The pharma innovation story isn’t resonating with vital stakeholders: prescribers and payers working in healthcare settings. Data from a global study which surveyed decision-makers in the healthcare sector reveals that only 39% of respondents in the UK saw the pharmaceutical industry as innovative.
This makes stark reading for an industry that defines, and often defends itself, on an innovation platform. In this article, we look at why innovation is important, reasons why the pharma innovation story isn’t resonating with key decision-makers and what we can do about it.
The Importance of Innovation
Technology is driving audience expectations and they expect organisations to innovate. Data shows that brands which are seen as innovative, have a more positive engagement with audiences. Pharmaceutical companies invest a great deal of time and money on telling an innovation story – so why isn’t it resonating? Innovation fatigue may be one explanation.
In the healthcare space, the word ‘innovative’ is losing its impact, much like the term ‘cutting edge’ has lost its lustre in the tech space – if everything is ‘innovative’ then nothing is. The health industry’s penchant for calling products innovative, when in reality they’re almost identical to an existing product, adds to the noise and distracts key audiences. Incremental improvements are important, but if brands aren’t realistic about what is innovative and what is not, they run the risk of furthering innovation fatigue among customers.
According to WE Communications’ global study Brands in Motion, healthcare professionals and payers in some markets feel that prescription health companies are not innovative. In the UK, 61% of B2B respondents rated prescription health companies as ‘stuck in the stone age’ versus ‘cutting edge’ compared to 62% (US), 26% (China), 49% (Australia), 50% (Germany), 39% (Singapore) and 51% (India).
Although the life science industry has the best innovation story to tell of almost any sector, it needs to find out how to best unlock it. Here are three ways that we can tackle innovation fatigue.
Look further than R&D for inspiration
Many companies continue to focus their narrative entirely on product and R&D, but this means they often get tied up in compliance concerns. Organisations that look for inspiration beyond product are more successful.
For example, the EFPIA #WeWontRest campaign aims to tell the European pharmaceutical industry’s innovation story by demonstrating the passion and commitment of individuals and companies. The campaign works alongside science and R&D, and shares examples of innovation, including patient engagement, access and eHealth.
Act to demonstrate organisational purpose, transparency and ethics
Audiences worldwide continue to demand innovation. In response to increasing technology-based fears, these same audiences are attaching strong new stipulations to these expectations, chief among them is the requirement that brands use technology ethically and responsibly. The data from the global study also revealed that in Western markets, B2B audiences see the pharmaceutical industry as ‘doing more harm than good’ when asked about their overall impact on society. For an industry that is focused on developing solutions and products to improve patient outcomes, this perception is starkly against company missions.
Further to this, 63% of UK B2B respondents indicated prescription health companies ‘did harm’ vs being ‘out for the common good’ compared to 60% (USA), 25% (China), 44% (Australia), 47% (Germany), 37% (Singapore) and 44% (India).
Across all sectors, purpose is becoming more important and will increasingly be integral to business strategy. Rather than being part of a communications strategy, purpose is the foundation of how successful organisations conduct business, engage with external audiences and engage employees. Purpose is also how brands and organisations can effect change and tackle some of the most pressing issues facing society. Data shows that 74% of global audiences expect brands to take a stand on issues that are important to them. This is something that audiences expect from companies, often guiding their decisions on companies they engage with.
Pharmaceutical companies that are ahead on this are thinking about how being ‘patient-centric’ can be translated into real organisational purpose, becoming the foundation for business strategy. Purpose must also be democratised; not just owned by a few top leaders. It should be at the core of every person working within the organisation - with people going beyond short-term interest in their decision-making and behaviour. See LEO Pharma and how the company’s Helping SARAH strategy ensures employees focus on the patients they’re at work to help.
It isn’t just what we say, it’s how we say it
Another solution is to look at the way the industry is communicating with audiences. As an industry we are guilty of ‘telling’ stories, rather than engaging our audiences. Innovation isn’t limited to the content of the narrative but also the way we tell these stories. Technology is increasingly being used successfully – who would have thought a few years ago chatbots would become common place in healthcare communications? Let’s use this momentum to get ahead of the next trend in technology, the ‘post-screen’ era, where technology is used to get people to look up, rather than down.
See The Field Trip to Mars or the Somnai immersive event to understand what other sectors are doing. Yes, they are big ambitious projects, but we need to challenge the old thinking by looking to other industries. Technology should be used to help those with health issues engage in the physical world in a way that’s meaningful. In time, this will help the reputation of the industry, demonstrating their ability to be relevant.
1. Reserve the ‘innovation’ narrative for something that is truly innovative. If something delivers an incremental improvement, focus on why this improvement is important – what value does this improvement deliver to audiences?
2. Purpose and business strategy are increasingly one in the same thing in successful organisations. Our actions must demonstrate purpose and solid business ethics.
3. Audiences expect organisations to use technology to innovate, ethically. Innovation doesn’t always have to be demonstrated by the product itself. Technology enables us to communicate in a way that is more engaging, relevant and ultimately, more impactful.
Catherine Devaney is head of Health and Deputy Managing Director, WE UK