The Death Of The Brand

As pharma waves goodbye to brand-led strategies, how is this changing relationships with HCPs?



Once upon a time, big brands slept soundly with the knowledge that they held the monopoly on their respective markets. Then one day the big bad internet of ideas jostled its way onto the scene, bringing with it a proliferation of new products and plucky start-ups.

Fast-forward to the present and the customer is increasingly at the steering wheel, with multiple destinations in front of them and multiple means of getting there.

Why will they come to you? To survive in this new marketplace, companies must be nimble and adaptive, listening attentively to the needs of its customers. This will mean going back to the drawing board for some. The pharma industry is currently swallowing this pill as it attempts to reorient itself from a brand-centric approach to a customer-centric one.

What levers will pharma use to achieve this end? What value will it bring to one of pharma’s most immediate and most crucial customers – the HCP?

High Stakes
In the biosimilar space, the customer-centric stakes could not be higher. How do you differentiate in a competitive landscape when your product has no clinical differentiation?

This is a question Georgina Rizik has been grappling with in her capacity as the Global Commercial Head of Oncology Biosimilars Franchise at Boehringer Ingelheim. The only conceivable path is customer-centricity, affirms Rizik.

With no clinical differentiation to fall back on, Rizik has had to devise a cohesive customer experience strategy to engage Boehringer Ingelheim’s critical HCP touchpoint. 

“How do you provide your customer with an overall package? We have done a lot of research with oncologists over the years and what we have learned is that oncologists care about a seamless experience for their patients and their practice. 'Make my nurses happy, make my patients satisfied, just create a positive experience during a very challenging time', that's what we have heard and so the question for the pharma industry is how do we do that in a unique manner that really resonates?”

For Rizik, the answer lies in forging an emotional connection with the customer touchpoint. “How can I package my different tactics into a sentiment, into an essence that is really impactful? What do you want your customer to feel?”

This line of questioning should not only inform your HCP engagement strategy, but it should also be applied across the entire stakeholder spectrum, she stresses.

“Physicians are really important but we all know that, in the oncology space, payers are really important, patients are important, nurses are important, pharmacists are important. So, you indirectly make oncologists happy by making their people happy. We learned in the research that contentment for an oncologist is construed as alleviating the pain points and stressors, both in their practice and along the patient journey. In oncology, many customer-centric solutions address various pain points that complement the clinical potential of the product to reach best possible patient outcomes - moving beyond a product focus."

Rizik welcomes the customer-centric sea change that’s sweeping across the industry, as it encourages companies to up their game. The companies that are leading the charge in this space push everyone to think more creatively and innovate, ultimately raising industry standards and benefiting the cancer patient, who is at the centre of all this, she says.

The era of automation
Extolling the virtues of “system solutions”, Markus Leyck Dieken, SVP Global Head of CNS, Teva Pharmaceuticals, believes it is moving pharma away from brand-centricity to the customer-centric age of greater personalisation and objectivity, dubbing it the “democratization of healthcare”. The burgeoning world of outcomes-based initiatives is symptomatic of this sea change, adds Leyck Dieken.

Strides made in artificial intelligence and its ability to sift through enormous amounts of data is a key lever in this push, says Leyck Dieken. AI will package and present data to the HCP that will enable them to provide patients with much more precise and meaningful diagnoses in the future, he predicts.

How will this strengthen pharma’s relationship with the HCP? “I am convinced that any pharma company providing substantial and meaningful AI support to HCPs will be recognized as a profound contributor to medicine on the basis of superior evidence,” affirms Leyck Dieken.  

Teva Pharmaceuticals has partnered up with AI firm IBM Watson, combining the latter’s computing power with the former’s vast pool of data in pursuit of this goal.

“The nomenclature used nowadays for diseases like asthma or severe asthma is actually from the 19th Century, we believe that in the next 10 years we will all be able to diagnose much sharper and you will receive a very precise diagnosis, which will mean you have asthma of type X and Y with the genomic trend of chromosome X and Y,” he says.

Precise diagnostic information will not only empower the HCP but also the patient, asserts Leyck Dieken. Naturally the more informed the patient becomes about their condition, the more agency they will have over their course of treatment. This will fundamentally change the HCPs relationship with patients from a paternalistic mindset of ‘try this pill and come back in six weeks’ to a ‘how can I help?’ mentality, encouraging a more collaborative interaction, he says.

What is Teva’s over-arching goal? “To give the HCP a repository of ready to digest data that makes them survive,” proclaims Leyck Dieken. “There are thousands and thousands of daily medical publications, you will never read through that jungle. How can you cope with the well-informed patient? We will have to find a system now that is not encroaching too much on the HCPs time but still allows him or her to make imminent decisions.”

Stay tuned
In the constantly evolving oncology space, the ongoing move to a more customer-centric approach has produced a very clear objective: keep the HCP looped in, says Markus Kosch, Vice President of Oncology Portfolio, Europe, Japan & Developed Asia, Pfizer Oncology.

“The degree of change in standards, of new data coming across, of new efforts being launched is fundamentally changing within a couple of months. The speed and degree of this complexity and transformative change within oncology is unprecedented. We need to help the HCP orientate, meeting their medical education needs, their information needs and their legitimate ask for updates on our efforts, combination data and so on.”

The necessity to keep the HCP abreast in the oncology world has prompted Pfizer to invest heavily in digital channels, stressing the need to integrate customer engagement models that enable much more specific, tailored content to be disseminated to HCPs. “Personal relationships face to face including Salesforce is still important, but this needs to be integrated with new channels and new ways to manage content quicker, more concise and more on a pull than on a push basis.” 

Kosch has been leading Pfizer’s charge in this space. “We have built three archetypes, one digital only so a fully digitalised customer approach, one hybrid including e.g. remote sales colleagues, and another what we call the surround sound model that integrates new channels into the existing customer engagement model across countries. I have a dedicated team doing this, rolling out these model’s country by country, brand and portfolio, effort by effort, leveraging the practice sharing. It is quite an evolution, I wouldn't say revolution but it's quite an evolution of our customer engagement processes.”

Pfizer’s end goal in this arena is to have a “fully integrated customer engagement model where seamlessly HCP needs are embraced, and we are adaptive and flexible enough to do this on any channel they like to use,” says Kosch.

Pfizer also has a broader vision beyond merely being an “information organism” to HCPs, he says, with plans to evolve the organisation into a solution building provider. “We invest in additional services for HCPs and hospital practices, such as apps, redefining specific services and therapy management programmes.”

While Leyck Dieken acknowledges the merits of the multi-channel approach, he is also mindful of the fact that it can amount to an inundation of emails. In this space, he stresses the need to first ensure the content is “relevant, substantial and meaningful” in order to capture customer attention.  

“We all have our smartphones in hand and we see so many things on a day to day basis that if you don't bring it to a relevant and meaningful point within 10 seconds, you will lose them,” he warns. 

Bumpy road ahead
Rizik appreciates effecting change will not happen overnight.

“People are going through the growing pains of implementing this mindset quite frankly because it is somewhat new, it has been an evolution because it really started out maybe three years ago with the PD-1 inhibitors and the competitive landscape with biosimilars. I think it is going to take a while for both the internal, cultural mindset to change and for the people to figure out how to do things. It is also going to require really good commercial and medical leaderswho are creative, innovative, agile and openminded.” 

Kosch regards trust building as one of the biggest obstacles to customer-centric implementation.

“We need to convince country organisations and sales forces that this is not a change that will necessarily replace them or substitute them, but that it is integrating their value and their relationships into new ways of meeting needs, so you need to have them fully embracing this otherwise it is very difficult to drive change in an organisation.”

Kosch also chimes with Rizik that you must get internal actors on board to really get customer-centricity off the ground. There must be willing to build new capabilities and enter new fields, which will require buy-in at all levels of the organisation, he says.

Pharma must also consider the potential repercussions this shift could have upon the HCPs practice, cautions Leyck Dieken. With AI ultimately providing patients with more precise diagnostic information, he is mindful of the fact that patient demands could become increasingly more complex, potentially putting a strain on the HCPs time and resources.

Disseminating more data to the HCP might also be at odds with current legislation, which could tighten its grip if any issues arise such as data violations.

Customer-centricity’s biggest draw also presents its biggest challenge, admits Leyck Dieken. The healthcare systems all work upon the fact that the society does not use all the instruments equally well, so we need to find a solution to the fact that we are trying to recommend and orientate everybody to the better but at the same time we are trying to contain costs. There is a kind of dishonesty in the system in that we rely on the fact that not everybody would do that.”

Georgina Rizik and Markus Kosch will be sharing their insights at the eyeforpharma Barcelona event in March. 


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