People in today’s world have become more empowered with technology at their fingertips, therefore the need for instant access to information is increasing. Pharma companies need to reinvent themselves to get closer to the new generation of patients and survive the industry disruption. Still, most stick to their old routine.

Already today, the most successful pharma companies spend twice as much on marketing as they do on research and development. In 2013, Pfizer spent $11.4 billion on marketing and $6.6 billion on R&D. Novartis spent $14.6 billion on marketing versus $9.9 billion on R&D, and GSK spent $9.9 billion versus $5.3 billion. The money is being spent very unevenly; a study by GlobalData showed that the industry spent $24 billion on marketing to healthcare professionals, while using “only” $3 billion for consumer marketing.

The Patient – the fourth “P” in Pharma marketing

For decades, the stakeholder landscape has looked more or less the same for pharma companies. The information has been targeted towards the initiated classes: physicians, pharmacists and politicians (Three P’s).

Today, Pharma must continue communicating with the specialists, but due to the digital revolution, there is a new kid on the block that cannot be ignored. The patient – the fourth “P” among the stakeholders and possibly the most powerful. The first pharma companies that establish a connection with this new target group will build an advantage that will be hard for competitors to overcome.

 The so-called “e-patients” are not a trend, nor are they a rare species. They are just patients using their phones and computers to find answers to their questions. Did you know that the average person uses their phone every twelve minutes? We all use our phones for a number of reasons, one including to research treatments for illnesses.

The power shift: The Googling Patient

E-patients research their symptoms online, leading them to a possible diagnosis and therefore a drug that would cure their illness. During a doctor’s visit, doctors identify a problem and suggest a solution. Based on X, I think I have Y and need Z. According to a Deloitte study, 75% of UK patients checked Google before going to the doctor in 2016. In 2014, that number was 50%. The trend is the same around the world. If pharma companies fail to win over the patients online, they will ask for another company’s drug when visiting their GP.

The e-patients are not always right, obviously, but one thing is clear: they are not stopping in their quest to find the answer and right drugs and treatment for their illness.

When Pharma meets Marketing

So, where can pharma companies make their entrance? The patients will go online to answer their questions and get reassurance. This is where the typical pharma communication needs to soften up. Today, the messaging can all come across a bit scary and, well, medical since it’s mostly targeted towards medical professionals. As one of our younger colleagues expressed it while researching the industry’s marketing efforts: 

“I don’t even understand what they want to say with this, it’s all just cliche sentences mixed with people in white doctor’s gowns and weird meditation music.”

Money is surely being spent. YouTube channels like the Bayer Group’s consists of hundreds of films, but it’s a strange and confusing mix. Cartoons about science, Christmas greetings, commercials in different languages and more. And more. And…more. This channel is not an exception – but rather more of a rule among even the most successful Pharma companies..

The trick behind successful communication with consumers is to create engagement and bring value. Engaging the e-patient is to present the information in a new, fresh way while remaining true to the medical information and regulations.

All four stakeholders groups crucial

You can communicate with the fourth P, the patient, without forgetting about the three original stakeholders – but the key is to move to the more human side of the spectrum. It doesn’t matter if you are making a strict product video or telling a moving story, the audience needs to be able to recognize your brand and what separates you from the rest.

In summary, pharma companies spend enormous amounts of money on marketing and have recently noted the need to communicate with patients directly. However, decades of technically based communications to physicians and politicians led to some ill-adjusted habits. The pharma companies that catch on to the new communications game fastest will win big. It’s worth spending some of those big budgets on innovative and efficient content!