Nearly 50% of biopharma marketing executives surveyed by Accenture say they lack a good understanding of what customers need or want. That’s a disturbing statistic – compounded by the fact that the vast majority (87%) of chief executive officers (CEOs) expect their marketing leads to be developing continuous, actionable customer insights to improve marketing impact.

Accenture conducted research with 40 biopharma CEOs and their marketing leaders as part of a larger cross-industry research initiative with 564 CEOs and 935 chief marketing officers. We found that almost half of the biopharma marketing leaders surveyed say they lack a good understanding of what customers need or want. In addition, in an earlier study, we found that nearly 50% of patients said pharma companies don’t understand what they need to manage their health.  This trend continues despite corporate initiatives across the industry to build patient-centricity, according to the Corporate Reputation of Pharma 2018-19 report, only 35% of patient groups say that the industry is "excellent" or "good" at putting patients first.

This obviously needs to change – fast. And luckily it can.

There is a clear transformational path. Biopharma companies need to embrace what we call New Science and marry it with new approaches to patient and customer engagement. New Science is expected to drive 54% of the industry’s growth through 2022 and these more specialised, targeted, and effective treatments require a much more personalised approach to marketing. This means moving beyond traditional advertisements and portals to focus on the individual and what interventions will drive health outcomes.

The starting point is understanding what customers and patients need – even anticipating it – and delivering it, in real-time, all the time. To do this, marketers must often look beyond the walls of the commercial organization and embrace new internal and external partnerships and technology to deliver the products and services that customers want. The changing expectation around the role of marketing is pervasive across biopharma CEOs: 90% of those surveyed believe dynamic orchestration of more complex ecosystems will become a core activity of the marketing executive and 92% expect their marketing lead to use technology to improve marketing impact.

Consider how one company approached launching a novel chronic pain therapy with a complex risk-benefit profile. To fully understand how to help patients start, stay on, and achieve optimal outcomes on therapy, they partnered with Accenture to conduct human-centered research combined with patient journey mapping to bring a depth of emotional and psychological understanding not possible via purely traditional market research. Beyond positioning and engagement approaches for launch, the client developed new ways of working to bring together cross-functional stakeholders: bridging data and design through research synthesis, advisory boards, and solution co-creation with patients and customers.

What this shows is that marketing a product alone is no longer enough; companies must bring patient outcomes to market by using insight to pair treatment, technology, and experience. That means companies need to create operating models that are organised around delivering those outcomes, using meaningful insights from patients, caregivers, their healthcare providers, pharmacies and payers, enabled by technology such as AI, advanced analytics, and machine learning, and powered by a future workforce with new skills and competencies.

We advise biopharma marketing leaders to focus on three steps:

  • Become customer-obsessed to deliver on the moments that matter. Life sciences companies must spend more time getting to know their customers holistically, as humans, to improve outcomes. Move beyond traditional market research and focus on new methods to gather insight (such as ethnography and design thinking) to understand patients and customers and uncover unmet needs.
  • Breathe new life into your marketers’ mindset, skillset, and toolset. Digital technologies and advanced analytics have the potential to allow an unprecedented level of customer intimacy. Start capturing this potential by identifying new ways of working that bring together different skills and experience from across the organisation. Marketing leaders must also identify future talent needs, including new roles not yet part of the organisation.
  • Make better use of data across the organisation – and outside of it. Marketing executives need to champion investments in data and AI, fostering new partnerships internally and externally to develop the insights needed to deliver exceptional experiences in real-time…all the time.

The role of biopharma marketers is expanding beyond just bringing new products to market – they are the orchestrators of a holistic experience for patients and customers and the architects for future growth.

Elizabeth Otterman is a managing director in Accenture’s Customer Insight and Growth practice.