5 pharma marketing predictions for 2021

2020 was a year nobody could have predicted. It hasn't just been unprecedented; it's been continuously surprising. From the upending of all our lives when the novel coronavirus reached U.S. soil, to the whiplash of rolling lockdowns, to the lightning-fast development of not one but five vaccines, hardly anything has gone the way we planned.

It's no different for the business world. Amazon and Zoom couldn't have wished on a magic lamp for a year this good, but Disney and United are still reeling. In pharmaceuticals, prescriptions were hardly hurt at all, but in-person medical visits plunged — with telemedicine only recently filling the gap.

Given all this, it might seem like folly to make predictions for 2021. But we're able to make these 5 projections about next year's pharma marketing trends.

1. Traditional marketing won't die, but it will have to evolve

The old ideal of healthcare marketing has persisted well into the internet age: a sales rep visits a doctor, lays out how his company's treatments can help patients and closes a deal with a handshake.

At its core, traditional marketing is about building relationships with HCPs. It's these deep roots that have allowed it to persist, even after social distancing made face-to-face meetings impossible.

In 2021, pharma marketers will master traditional marketing by nontraditional means, cutting out the artifice while retaining the focus on meeting HCPs where they are. In other words, traditional direct-to-consumer marketing will find a new life on digital channels, aided by AI (see #3).

2. Pharma marketing is refocusing on experiences

To a certain extent, treatments have long been marketed in terms of the experiences they can restore for their patients. Recently, however, pharma companies, large and small, have started to take a more active hand in the patient experience.

Patients hardly ever take drugs in isolation. Anti-depressants are paired with cognitive-behavioral therapy, painkillers with physical therapy, radiation treatments with counseling, and support from other cancer patients. As recognition of the patient experience grows, pharma marketers are connecting their firms and patients more directly, building their brands by making themselves available to answer questions and provide advice.

The benefit of an active role of pharma companies in patients' lives goes two ways — the patients get needed information from a trustworthy source, and pharma companies build trust and long-term relationships with their clients.

3. Artificial intelligence is king

The role of artificial intelligence in pharma marketing has increased due to the massive amounts of data that marketers need to process. In order to spread a message effectively, pharma companies must understand how HCPs and patients read, think, and spend their money. It's an analytical firehose.

AI can help manage it, but creative pharma marketers are taking it further — not just understanding their markets but actively targeting them in the contexts where they'll be the most receptive. Matching AI and a well-designed healthcare marketing plan improve audience targeting and digital marketing campaigns.

4. Telemedicine is the new product

Pharma marketers are learning that moving patient care online provides not just limitations but also opportunities. For example, it's easier for a patient to understand doctor's advice when they have the internet at their fingertips. This also plays into the patient experience: telemedicine platforms can promise expert counsel, as opposed to the notoriously unreliable method of researching symptoms on the web.

Marketing sets the tone for care by controlling how the patient perceives their experience. This gives pharma marketers the chance to imagine new paradigms of care. By identifying the needs of patients and targeting the right audience, medical marketing can increase the visibility of telemedicine services and virtual visits. Creating a detailed telehealth marketing plan by mixing a well-established marketing strategy with the new approach to healthcare that telemedicine offers will establish trends in pharma and healthcare fields.

4. Telemedicine is the new product

As a consequence of the greater availability of AI to manage data, pharma marketers can do more than just target customers — they're also capable of personalizing messages to ensure they're relevant to the people they reach. This, in turn, leads to a bigger focus on storytelling, which, to us, means marketing that understands the doctor's context.

Before advanced data collection and management, this was impossible; now, it's inevitable. It's as personal as marketing can get until we can tailor the drugs themselves to each patient.

Conclusion

At Watson Clark, our goal is to build a pharmaceutical marketing firm with roots in both the past and future. Our guiding philosophy is "new methods built on tested foundations." Traditional sales methods focused on personal relationships, and narratives work surprisingly well with new technologies like AI and new strategies like multi-channel and omnichannel marketing.

Interested to see how the new pharma marketing trends work in practice? Contact a Watson Clark representative today.