Pharmaceutical Marketing

Strategies for Asia Pacific

Joanne Fensome,  Regional Director of Healthcare, Asia Pacific, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, Hong Kong

Success in Asia will depend upon the ability of marketers to navigate the local environment with globally developed products.

Development of meaningful and cohesive marketing strategies in Asia is one of the hottest topics in the pharmaceutical industry today. Multinational pharmaceutical companies are increasingly looking to Asia to drive sales growth. Marketing is simultaneously recognised by the industry as vital for product success and derided by the media as the main reason for high drug prices. Meanwhile regional and local market strategies are needed in an increasingly complex and ever changing marketplace to achieve results.

Asia’s market potential has been widely discussed. Nearly 4 billion people, coupled with economic growth, increasing affluence and a projected increase in chronic diseases offer an opportunity to boost revenues at a time when blockbuster drugs are nearing the end of their product lifecycle in the US and Europe.

Asia, however, is not without challenges. Multiple countries with different cultures, languages, socio-economic groups and regulatory/legal systems, mean strategies can only be regionalised to a certain extent, after which country-specific approaches are needed. Even within some countries disparities of affluence and education can be associated with different healthcare expectations. Success in Asia will depend upon the ability of marketers to navigate the local environment with globally developed products.

From global to regional to local

The pharmaceutical industry is globally driven. Diseases and epidemics are global and prescription products designed to treat them are necessarily researched and developed by central teams, although it should be noted that clinical trials are being carried out and the drugs themselves being manufactured in the region.

Global marketing teams are also tasked with developing the business plans and strategies that include marketing elements such as product proposition, branding and pricing parameters. Of the four marketing P’s (product, price, place and promotion), this essentially leaves local marketers with ‘Place and Promotion’ to strategise. But, pharmaceutical product distribution channels are generally consistent for all companies within each market so promotion is the avenue where marketers can truly have an impact in the local market setting.

Prescription-products promotion

Promotional marketing strategies are impacted by factors such as product lifecycle
stage, market position, disease area and competitive activity. The one constant factor is that physicians will ultimately have to write the prescription.

Physicians have therefore been the focus of most marketing campaigns. But, today, the environment in which physicians are operating is changing and they are increasingly influenced by many different groups and individuals with a stake in the choice of treatment.

The changing environment impacting treatment decisions

Payers, reimbursement decision-makers and governments can all impact treatment availability and patient access. Nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals can influence physician perceptions. Professional organisations developing treatment guidelines can influence best practice. Patient organisations can influence patients, governments and physicians. Retailers can interpret generic prescriptions and influence customers. Finally, patients, their families and caregivers, are becoming pro-actively involved in researching disease areas, learning about treatments and discussing options with their physicians.

This changing environment means that marketing strategies cannot just focus on physicians rather they need to address the broader group now influencing treatment decisions.

Marketing strategies for influencers

Effectively navigating the influencer group needs in-depth, in-country market research. Each country’s healthcare system, legal and regulatory environment, culture and socio-economic differences will impact the influencer group. But research in the following areas will help to define, understand and target them effectively:

Who are the influencers, what is their role and at what stage of the treatment decision process are they involved?

What motivates each group? Which information channels do they routinely use? How do they like to be talked to? For example hypertension, morbidity and mortality may mean a lot to physicians, but to most influencers who are not medically trained high blood pressure may be more relevant.

Brands, not just drugs

Pharmaceutical products are no longer just drugs — they are brands. Lipitor, Viagra,
Prozac are all widely recognized pharmaceutical products that demonstrate the effectiveness of branding. Through a brand it is possible to communicate a promise, an essence, and aspiration. And, branding builds loyalty.

In most cases brands are created by the global team, but local market strategies must continue to build upon this promise by carrying the brand through all elements of the marketing mix.

Prescription products in the consumer world

Prescription products are no longer the domain of physicians and healthcare professionals. Many who influence treatment decisions are not medically trained and prescription products must now be positioned within a wider consumer environment.
This is, however, at odds with the legal restrictions around the promotion of products as consumer marketing and direct to consumer activities are still prohibited in much of the world – the US being the obvious exception.

The challenge is that prescription product information is already available to the general public in the majority of countries. This is mainly due to globalisation of the world’s media and accessibility of the Internet through which information from the US is shared. Availability of this information is not going to change, we can’t turn the lock back, but pharmaceutical companies can develop strategies that support educational initiatives by other organisations and ensure accurate information is in the public domain.

The power of the media

Consumer media, such as newspapers, magazines, radio and television, reach millions of people throughout Asia on a daily basis and the media is increasingly interested in reporting on disease trends, drug developments and pharmaceutical company activities. With the increasing level of media interest, it is necessary to develop both proactive and reactive media strategies to ensure that accurate information is reaching the right people at the right time. Pharmaceutical companies can particularly play a role in educating journalists about diseases and treatment options. In Asia, there are fewer healthcare-specific journalists, but this does not make the media any less influential. This knowledge gap provides a real opportunity.

The Internet explosion

One billion people use the Internet and Asia accounts for the largest percentage of these users - 36 percent. Without a doubt, the Internet is readily available, much used and a major source of healthcare information. Patients sitting anywhere in the world can find out about their disease and treatment options. Not all information, however, is equal. Many sites are inaccurate and it is prudent for companies to develop Internet strategies and alliances that direct patients and physicians to credible websites with accurate information. And, as if websites weren’t enough, blogging now adds another dimension to the online patient experience.

Patient empowerment

Patient organisations are growing in number across Asia in many disease areas. These groups represent patients’ interests in many ways, be it providing disease and
treatment information to individuals or representing patient perspectives in the media, with governments or physicians. These groups, however, need funding and this comes from a variety of sources, including the pharmaceutical industry. As a minimum, companies should work with third party organisations to ensure that the information they are providing patients about treatment options is accurate. But, more effective partnerships can be developed when common areas of focus between company and organisation marketing strategies can be identified and co-sponsored programs conducted.

Back to the industry-physician relationships

Against this backdrop of increasing influence, interference and awareness physicians still need to be in a position to treat patients with the best available medical care. Ultimately, the prescription they write is their decision and unless that situation changes, physicians must remain at the heart of prescription- product marketing.

Marketing to physicians is not new, but the interaction and co-dependent relationship
between industry and physicians is complicated, often criticised and has raised ethical concerns within the profession. But while physicians need new products to treat their patients and pharmaceutical companies are able to develop such products, the two groups will need to interact.

Pharmaceutical companies and physicians do interact frequently and in a number of ways – sales representative visits, medical conference attendance, research funding, speaker engagements and continued medical education (CME) funding, to name a few. These tactics, however, need to be part of an overall strategic approach that can be determined by gaining a greater understanding of physician attitudes, beliefs, needs, motivators, prescribing habits and preferred information channels through research.

Sales representatives will remain the most important vehicle for communicating with physicians - they are the face of the company and are able to provide individualised information that drives prescriptions. Much has been written about sales force effectiveness - too much to cover here - but marketing teams can support their representatives by implementing strategies that create an environment that removes potential prescribing barriers and surrounds physicians with positive product reinforcement.

In summary

Marketing strategies will play an important role if Asia is to realise its potential. These strategies, however, should be tailored to the region and its countries. Moreover, they will need to encompass not only the physician audience but also increasingly the influencers who have the power to make or break a product. Finally, pharmaceutical companies will need to become experienced in navigating the consumer space with prescription products and ultimately turning pharmaceutical marketing into brand marketing.

Author Bio

Joanne Fensome
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