As 2019 drew to a close, pharma organizations looked forward to a blockbuster year. Analysts weighed the numbers and made predictions for 2020; but COVID-19 shattered many of their predictions. The global pandemic has led to one of the most tumultuous years in recent memory.
There’s no doubt that the pandemic created upheaval in pharma market access, yet most of these changes weren’t shocking or unforeseeable. Instead, the pandemic has accelerated trends that were already underway. Companies grappled with a marketing shift that prioritized payors over healthcare providers (HCPs). Pharma marketers also continued their shift toward digital and social media marketing. These changes have sparked new competition but also offered companies new marketing opportunities. To thrive in a shifting marketplace, pharma companies must consider the following:
Drug Demand and Medical Costs Are Both Rising
The 21st century has brought an increased demand for medical care, which has led to sharp increases in medical costs; COVID-19 has reinforced those trends. Now more than ever, patients are desperate for high-quality medical care. Unfortunately, this increase in demand comes at a difficult time. Many families are facing unprecedented financial pressures due to the pandemic. Pharma marketers must be conscious of patients’ dual struggle: financial pressures paired with dwindling access to care.
Payors Increasingly Control the Decision-Making Processes
As patients struggle to pay for their treatments, the US government faces pressure too. Many citizen-led groups have demanded that the government control medical costs; throughout 2020, millions of citizens have campaigned for single-payer healthcare. Once considered a fringe movement, Medicare For All has become a mainstream concept.
It’s safe to say that changes to the current payor model are on the horizon. For now, private payors continue to hold tremendous sway within the industry. Payors want to know that new treatments offered by pharma companies offer unique benefits. They aren’t interested in novelty for novelty’s sake; instead, they demand robust data proving efficacy.
Payors expect pharma companies to prove their product’s value compared with existing therapies. They look for innovative therapies that offer a significant quality-of-life benefit. Pharma companies who hope to succeed in the 21st century must be prepared to offer these data. Value-based pricing models continue to explode in popularity, and these trends are unlikely to change in the wake of the pandemic.
Digital Marketing Continues to Dominate
By the late 2010s, digital marketing was a vital part of the pharma marketing toolbox, but now digital marketing has become a primary form of outreach. Throughout 2020, hundreds of medical conventions were canceled, in-person meetings shifted to virtual platforms, and thousands of employees started working from home. These trends were already underway, but the pandemic hit the fast-forward button, and marketing staff has scrambled to keep up.
Many pharma companies are anxious to return to in-person engagement and large conventions, but digital marketing and virtual outreach are here to stay. As the pandemic draws to a close, many contacts won’t shift back to in-person meetings. Both HCPs and payors enjoy the advantages offered by virtual platforms.
Pharma companies have found advantages of their own. Digital meetings cut travel costs, freeing up time and money for other initiatives. Digital outreach also allows companies to target and refine their message; markets can personally tailor communications for a specific audience. Best of all, marketers can access patients, physicians, and payors through the same channel. A flexible digital platform allows everyone to access the information they need.
Fighting the current won’t help – some companies may struggle to return to in-person meetings in late 2021 or early 2022. But during the next decade, pharma marketers must prepare for dwindling interest in live information exchange. A flexible, agile web platform lets companies streamline their marketing efforts, while saving money and reaching a wider audience.
Here’s how pharma marketers can refresh their web presence:
Payors aren’t the only ones shifting to a value-based pricing model; cash-strapped patients and overworked physicians are concerned about costs, too. Many different stakeholders are now asking whether new drugs provide significant value, and pharma companies must demonstrate the unique benefits of each drug or therapy.
Fortunately, digital platforms offer a wide range of solutions. Traditional forms of marketing don’t always allow marketers to share their full pitch. Commercials or meetings come with strict policies and deadlines, but a robust web presence allows for leisurely browsing. Viewers can explore white papers, watch short videos, attend webinars, and much more.
At the dawn of 2021, pharma marketers must provide engaging web content. Each part of the webpage should emphasize the value of products and the impact the company has on patients’ lives.
Provide a Consistent Message
With many people trapped at home, demand for digital resources is booming; patients are curious to fill in their knowledge gaps and research health issues. Meanwhile, HCPs have canceled their in-person meetings in favor of digital research. Payors, too, are turning toward the internet to answer questions.
Pharma companies must prepare for a lasting increase in web traffic and make sure their websites are optimized for different groups of visitors. Patients, HCPs, and payors have different priorities, and they need access to different forms of information. Pharma companies should keep web content clear, offer coherent navigation, and provide a unified message.
Leverage Social Media
Several pharma companies have dismissed social media as an unviable marketing channel. They sometimes fear that social media use may erode their credibility, and some may doubt that social media provides a worthwhile return on investment.
2020 has cast doubt on that argument – the pandemic has proven that millions of people use social media as their primary news source. Patients and HCPs alike have turned to social media to learn about new COVID-19 treatments, track the progress toward a vaccine, and research new drugs. The time has come for pharma companies to leverage their social media channels.
Social media marketing stimulates interest from patients, physicians, and payors alike. Companies can build interest in new products and share valuable data. An active social media presence lets companies position themselves as a trusted source of information.
Looking Ahead to 2021
Many predictions the pharma industry made for 2020 have proven to be true. As public concern about healthcare costs spikes, value-based reimbursements are on the rise. Payors continue to take center stage in the decision-making process, and pharma marketers must tailor their messages to meet the payor’s needs.
The global pandemic has also sped up changes that were already underway. In-person marketing is on the decline, while digital marketing moves to the forefront and social media plays an instrumental role. Marketing contacts expect greater control over when and where meetings take place.
These changes aren’t going away anytime soon. Pharma companies can prepare for 2021 by taking a closer look at their digital marketing strategy. Virtual connections are the key to improved market access.