Winds of change in the Pharmaceutical sector

Responding to the winds of change in Pharma

Advances in technology and mobile communication have resulted in customer experience being placed at the forefront of marketing strategy and campaigns. This change has been adopted across a wide spectrum of diverse businesses, acknowledged as the market differentiator in terms of competitive edge and brand loyalty. The pharmaceutical sector is beginning to appreciate the importance of placing patient experience at the vanguard of its digital marketing strategy.


Innovation and adapting to a patient centric model is seen as particularly difficult in a sector which faces a unique set of challenges concerning digital marketing. The pharmaceutical industry is, by necessity, governed by highly regulated markets and strict protocols, which are often cited as major stumbling blocks.

Traditionally, the pharmaceutical industry has employed a highly successful business model, with huge investment in research and development. When this was successful, drugs were taken to market by marketing and sales teams, with strong bonds being forged during this process with purchasers and prescribers. It was a system which worked very effectively, with robust patents ensuring a healthy ROI.


Change is inevitable in a technological age, where the patient is no longer an end user in the purchasing equation. Where pharmaceutical companies once had complete control over the generation and dissemination of their product information, this is no longer the case. There are now 40,000 search engine queries every second. 3.5 billion per day ( One in 20 Google searches are medical related (Google blog - Prem Ramaswami).

Patients have found their voice and a platform, through feedback, medical forums and social media. They have a unique and valuable perspective on their medical condition and related therapies. Highly motivated, often extremely articulate and well informed, patient involvement and engagement is crucial to effect change and healthcare reforms. These changes and reforms can be transformative and highly cost effective in terms of treatment adherence and outcomes.

Patients are no longer passive in healthcare, using the internet and health apps to great effect. Generation Tracker analyse their sleep patterns, cardiovascular output and exercise activities. Forums provide a powerful tool for patients, enabling them to compare experiences, providing support, exploring different treatments and the management of chronic conditions. There is now a desire and expectation to be an integral and important part of the process of their healthcare journey and, where possible, be key decision makers.

Advances in technology, mobile communication and innovation means the patient experience is now a driving force within the pharmaceutical sector. These advances have led to a tectonic shift within healthcare and include:

  • The adoption of digital technology, such as e-health services, has advanced dramatically and is set to increase exponentially
  • The cost of pharmaceutical research and development rises dramatically each decade and there is a finite resource of innovative, as yet undiscovered drugs
  • Patients have a greater understanding and responsibility for their healthcare and treatment
  • 43% of patients search for medical information prior to consulting their doctor (Decision Research Group -2015)
  • There is a demand for value, choice and efficacy of prescribed treatments from patients
  • The power and influence of mass media marketing has been replaced by peer group interaction on social media and medical forums
  • Medicine is moving towards bespoke personalised treatments for patients

These are powerful changes and focusing on the patient experience and becoming patient-centric will be crucial for pharmaceutical companies both now and in the future. This is borne out by the following statistics across the commercial sector:

“Customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by the year 2020” - Walker

“72% of businesses say that improving the customer experience is their top priority”- Forrester

“Companies with the strongest omni-channel customer engagement strategies retain an average of 89% of their customers, as compared to 33% for companies with weak omni-channel strategies” - Aberdeen Group Inc.

“In the U.S., the estimated cost of customers switching, due to poor service, is $1.6 Trillion” - Accenture

Maybe for pharmaceutical companies to adapt and become innovative, there needs to be a change in direction and perspective. Perhaps Instead of purchasing, budgets and costs being the drivers, patient experience, embracing digital behaviour, motivations and concerns, should become central to any marketing strategy. The patient experience could be designed to offer consistency and a mutually beneficial relationship at all stages of the patient journey. What propels digital behaviour, understanding behaviour and engagement across all channels may require someone outside the industry, digital marketing experts, who could provide the expertise and skill sets to harness a rich seam of analytical data within the digital footprints of patients. With the caveat that certain protocol restraints may preclude active participation for pharmaceutical companies, this rich source of data builds on the patient experience and encourages engagement and the cascading of information.


  • Understand the demands and dynamics of this digital age and build stronger and consistently reliable patient experiences
  • Invest in talent outside the sector, whose skill sets include familiarity with digital engagement across all channels
  • Engage with prescribers and their digital savvy, mobile surfing, tracker wearing patients
  • Build patient-centric strategies, offering unique experiences at all stages of the journey

Effecting change, and placing patient experience at the forefront of their digital marketing campaigns, will allow pharma to become true market leaders and be part of the revolutionary process of healthcare treatment and reform.