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April 27, 2010
The Inside Scoop: Marketing Pharma in the 21st Century

Neither rain nor sleet nor sheets of slush could deter PMCQ members from a stimulating exchange between 6 of the top pharma marketing brains in the country. Outgoing president Enza Cignarella welcomed a packed house to the Opale Ballroom of the Airport Marriott hotel eager to engage with Jacques Dessureault – Business Unit Lead, CV and Metabolic, Bristol Myers Squibb, Christian Roy – Marketing VP Primary Care, Pfizer Canada, Dan Leger – Director of Marketing, Lundbeck Canada, Sybil Dahan – Commercial Director, Abbott Laboratories, Scott Oehrlein – VP Primary Care Novartis and Bruno Mader – VP Immunology Merck Canada. As Christian Roy pointed out from the get go, thank goodness luck had it that the evening fell between two Habs/Pens games. So people were ready to sit back, tuck into a good meal and then get down to what is at the heart of members’ concerns as the economy edges its way out of a recession: How do we market pharma in the 2nd decade of this century?

When asked to name some of the top brands of the world, aside from the ubiquitous Viagra – the little blue diamond etched into the consciousness of folks around the world – all agreed that Blackberry, McDonald’s, Coke, Apple and Cirque de Soleil were brands that have instant recognition everywhere on the planet.

So what defines marketing in a world that is more diffuse, yet more regulated, where screen culture rules while means of communication are transformed within an eye-blink? Certainly effective marketing generates value for the company and creates value for the customer, but how? Perhaps, as Sybil Dahan suggested, in combining art and science to provide an emotional experience.

As both Jacques Dessureault and Christian Roy reminded the audience, there used to be a time when marketers would strive to yell louder than the competition within the confines of templates and considered themselves successful when they rose above the competition. Those days, all agreed, are long gone. For Bruno Mader, the issue also involves making sure you have the data on the outcomes to make global sit up and listen. Scott Oehrlein picked up on the theme to underscore the critical issue of market access which generated an energetic exchange on just how important it has become to move beyond internal silos. Market access is now central to the marketer’s mandate. As Bruno Mader said, market access is your license to box, if you don’t have the licence, you’re not in the ring.

It requires clever marketers to exercise their influence within their companies, see the synergies that exist and influence global. As Christian Roy pointed out, when you’re 2%, 3% or 5% of the business for your company, then it helps to see what can be done with your colleagues in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, for example, to influence product design and testing with a view to meeting the increasingly high standards required by the key players in the market access puzzle, whether private payers or government regulators. Dan Leger pointed out that in this country that means being very aware of the fact that there is no “global” marketing, that you do have to respond to at least a dozen major markets with different business and cultural requirements. Sybil Dahan reminded everyone that one of the opportunities that we may be missing, is making certain that we do the work that needs to be done to be part of the “fix” for an ailing health care system.

Sybil Dahan pointed to the elephant in the room. If the business model we use doesn’t let us communicate directly with the patient, then just how do we improve our marketing? Dan Léger responded that it’s a holistic environment that requires getting out of the business of drug delivery and into the business of treatment delivery. For Jacques Dessureault, there are complexities that mean that the industry needs to be able to talk to the patient to get over the access hurdle. Given the industry’s history, the move is incremental, but given the environment, the business model has to be overhauled quickly. “We need to learn how to build brand loyalty and brand equity,” Sybil Dahan said. According to Scott Oehrlein, “It’s a deep psychology, it’s much different than the physician space.”

“We need to evolve our exchange with the customer,” said Jacques Dessureault. “There are a lot of ethical and compliant ways of doing that.” Dan Léger added that we have to move away from the molecule and move to enlightened thinking about the opportunity staring us in the face. That, the panel agreed, requires the advertising and marketing agencies to come to the table with bold new ideas, despite a history of being squeezed into the templates Jacques Dessureault evoked early on in the evening. Bruno Mader even suggested, to a round of applause, that we’ve dumbed down our suppliers because we’ve often turned down their more innovative ideas.

“We have to be hard on ourselves because now is a critical time for our industry,” said Bruno Mader. Not the least because of physician aversion to traditional detailing and a radically altered communications universe. As Scott Oehrlein pointed out, “We’re talking about social media and we’ve barely scraped the surface of what we can do there.”

The challenges are many. The desire for change is real, as is the quest for innovation.

Alan Conter
alan@alanconter.com

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Have a great summer and see you in September.