Change is the only thing that is constant, right? Nowhere is this more apparent than in the healthcare landscape. It's enough to give any healthcare consumer heartburn and anxiety: the sagging economy, stress and its health complications, technology overload, obesity, suburban sprawl, cancer, environmental health hazards, healthcare reform, and cost pressures, just to name a few. Take a deep breath….
And yes, the pharmaceutical landscape has similar tensions. Between now and 2015, there will be an onslaught of generics from patent expiry of many blockbuster agents, which will further shift consumer preference to cheaper generics. At the same time, we will see a proliferation of more innovative, expensive, specialized therapies. The market potential for these therapies will be smaller than that of the big, rock-star primary-care brands seen in the past. The value and differentiation of the new medications will have to be made apparent to healthcare consumers, who are increasingly being incentivized to cash in on $4 generics at the local Target.
Engaged healthcare consumer (EHCs) have the right behaviors and attitudes to be go-getters—navigating healthcare systems, researching treatment options, advocating for more attention from their healthcare providers (HCPs), and asking for specific brands.
Take my dad. He is the poster child for good healthcare behaviors. He reads about diabetes and hypertension, makes a mental list of questions to raise with his doctors, researches medications, takes his pills every day (seriously). He is very motivated—in fact, it's sometimes a bit too much for me to handle (he talks a lot about the nuances of type 2 diabetes management and likes to measure my sugar, even though I am fine).
But low engaged healthcare consumers (LEHCs), like my mom, may feel uninvolved for many reasons. Maybe they are unmotivated, lack knowledge, or can't effectively dialogue with their HCPs. Or maybe, like my mom, they just don’t have the time or interest to “fuss over themselves because they are too busy taking care of other people and doing things they love.” Or perhaps they aren’t curious, or they don’t have access to the Internet (always possible). But the consequence may be that they get too little time with their HCP. They also may miss out on a more efficacious and/or tolerable branded agent, one that may also offer a relationship marketing program that supports them through the treatment experience. In the looming era of innovative, specialized therapies that have a smaller market potential, perhaps the LEHC, like my mom, not usually a target customer, can help maximize revenue. Additionally, it will be even more important that pharma focus on retaining EHCs, people like my dad.
So what can pharma do? First, drug companies must help activate LEHCs with communications that move them along a behavioral continuum and are clear, personally relevant, and employ health literacy principles. To accomplish this, deep insight into the LEHCs is key. Pharma companies must know where and how to reach LEHCs through appropriate channels. Could the right behavioral approach, along with communications that engage, shift the mind-set of LEHCs and claim them as attractive and lucrative customers?
For the EHC, it’s critical that pharma brands demonstrate rich value beyond the pill—an ongoing personally relevant brand experience to retain them and potentially activate them as power ambassadors for positive health behaviors and treatment successes. This can be accomplished through relationship marketing efforts, community building, and storytelling.
Although I still categorize my mom as an LEHC (the purist in me!), her adherence is improving, and she is being more proactive about talking with her HCP about symptoms and treatments. This is probably because of her having watched my dad, my brother, and me all these years. I think she and many like her may be more influenced by what people think of them than previously thought, or so posit the behavioral economists. Eventually, you don't want to miss out on something good if you see others getting results or if you don't want to feel socially rejected.
Perhaps for the LEHCs, marketing efforts can leverage and model their EHC compatriots' health behaviors through storytelling. And there may be no one more motivated than an EHC to do that happily, like my dad. The more that pharma brands can showcase patients' experiences and stories, in a meaningful and insightful way, the better. People seem to ultimately want better for themselves—and hearing about others’ success and how they achieved it is a powerful change agent.
The pharma landscape is changing. The era of big-market, primary-care brands is ending, while smaller-market specialized therapies continue to proliferate. However, with the right behavioral models infused into strategy and tactical implementation, perhaps brands’ customer bases can be broadened and fully leveraged to maximize revenue. Let’s all imagine a world where everyone wants good health for themselves. It’s a win-win for healthcare consumers and pharma.