Healthcare reform driven marketing challenges to “stimulating product interest”

Last post we discussed raising awareness and the next step in the adoption process is stimulating interest in your product.  People may become aware of your product but if they are not interested they will ignore the rest of your message and may not even remember your product.  You don’t even get a chance to convince them they should be interested.  This is one of the steps that are most likely to be impacted by evolving market because of the change in customer focus from prescriber to payer and because of the increasing constraints on traditional marketing and sales tactics.

Stimulating interest is about understanding the needs of your customers and finding an effective way to cut though all the market noise to grab their attention so you can let them know you can fill that need, solve their problem by treating a disease or condition safely and effectively.  Sounds easy enough, especially if you really have a product that can do this better than anything else out there and you can advertise and promote that you are better.  The “better than anything else” is often the challenge for pharmaceutical marketers primarily because few products have the data to support such a claim and even if they have the data, they may not have the regulatory label to allow the promotion of that difference.

Previous tactics targeted primarily at physicians:

  • Their need is to provide the best, affordable care (including prescription drugs) for their patients
  • Graphics and copy implications in journal advertising could stimulate interest in a variety of ways including simply putting the word “New” in the ad.
  • Persuasive sales people could imply or make outright claims in their discussions that could stimulate interest
  • The sheer volume of advertising and promotion could stimulate interest by implying to the physician “there must be something I don’t know”
  • Public relations was great for raising awareness but they were masters at creating interest by making sure corporate communications clearly communicated the reason people should be interested in this new product, new study, most prescribed product, etc.
  • The size of an exhibit booth and the value of the tchotchkes could stimulate interest at medical conferences
  • You could build an impression of better by careful crafting a story around the product features and benefits that were important to the prescriber

Payer targeted “stimulating interest”:

  • Their need, while similar to the prescriber will be more bluntly driven by the cost of therapeutic alternatives.  This can be summed up as “why should we use your product rather than other therapeutic options we have available and why should we pay more when a generic drug (or less expensive competitive product) option is available?”
  • Payers will be less influenced by traditional advertising and promotion tactics
  • Payers will demand and be more rigorous in their review of data to support any claims being made that might stimulate their interest
  • Limited  and gatekeeper encumbered access to payers may require new tactics for stimulating interest with this group


  • Traditional tactics will still work where prescribers can still be influenced but the  effectiveness of these tactics will diminish as the market evolves.
  • Clinical utility described in a credible peer-reviewed scientific publications can get payer attention as can credible podium presentations at scientific conferences
  • Innovative products with data to support clinically meaningful differentiation will make stimulating interest easier
  • Have well prepared, data supported answers to “why should we use your product rather than other therapeutic options we have available and why should we pay more when a generic drug (or less expensive competitive product) option is available?”
  • A data supported cost benefit story will almost always get payer attention but again, it better be credible and applicable to their situation
  • You can always create enough market noise that payers feel compelled to take a look at what you have, but you better have something worth looking at or it will just further alienate them, potentially compromising a future opportunity to get their attention

In the next post we’ll discuss “Evaluation” the single most important step in the adoption process which will represent either the greatest opportunity or biggest challenge for pharmaceutical companies in the evolving new healthcare market. 

Healthcare Reform Impact on Pharmaceutical Marketing

Every aspect of pharmaceutical marketing will be impacted by healthcare reform.  While the marketing of prescription drugs has become increasingly difficult as we have discussed before pharmaceutical companies should be anticipating even more challenges as healthcare reform evolves.  These challenges will be driven primarily by the need to control costs, a market interest in minimizing the influence of pharmaceutical marketing and sales, and a diminished trust of the pharmaceutical industry.

Over the next few posts we will evaluate the impact of the changing market on marketing from the customer perspective.  The intent is not to be all inclusive but to get you thinking about how it might affect your tactical programs.  Customers go through an adoption sequence which most marketers are familiar with (awareness, interest, evaluation, trial, use, and endorsement).

Awareness (customer becomes aware of the product and familiar with the brand name)

Previous tactics included:

Press releases, journal advertising, sales rep calls, exhibits and scientific presentations at medical meetings and conferences, direct mail, physician to physician word of mouth, and office tchotchkes                                               (reminder items to maintain awareness and visibility of the brand name)

New tactics include:

Internet distribution of press releases, Internet marketing, DTC (direct to consumer) advertising, sports sponsorships (i.e., NASCAR), social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and word of mouth

The evolving market and healthcare reform challenges for raising awareness (electronic communications including the internet makes this one of the least impacted marketing issue)

  • Elimination of office tchotchkes (already in place) makes keeping brand name “top of mind” at the point of prescribing more difficult
  • Decreasing sales rep access to physicians
  • Increasing regulatory constraints on internet and social media
  • Limited access to managed market decision makers (PBMs, insurers, government)
  • Increasing concerns for pharmaceutical company participation in scientific meetings and conferences

Solutions to challenges:

Perhaps the best solution to this issue is to have a truly innovative product. News media will jump on these products, especially if they are independently endorsed. Managed market decision makers who identify innovative products they want their plan participants to have access to will find ways (including working with pharmaceutical company marketing) to make sure prescribers in their plans are aware of the product.  Similarly, medically recognized innovative treatments of choice will find much less resistance to being presented and discussed at scientific meetings and conferences.

Again, raising awareness is probably the least affected by the evolving new healthcare market and healthcare reform.  Next we will discuss the impact of stimulating interest in a particular product which is certain to be impacted to a much greater extent.

Healthcare Reform Impact on Prescription Drugs

Healthcare reform and the mandate for insurance coverage for all US citizens would appear to represent new growth opportunities for the pharmaceutical industry.  This can be true for pharmaceutical companies that begin to adapt to the realities of this evolving new healthcare market.  Nothing in the current legislation seems to be dramatically different than what has been discussed and debated now for months….no surprises.  Also, keep in mind, the plan will take years to unfold and become a reality.  That doesn’t mean pharmaceutical companies can or should wait.  In fact, the evolving new market will mean significant  changes will be necessary to the traditional pharmaceutical business model which will also take time for companies to implement and execute.

Despite the upsides of potentially more than 30 million new prescription drug customers and the closing of the doughnut hole for seniors, here are some implications the industry must prepare for:

  • The market for prescription drugs will progressively change from healthcare providers and patients to payers, insurers, and managed plans
  • Payers (insurance companies and government/CMS programs) will have to become increasingly cost conscious to ensure sustainable affordability of the reform
  • Generic drugs will become the workhorse for prescription drug plans, including being used in place of branded products that fail to demonstrate meaningful clinical benefits over generic drug options
  • There will be tremendous cost saving incentives for the market to push for and demand a  clear regulatory path for generic biologics/biosimilar drugs
  • To secure premium pricing, newly launched branded pharmaceuticals will have to meet an even higher standard for proving their value over other therapeutic options, including generic drugs
  • Information technology, including e-prescribing, will be employed to a much greater extent to help manage compliance with drug formularies and control costs.
  • Traditional sales and marketing will have less influence on product availability at the prescription drug plan level and even less influence on physician prescribing practices

Pharmaceutical companies that anticipate these new dynamics can make the necessary adjustments and determine what they need to do to remain competitive in this evolving new healthcare market. More on what to do in the next posting.

My 10 Favorite Sources of Pharmaceutical, Biotech, and Healthcare Reform News

There is so much going on in the Pharma and Biotech industries today especially with all the talk about healthcare reform.  I thought it might be helpful for those who are trying to stay current to know some of my favorite news sources:



  • Yahoo Finance

Drug Manufacturers


If you want to stay real time current with breaking news I suggest you follow Mike Huckman and Christiane Truelove on Twitter.

Disclaimer: I have not been compensated by any of the sites listed.  I just thought it might be helpful for those trying to stay current with what is going on in the industry.  I’m certain there are many other sites that might be great sites as well.  These are just some of my favorite “go to” sites that help me stay current.

Can the Pharmaceutical Industry be trusted to use of Social Media?

The ability to mass market through social media could provide pharmaceutical companies efficient reach and frequency capabilities (more people, more often) never before possible.  From internet websites and webinars to Twitter, Facebook, and the ever-increasing number of new web-based tools and channels all provide unprecedented access to healthcare providers and patients alike.

Unfortunately, the industry is constrained by traditional regulatory requirements and worse, a lack of clarity regarding the regulatory interpretation for applying those requirements to the use of this evolving new media.  The FDA is struggling with how to manage, regulate, and control this new media opportunity which has the potential for rapid “viral” distribution of pharmaceutical company provided product and disease-related information.  PhRMA has drafted suggestions for how the industry could employ social media while maintaining regulatory compliance. (PhRMA letter to FDA February 26, 2010)

So, what’s the fuss?

The issue is simple.  Based on past performance and behavior, the pharmaceutical industry can’t be trusted.  Even with guidance, standards, regulations, and laws the industry has demonstrated that they will do whatever it takes to sell their drugs.  Pharmaceutical companies even ignore their own PhRMA codes and guiding principles that are supposed to “assure that promotion of medicine is truthful, scientifically accurate, and non-misleading.”

If pharmaceutical companies had an established base of credibility and had historically demonstrated they could be trusted to provide truthful, scientifically accurate and non-misleading information in their promotions their use of social media would be much less an issue.  With a trusted pharmaceutical industry, regulators could have responded more proactively and would be less concerned about trying to anticipate every potential abuse to make sure they leave no loopholes in their compliance standards which would provide the industry a legal way to abuse or take inappropriate advantage of social media promotion.

Nobody argues the value of informed healthcare providers and patients accomplished through dissemination of truthful, scientifically accurate and non-misleading product or disease-related information.  If the industry could be trusted to do this, regulation would be simple and everybody would benefit.  Time for the industry to work on reestablishing trust and credibility.