Why the pharma innovation story isn’t resonating with key decision-makers

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.

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. Pharma invests 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 sciences industry has the best innovation story to tell of almost any sector, it needs to find out how to best unlock it. This is particularly pertinent given that data from WE’s study also revealed that 63% of UK B2B respondents felt prescription health companies ‘did harm’ vs being ‘out for the common good’ compared to 60% (USA), 25% (China) and 47% (Germany). For an industry that is focused on developing solutions and products to improve patient outcomes, this perception is starkly against company missions.

To help tackle innovation fatigue, companies must 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. Reserve the ‘innovation’ narrative for something that is truly innovative.

Pharma firms must also act to demonstrate organisational purpose, transparency and ethics. Purpose, for one, 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.

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 commonplace 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.

Catherine Devaney is head of Health and Deputy Managing Director, WE UK