February 14, 2017

Innovation During Disruption and Change

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We live in times of disruption and change.

  • Technology is disruptive: digital and mobile technologies, in particular, continue to significantly change how we communicate and how we do business.
  • Medicine and science are disruptive by nature, testing the boundaries of knowledge to expand the possibilities for humankind.
  • The political environment is disruptive – the 21st Century Cures Act is going into effect, and the new administration in Washington is making a great many changes in its first few weeks. A repeal of the Affordable Care Act is planned, as well as other changes to healthcare access and priorities.
  • Even our current demographics are disruptive – The Baby Boomer generation is aging toward retirement; the even-larger Millennial generation has reached adulthood; and America’s diverse makeup is growing ever more varied.

The pharmaceutical industry, staid and traditionally risk-averse because of its serious purpose and its highly regulated processes, looks positively upon on innovation, but it doesn’t always take well to disruption. In this POV, we’ll look at the changes we’re currently facing and the trends associated with those changes, and hear what several Intouch experts have to say about how the expected changes will affect pharma and pharma marketers.

Whether you’re a marketer, a healthcare professional, a patient or a caregiver, you’re a product of the times. Whoever we are in the healthcare realm, we share in the evolution of technology and consumer expectations.


Many technological changes are underway. We think these are some of the most important:

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  • The Internet of Things is growing up. Digitally connected devices are no longer curiosities; they’re becoming embedded in our daily lives. First, we became used to laptops, then smartphones. Now, from wearables to smart appliances, IoT is part of the environment in which we live.
  • Artificial intelligence is booming. Natural-language interfaces — particularly in the form of chatbots and digital assistants backed with machine-learning sophistication — are helping us in what feels like increasingly “human” interactions.
  • Voice response is one of the main ways digital is evolving right now. From Siri to Alexa, we’re becoming accustomed to talking to a device and having it answer without ever typing a single character.
  • Virtual reality and augmented reality have moved from sci-fi to mainstream. Tools like Google Cardboard are eliminating barriers to entry, and even high-tech headsets topped wish lists this past holiday season.

Consumer Expectations

Changes in technology no longer affect only specialists or geeks. We’re all increasingly digital-savvy and, as a result, we take how those technology changes affect us and extrapolate them into our expectations for how all our interactions work. We now expect the companies we patronize to interact with us in the ways in which we’ve become accustomed: real-time, empathic, human conversation that uses the latest in communication technology to answer our questions and provide near-instant solutions.

Data Science

We now have the information and the tools to make our work precisely personalized and predictive.

We might not think of it in these terms, but we rely on data science many times each day. The weather forecast we use to plan our commute; the coupons we get at the store; the way our phone apps function; the analytics and reporting dashboards that inform our marketing efforts – these are all backed by vast amounts of data, and vitally, data analysis. In today’s world, we take for granted that data will be available to help us.

As pharma marketers, data enables us to provide value, visualize solutions, personalize communications, attribute causes, drive scalability and predict the future. Employed effectively, data can provide big-picture views and small actionable steps.

“The short-term pain in digitizing patients’ health records means a long-term improvement for patients’ healthcare decisions.” – Abid Rahman, Senior Director, Innovation and New Technology


The new presidential administration will dramatically influence the face of healthcare. Exactly what the results will be are less clear. But even before that, the 21st Century Cures Act was signed into law by President Obama, aiming to fund medical research and improve the efficiency with which drugs and devices are brought to market

“From detonating Obamacare to introducing legislation for drug marketing, Trump will attempt to completely shake up the pharma Etch-a-Sketch.” – Vince Verdooren, Creative Director

We have a significant opportunity to build tools and communications that not only convey marketing messages, but work alongside prescriptions to offer tangible, measurable healthcare assistance to patients, caregivers and HCPs.

Changes in healthcare are underway across the board, altering the work of healthcare professionals around the world.

  • Digital care is becoming common. Telemedicine can make it possible for virtual visits and even surgeries to happen irrespective of distance – from isolated reaches of the globe, to harried urban parents looking for convenience at home. Digital tools can assist with everything from diagnosis to patient monitoring.

“We will likely see wearables prescribed for specific diseases and rehab programs in the near future.” – Abid Rahman, Senior Director, Innovation and New Technology Development

  • The pharmaceutical supply chain is evolving, thanks to the use of technologies like robots, AI, predictive analytics, and 3D printing.
  • Retail clinics are on the rise, moving primary care outside of HCP offices and into storefronts.
  • As the focus of care moves to measurable health outcomes, we get closer to a paradigm in which the value of care is measured by results, not quantities of procedures or prescriptions. The clinical value proposition is changing as cost-consciousness grows and margins shrink.

“I’m excited about the increased visibility of market access information within core commercialization and promotional activities.” – Peter Weissberg, Group Director, Market Access

  • Prevention is frequently cheaper than treatment, so one of the most cost-effective methods to improve outcomes is to avoid disease with proper nutrition and exercise. From wearable incentives for corporate employees, to “food pharmacies” in which nutritionists and doctors prescribe fresh produce, HCPs continue to experiment with ways to help people avoid illness.
  • Genetics has become a consumer industry, thanks to computing power previously only dreamed about. Many seek to understand the risks that they and their family members face from their genetic makeup.
  • Blockchain technology remains out of general consciousness, but this technology, best known for making bitcoin transactions of online currency possible, is getting closer to the everyday user. The FDA has begun working with IBM on developing ways to use this system of securing data.

Marketing must take all of the previously discussed cultural changes into account in order to effectively and authentically engage with our target customers. But changing trends exist in our field apart from what the consumer sees.

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  • Agile methodology – this approach to work, borrowed from the software-development field, emphasizes iteration and ongoing contact among teams to work rapidly, explore new ideas, “fail fast” and bring concepts to fruition sooner than ever.
  • Marketing automation – customization, integration, hyper-segmentation across channels … automated marketing makes processes that were once performed by hand more efficient and effective.
  • Programmatic media buying – less a new trend than simply the new way of the world, advertising purchases that are targeted, negotiated and optimized algorithmically ensure that media dollars are put to their best use.
  • Video has never been a more important part of the media mix. Particularly in social media, the use of live and prerecorded video is exploding. Once requiring a high investment of specialization and effort, video is now instant, ephemeral, low-cost and high-engagement – a perfect tool for marketers and a key part of an immersive experiential marketing plan.

Uncertainty and innovation can make uncomfortable compatriots, but we must learn to harmonize them in order to succeed. It’s human nature to guess and speculate at times when the future feels unclear, but the smartest approach is to take the evidence at hand and use it to push ahead in the smartest ways we can.

How do we do that?

We analyze current trends and developments in technology and medicine, investigate how they interrelate, and determine how to build on that understanding. With our knowledge and expertise, we can create useful solutions that help our clients improve human health. That’s far more than being “on trend” – it’s truly making a difference.