A slew of trends and forces, such as patent expiration and the regulatory environment, defines the uniqueness of both the pharma industry and the challenges it faces.
But guess what? Very few people outside of pharma are even aware of these issues. Even if they were, chances are they wouldn't care. So perhaps it's time to stop assuming that they do.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in social media. Assuming you already monitor online conversations about your brands and organization, when was the last time you heard something like this?:
“You know, I would really like to talk to somebody from Company X for more information about my condition, and I have these questions about Product Y, but I completely understand that they cannot get involved for legal reasons, bless them, so you know, that's okay. They really do have a lot to deal with right now so I don't wish to load them up with anything else.”
You have an obligation to communicate with your stakeholders, and there are more than you think. Like it or not, you already have relationships with all of them. Conversations are already taking place and they are talking about you and your products. No longer will you be judged by the effectiveness of your mass-media monologues, but by how you conduct yourself in relationships with individuals. Your score will be based on the aggregation of their experiences with your organization.
The bad news: If their experiences are negative (or non-existent), they will to go to extraordinary lengths to share criticism of your company and/or brands via social media. The good news: If their experiences are positive, they will go to equally extraordinary lengths to sing your praises. The mechanisms are already in place and there's nothing you can do about it—except embrace them as an opportunity to build trust. You have no choice, because the game has changed and trust has become the new corporate currency.
This might seem a little unfortunate because, clearly, trust and pharma haven't always gotten along. As a consumer who shares my own experiences of companies and brands (yes, writing a restaurant review on Yelp does count), I guarantee the easiest way to fail at this is to abstain from the conversation altogether.
Yes, yes, I know, I know… you can't say this, you can't risk that, you'll never get this through … I've heard it a thousand times. I get it and I sympathize; these are, after all, very real concerns for pharma marketers. But remember, outside of the industry, few people know, or care, what you're up against. So your message (or lack thereof) will be construed as something like this: “We don't want to talk to you” or “Our legal concerns are more important than your health outcomes” or “This conversation is not right for us.” Or even “We employ machines, not humans.”
At the very least, you have an obligation to monitor the web (all of it, not some of it) and correct misinformation about your products.
And while you're at it, you could probably stop obsessing over this perceived avalanche of potential adverse events, the likelihood of which comes with little supporting evidence. Either way, you'd better get on this because you're a little late to the party and, well, you have no choice.
So forget the patent cliff for a moment. The greater danger may lie in blundering over the patient