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An Apple a Day: User Experience in Pharmaceuticals

Date: 31 August 2016

The pharmaceutical industry is increasingly focusing on user experience in order to improve brand loyalty. Traditionally, pharma was about matching patients to treatments: doctors and consumers needed to be informed enough about drugs to know which one to choose.

These days, drug treatments are producing diminishing returns as patents lapse. In addition, reaching out to users is getting tougher as marketing budgets are cut, regulators tighten rules and web-based platforms are less keen to accept pharma ads than their print forebears.

A new approach is required that focuses on developing relationships with users through multiple touch points. To deliver this shift in focus, pharma companies are eager to recruit a new raft of marketing professionals: talented individuals with skills such as industrial design, market research, user experience (UX) and even analytics and anthropology.

How is marketing changing for pharma?

Back in 2012, a survey by ZS Associates found that 65% of physicians were accessible to pharmaceutical sales reps. That figure fell 14% in the next two years; in 2014, only 51% were considered accessible.[i]

Some pharma companies have sought to address the issue by rolling out apps to establish more direct communication with users. While this is a good start in turning things around, offering a few PDFs or slides through an iPad is not enough to deliver change at the scale that is required. A cultural shift towards customer-centric thinking is needed, drawing everyone from frontline professionals through to the C-suite into a new way of approaching pharma.

Does it matter how customers perceive pharma brands?

Think of Johnson & Johnson and certain products will spring to mind. It might be baby care products, associated with gentleness and trust; maybe you use other familiar Johnson & Johnson lines such as Neutrogena, Aveeno, Band-Aid or Listerine. Then there are over-the-counter products such as Tylenol, Sudafed and Benadryl. If a doctor recommends a Johnson & Johnson medical device or prescription drug through the Janssen subsidiary, you may be reassured to know there’s a familiar brand behind it.

The case is a little different for a brand with a lower public profile. There are many companies that make treatments for reproductive health, urology, endocrinology and gastroenterology for use all over the world, but how many of us have heard of the brand names that release these products? Many pharma brands are unfamiliar to consumers, which could be a problem in future.

Brand perception matters. The Net Promoter System created by Bain asks one simple question: ‘How likely is it you would recommend [this brand] to a friend?’ Respondents are classed into three groups: promoters, detractors and passives. Sales reps with high Net Promoter scores treat between 2.5 and 2.8 times more patients than those with high detractor scores.[ii]

What can pharma companies do to improve UX?

Truly delivering on UX means embedding customer-centric design thinking into operations. While design is often thought of as a late-stage marketing process, design thinking is really about centring a company’s activities on solving client problems. This means pharma companies should learn to view themselves from a customer perspective.

No matter how effective a drug treatment is, if it involves injections for a needle-phobic patient or a confusing combination of pills for one with memory problems, the user experience is likely to be poor and characterised by anxiety and stress. The more pharma can do to help ease these issues, the more brand perception will improve.

For example, Novo Nordisk recently teamed up with a design agency to create a diabetes injection device that resembled a pen rather than a syringe, helping to address patient concerns. Elsewhere, Pharmacy PillPack worked with designers to produce a system for quick, simple home deliveries of medication to patients who are likely to lose track of their treatments. [iii]

Promoting all-round wellbeing

How often is a doctor’s prescription accompanied by a recommendation to eat more healthily, reduce stress and increase exercise? Many people take the pills but make little or no headway on the lifestyle change, because changing habits is hard and once you’re out of the doctor’s surgery, there are many competing demands for your attention.

Pharma now has an opportunity to help improve health outcomes for patients by bridging this gap. Other sectors such as tech and retail have adapted their approaches to do more than just sell products. For example, Apple focuses on customer experience, controlling hardware, software and just about every other aspect of its products. The result is a smooth, distinctive interface between Apple and its customers that is more about values than products.

Pharma can emulate Apple’s approach by developing platforms for customer engagement that provide information about products as well as tools for improving wellbeing. These might be apps for monitoring blood pressure, for example, or tips on how nutrition can assist with different medical conditions. It will help customers feel closer to the brands and better understood, while also providing data that will enable companies to tailor their approaches to suit their customer needs.

It’s not hard to imagine that in the coming decades, the relationship between patient and doctor will become less important and the relationship between pharmaceuticals and consumers will become more direct and powerful. Drug development is already more specialized, market pools are smaller and information is easier to access and process, thanks to the internet. Pharmaceutical investment in direct relationships with consumers is likely to prove valuable, especially in the long run.

The growing demand for marketing professionals

This change in approach from pharma means that companies are looking to recruit considerable numbers of marketing professionals. Flexibility and attitude are more important than direct experience in pharma; it’s an ideal opportunity for professionals looking to change sector.

The skills in demand are varied. They include market research, design thinking and industrial design, UX and data analysis. In short, if you have a skill that can help improve customer experience, whether through online platforms, product development, or design of apps and other tools, you are likely to be a good candidate for these roles.

Pharma has been slower to embrace innovation in customer experience than other sectors, so a fresh attitude to problem solving and value creation will be a real asset. The regulatory burden on this sector is greater than that in sectors such as retail or manufacturing, so candidates will also need perseverance and creativity to overcome challenges.

If this sounds like you, why not get in touch with one of our experienced consultants at EPM today to hear about the opportunities on offer?