Patients are, by and large, unaware of the brand that produces the medicine they take. As regards the smaller portion of patients who are aware of the brand, most perceive the Healthcare company as simply the manufacturer of a functional product.
This is the conclusion of the majority of respondents from Vertic’s “Next Generation Relationships in Healthcare” survey among people working in the Marketing and Communication functions in global healthcare companies when asked about Healthcare companies’ relationship with patients.
Similarly, when asked about the competitive position of drugs or devices already in the market (thus excluding launch products), most respondents agree that HCPs would have little or no difficulty in finding a replacement drug or device that they would consider equally suitable for the patient at hand.
These survey results mirror the intense competition and commoditization of products in many areas of the Healthcare industry. Also, they reflect the "arm length" relationship between Healthcare companies and patients which is accentuated by laws and regulations on direct patient communication within prescription drugs.
In other words, there is a transactional relationship between the Healthcare company and its customers. And a transactional relationship constitutes a significant business risk given the associated likelihood of switches to a competitor product.
You may argue that HCP and Patients stakeholders do not want to be in anything but a transactional relationship with the Healthcare company. But evidence shows that this not necessarily true. We all look for a deeper relationship — searching for what Forrester Research's James L. McQuivey, calls Hope* — including relationships with companies and brands.
In a reaction to this business risk, Healthcare companies have been creating services to foster relationships stronger than what can be derived from the strength of the individual products. And respondents in Vertic’s survey confirm that HCPs appreciate the value provided by Healthcare companies via services such as access to expert knowledge on therapeutic areas, diagnostic resources, clinical decision support, training in consultation efficiency, patient support, data services and similar.
However, the necessary continuous strategic evolution of said services is lacking in many healthcare companies. Many of the relevant services are not product specific in terms of where and how they can be deployed, placing them outside the responsibility of Product teams. Furthermore, the required internal competencies which are needed to define, run and optimize the services are often not immediately available within the organisation. As a response, the responsibility for developing such services is often being dumped into functions with a “digital” responsibility under the pretexts that most of the services will be using digital enablers. However, and proverbially, healthcare companies should not do digital services, but services in a digital world.
Healthcare services need to be multifaceted, constantly changing and personalized through the power of technology. Given the transient and personalized nature of a given service, the development of individual service brands mimicking the longstanding practice of product branding in Healthcare is not sustainable in the future.
Therefore, there is an imminent need for a strong overarching brand to instill trust and confidence with the stakeholders with the portfolio of the company’s varied and evolving services. And that brand is the either the Corporate Brand or a new company master service brand. The corporate brand is the primary candidate because it is the anchor in the Reputation of the company. Its equity can both be transferred to the service portfolio, which in turn can further enhance stakeholders' perception that "they are able to trust you."**
This also means that corporate brand and the Corporate Communication function becomes a part of the Customer Decision Journey for HCPs and Patients which otherwise have almost exclusively been the remit of the Marketing and Product teams within the commercial organization. This requires closer collaboration between the commercial organization and Corporate Communication. And very importantly, it also requires a common framework founded in behavioral science for defining, setting targets and measuring success in terms of changing perception and actions with patients and HCPs. And only 1 out of 5 respondents in the Vertic survey indicate that they have a standardized metrics framework for measuring success for both Marketing and Communication reflecting the current notion that they serve separate agendas.
The strategic development of services in the Healthcare company and their pivotal role in customer decision journey has not been institutionalized in many Healthcare companies. Elevation of services on the corporate agenda and the subsequent institutionalization are necessary for creating meaningful relationship between the Healthcare company and the HCP and, to some extent, the patient in the future. Through these you cement the relationship through respecting and servicing the customer more widely and relevantly than through products. You earn, what we at Vertic call, Share of Life™.
** Kasper Ulf, Chief Strategy Officer, Healthcare Summit, November 2019, Copenhagen