April 5, 2022

Advice to Pharma Marketers: Listen or Lose Out

Two seated women talking

Pharma marketers can be really good at listening. Sometimes.

Marketers are good at listening for answers to specific questions that we already know we need to have answered.

But the best marketers keep listening, because they know that if they didn’t, and if they didn’t adjust to what they heard their audience tell them, they’d be missing out on more than just interesting insights. They’d be missing opportunities to make their work more effective, more compelling, more successful, and more equitable.

Throughout industries – from consumer packaged goods (CPG) to B2B – brands make decisions by listening to the communities that matter to them. Whether it’s a new type of camping tent, or a new service for the workplace, they guide their actions by what their users say, and by what they do … what they do with their products, but also, what they do in their lives apart from their use of the relevant products.

Pharma gathers insights, to be sure: we’re constantly looking through market research, awareness trial and usage (ATUs), advisory board insights, and beyond. But this research is often narrowly focused on treatment decision making, and gets leveraged as part of months’ long campaigns, redesigns, or launches. That’s not the same as acting on insights in real time, the way our CPG counterparts do, to meet our audience needs quickly. And when it comes to what we’re ready to act on from the research, this approach has more long-term pitfalls, as well:

  • Too often, brands get caught up in the clinical details, assuming that a brand’s efficacy is the be-all and end-all. But the choices and decisions around access and prescribing and adherence depend upon many, many different factors. Some of these are knowable from the outside, but not all – not until we start asking to listen, and start reacting to what we hear. 
  • Too often, brands get caught up in the healthcare provider (HCP) as the singular decision maker – but really, a prescription is only the beginning. From coverage, to abandonment, to adherence, there are hurdles that could range from pricing, to transportation, to nutrition, to mental healthcare … or they could be absolutely invisible to an outsider.
  • Too often, brands say, “Let’s on-board you to this drug!” without getting curious about what that journey might actually look like in lived experience. What might get in the way of that process and make it more difficult than it seems on paper?

What lies beyond these narrow moments in the diagnostic and initiation journey are real-life barriers, challenges, and insights that patients and their loved ones are experiencing throughout their treatment. These everyday moments can determine adherence, prescription refilling, and even the discussions patients are having with their healthcare specialists about how they’re feeling – all of which could impact treatment outcomes the same way a clinical profile might.

So, think beyond just the day an HCP decides to prescribe a treatment for a patient. Think more about what the next 30 days, 60 days, or 90 days on your treatment may look like. How can your brand build resources to help patients successfully not just start, but stay, on your treatment?

Check in more often with the advocacy communities in your space. Consider the friction involved in every single step in the process. Consider what questions, or ongoing needs, a patient might have as they make your brand a part of their lives. What support resources, tools, or communications can you proactively create to help?  

Dr. Charlotte Owens, Vice President and Head of the Research and Development Center for Health Equity and Patient Affairs at Takeda, has said, “Social determinants of health are what actually make you healthy.” Too often, pharma marketers zero in on what they think matters… and miss a lot of what actually matters.

Ask questions. Listen to the answers. Ask what you’re missing. Act on what you hear.

Header photo source: Toa Heftiba on Unsplash