Shared insights on what UK Pharmaceutical Marketing professionals must embrace to be relevant and successful, and how the PM Society intend to help

You’ve heard the story about the three little pigs, right? If not, stick with me. Having been kicked out of their mother’s house, they were tasked with building a new home to keep out the Big Bad Wolf… and avoid a potentially gruesome end. Our three little pigs had very different approaches. One rascal built their brand spanking new home from straw. Some may have perceived that they were lazy. 

But, what if that was the best they could do with the skills and resources that they had? One had a little more in their “locker” and built their new home from sticks. The third little piggy risked taking a little longer to assess the situation and prepare. In time this clever little piggy built a fortress from brick. Let’s just say when the big bad wolf came along, it didn’t end too well for two of the adorable little piggies!

Where am I going…?

As marketeers we have all seen and probably built several “brand houses”, a conceptual structure that serves as a supporting tool that guides the creation and management of brand assets. At the PM Society the question we have been chewing on for the last few months is, are marketeers in the pharma industry equipped with the skills, tools, and mindsets to deliver their own brick fortress brand plan?

In June 2022 the newly formed PM Society’s Learning and Development Interest Group published its three-year plan.

We have boldly claimed that by the end of 2022 we will define and debate future capabilities for UK Pharmaceutical Marketing professionals, embracing the changing future state of UK healthcare. We want to be recognised as the go-to community to connect with for PM learning and development.

We are excited to announce that we will be hosting our inaugural PM Society L&D Interest Group seminar at The Royal Society of Medicine in London on the 6th December 2022. Where you can hold us accountable for our promise to support and inspire the industry

This article is our first step, summarising key themes from seventeen in-depth conversations with industry professionals from across UK Pharma:

Collectively, the marketing professionals we interviewed represent nearly 200 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry. It filled our team with great pride to hear of the impact our profession has on healthcare in the UK. As we dug deep into how this happens over time, we addressed topics like:

  • The tension between the demand to deliver high-impact, instant operational marketing initiatives and keeping focused on long-term strategic excellence
  • Delivering the customer-centric, insight-based experience customers are now accustomed to with the likes of Apple or Amazon is easier said than done
  • A reluctance to prioritise personal and professional development because commitment to perform and deliver within role dominate working capacity

Here are some of the themes and key reflections from our discussions on how to evolve to be a relevant and effective marketeer:   

Using customer understanding to inform true customer centricity

A key aspect of the role is to listen deeply and build vivid pictures of the world of our customers and patients to enable and direct effective engagement. At the highest-level, marketers are curious and in tune with trends in a way then allows them to articulate the current landscape in a really simple way. The goal however is to play a key role in shaping that picture of a brighter future. Our ability to understand and respond to customers and their preferences underpin effective strategy, engagement, and ultimately outcomes. Despite access to vast data sources, we are still struggling to embrace a full understanding of quality customer insights and our ability to use them to drive behaviour change.

The only way to ensure we are asking valuable business questions and that we are on our customers agenda is to truly understand the broad and diverse nature of the customer we serve.

How are you building and adapting your plans based on customer insight or input?

Pulling through that illusive “red thread”

Many of our interviewees referenced the “red thread”, I had to google it! There are few definitions, one that resonated with me was “…that constant underlying theme throughout all your marketing and business activities”. Closely followed by, “… what connects a question to an answer, and what makes it make sense”

Marketers are the custodians of strategy. They ensure the drivers of growth for a brand or the market it resides in or both, are at the centre of the brand plan.  When this works campaigns are aligned, they identify the best promotional mix, and build a framework for measurable in time execution. Being on the customers and patient’s agenda are just 2 key parts of the triple win that many desire. The other is the often-unspoken win for you or your organisation.

Marketers must articulate how strategic choices deliver for the business and orchestrate cross- functional teams to deliver measurable outcomes. In a world where what gets measured gets done, or at very least consumes precious time. It is critical that we choose the right KPIs to guide the way we work, and that reflect the red thread, where the opportunity for growth was detected.

How do we ensure our eventual plans and KPIs really tie back to growth, and thus drive long term business aspiration vs tactical overload?

Delivering personalised and seamless experiences through data informed customer engagement

A common reflection on practice in the pharmaceutical industry was that we consistently deliver excellent campaigns through different channels based on well substantiated key messages supported by solid clinical data. The hard truth is our industry is behind other industries in moving from high-quality one-off engagements to providing seamless, easy access, high-quality connected customer experiences within and between contact with established communication channels. Is being great at multi-channel enough? How do we make the leap to effective omni-channel communication? Many are finding that great execution of multi-channel is not quite enough to generate the golden ePermissions needed to address diminishing face to face engagement.

What steps are you taking to master effective omni-channel communication?

Mastering the modern-day life skills of a marketeer

Current ways of working and processes make it challenging to deliver in time value to our customers. Despite an acute awareness of limited capacity, in the pursuit of success the choice is often to do more, rather than to refocus, reprioritise and align cross-functional teams to deliver the few things that matter most, ridiculously well! Nearly everyone we surveyed shared that they moved into marketing to maximise their impact on positive patient outcomes. It’s a role that is uniquely placed to achieve this but there are new skills and competencies needed to lead and effect change. From a learning and development perspective we (industry, employers, and marketeers) need to recognise and nurture the hard skills needed to get the job done. We must also develop the human skills needed to make the process rewarding, productive, and dare I say enjoyable.

Do you have the knowledge and authority to inspire internal thinking, make bold insight driven decisions and drive compliant innovation?

Making some sense of the three pigs thing…

As I reflect on our many conversations about the data we collected and writing this article there are a couple things I need to address before I sign out.

First of all, there is no doubt the idea of a brick fortress capable of withstanding the Big Bad Wolf sounds comforting. However, the reality of our working environment means there is so much to gain from an agile mindset. We need the skills and tools to build something great, but as circumstance change and we learn more, we must rebuild our house effectively and quickly. Perhaps a lesson or two to learn from or friends at Lego.

Finally… You may well be thinking who is the Big Bad Wolf in this analogy? A competitor? A changing market? The NHS? I would love to hear what this represents for you. What if this monstrous beast is living rent free in our heads? The unspoken pressure that makes us move too quickly. Whatever prevents us from stopping to recognise a job well done or reflecting how we could be better next time. The thing that stops us from giving ourselves the same space and time we would advise others need to do their best work. The voice in our head that questions if we have time to invest in ourselves over the business when there can be a win for both. What’s important is we all need to recognise the danger of the wolf and do what is necessary now to prepare ourselves for success. That’s what the clever little piggy did! 

Now what…?

If you already have the skills and capabilities to build a marketing brick fortress, we salute you. Please pay forward your experience and expertise to those that need it #mentoringmatters.

If you are on the journey to building these critical capabilities, remember the pivotal role you play in delivering value to the customers and patients that benefit from for our industries products and services. We urge you to prioritise and drive your own development.

For senior leaders in our industry our ask is what more you could do to recognise and meet the development needs of marketeers at different stages of their career? How do you enable the psychological safety, time, and space to learn and master their craft? How could we support you?

I would like to close by thanking those that took the time to share experiences and views on pharma marketing learning and development, you know who you are.

We have posed some big questions and challenges to solve, and the PM Society are here to help. Remember to join us on the 6th December 2022 for our inaugural L&D Interest Group seminar at The Royal Society of Medicine in London. An opportunity to further explore the key themes we have discussed, provide practical solutions, and grow your professional network. 

Article written by: Nyambe Sumbwanyambe, Strategy Office, MSD UK & Stephen Fensome, Head of Learning, Novartis  

The PM Society is a not-for-profit organisation that believes excellent healthcare communications leads to better outcomes for patients.

We aim to:

  • Support organisations and people in healthcare
  • Recognise excellence and promoting best practice
  • Provide education and development

Visit us here to learn more about the society and the value of becoming a member

The Marketing Learning and Development Interest Group is made up of passionate pharma marketing and L&D experts who volunteer their time to help the PM Society:

  • Providing expertise, advice, best practice from a cross-section of the industry
  • Energy behind L&D (L&D as a culture; critical part of an organisation)
  • Bringing the outside in – other sectors to learn from
  • Identifies the future capabilities needed for marketing

In time our aspiration is to be recognised as voice of industry for marketing capability learning and development.

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