Redefining Pharma Marketing and Business
– Dr. R. B. Smarta
Moksha 8, is a new drug firm launched last month with money from Texas Pacific group,
a private equity firm. It aims to capitalize on big pharmas neglect of many emerging
economies by striking deals for branded drugs, which, it in turn intends to market to
affluent customers in those countries.
Within a month, it has already around two dozen drugs under license for Brazil from
Roche and Pfizer. A Brazilian firm also has invested in Moksha 8 and expects its annual
sales to top $1 billion within a year or two.
How amazingly different opportunities are! How different opportunities come when the
context and needs of the environment change!!! How do you now need new ways of
marketing such Brands in those markets back!!!
Redefining dynamics of market:
Beliefs about the Free Market:
There are three beliefs commonly associated with the “free market”. The first is that
human beings are creatures of limitless but insatiable needs, wants and discomforts.
The second is that the free market is a place where these needs might be satisfied
through the exercise of free choice. The last of these beliefs is that the surest avenue to
innovation in all industries is unfettered competition in the market.
Let’s look at our pharmaceutical customer groups and find out whether these 3 beliefs
are relevant to our pharmaceutical market.
Beliefs of Prescribers / Providers / Patients:
If you consider prescribers or health providers, all of them have these beliefs. Does
industry also respond to them through marketing strategies and tactics! Prescribers
exercise their choice by prescribing relevant brands.
You will observe the same beliefs surface for health providers. They are also specifying
their demands from pharma, diagnostics, medical devices and other related industries.
Marketing methods of other than pharma industry have resorted to industrial marketing
models like buy or lease or rent model or education based revenue models etc.
Patients have undergone many changes and they do wish to behave as per three beliefs,
but they are uplifting themselves in parts. As a community, many things have to evolve
to make this customer group cohesive and supportive to Pharma Industry. Does industry
respond to him through marketing initiatives or it is left to them to perceive as they
Patients to Medical consumer:
Let’s take a bottom up approach and understand emerging consumer.
Since in consumer society, we see ourselves as individuals. Even patients are thinking in
some way. Recent New York Times article brings about this impact succintely. Article
says “for a sizeable group of people in their 20’s and 30’s deciding on their own what
drugs to have – in particular stimulants, anti-depressants and other psychiatric
medicines is becoming a norm”. Views of our patients are changing towards a choice
driven by familiarity with the drugs once prescribed by their specialists. This emergence
of potential dangerous situation demonstrates that patients when they are healthy,
they have a different way to look at themselves!
The inclusion of patients in the distribution chain of pharmaceuticals is specially for
lifestyle diseases and more so for chronic and terminal ailments is changing their role
from recipients of medical care to active consumers from merely being a patient, they
are walking towards a new group of medical consumers who in sickness become a
recipient of medical care, otherwise, exercise their own choices on low involvement,
low risk medicaments.
As a medical consumer, you will also observe that in promotion of DTC products all over
the world has created a new market for cosmetic and sexual enhancements. The cross
over of curative medicine occurred with psychotropic drugs which have a very wide
range of active properties. Lifestyle marketing has now extended to the promotion of
market of the blockbuster ‘maintenance drugs’ intended for daily life long consumption,
drugs for allergies, insomnia and acid reflux.
Prescribers and Providers Way of Life:
If pharma marketing and sales tactics treat prescribers Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) like
‘apple of an eye’ then they will further extend their beliefs to be fulfilled by pharma
marketers. It is likely to become individualized and no strategic initiatives will work in
cohesion. Patents may create a competitive advantage and differentiation, but it will not
substitute the conventional treatment.
Overall MRs have lost respectability in the eyes of Prescribers and they also do not opt
this profession. As a profession, nobody, even pharma marketers are not engaging them
enough or do not cohesively work for attracting better talent. If the representation of
sound Medical oriented pharma company is not happening in a respectable way. Brands
may substitute, but all efforts of entire marketing mix may make this representative an
inadequate creature in front of Prescribers!
There is a need to look at them differently to serve with them better.
Providers are bound by their individual and / or hospital or networking rules, norms and
procedures and they do demand like free market consumers. How do we deal with
them! Are we commercial enough for the marketers or do we give into commercially
sound and tough customers like providers!
Business of Marketing:
Business of Marketing has to still carry out strategic consumer related business
initiatives with profit. All of them are aimed at a kind of quantum jump in sales to
improve profits. In other words, if you are likely to go by conventional marketing ways,
you might find it challenging and difficult.
Redefine pharmaceutical marketing:
It’s compelling yet equally important to develop new thinking. It has to emerge as the
context and environment are changing so fast that we need to re-define pharma
marketing principles and practices related to changed customer groups.
When I ask a few questions to myself how can I redefine ‘Marketing’? I had to
introspect. I was feeling helplessness in the beginning but I then got guts to determine.
Hope it will bear fruits. While introspecting, a few questions probed me. Wanted to ask
me so what do you say! The questions are like:
Has marketing in pharma gone beyond 4 or 5 Ps?
Has it derailed towards customer gratification only? Has it exhausted its tactics and
new tactics have yet to come in?
Do strategic initiatives of marketing lead field force to carry them out and build
Does a competitive force interfere and Field Force work with exceptions?
Are marketers finding out ways to beat competition through unfair or fair means as
in war everything is fair?…
Is pharma marketing treating matured markets and emerging markets same way?
All these questions ask whether we are still trying to upgrade our own conventional
marketing stances to achieve desired targets.
Yet, many organisations achieve their sales in last 4 days or a week in every month!
Is context of supply chain, retailing, distribution network constantly changing
without our stance of change?
Is it that the organizational Representative who represents organisation doesn’t
Is it that he has lost the desirability and respect of customers and society? Is it that
constraints are overwhelming and marketers are compromised?
Has the marketing mix revolved around only a few specific ways?
Yet after taking many initiatives, attrition at the entry level of the pharma sales and
marketing hierarchy is so high that the stability runs miles away and management looses
face while confronting the issues with those who are directly fighting with the
Are marketing & sales cost too high to improve sales force effectiveness?
Have we not changed JDs of all marketing sales hierarchy over decades?
Has the hierarchy become experience driven than competency driven?
Have we lost differentiation, competitiveness and competitive advantage through
Are we looking at Regulatory Issues as part of marketing?
Are we considering ‘Pricing’ as part of marketing or its ‘Finance’ prerogative?
Are we starting ‘marketing bias’ right from clinical trials?
Are we launching new products with adequate preparation?
So long as Products / Brands used to provide differentiation and competitive advantage,
marketing overtone was seen, but the moment the differentiation at product level has
gone away and pricing became a differentiator, we lost out in creating value through
These are a few questions which I have asked to myself and I find, I have become
passive or inactive on marketing front. I am fighting day-to-day battles!
On the contrary, when I looked at total Indian pharma market value and compare it with
just one brand of Pfizer like Lipitor, I find Lipitor may exceed total pharma market in
value!. What does it really mean! When we on one hand proudly inform the world that
there are 41 million diabetics in this country and reality is that just 4 to 5 million take
medicines and insulin! What’s correct? You can imagine how far the scope of marketing
is! Is it to penetrate markets and improve the sales? Is it to create markets and improve
the scope of pharma business!!! What is it?
In order to reconcile potential of India in the world and potential of the world in India,
it’s imperative that we start introspecting on few of the above questions and look at
redefining context, scope, strategy and methodology of marketing. We need to also
consider the hardships of field force to execute, implement and get results from the
designed marketing strategy. At every level it’s important to redefine the value chain of
Let’s make an attempt to start redefining marketing step-by-step and regroup our
priorities to provide ‘golden’ edge to marketing by making it more as ‘Medical &
– Published in Pharmabiz