Biggest Blunders Pharma Marketers Make (And How To Correct Them)

According to India Brand Equity Foundation, close to 80% of all medicines in India are prescription-based. This establishes doctors as the number one customer group of pharma marketers. Effective physician engagement, therefore, becomes the holy grail of pharma marketing success.

However, the marketing approach that worked wonders in the past will prove to be blunderous in the coming years, key reason being the rapidly changing world of medical practitioners.

Doctors’ needs and expectations are undergoing a dramatic change owing to the ever-evolving healthcare sector. At the same time, uncertain times brought in by stiff competition, shrinking product pipelines and pricing pressures are forcing pharma marketers to monitor every rupee spent. In such a scenario, it is pertinent that pharma marketers re-examine their engagement practices and rectify these grave mistakes:

Pharma Marketing’s Biggest Blunders

 Blunder #1: Over Obsession with Product – Drugs have always been the ‘Stars’ for pharma, a result of years of laborious research and innovation. The era of blockbuster drugs reinforced the notion that great products ‘sell themselves’. It’s no surprise that product detailing, whether traditional or via the electronic channel, is still the most obsessed-over content that goes from pharma to doctors, often being the only thing that Medical Reps are trained in. However, this product-centric approach is fast losing its relevance, a major reason being the changing world of medical professionals. Today’s doctors face new challenges brought in by widening patient pools (making them busier), rising litigations, and more ‘demanding’ patients. At the same time, digital proliferation is making them accustomed to a whole new engagement experience, one that is highly perceptive of their needs and also highly personalized based on their preferences. This calls for a whole new marketing approach, one that places the medical practitioner at the center.

 Solution: Physician-centricity Pharma marketers must adopt a multi-pronged approach to customer orientation, foremost being taking immediate action to create a continuous connect across multiple touchpoints. This will help them gain deep insights into doctors’ pain points and expectations. They could create customized offerings based on the needs of various customer groups, like patient assistance programs, practice management guidance, information on treatment guidelines, and healthcare policy updates. It is also crucial that marketers attend to the needs of new customer groups, namely healthcare authorities, payers, patient-advocacy groups and institutional administrators.

 Blunder #2: Seeing Prescribers as Sales Targets, not Partners – Probably a corollary of the high product focus is pharma’s ‘Old School’ marketing approach which still believes in employing vast armies of medical reps trained only to ‘push’ their products to doctors. Excessive reliance on incentives in lieu of prescriptions has made the doctor-pharma relationship ‘transactional’. This has kept pharma away from having a meaningful collaboration with the medical community, one in which doctors consider the pharma industry as an equal contributor to the cause of improving healthcare outcomes. Moreover, this has dented its reputation in society. KOLs hesitate to engage with pharma companies owing to the negativity around pharma’s marketing practices.

 Solution: Pull Marketing Pharma should consider a major overhaul of its marketing style which will help it move from sales to a service orientation. This will include redefining marketing objectives, creating new literature focused on scientific information, retraining field force, adopting the latest technology, etc. A ‘pull’ approach in which doctors take charge of when and how to engage with the industry is the best way forward. Pharma should ensure that it is present on the right channel, at the right time, with the right kind of content to suffice every need of the medical community.

 Blunder #3: Having a Siloed Mentality – Lack of coordination and communication amongst various functional units is a major reason that holds pharma marketers from deriving optimal results from their physician engagement efforts. The tussle between sales and marketing or between marketing and medical affairs is a common occurrence in most pharma organizations. This siloed approach is also detrimental to pharma’s relations with KOLs as KOLs are compelled to interact with multiple contact points from different functionalities (View KOL Mindmap to know what KOLs expect from Pharma). This siloed mentality stems from cultural or systemic barriers to information flow and is a major reason for missed opportunities where crucial intelligence on customer groups is not put to the best possible use.

Solution: Tech-enabled Engagement This problem can be addressed on two fronts, Culture and Technology. Functional leaders need to collaborate on a unified vision for the organization. They must encourage the creation of cross-functional teams while ensuring clarity in roles and responsibilities. Brand managers, sales force managers, digital marketing leads and technology heads must hold regular meetings to discuss strategies and resolve issues. Adoption of digital technology and the resultant availability of data will further inter-functional coordination for in-depth analysis of current effectiveness and strategize for future success. CRM solutions are effective in minimizing rework, tracking projects and improving compliance.

 Blunder #4: Hiring Agencies without Due Diligence – It is common practice to bring in external vendors to make up for the lack of in-house expertise/resources for various campaign activities. However, rather than proving to be an efficient solution, this often brings disastrous results. Most agencies lack a real understanding of marketing goals and are only focused on finishing the project (at any cost). Making matters worse is the practice of hiring multiple agencies for one campaign – a media agency for creating videos, another vendor for medical writing, a publisher for creating marketing collaterals and so on. In such cases, marketing managers are estimated to spend an alarming 90% of their time and energy on coordination and vendor management, losing sight of ultimate marketing objectives.

Solution: End-To-End Service Providers Pharma marketers must invest enough time and efforts to select an agency with proven experience and expertise in physician engagement. A vendor who understands the pulse of your target audience and devises innovative ways of fulfilling its every need will prove to be a valuable ally. Professional marketing partners like Docplexus offer proven end-to-end marketing solutions that deliver great outcomes and are much better than so-called individual ‘specialists’.

Blunder #5: Treating Online Media as an Afterthought – Docplexus research on social media usage in pharma marketing revealed that less than half of Indian pharma giants were committed to digital media, even in 2017. An orthodox marketing outlook, lack of clarity about regulations, and failed initial attempts have led pharma marketers to treat digital as a ‘nice-to-have’ but not a ‘must-have’ element of the marketing mix. In doing so, they are losing out on providing a comprehensive and personalized connect that doctors are getting so accustomed to. This haphazard approach is also keeping them from gaining valuable, real-time insights into their customers’ mindsets and needs.

 Solution: A Digital Mindset Digital marketing can never be successful unless it is driven from the top. Only a strategic ‘digital first’ approach from the C-Suite will ensure rich returns from new-age marketing channels. Consistency, commitment, and perseverance are necessary for optimal outcomes of digital marketing. Last but not the least is the seamless integration of online and offline marketing initiatives in a way that contributes to the same end-goals yet fully exploits the prowess of each channel. 


Docplexus – Pharma’s Trusted Marketing Partner
Recommended Posts