Kimberly Crichton is an experienced independent marketing executive who helps biotech and pharma companies launch new products, expand to new markets, and refine brand strategies and positioning. In our latest Expert Q&A, she talked to us about how technology is changing the way life science companies launch products and communicate with consumers and healthcare providers.
Product launches in the life sciences have so many moving pieces. Where does your work fit in?
My work usually takes place as part of the brand team, where I’m often responsible for planning and integrating marketing and sales programs reaching both consumers and healthcare providers (HCPs). Product launches are, by necessity, collaborative, so I work closely with teams from legal and regulatory to sales and outside advertising agencies. It’s an intense burst of highly specialized work that takes place in a limited timeframe, and it’s an exciting place to be.
It’s also a high-risk operation—everything has to be ready when the FDA says you’re approved.
Product launches are a big challenge. There are all these moving parts under strict regulatory constraints, and you have to create this perfectly integrated system for an immoveable date. It’s like coordinating an orchestra when the members practice individually and suddenly have to come together for a nationally televised concert.
What are some of the other big challenges with consumer and HCP marketing?
For one thing, consumers are better informed than ever before. They have all this information at their fingertips that informs their healthcare choices, and they’re taking it with them each time they interact with a healthcare provider. That’s changing the way the medical community interacts with patients, and it presents a challenge to pharma and biotech companies: how should they support both HCPs and patients when patients’ perception of a treatment is a factor?
It’s a balance. You want to inform the consumer, but you also want to make sure that each healthcare provider has the information they need to have a rich and accurate discussion with their patients.
There’s also an opportunity to facilitate those discussions on the other end by engaging directly with patients.
Today’s consumers seek information and interact with brands—not just in pharma—across a wide variety of channels and devices. They may see a TV commercial, look up a product on their phones, and then call the manufacturer or chat with them from their desktop. Then they might tweet about it or post their opinions on a community web site.
I think it’s important that pharma and biotech companies understand the role that those media channels play in the consumer’s mind—and make sure the brand experience is as consistent across them as possible.
But truly integrating those channels and taking a more omnichannel approach is challenging, because in healthcare, patients use information to make critical decisions, and every communication is regulated. We have to be very careful and very responsible.
That’s a good point. There’s this perception that life science companies are behind the curve when it comes to digital marketing, but it’s not exactly an industry where you can move fast and break things.
We were trying to do it ten years ago, at least, but you’re right—“breaking things” in pharma is simply not an option. We’ve made a lot of progress. The social piece is probably the hardest; it’s possible, but we can’t really play there without rigorous oversight. If brands create a digital environment to facilitate discussion about a condition or a therapy, they can be held responsible for what people say on it.
Technology is also changing the workflow for healthcare providers. How do you manage that from the pharma side?
Well, there are specific channels we can use, and there are platforms that are designed to help us do that, as opposed to, say, promoting to HCPs on Facebook. We need to be really targeted, and credibility is a huge piece, as well: which journal we select for our banners, which EHR we choose to offer point-of-care decision support. Multi-channel marketing can get very complicated in pharma and biotech, but it’s also a powerful support for, and complement to, a traditional salesforce.
How can companies set biopharma and pharma product launches up for success?
The most successful product launches have a crystal-clear, research-informed positioning strategy early on. The company has invested time and energy in creating it, and they’re investing the time and energy in communicating and aligning to it as the launch progresses. Execution is never easy, but if the strategy is clear, everything is more likely to fall into place. It’s easier to make hard decisions in a time-sensitive environment if you’re very clear on what the strategy and goals are.
How can they leverage your work more effectively as an independent marketer and launch expert?
Launches are highly collaborative, and team effectiveness is critical. In general, the more that my clients help to clarify my role within their teams, the easier it is for me to make an impact, and for others to work with me. Of course, that requires that my clients are able to trust me and my experience, so I have to invest to make sure that trust is built early.
Like any leader, I want the resources to achieve my objectives and the autonomy to perform at my best. I think good clients know that, and they’ll go out of their way to clarify what I’m there for and why.
Beyond that, I love being a part of a team during a launch, supporting them, and helping them be successful.
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