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Pharmaceutical business, like other businesses in facing unprecedented challenges. The developments that are taking place internationally will sooner or later hit the industry here. In this series, I shall talk about the trends that are being identified internationally, and the challenges that the industry is facing, with special reference to Pakistan.
The rise of local pharma was the single most important event that occurred in the Pakistan pharma market. It evolved over time, but it kept developing inexorably, and it is largely undoable. This development has its own pros and cons.
Rise of generic products broadly improved access to medicines because generic companies reached even the remotest towns, they made the generic versions of research brands at highly affordable prices, and they created and employed a whole population of people trained in all departments of pharmaceutical business. On the flip side, the MNCs, being pushed to the wall, stopped bringing latest products to Pakistan market, stopped developing people, and rolled back operations to varying degrees. This has disturbed the ecosystem of pharma market which needs a healthy presence of both research based and generic companies.
As happens in all businesses, seeing the potential of pharma business, several unscrupulous elements also jumped in, took advantage of the weak regulatory structure, and made billions through cheating the regulators, doctors, and patients.
COVID-19 shook the ground beneath everyone’s feet, including the pharma industry, though some pharma companies did more business during COVID19 than regular times. However, the questions raised about future of working still hang in the air and the pharma industry is generally at a loss about future course of action. The knee-jerk response is to do more of the same, more pressure, more investment, more incentives, and so on. It should be understood that the world has moved ahead while we are standing still.
This series is intended to share the world scenario and relate it to our local situation.
Face to Face, Personal Selling
COVID19 forced stop the face-to-face interaction between pharma salespeople and the customers. Subsequent waves reinforced the need to minimize the personal interaction. Pharma industry had always relied on personal selling for its business, and during the three months when no personal sales call could be made, the industry felt totally paralyzed.
Then some salespersons on their own, started sending messages to doctors whose mobiles they had. These were written by themselves without any vetting from anyone, and without understanding the appropriate content and language. The marketing departments woke up to the reality later and tried to standardize the content, but it happened in very few companies. Most others either kept quiet or let the salespersons do what they could do.
Selling – Going digital is Current Trend
The international trend is for going digital, and it has several dimensions. The top trend is using Artificial Intelligence – AI for repetitive functions to reduce human interaction and dependence. We are not among that league and probably shall not be for quite some time.
The more common trend is using digital media for promotion. Initially, the same content, which was printed on promotional folders, was copied to digital devices like tablets which were given to field force for promoting the products. The customers lost interest after one or two rounds. The marketing people did not realize that the digital content must be designed differently and must be changed more frequently to keep it interesting.
Besides tablets for digital promotion, pharma companies are also running campaigns on LinkedIn and Facebook. This has very limited value because doctors do not use these platforms and shall be hardly exposed to the promotional efforts done in this manner. This appears to be targeted more at impressing the competitors, rather than the customers. A major pharma company has also sponsored few short movies with some social message not related to business. While it may feel good, but it has no relevance to business or even CSR.
For digital promotion, the marketing needs to develop resource bank which would be much bigger than what is needed currently, and it would be live and updated every day. Let us try to understand. A promotional folder takes 2-3 study references only and runs for three months at least. Digital promotional message will have a life of maximum two weeks and will need many current references to keep it interesting. The marketing department should subscribe to several sites to establish a stream of fresh information.
The design of digital promotion would also be different because it is more visual than verbal, as opposed to printed folder which is more verbal than visual. The color schemes, the layout, the sequence, all need professional handling. Brand manager will work a team of digital media to ensure a high-quality product.
The usual promotional folders lost their utility long time back. They are still being used because these have become the crutches of pharma salespeople and because the marketing people in most companies either do not know anything better or are not allowed to experiment with new things. Time has come however, to get along with the new trends, or risk being becoming irrelevant.
To be Continued……
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