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How pharma can navigate change with purpose

How pharma can navigate change with purpose

Healthcare and Pharma are facing more disruption than ever. How can the industry leverage purpose as a behavioral compass to navigate through change?

7 minute read

17th Apr 2019

Healthcare and Pharma are now facing more disruption than ever. Incorporating purpose at times of external crisis is vital not only for saving and maintaining business, but also for boosting internal team morale, and reconciling public trust.

External change is inevitable. All industries operate within an environment made up of micro and macro components, which range from suppliers, partners, customers, and competitors on the micro side, to political, economic, social, financial and legal on the macro side. When significant change occurs within any of these entities, companies are faced with new challenges and perspectives.

Tangible change can impact seemingly intangible foundations.

When the external environment forces a company to make unexpected changes, then this can threaten the ‘why’ behind the business: your company’s purpose. The pharmaceutical industry in particular doesn’t operate in a vacuum, and tangible change can impact seemingly intangible foundations: company ethos, brand purpose, employer brand, mission statement, and staff morale.

Don Tapscott, co-author of Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World, identifies Pharma as being one of the top five industries in crisis, and notes that pharmaceutical companies will lose 25-40 percent of their revenue in the next two years. In the face of crisis, disruption, and pressures due to external change, how can the pharmaceutical industry use purpose to navigate through the change?

1. Reinforce your purpose.

Change, whether external or internal, is inevitable, and offers the perfect opportunity for a business to revisit their purpose and align it with their mission statement and vision. Having a solid brand purpose should be a tangible concept and  a vital part of your business strategy. External pressures can prompt business leaders to reevaluate the strength of their current brand purpose proposition, and to reinforce it internally among employees.

“What I do has an impact on people’s lives.”

External change can present an opportunity for pharmaceutical companies to rethink their corporate communications strategy with fresh eyes. Employees also need to share a common ethos. “I have a sense of purpose when I wake up,” says Ouali Omani, head of franchise marketing for neuroscience at Roche UK. “What I do has an impact on people’s lives.” This impact on lives is ultimately what drives and shapes purpose within the pharmaceutical industry, and leaders need to identify and build upon these touchpoints within their organisation.

2. Revisit Communications and Restore Trust

The marketing and communications model which pharmaceutical companies need to follow is changing, and reports and surveys all point towards the need to embrace change and be more agile. Consumer empowerment needs to be prioritized, especially in an environment where consumer distrust of the industry is attracting more attention.

Trust in healthcare is falling across the board, from biotech to hospitals, with the pharmaceutical industry experiencing the highest drop. Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer survey reflects a 13-point drop from 51% to 38%, the most significant decrease the category has ever experienced.

Authenticity can be expressed not only by ethical and sustainable business practices, but by communicating these efforts to the public through effective communications.

One way of restoring trust and reinstilling purpose into the pharmaceutical industry is to revisit and reconsider the industry’s consumer marketing strategies. Creating a solid plan around current trends and needs will help Pharma boost that trust number back into the green zone, with a communications strategy which is not only purpose-driven, but actionable.

Authenticity garners trust and consumer loyalty, and authenticity can be expressed not only by ethical and sustainable business practices, but by communicating these efforts to the public through effective communications.

3. Remember the Why

The term “corporate responsibility” is no longer a niche discussion reserved for the experts. Public perception of major industries is changing; consumer behaviour and attitudes towards marketing and advertising methods is shifting; and businesses need to start thinking beyond shareholder profits.

The pharmaceutical industry is directly implicated and effected by this changing landscape. Technology has increased dissemination of information, which has enabled the exposure of malpractices across all major industries. This in turn sparks consumer consciousness, and directly informs opinions and behaviours.

“Faith in the power of money pervades our modern medical system.”

Leaders in the pharmaceutical industry therefore need to rethink what “Big Pharma” has come to mean. Currently, the common view is that “faith in the power of money pervades our modern medical system.” Activists, the general public, artists, and civic organisations are responding to this, as evident in most recent events in connection with the Sackler family. Campaigns are in full swing to remove all association with and even financial assistance from any name associated with medical marketing malpractices – even when that source is the highest grossing profit industry in the world.

How, and why, have pharmaceutical marketing tactics evolved to this point? In her series entitled “Rethinking Pharma,” Dr Andree Bates notes that “If a company really wants to be successful, they need to put real value first. They need to make a conscious decision to focus on value creation and then make a thorough examination of where, how and why value is created in their sectors and businesses. By gaining an understanding of the sources and drivers of value creation they can begin to create a platform for sustainable and profitable ongoing growth.”

Without value, there is no market. Generating shareholder profit is no longer a sustainable or viable value-model for the pharmaceutical industry. Leaders need to reflect on the trajectory of medical development and trace its true origin back to its original goal, the why  behind the what: saving human lives. This is a Big Pharma which the public can both support and trust.

4. Find Purpose in Medical Innovation and Accessibility

Sustainable healthcare is an issue on everyone’s mind, so medical innovation in this field is definitely a driving source for purpose in the pharmaceutical industry. According to Edelmann’s report, “Pharma must fully embrace new technology and analytics, and adopt a more patient-centric model.”

With large sums of money being invested in research, the private and profit-driven model needs to change in the area of innovative healthcare development. Access to healthcare is also a contentious issue, and the Professor Mazzucato’s Knowledge Accumulation and Industry Evolution: Pharma-Biotech explores ways in which we can overcome the co-evolution of innovation and inequality, and bring Pharma closer to that patient-centric model.

It’s absolutely possible for the industry to leverage purpose as a behavioral compass.

Mazzucato is currently working with the Open Society Foundations (OSF), to “redefine the purpose of medical innovation, based on a broader conception of public value, and develop an alternative, mission-oriented approach to medical research.” Mission and purpose are not just intangible values which appear as part of your employer branding or marketing material, but need to inform how your business approaches everything from innovation to accessibility, and CSR to internal communications. Innovation must also be mission-oriented, so that research and development efforts are directed towards the greatest public health needs.

Although a trust score of 38 places Pharma in the “distrusted” category, it’s absolutely possible for the industry to leverage purpose as a behavioral compass to not only navigate through change, but transform with it. Because at the end of the day, for the pharmacist, it’s all about going the extra mile to help their patients in every way that they can.