a profit for the company. Unfortunately, with the broadening base of alternatives and customers, that model has become much more difficult to sustain, with resulting brand erosion and equity dilution. The alternative, focusing on the customer, is truly a solution whose time (and supporting technological solutions) has arrived.