Alternate worlds – What can pharma learn from other industries? | PDD


September 14 2016
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Alternate worlds – What can pharma learn from other industries?
In my recent blog post on patient-centricity, I highlighted that the pharma industry has over the past years embarked on a journey towards more patient-centricity and that this trend actually has broad support across key players. At the same time, even with the best of intentions, it will take time for this new ethos to be truly embedded in the business practices of all pharma companies.

Having just finished watching Stranger Things on Netflix (if you haven’t – watch it!), the idea of alternate worlds is still quite present in my mind and it got me thinking about what lessons “alternate worlds” (or alternate industries) might be able to offer pharma with regards to patient-centricity. Here are a few thoughts…

Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) – How to get to know your customers inside out?

The FMCG industry, responsible for providing our shampoos, detergents, packaged foods and soft drinks, to name a few, is notorious for its obsession with wanting to understand consumers. The leaders in the industry, such as Procter & Gamble, Nestle and PepsiCo, spend budgets in the tens of millions of dollars to understand how their target consumers live, what their preferences are, and how next generation products could address these needs better. This is coupled with a deep interest in understanding broader macro-trends that feed consumer preferences.

The formulation, scent, packaging and overall branding of shampoos are all subject of intense consumer research. Image credit: The Blog

While the pharma industry has a much slower cycle-time in terms of releasing new drugs and associated products and services, the intense focus on the user should be inspirational. Very successful drug delivery devices of recent times, such as the PDD-designed MerckSerono Easypod or the Novo Nordisk suite of diabetes pens, derive their success from a combination of great science and technology with an understanding of how patients live with their conditions. This knowledge enables the design of products that empower patients as opposed to reminding them of their vulnerability.

Automotive – How to achieve a high degree of customisation?

The pace of innovation in the automotive industry is frenetic. Each year manufacturers have to launch a multitude of new car models, upgrades and refreshes – all of which are manufactured in increasingly modular and highly flexible factories. This trend towards customisation and highly flexible production is noteworthy:  the automotive industry has long recognised that the emotional connection to a car is very strong for most users; offering their customers a higher degree of customisation ultimately encourages the building of a stronger connection, both to the car and to the brand.

There are thousands of configuration options for most new cars these days. Image credit:

In a pharma setting, the drive to personalisation is happening at different levels. On the one hand, drugs will in the future be matched to individuals based on their biological make-up – this is one of the key premises of personalised medicine. On the other hand, and in the shorter term, personification of everything but the drug, i.e. delivery systems, training, information, etc., could all benefit from a higher degree of customisation. This is already happening, for examples with devices that have several colour options. However, more can be done, and personification across both the physical and digital touch points pharma companies have with patients offer a wealth of opportunities to improve the patient therapy experience.

Technology & web – How to create engaging digital experiences?

The daily life of most people in the world now involves regular screen-based interactions; we use screen-enabled devices to stay in touch with family and friends, obtain information and to perform a wide range of transactions. Pharma leaders understand that digital offers a huge potential and have pushed this agenda with what is generally referred to as “beyond the pill” solutions. However, while there are some successes, it doesn’t appear anyone has really “cracked” digital in pharma yet.

In fairness, many thriving digital businesses that we consider household names today, firms such as AirBnB and Facebook, had to prototype and pilot their business models and user experience repeatedly before succeeding. For pharma, doing small pilots and running controlled studies are some of the ways in which to replicate the speed found in tech. With this in mind (amongst other initiatives), many pharma companies have set up digital innovation teams. For these teams to succeed, executives will need to let them tackle problems how they see fit, even if it seems unusual at first.

Retail – Creating a delightful experience and making you feel “special”

Finally, the retail world actually offers vast opportunities for inspiration. This may not be obvious at first – after all, what does my blister pack of aspirins have in common with a Louis Vuitton store?

The clue is in the title: When done well, a retail experience makes you feel special. Whether this is a high end shopping spree on Oxford Street, or the intimate satisfaction of receiving a deal in a corner shop.

The web-based shoe retailer Zappos is known for relentless focus on outstanding customer experience.

I have heard from pharma executives on numerous occasions that their companies want to move from a product company to becoming a healthcare provider. Successfully transitioning to a more service-oriented business model inevitably includes a larger focus on delighting customers, and this is where retailers from Apple to Zappos can teach valuable lessons.

This is the second post in a three-part series looking at the state of patient-centricity in the pharma industry today.

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Posted by PDD

Languages spoken: Global.
The last thing that inspired me: Design and Innovation.
My dream project: A project that makes a difference in the world.
My obsession: Develop successful, award-winning and world-first products and experiences.

Image credit Verge Campus