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The Many Perspectives of Customer-Centric Marketing

Wendy Blackburn

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This week I attended the first-ever Customer Centric Marketing for Pharma conference hosted by EyeForPharma in Philadelphia. Here’s a little background on the conference and why I’m involved, and a recap from my colleague Joey Barnes.

This was the inaugural event of a new conference with a unique slant:

"How can the pharmaceutical industry truly put the CUSTOMER in the middle of its sales and marketing efforts?"

My blog analytics tell me conference recaps are some of the most popular posts — so I figured it’d be very “customer-centric” of me to once again provide a review of key points and highlights from the conference!

Many Perspectives

Honestly, I went into the conference wondering how we could spend two days talking about customer centricity and just how much could be said about it. These days, there are few related public pharma case studies and it seems the theme is really just now catching on in this industry. But the speakers were actually quite diverse and provided a wide spectrum of perspectives. Here’s a sampling:

Jacquelyn Nowik, Senior Product Manager, Takeda

Jacquelyn Nowik, Senior Product Manager, Takeda kicked things off on day one with a lively presentation, reminding us “80% of the business comes from 20% of the customers.” But somewhere along the way, pharmaceutical companies forgot this. And marketers don’t talk about it because they’re not willing to give up anything. She offered these three guiding principles to Customer Centric Marketing:

  1. Acquire new customers that have the best potential to become long term customers/partners.
  2. Identify, develop, and allocate resources early on to these customers that have the greatest potential to evolve into high value.
  3. Interact with your high value customers as if they are high value.

I liked her point, “It’s okay to speak to just 10 people if they are the right 10 people.”

How many pharma marketers are comfortable with that approach? (In my experience, not many.)

She also urged pharma to ASK its customers: “Do you like what we’re doing? What do you want us to be doing?” Most pharmas aren’t asking — and you don’t even need market researchers to find the answers.

Eric Dube, Vice President, Oncology, GSK

Eric emphasized his points with the pharma sins of the past: “We’ve operated in a 'tell and sell' mentality with an army of sales reps. We’ve worked to outshout competition and payers. And we’ve had the same approach with DTC. It was all about volume, and our incentives were aligned that way. Things are fundamentally different now. No wonder only 1 in 9 people see pharma as trustworthy and honest -- because we’ve always been on our own agenda.” (paraphrased)

He then went on to explain that customer-centric marketing in pharma starts with (re-)building trust. And recognizing that customers (rightly so) expect a lot.

He gave a nice example of one simple way GSK is getting better at this: GSK’s Call Center receives calls from patients who use GSK’s respiratory medication. They noticed a trend in patients who felt the product wasn’t working because they thought the device wasn’t dispensing the product. Call Center reps figured out the answer was to ask the patients to get a dark piece of paper and tap the device on it. Then, the patient would see the white powder on the paper, and call center reps would explain the powder is the medicine, and that you don’t need very much of it. Patients were satisfied with the answer, became more compliant as a result (so HCPs were happier, too), and GSK discovered ways to further this message outside Call Center conversations for even greater impact.

He also referenced GSK’s new model for measuring sales force effectiveness as an example of incentivizing customer-centricity in novel ways.

There’s a perceived paradox between driving value for shareholders and customers, he said. But these can be aligned.

Joanna Colvin, Vice President of Social Media, Citibank

Another refreshing perspective was that from Joanna Colvin, Citibank. Not surprisingly, there are many parallels between the highly regulated pharmaceutical and financial industries, and her presentation further underscored that. She explained her “Bermuda Triangle” of engaging in social media in the financial sector:

  1. Information security
  2. Legal
  3. Compliance

Sound familiar?

Joanna started doing social media for Citibank at the tail-end of the financial crisis, so monitoring revealed quite a bit of negative sentiment. To open up the lines of communication, her team cross-trained Citi customer service employees to handle the @AskCiti Twitter handle. There, they engaged with people online and worked to answer their questions and concerns. Today, the program which started small is now a 24/7 operation and is being scaled to more than 20 countries.

She also shared a few good tips about working with Legal:

The thing about working with Legal is, they’re just doing their job. And you’re just doing yours.

Her team hired their own digital lawyers, and this “was a good move.” This way, they had a dedicated resource, a digital expert, and a single point of contact for direction and decisions.

A few more favorite nuggets of advice from her presentation included:

“To do this job, you have to be good at communications, have people skills, and understand everyone is just doing their job. And you have to get really good at doing workflows.

I tend to not 'launch' anything. Ever. Calling it a pilot or test or soft-launch is a lot less scary, and a lot more comfortable for all involved. Go live — but don’t call it a launch. Language makes a huge difference.”

You can follow Jackie on Twitter at @jocolv (personal) or @citi (corporate) to see their model in action.

Pamela Alexa, Vice President, Marketing, Pfizer

Pamela said more than once during her presentation that she has the “best job in the industry.” She leads the marketing efforts for Pfizer’s pediatric vaccines, and one of these products has no competition. She pointed out that, with no competition, they could certainly afford to behave in a non-customer-centric approach. But part of Pfizer’s vision is to be “customer-obsessed,” and she gave a nice example of how they recently brought that vision to life:

After the American Academy of Pediatrics urged vaccine manufactures for more eco-friendly product packaging, Pfizer had the idea on their radar screen. And when a key physician customer sent a letter to the Pfizer CEO calling for the same, they “had a motivated CEO” to look into it further.

But — she pointed out — really, why should they care about eco-friendly packaging? The products required cold-chain shipping; if anything went wrong it could disrupt supply and cost a lot of money. They didn’t have any competition. Changing packaging wouldn’t save them any money. And it wouldn’t sell more products.

Why did they care? They decided that — because it was the right thing to do, and their customers were asking for it — they should at least take a closer look. And in the end, they decided it was worth doing. In a few weeks, they’ll be rolling out the new green packaging which will save two Burj buildings’ full of landfill space. And, they discovered, they can actually re-sell the Styrofoam packaging and make it a revenue source. They redesigned their packaging ahead of legislation and ahead of other vaccine manufactures. And their customers were delighted.

My Perspective

I did notice that despite the variety of perspectives, the majority of conference speakers interpreted the “customer” as the physician. I certainly recognize and understand the physician -- and increasingly, P.A.’s and N.P’s — are the gatekeepers of the prescription. But if we ignore the product end-user — the consumer — as the customer, is that truly being customer-centric? As Pamela Alexa from Pfizer pointed out,

Marketers must “understand all your customers — but also how all customers interact. … A brand needs a customer but a customer may not need a brand. Ask yourself: What are you doing to provide value? Consider the total experience.”

While it wasn’t the best conference I’ve ever been to by any stretch, the fact that there IS a conference on customer-centric marketing for pharma is certainly a step in the right direction.

It was a good start. I hope the industry keeps the theme going -- in both theory and practice.


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