How COVID-19 will have a lasting impact for marketers in pharmaceutical companies

Friday 5th of May 2023

Find out 4 trends that have an influence on how we will manage our health in the ‘new normal’, and how marketers working for pharmaceutical companies can take up the resulting challenges.


Over these past few days, our society has started to open up again – step by step – after weeks of strict COVID-19 measures. The weeks that have just gone by have seen the emergence of new habits in terms of the way we eat, shop, work, exercise, take care of our health, meet with friends, etc. Many of these behavioral changes will stick, at least until a vaccine is discovered, tested & approved, or herd immunity is attained.

The time after that point is often called the ‘new normal’, a terminology which implies we’ll never go back to the world we knew before the outbreak of the virus. In this post, I’ll be zooming in on 4 trends that have an influence on how we will manage our health in that new normal, and how marketers working for pharmaceutical companies can take up the resulting challenges.

Acceleration in the adoption of digital patient interaction tools


A first example of digital patient interaction tools are virtual consultations. These have already been around for a while but were never adopted by a large population of patients and healthcare professionals (HCPs). Thanks to COVID-19, the adoption of virtual consultation tools is reaching a tipping point.

Does this mean that virtual consultations will replace all doctor visits? No. Of course, these will always remain complementary to physical visits. However, for non-urgent visits, virtual consultations are well on their way to replacing a significant part of all doctor visits.

The rise of digital interaction tools could also be observed in the battle against loneliness for people living in care homes. During COVID-19, family members saw the need to take initiatives to help their mom/dad to adopt digital technologies such as Facetime, Messenger or Whatsapp. The use of these technologies is also expected to stay.

Impact for pharma marketers
Depending on the therapeutic area – and as long as your physician and/or patient population is eager or obliged to adopt digital interaction tools – you’ll need to review your physician & patient journeys, to ensure that they are up-to-date with these new ways of interaction.

Shift to the so called ‘low touch’ customer experiences


COVID-19 has also made it clear that the low touch economy will be an essential part of what will be the ‘new normal’. Within a short space of time, behavioral changes could be observed on many fronts: work, shopping, health management, etc., often with technology as a key driver.

Contactless experiences for example, which are perceived as safer, are easily adopted in this context. Contactless payments are well known and widely adopted, but, for future events, contactless temperature checks will also determine whether you can enter or not.

The need for low touch customer experiences is also reflected in the boom in online pharmacy sales. Pharmacies are perceived as risk environments, which makes people shift to home deliveries.

Impact for pharma marketers
Ask yourself the question: what does the low touch economy mean to my industry and my customers? Develop a growth strategy and define an opportunity pipeline with both short term opportunities and a long term roadmap.

Avoidance of face to face meetings with sales reps or colleagues


Healthcare professionals are reviewing their priorities and giving precedence to urgent interventions. For safety reasons, they prefer to avoid physical interactions that are not needed. Physical contacts with sales reps from pharmaceutical companies or HCP colleagues are therefore avoided, medical congresses are cancelled, etc.

Going back to the old way of doing things is out of the question. Domus Medica, the Belgian association of general practitioners, recently distributed new guidelines for meetings with patients: general practitioners are obliged to wear a mouth mask, need to clean and disinfect their consultation room after each patient, install plexi glass, etc.

Impact for pharma marketers
Sales visits, medical congresses and ad boards are crucial in every tactical plan. Most pharmaceutical companies reacted fast by switching to digital meeting tools for their sales visits and are setting up ad boards via web meetings.

This is not set to change any time soon, hence the importance of encouraging the further adoption of digital tools by providing coaching to your teams on how to use these tools effectively.

And what about building a relationship or thought leadership with/towards physicians in case you’re entering a new market or region? Then definitely consider social selling via LinkedIn!

Health will become an integral part of each company’s strategy


Being healthy has always been one of people’s key priorities. In the past months, COVID-19 has significantly increased people’s preoccupation with health. As this preoccupation is here to stay, every brand or company in every industry will think more about the health of their customers.

Think of retailers, who can influence the health of their customers by guiding them to the healthiest products, or food companies making their products healthier. But many other industries can also identify opportunities. Take financial institutions, for example. There’s a strong correlation between people facing financial difficulties and health-related issues. I’m convinced that financial service companies can play a role in breaking this negative cycle for this customer group.

Every company is becoming a healthcare company. Today’s society is evolving towards a more holistic approach to healthcare, with more focus on proactive care instead of reactive care, and more emphasis on the people instead of the healthcare system.

Impact for pharma marketers
There is no doubt that this evolution also has an impact on marketers working for healthcare companies. The proactive care aspect will increasingly come under the spotlight, so make sure you don’t only focus on the treatment path. While doing this exercise, reflect as well on potential partnerships that might seem out of the box at first sight.

And make sure that in every initiative you take, you put your patient center stage. All too often still, marketers in pharmaceutical companies don’t have a clear view of the patient journey before and after the treatment in a hospital. A complete holistic view of the patient’s pathway is crucial to be able to take truly patient-centric decisions.

To help you along the way, we are offering you free templates to develop your patient and physician personas and to map their journeys.

Board of Innovation, Domus MedicaSmartHealth and Steven Van Belleghem.

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