News stories from a certain Las Vegas electronics confab this week promise us all a future of health-oriented wearables and cyber companions. Among this year’s crop of gadgetry is a neuro-feedback headset designed to combat insomnia and a wristband that scans food and tells you what to eat based on your DNA. 

Make no mistake. The future is upon us, and it’s decidedly shiny. 

Yet, amidst all of the high-tech trendspotting is a back-to-basics push, say marketers and consultants across biopharma and med-tech. 

The uncertainty of the 2020 election, as well as the struggle to launch products and meet patient demands will prompt “a focus on marketing fundamentals,” predicts Joe Shields, president and co-founder, Health Accelerators. “Disciplined planning, execution and optimization will outshine the shiniest technologies and fads coming out of CES and SXSW.”

Another one of these areas of focus involves the deceptively simple art of persuading people to adopt healthier ways. With patients and physicians alike falling victim to the inertia born of ingrained habit, behavior change not only continues to be the granddaddy of all healthcare marketing challenges. It also remains at the heart of many an app or experiential-style media.

If they don’t already do so, it may be time for medical marketers to start approaching their craft for what it really is — behavior change cloaked in the raiments of compelling copy, fancy art and engaging software. 

Does this mean you should disregard the robo-cats, adult strollers and voice-activated apps making their debut down in Vegas this week? No more than you should ignore the way AI and automation are changing medicine or the way I/O, gene therapy and RNA interference are transforming therapy. Just don’t lose sight of the value beneath the veneer. And brace for a return to fundamentals on several fronts.

What trend(s) will play the most significant role this coming year in the ongoing evolution of biopharma and/or med-tech marketing? 

“It’s a broken record…technology. And I mean it broadly.

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to democratize healthcare because everyone could have access to the very best doctor and therapies.
  • Gene therapy is one of the most promising and exciting technologies to emerge in the treatment of cancer.
  • Machine learning, paired with data interoperability, can improve patient outcomes and drive efficiencies to lower the overall cost of care.” – Sharon Callahan​, CEO, TBWA\WorldHealth

“Price transparency will unleash a fierce wave of consumerism, forcing health systems to drop their prices to compete. With consumers price-shopping CT scans, lab tests, and procedures, the message for providers is clear: The cost of care must come down. As a result, med-tech marketers will have to do more than market their innovations. They’ll have to shift their marketing to show how their innovations uniquely reduce the cost of care.” – Tom Dudnyk, president, Vivo Agency

“The newly implemented California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) will almost certainly have an impact on digital marketing in pharma and biotech. Quality and security of personal data, the means by which its collected, and the requirements around packaging it to provide it back to the individual if requested will all make the choices around advertising and engaging in digital more selective and specific. As companies strive for an omnichannel experience, they will be seriously considering the value of collected data for targeting purposes.” – Zoe Dunn, president and CEO, Hale Advisors

“In 2020 we continue to experience high uncertainty around the globe and across politics, economics and the environment, all of which impact healthcare. Some biopharmas proclaimed that 2020 is the “Year of the Patient, Again,”; some are responding to the commoditization of historically generic-proof categories; and still others are struggling to launch multiple products in a single year. In light of these risks, I predict that a focus on marketing fundamentals will make a return this year. Disciplined planning, execution and optimization will outshine the shiniest technologies and fads coming out of CES and SXSW.” – Joe Shields, president and co-founder, Health Accelerators


Which organizations, brands and/or companies are poised to make a big impression in biopharma and/or med tech this coming year, and why?

“Gene therapy, gene editing and RNA is exciting. These therapies provide hope for patients where there was none before. There are a lot of great early stage companies in this space. One that stands out for me is Sarepta. They embody what it means to be “mission focused.” Late last year they won approval on appeal of an earlier FDA decision to reject Vyondys 53, a treatment for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. They won because they are a company dedicated to making a profound impact for patients, and they don’t let competitive threats, FDA denials or anything else stand in their way.” – Sharon Callahan​, CEO, TBWA\WorldHealth

“The shift is happening. Those marketing better outcomes are taking share from those who are not. Livongo’s connected platform is proven to reduce A1c values for diabetic populations. Health Catalyst is marketing better outcomes as a result of its data warehousing and analytics. And Abbott and Edwards Lifesciences routinely launch solutions that justify their added expense by reducing the total cost of care.” – Tom Dudnyk, president, Vivo Agency

“Companies that have their digital governance in order will be best equipped to take a truly innovative approach, having successfully established a framework in the basics. The opportunity to build on best practices in website, mobile, email and online advertising open the door to engage in new ways. For example, companies are partnering with apps like Noom to support behavioral change and support compliance and persistency, areas that are “leaky buckets” for product revenue.” – Zoe Dunn, president and CEO, Hale Advisors

“While I believe that there will be some exciting developments in digital therapeutics powered by AI, 2019 showed us that biopharma-tech company partnerships and business models must evolve in order to become self-sustaining, scalable and profitable. In the meantime, I’ll continue to monitor the incredible progress happening in oncology—R&D, clinical development, approvals and product launches and label expansions. I expect additional M&A activity as the leaders shore up their positions and the challengers continue to build their portfolios.” – Joe Shields, president and co-founder, Health Accelerators


Who are the opinion leaders, influencers and/or media personalities expected to make waves in the above sectors this coming year, and why?

“Donald Trump and whoever the Democratic nominee is will continue to shape people’s opinion of pharma, and we’ll hear the phrase “drug pricing” every single day. This isn’t new. For years, the cost of prescription drugs has been a top concern for the overwhelming majority of voters regardless of party, often trumping other hot-button health policy issues like Obamacare. The drumbeat of change is getting louder … are we listening?” – Sharon Callahan​, CEO, TBWA\WorldHealth

“The EMR is the alpha dog medical device, but it’s also being blamed for physician burnout and lack of data access. David Feinberg, M.D., the ex-CEO at Geisinger Health turned VP of Google Health, is out to “restore the joy of caregiving,” with Google’s own EMR. With a cloud-based EMR, Google can unleash AI, machine learning and advanced algorithms on enterprise-wide data and potentially transform patient outcomes across entire populations.” – Tom Dudnyk, president, Vivo Agency

“With the stronghold of social media in so many forms, and more emerging on a regular basis, we are all the influencers. Social advocacy continues to be a strong motivator—ratings of everything from the restaurants we choose to the products we buy are incredibly effective at impacting our decision and the customer journey. I’m not suggesting that companies manufacture these reviews, but recognizing their impact and looking for more and better opportunities to engage patient advocates will serve their purposes well.” – Zoe Dunn, president and CEO, Hale Advisors

“We cannot forget that 2020 is a presidential election year, so I expect to see the continued politicization of many aspects of how healthcare is allocated, delivered and paid for in the U.S. Government officials at all levels will continue to wield their influence and pressure biopharmas and med-tech companies on drug pricing, marketing practices and investments, and how best to reform our current for-profit model that rewards sick care over prevention.” – Joe Shields, president and co-founder, Health Accelerators