How to Create the Ultimate Pharma Marketing Strategy
It’s no secret that the pharmaceutical marketing industry is a competitive, crowded space. Attracting attention, raising awareness and encouraging sales of new medical treatments, drugs or equipment is a challenge for even the most influential pharmaceutical brands – especially when your customers are highly knowledgeable, extremely busy people making life-changing decisions.
The global pharmaceutical market was valued at around $1.27 trillion at the end of 2020. With marketing budgets running into the billions, the financial stakes for success can be very high. For patients, the personal stakes in finding the right treatments are immeasurable.
What can you do to help your product reach the clinicians, doctors, physicians and patients who need it most? If you are new to this sphere or curious to find out what our work involves, we take a closer look here into the considerations and strategy around successful pharma marketing.
Marketing in the pharmaceutical industry
Alongside healthcare services and medical equipment supply, pharmaceuticals is one of the three big worldwide healthcare sectors, which collectively account for on average 10% of the gross domestic product of most developed countries. A World Health Organisation report in December 2020 put global healthcare spending at $8.3 trillion for 2018 and set to continue to rise.
Pharmaceutical companies’ costs to bring new or revised products to market and compete for a share of that spend runs into significant sums – anything from $4.3 billion to $17.5 billion for those in the ‘big pharma’ top 10. Average gross profit margins vary between approximately 20-40%, depending on how they are measured. To put this in context, pharmaceutical sales revenue for Johnson & Johnson for 2020 was $45.6 billion worldwide, with new products developed in the last five years accounting for around 25% of 2020 sales.
Investment in marketing compared to R&D
What may come as a surprise is the amount pharmaceutical companies spend on marketing compared to the sums invested in drug research and development. While it’s difficult to extract actual figures for marketing costs, it’s common to find expenses for selling, marketing & administration (SM&A or SG&A) to be close to double those of R&D.
For example, in 2020, Johnson & Johnson spent $12.2 billion on R&D and $22.1 billion on SM&A. Meanwhile, AstraZeneca reported spending nearly $6 billion on R&D in 2020 and close to $11.3 billion on SG&A, with Pfizer spending approximately $20 billion on SG&A compared with around $9 billion on R&D.
It’s evident these kinds of figures are necessary to compete at the highest level in the pharma industry, using every mainstream channel to maintain a presence worldwide. But even on a more domestic level, with new players entering the market and gaining traction, it’s more important than ever to set a realistic budget and create an incisive marketing strategy to make the most of your money.
What is pharma marketing?
Let’s start with the basics. Put simply, pharmaceutical marketing is the strategy and activities employed to increase awareness of new medical treatments and to convert that awareness into sales.
Typically targeted at doctors, physicians, clinicians and patients with specific conditions, marketing activities can take place across a range of channels, from digital and social media to printed material, television, radio,in-person meetings and events.
Many countries have strict regulations around marketing pharmaceutical products. For example, in the UK (as detailed by law firm ICLG), all promotional material aimed at healthcare professionals must contain specific essential information about the product, with all claims presented objectively, faithfully and accurately.
Strategy in marketing pharmaceuticals
On top of rules around your marketing activity, your job as a pharmaceutical marketer is made all the more challenging by two other factors: 1) the treatments themselves are quite complex and highly-regulated; and 2) medical professionals (i.e. your audience) are highly intelligent, and need evidence-based messaging.
What you’re up against – obstacles and objections
There are a number of factors that will influence the success of your marketing efforts. As well as considering how these factors will play out when developing your product, it’s also worth considering how you might tackle these potential obstacles up front in your marketing.
Drug affordability – will the treatment’s cost fit into the doctor’s, hospital’s or regional provider’s budget?
Illness prevalence – is the condition or disease common enough for demand to be high, or is it relatively contained?
New technologies – will AI or new breakthroughs in medical equipment identify new methods of treatment or delivery?
Changing public attitudes – opinion is always slowly shifting around drug testing, the environment, the long-term effects of treatments and more.
Supply-chain factors – does your product rely on certain raw materials, can it only be manufactured at a certain speed, transported at particular temperatures, purchased by authorised organisations, etc.?
At this point, it’s also worth remembering the common basic objections marketers encounter in every kind of sales situation. Prospects will typically cite a lack of one or more of the following as a reason not to procure your product:
Need – it’s simply not something they require right now
Hurry – it’s not a priority, or there is no urgency with the issue you claim to solve
Desire – they just don’t want it, for whatever reason
Trust – they need more proof, or a reliable second opinion
Money – they can’t afford it
If you can address each of the above in your marketing, you will go a long way to strengthening your case. Try to create assets that make your audience feel their concerns have been answered rather than leaving the reader with questions.
How to promote pharmaceutical treatments
The first step in every successful marketing strategy is to develop a deep understanding of your target audience – their needs, priorities, issues, desires and other decision-drivers. The next key factor is understanding where your audience is, and then meeting them there.
Medical professionals very rarely have any time to browse social media and normally wouldn’t give much credibility to any online advertising. To reach them effectively, you need to incorporate a number of alternative channels and tactics into your marketing strategy:
Much of a pharma marketer’s activity will be online, using websites and other digital media to carry information about your treatment. Consistency in your imagery and messaging across all channels will help to promote recognition and reinforce your brand’s image, therefore increasing your reliability and credibility in the eyes of your target market. Sending varying messages with ad-hoc taglines, or using uncoordinated colours or images, on your website, emails, direct mail, brochures, flyers, etc, will not solidify your product or reputation in the eyes of your market.
Love it or hate it, email remains one of the most effective ways to reach your target market. You will typically not need to negotiate with assistants or gatekeepers, and a well-crafted subject line will often be enough to get the recipient to open and read your information. See our dedicated article for a more in-depth look at email.
Of course, on top of the usual rules around pharmaceutical marketing, you’ll have to ensure your emails are GDPR-compliant. Recipients must have had the chance to opt-in to receive them, and must also be easily able to opt out again. However, if you deliver useful information and valuable insights to people who will be interested in what you have to say, your unsubscribe rates should be minimal.
Do not underestimate the power of a physical letter or package arriving on someone’s desk. As a physical item, it may psychologically carry more value than a digital alternative and implies greater effort on the part of the sender. Brochures, letters, leaflets, etc, are far less disposable and have a greater chance of being opened, read and perhaps referred to again. Direct marketing collateral also presents a chance to stand out and be memorable in terms of your message and graphic style.
Pharmaceutical sales representatives often make in-person visits to doctors and other medical buyers to present their company’s drug or treatment. Detailing is usually couched in educational terms, and your reps must be armed with a thorough understanding of both the doctor’s priorities and the patients’ issues and needs, as well as a deep knowledge of the product(s).
Although advertising is unlikely to work via social media, you can gain traction for your product through careful tactical placement of adverts within pharmaceutical channels, and particularly specialist publications.
Advertising in this way is quite expensive, but you do have a chance to put your product in front of exactly the right people who need to see it. Of course, you will have to abide by the regulations around pharmaceutical advertising, but you will have a chance here to use creativity to stand out while presenting the key facts about your product as directly as possible.
Events and conferences
When you know that virtually every professional in your chosen area will be attending a specific event, this presents a vital opportunity to promote your product or treatment. With conferences varying in size from 2,000 to 25,000, and dedicated solely to areas such as cardiology, dermatology, respiratory studies, pediatrics, etc. (as well as more generalised events), you can be very targeted about which events you want to have a presence at.
Seeing someone in person is still the best way to start a relationship, and you may wish to take out a stand in the promotional halls, or arrange specific meetings while there. Whatever it takes to make a good first impression and give clinicians ideas and promotional materials to take away.
How to market to physicians and doctors
Being highly intelligent people handling life-changing situations, with very little spare time on their hands, medical professionals will be turned off by sales language and see through most persuasion techniques.
The key factor to acknowledge is that medical professionals, like patients, want drugs that work. You need to convince them of the efficacy of your product, and do so quickly, clearly and in a way that conveys the value of your product to their patients.
What do they need to see?
Clinicians, doctors physicians will be interested by specific information relating to:
You’ll benefit from clearly defining your target market – perhaps in terms of speciality, location or organisation – and making your marketing material highly focused on what is relevant to them and their patients.
New facts, real world evidence and outcomes will get their interest and start a conversation. Medical professionals, like patients, want drugs that work. You need to convince them of your treatment’s effectiveness clearly, succinctly and in a way that helps them to imagine the positive impact it will have on their patients.
There are also a number of tactics you can choose to employ that may increase your campaign’s chances of success:
A key method of establishing your authority in your niche within the pharma space is to make intelligent use of content marketing. This gives you a chance to provide guides, advice, case studies, video tutorials and more for HCPs to absorb on an as-needed basis. These materials will not only show up in an inline search, but will also act as an induction into your brand. Make sure your content is useful, trustworthy and current, so your audience feels they have gained valuable insights and taken the first step to using your treatment.
Placing your product in articles and periodicals is one thing, but getting yourself physically in front of the right people is another. Find out which conferences or forums your target audience is likely to attend and make sure you are there too. Making an introduction, taking out a stand and booking a meeting will all help you to become a familiar face to your market and build relationships.
This is still one of the most effective methods of reaching your target audience and starting a conversation that could turn a curious practitioner into a long-term client. As you can send your well-crafted message directly to their inbox, bypassing any gatekeepers, they are just one step away from clicking through to your landing page or replying to ask for more information.
Using a recipient’s name is the simplest way to create a connection with your audience, but what else about them could you weave into a message or a conversation? If you notice people are more interested in academic study, media appearances, commercial theory or even their family life, bearing this in mind when you talk or write to them can be another way to build familiarity and trust.
The patient journey
Helping physicians, doctors and other medical professionals to build a connection with their patients can be a powerful tool in bringing them on-side. By being empathetic and paying attention to the patent’s journey – from symptoms to diagnosis, treatment and recovery – and their emotions around each stage, both you and the physician will gain their confidence and trust.
A pharmaceutical marketing plan
The creation of a successful pharma marketing strategy will typically progress through four distinct stages, each designed to provide a solid foundation for the next. Here at Dice, we call it Pharmacohesion. We combine insights, planning, execution and measurement to develop a comprehensive strategy that both differentiates you from your competitors and conveys the benefits of your product.
Research and insights
Before coming up with any plan, it’s necessary to spend significant time getting to understand everything about your brand, your target audience and your competitors.
Take yourself through all your treatment’s features and benefits, from the most obvious to the most obscure, and especially the many second-level implications that could help both the patient and the clinician in the long term.
Also, consider both the doctor’s and the patient’s journey, from symptoms through to diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Look for details and real-world feedback, and understand their problems, mindset and motivators along the way.
Then take a look at your competitors’ material – not only to get a measure of what to say, but also to frame how you can stand out from them. Look for gaps in their information, and imagine ways you can differentiate – in terms of messaging, imagery and graphic style – and Data.
This stage typically involves a lot of research – online and off – talking to patients and doctors, reading reviews and articles, and more. This might take the form of sales rep visits and interviews, attending conferences, scientific data analysis, patient forum research, checking key opinion leader (KOL) sentiment and looking into any other channels that might yield an insight into the opportunities for your treatment.
Armed with all the insights from research and a thorough understanding of the market landscape, the task is then to formulate your assets and create an effective strategy to deliver them.
This stage might typically involve workshops to brainstorm ideas and test theories, drafting a brand manifesto and positioning statement to solidify your profile, values and unique approach, creating scientific storyboards, devising a medical education strategy and then planning your media and the channels to use to most effectively reach your audience.
It’s worth being as detailed as possible, considering all the possibilities and reactions the audience may have along the way, and planning accordingly. Remember to plot out the journeys your audience segments will take as they progress through your marketing – from identifying their need to research, consideration and decision – and cater to their experience so that they feel understood every step of the way.
This is where all the plans come to fruition, the theories finally put into practice and the strategy played out. Every aspect of the campaign will be drafted and developed into concrete assets.
This stage involves writing copy for all assets (both in scientific and creative contexts), taking photos (or sourcing and licensing images as appropriate), creating infographics, commissioning illustrations or animations, and getting everything designed in a way that stands out as being distinct and on-brand.
A website, landing pages and app may need to be designed, developed and optimised. Emails will need to be drafted and Veeva approved, and all advertising slots or space will need to be planned and booked. Several assets will go through a production process, such as those for video, animation and printed material, which will need to be costed, proofed and approved.
A comprehensive strategy will also include education and patient support programmes, and how those will be hosted or distributed, a plan for when and where your content marketing will be published, and a possible strategy for satellite symposia support.
Throughout this process, remember to set your benchmarks and key performance indicators (KPIs) for each channel. Work out exactly what you aim to achieve with your marketing. You will then be able to measure how your marketing performs against this and judge its effectiveness.
Rigorous analysis throughout the campaign will enable a deep understanding of how it is landing with your target market, where it is being most effective, and where it might need adjusting to perform better. Some elements may need removing or completely rethinking, while it’ll be obvious which others should be boosted, repeated or expanded for greater effect.
This part of the strategy process will usually analyse numerous aspects of a campaign. Websites and apps will be analysed to gauge traffic and performance. You’d also look at orders or sales figures, sales rep feedback, end-user surveys, KOL panel feedback, patient forum impact results, media coverage and opinion, and more.
Basically, anything that was defined as a measure of success will be subject to analysis, and the results will be used to judge how the campaign could be improved.
This process will naturally cycle around back to the beginning. Once you have seen results and gained valuable feedback, you will know where you might need to conduct further market research, which will in turn lead to more new ideas, and so on.
In this way, you will end up with a truly refined strategy, based on real data, that should effectively target your audience’s needs and give your treatment the best chance of success in its market. Who knows – the process might also yield an idea for a new concept.
Do you have treatments you need to market effectively?
You’ve got an innovative treatment that helps people lead better lives – either offering a new solution or meeting an asYou’ve got an innovative treatment that helps people lead better lives – either offering a new solution or meeting an as-yet unmet medical need. Our experience in the medical sector – and our drive to engage stakeholders and shape the conversation around vital treatments – means we know how to get your brand into the hands of those who need it most.