Pharma Marketers: No Product Is An Island

Recently, I spent a productive day working with a smart group of consumer agency partners to integrate and finalize 2010 Marketing Plans for a Pharma brand we all support.

Our conversation centered around the brand promise and the patient experience throughout the decision and treatment journey: from awareness and consideration, through conversion, adherence and advocacy or brand champion. We discussed the impact of different triggers and barriers, or where we might lose consumers (leaky buckets), which targets should be high priorities and why, and how the patient journey is no longer linear. (You may also want to read The New Marketing Funnel by Adam Cohen at A Thousand Cuts.)

All the stuff you might expect a consumer team to collaborate and consider…Sounds good… EXCEPT… the work represented only the consumer team– or one of the brand’s customers. 

No Product is an Island…

If a product is more than the product– the cohesive, integrated set of experiences along the ‘buying process’ or ‘treatment pathway’, how do we make all of our core strategies and tactics work together seamlessly?

It takes some systems thinking.

Systems thinking was the first of the five key disciplines that Peter Senge outlined in The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (1990), and often referred to as the ‘Cornerstone’ of the Learning Organization. Systems thinking is a framework that is based on the belief that the component parts of a system can best be understood in the context of relationships with each other and with other systems, rather than in isolation. The only way to fully understand why a problem or element occurs and persists is to understand the part in relation to the whole. Systems thinking includes the expected things like recognizing patterns, connections, leverage points, feedback loops, but also the human qualities of judgment, foresight, and kindness.

Net, a systems approach focuses on interactions and transactions within and between systems, and is especially concerned with the way the functioning of the ecosystem can be influenced by human interventions.

Systems thinking is a huge ‘opportunity’ for many Pharma brands.

Typical of most pharma planning, brand marketing plans are done largely in customer silos (i.e. physician vs consumer vs managed markets) with little ‘real’ integration and collaboration. Often agency partners (or dare I use the ugly word vendors) are handed objectives and strategies and asked to provide tactics. Largely in isolation. The different tacts are submitted to the customer brand lead who pulls them together into ‘one’ customer presentation, which is then fed to the overall brand lead who pulls everything into ‘one’ brand presentation.  Often, even partners within the same customer discipline don’t have the opportunity to collaborate and integrate with each other from the bottom up. Agency partners may also not learn about other tactics or initiatives that could have an impact on their program until well after they’ve submitted their own plans.  They may hear about the different initiatives in a Marketing Plan Presentation, but this is usually ‘not the place’ to raise questions or concerns…

This means that the ecology and interdependencies of the patient treatment pathway are not really planned holistically, but independently. Intellectually, of course, everyone knows that the parts must be integrated, but due to time or workload, it’s rarely a focus or accomplished…

What would it take for brands to be so well integrated–within and across each customer silo– that everything works together seamlessly?

Marketers should pay more attention to the concept of Holism: the concept that the whole has a reality independent and greater than the sum of its parts. The holistic marketing concept is based on development, design, and implementation of marketing programs, processes, and activities that recognize their breadth and interdependencies.

Holistic Marketing is marketing strategy which is developed by thinking about the business as a whole. When using a holistic marketing strategy, every aspect of the business must be carefully considered. The company must think about how a consumer will interact with its product, its website, its advertising materials; a Pharma company must think about all of the above as well as how the consumer will interact with their doctor, pharmacist, payor, and friends and family… How KOL’s will interact with local doctors, how doctors and their patients will interact and so on….

Seven tenets to a Holistic Marketing and a Systems Ecology approach:

  1. Look at the Big Picture and not just the details or the tactic that you are responsible for. This requires setting aside the time and openness to new ways of planning.
  2. Everything is interconnected. When you make a change in one area, you also affect many other areas. Or if you’re expecting one area to perform, what interdependencies can effect the success or not? In pharma, these interdependencies can span across media, tactics or customers. E.G., if you’re expecting a web DTC program to generate additional NRx’s, what is the interdependence on formulary? If formulary is an issue, what other customer initiatives can help apply positive pressure on formulary acceptance?
  3. Every single product introduction or major tactic has “unintended consequences.” Have you anticipated what these might be?
  4. Systems thinking is vital to customer experience business results. Each touch is a customer marketing moment.
  5. Consumers are often more holistic than brand managers; doctors more holistic than sales representatives. Managed Care companies more holistic than company representatives. Customers don’t think in silos; they think about things from their own perspective and needs– which may not always get down to a specific product or company…Consumers care about their health–not your facebook page or conversion email…
  6. Holistic marketing considers four major components: relationship marketing – integrated marketing – internal marketing – and socially responsible marketing. These go beyond internal or customer silos.
  7. Make the time and effort to map out or diagram your marketing eco-system with all key stakeholders. In any study of a marketing ecological system, an essential early procedure is to draw a diagram of the system of interest…diagrams can further the group’s thinking and indicate system boundaries. Within these boundaries, series of components are isolated to represent the portion of the world in which the systems marketer is interested…If there are ‘no connections across the system’ boundaries with the surrounding systems environments, the systems are described as closed. Most marketing work, however, deals almost exclusively with opensystems. There are many different types of diagrams that can help marketers better understand the issues and opportunities from a big picture, holistic view. (Some examples of system dynamics)

How can we take a more holistic and interactive approach to planning so that the marketing system truly fits and supports the customer?… The customer experience is improved?…The customer interactions result in greater value and sales? While these concepts may not be new, how do we start looking holistically at the bigger picture and really working through the interconnections? Thoughts?

Also thanks to Nicole Johnson for introducing me to

Other blogs and books that may be of interest:

Holistic Marketing Explored

Systems Thinking is Vital to Customer Experience

Applying Systems Thinking to Six Sigma

Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadows 

The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice Of The Learning Organization by Peter Senge


2 thoughts on “Pharma Marketers: No Product Is An Island

  1. Thanks so much for including my post here Ellen. Your post is a wealth of resources that I need to go bookmark.

    I think the questions you ask are so large for organizations to take on that often times marketing organizations are marred in the status quo just to keep moving. Social media (very generally speaking) has become a platform that causes companies to think differently – now that the Customer Voice is so much more powerful, it should be clear as day that the customer should be infused into the process for product development, marketing launch, ongoing support, etc.

    While your posts uses pharma as an example, this applies to every industry. Just substitute patient treatment just about any customer experience…

    Thanks again for a great post.

    • Adam,

      Thank you. You’re too kind! I hope we can do our part to helping to infuse the customer voice into the marketing process more often!


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