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“Digital isn’t the future—it’s right now. It’s what we communicate on, for and by. Prepare to have your mind blown, then learn how to apply it,” said Jack Barrette, CEO of WEGO Health and the chairperson for the 2016 ePharma Summit, during his opening presentation. At the conference, held Feb. 29 to March 2 in New York, industry leaders had a lot to say about the future of pharmaceutical marketing and the state of the industry. Here are the top three themes that had attendees buzzing:

  1. Patients must be included. This was the first year that ePharma included the patient perspective by inviting patients to be part of the audience, panel discussions and breakout sessions. The message? Marketing pharmaceutical products isn’t just about the profit: It’s also about the end consumer, the patient.

    The pharmaceutical industry needs to be more innovative, and to get there, patients need to be involved. In her session in disruption in the pharmaceutical industry, Judy Sewards, vice president and head of digital strategy and data innovation at Pfizer, said, “What you want isn’t always the best solution. You get the best solution when you think about the patient and the vast gap. It takes a lot of time, but you need to invest where you get the biggest impact.”

    Matthew Zacharay, founder/CEO and chief product officer of Instapeer, wants pharmaceutical marketers to view themselves as patients, too. “We are all fighting for life. It’s not pharma versus patients—we are all patients. We are all human,” Zacharay said in his session on patient-driven technology.

  1. Now isn’t the time to cut your budget. Instead, spend it on the right things and focus on the customer. During a panel discussion on how to reinvent healthcare, Sherry Korczynski, senior vice president of marketing at Eagle Pharmaceuticals Inc., stated, “Detailing products like the old days is over.”

    At many of the sessions, presenters discussed how marketing outside of the pharmaceutical industry has changed drastically and become more customer-centric in the last decade, but many pharmaceutical companies still haven’t changed the way that they’re marketing to physicians. According to Zacharay, to be innovative, the pharmaceutical industry should stop cutting its budgets and “get rid of the bloat and focus on ROI.” 

    In his session on customer experience, Pratap Khedkar, managing principal at ZS, said, “Pharma’s darlings—top physicians—likely receive more than 2,700 contacts from pharma companies each year. [That’s] equivalent to one per hour for 365 days, making it increasingly difficult for them to filter relevant content from the noise.” To help deliver a better customer experience, Bill Drummy, founder and CEO of Heartbeat Ideas and Heartbeat West, recommended using highly targeted technology to reach the right segments with the right message rather than wasting resources on the wrong audiences.

  1. It’s not failure, it’s an experiment—and pharma can’t succeed without it. To remain relevant, pharmaceutical companies will need to challenge the status quo and look to other industries for marketing inspiration. “People like to stick with what they’ve done before, but only you [pharmaceutical marketers] can change that. Don’t be afraid to fail. Dare to try. The key? Develop a clear thesis so you can measure success,” Sewards said.

    In a panel discussion about integrating sales and marketing efforts, Craig McGettigan, director of channel integration at Bristol-Myers Squibb, recommended starting small and thinking about change management when implementing new ideas. “You can look at augmenting and supplementing the call plan you already have and build from there.”

    At the same panel, Deborah Cava, director of oncology multichannel integration at Merck, said, “Showing marketing leaders data on how customers want to engage with pharma can really open their eyes and get them to start thinking about customer centricity.”

Topics: Jim Anderson, epharma summit 2016, insights, epharma