There’s an Albert Einstein quote that resonated with me for years, until recently. He said, “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.” It had been my mantra of sorts, reminding me to push through what’s difficult; change is hard but worth it. But when I recently re-read the quote, I realized that it’s wrong, particularly as it relates to my career in life sciences marketing. In today’s world of intensely shifting market dynamics, if you keep doing what you’ve always done before, you will get less than what you had before.

It’s true: commercial marketing dollars return less today than they used to. Three major market factors are disrupting commercial teams and driving the need to seriously look to innovation to help solve important brand challenges and shift the balance to return more. These factors include massive healthcare industry shifts, commercial dynamics, and technology advancements.

Healthcare Industry Shifts Reducing Relevance of Traditional Marketing Approaches
There’s no shortage of change within the healthcare industry although the greatest implications for commercial teams tend to stem from four critical trends:

  1. Doctors are increasingly employed by health systems. This reduces the ability to reach and engage target HCPs, creating a gap for marketers. It also requires HCPs to follow protocol-driven care, reducing the impact of promotion. Marketing simply won’t work if HCPs cannot prescribe certain products. This greatly limits HCP and consumer promotional effectiveness.
  2. The move from volume to value across healthcare eco-system forces pharma to increase its value proposition with key customers.
  3. There’s a heightened focus on holistic patient care. The industry at large is beginning to view patients’ individual conditions as a small part of their overall lives, driving the need to look at the whole patient and all their conditions and treatments together vs. as individual components. Social determinants of health are becoming increasingly considered as drivers of patients’ health. Brands must expand their value proposition and learn to respond to a patient’s broader needs.
  4. The changing location of care requires brands to leverage distributed care models. For example, how does pharma promote to practitioners that are dedicated to telemedicine versus being available in an office setting?

Commercial Dynamics Don’t Make Our Marketing Efforts Any Easier
Healthcare acquisitions and consolidations are coming in rapid fire: payers, providers, PBM consolidation. CVS and Aetna. Cigna and Healthscripts. These consolidated organizations have more buying power and drive down prices putting more pressure on commercial teams to close the revenue gap elsewhere.

Further, pharma consolidation, such as the recent Amgen/BMS acquisition of Celgene, complicates the commercial situation. These consolidations often result in internal cost savings mandates, including shrinking marketing budgets and pressures.

Technology Advancements Require Discipline to Reap Benefits
Brands often look to digital innovation and technology advancements to drive growth in a changing market or to disrupt competitive influences. However, they have little guidance on what is a shiny object versus what has the possibility to work.

Technology is advancing so rapidly, commercial teams struggle to keep up, to make proper investments, and to pilot appropriately for long-term success. It is not uncommon for massive marketing transformation investments to fail to pay off, even after years of effort.

Innovation as the Way Forward
Considering these market factors, the industry has generally adopted the idea that innovation is integral to an organization’s success. But where does one begin to start the process of leveraging the right innovation to meet specific goals and challenges? There isn’t a clear consensus within the industry on the definition of digital innovation. In a recent interview with a life sciences technology director, innovation was classified as “something that’s never been done before.” While true, a lot of innovation can happen outside of this definition. Considering a broader innovation solution set that spans across a continuum is helpful to identify a range of opportunities that can meet brand challenges. There’s no requirement to only explore the riskiest of investments. The full range of a digital innovation continuum includes areas often ignored or under-considered. For example:

  • Digital Marketing Program Innovation enhances and expands the potential and value of mature digital marketing solutions. Examples include targeting innovations in display and point of care or voice search to improve how customers find and interact with brands and their conditions.
  • Digital Marketing Solution Innovation are new solutions and capabilities that marketers can use to address promotional goals and strategies. This includes innovation such as gamification to support patient adherence and augmented reality to demonstrate a procedure or build empathy among caregivers and practitioners.
  • Digital Health Customer Value Innovation provides approaches and solutions with previously unavailable, new-to-market value propositions for customers and life sciences enabled by technology. These include digital therapeutics, digital care plans, clinical decision support, connected health.
  • Digital Health Commercial Model Innovation unlocks new revenue streams for life science organizations.

For Long Term Success, Apply Innovation at the Intersection of Brand + Customer Needs
As brands look to improve their value proposition, they must combine their own short-term profit goals with their customers’ needs. For example, patients may be focused on co-morbidities or identifying coping mechanisms for a new diagnosis. An HCP may be more focused adhering to guidelines and protocols than trying to understand what differentiates a new product in a competitive class. Addressing customers’ needs enhances a brand’s value proposition over the longer term. Finding the intersection between brand needs and customer needs is the sweet spot for innovation that can return benefit for all parties.

What Really Drives Innovation?
Understanding the complexities behind what drives the need for innovation, and the technology that makes innovation possible, provides context for successful innovation. But it doesn’t end there. An organization needs to embrace a culture of forward-thinking leadership for impact over the long haul. Typically, one or more of these factors or behaviors drives commitment and success:

1. Negative pressure that is triggered by something that had previously worked well but has becomes less impactful or is entirely ineffective
2. Positive pressure triggering a need to proactively explore innovation; leaders know it’s important to the business and can provide business advantages
3. Brave leadership that embraces change and invests in innovation
4. An innovation culture with people who are passionate and enthusiastic about change
5. Organizational readiness

Digital innovation can close the revenue gap, providing life science organizations with new solutions designed to improve brand value propositions, better help support customer needs, drive improved patient engagement, improve efficiency…the list goes on. Good leaders understand the big problems facing commercial teams and should look closely and strategically at how innovation can solve its – and its key customers’ – challenges.