When the Consumer Drives Demand
Empowered consumers are playing a more proactive role in almost all treatment decisions. For consumer-driven and lifestyle drugs, a fast-growing portion of pharma's portfolio, marketers still focus on physician detailing but must resist the temptation to rely only on physicians to interpret consumers' needs. Consumers have their own approach to evaluating the risks and rewards of a lifestyle-oriented drug. The fact that it outperforms placebo in clinical trials matters little: they expect it to be significantly better, and without unpleasant side effects. Companies must weigh these expectations early in the development process. Adjusting the paradigm where the physician is king is a major challenge. The perception that traditional detailing efforts generate the dollars, while consumer marketing only spends them, remains hard to change.
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Drug companies have always had three customers-physicians, patients and regulators. But they've focused on the doc, a customer who's allowed them to align customer requirements with research capabilities. But drug companies are now ever more conscious of the other two customers--consumers and regulators. They're courting the former; and the latter are forcing themselves upon their notice. In consequence, and for a variety of reasons--not the least of which is the regulators' recognition of the facts of consumer-driven prescribing--drug development will need more than a tune-up. Companies will have to figure out how to dramatically improve the efficacy data on which their drugs are approved and marketed. One essential tool: new diagnostics for identifying which patients will benefit from specific therapies.
Until recently, most pharma firms handed drugs to a network of partners for marketing, or let their local divisions figure out sales strategies. These days, companies are increasingly working from headquarters to devise a single strategy they can apply across world markets. The point of global branding is leverage. Companies hope to increase sales while decreasing costs associated with marketing, and so get maximum value from drugs, throughout carefully planned life cycles. Medical marketers are studying how consumer-goods marketers craft consistent images and messages that help products become internationally desirable brands. Firms are thinking and acting earlier, with more coordination, than ever before. Some major companies have undergone fundamental restructuring to become more effective at global branding. They're meeting frequently, defining best practices, paying more attention to pre-launch efforts and to Phase IV studies that may support claims. No one knows which practices work best. Some experts say the industry should behave more like consumer marketers, others say less. It's possible that global branding can widen corporate development choices.
While the pharmaceutical industry has succeeded in creating value through innovation, it has failed to capture the value inherent in innovation by relying solely on the traditional models of product life-cycle extension. Instead, given the growing brand-name presence many drug companies have developed with consumers through DTC advertising, drug companies should exploit the consumer brand-equity they've built in their products with line-extension strategies that go beyond pharmaceuticals. While such brand extension can sometimes be dangerous if used inappropriately, it can be, as part of a new product strategy, far less expensive than new R&D programs.