An Interview with Evolution Road's Brandi Ascione - Marketing Innovation - Nov 2019

Decoding best practices to drive innovation within life sciences remains a challenge for most brands and organizations – as well as their trusted agency, strategic, and consulting partners. However, with ongoing experience, data sharing, and the ability to learn from other industries, the life sciences industry has increasingly embraced approaches such as agile marketing, sprints, and learning to discuss the value of breaking things – before they truly appear broken.

The mantra of – we do it that way because that’s what my predecessor did – is increasingly challenged and brand leaders are using scenario planning and ideation exercises to discuss the internal and external factors that may change their thinking in the near and long term. While there are a lot of experts in the innovation space, the team at Evolution Road – and Brandi Ascione specifically – has carved out a niche working with leading life sciences firms to not only discuss how to inject more innovation into their thinking – but to operationalize that innovation as well.

Below please find a recent conversation we had with Brandi Ascione about marketing innovation, market factors, investing in the future, and beyond the pill in practice.

Brandi Ascione

Digital Health Coalition: You have spent a lot of time focused on marketing innovation within life sciences – and have seen a lot of what’s working and what’s not working. Are there common characteristics within the companies that seem to “get it” and are constantly moving forward (as opposed to standing still)?

Brandi Ascione: I find that there are 5 things that drive companies to “get it” and push them to be consistent forward-thinkers in marketing innovation:

  1. A negative pressure that is triggered by something that had previously worked well but becomes less effective or broken
  2. Sometimes, it’s a positive pressure that triggers a need to proactively explore innovation because they know it’s important to the business and can provide advantages
  3. Leadership is brave enough to make change and invest in innovation
  4. The culture supports innovation; people are passionate or enthusiastic about change and innovation
  5. Organizational readiness

Digital Health Coalition: What are some of the market factors disrupting commercial teams today?

Brandi: There are three major areas of disruption effecting commercial teams: massive healthcare industry shifts, commercial dynamics, and technology advancements. Some of the key trends within these categories include:

Healthcare Industry Shifts

Doctors are rapidly becoming employees with two primary implications for pharma:

  • Increased whitespace, reducing the ability to reach and engage target HCPs
  • HCPs must follow protocol-driven care, reducing the impact of promotion

Pharma can apply all the marketing in the world but if HCPs are following protocol-driven care and don’t have Rx authority the marketing won’t drive impact. The same applies to patient/consumer marketing; if they are driven to an HCP that can’t write then the marketing investment is fruitless.

The move from volume to value across healthcare eco-system is driving a very significant impact on pharma marketing – pharma must increase their value proposition with key customers and are under huge pressure to do so. There’s a heightened holistic focus on patient care and patient empowerment. The industry at large is beginning to view patients’ individual conditions as a small part of their overall lives, driving the need to look at the whole patient and all their conditions and treatments together vs. as individual components.  Social determinants of health are becoming increasingly considered as drivers of patients’ health. Meanwhile, costs are being pushed to consumers, forcing further engagement with their health, but with protocol-driven care (e.g. generics, prior authorizations, step edits, etc.) they are less empowered to make decisions in treatments.

The changing location of care has impact on patients and HCPs alike. Brands need to figure out how to leverage distributed care and are starting to do this with innovation such as e.g. telehealth, remote care, digital care plans, virtual consults, etc. However, how does pharma promote to HCPs dedicated to telemedicine – how do we communicate with them?  Pharma needs to dig in and solve for these new challenges.

Commercial Dynamics
  • Ongoing budget pressures getting stronger based on industry consolidation: payers, providers, PBM consolidation, vertical consolidation like CVS and Aetna. As these larger consolidated organizations have more buying power prices go down
  • And, pharma industry consolidation – we see these time and again, most recently with the BMS acquisition of Celgene. These consolidations mandate internal cost savings to recoup investment often resulting in decreased marketing budgets
  • Brand teams often don’t know what to do with what I call the “tsunami of innovation.” They have little guidance on what is a shiny object or what has the possibility to work
Technology Advancements

Technology is advancing at rapid speed making it difficult for commercial teams to keep up, make proper investments, and pilot appropriately for long-term success.  We see massive investments being made by organizations looking to transform their marketing practices, although after years of effort they aren’t always successful. The biggest technology advancements disrupting teams today include:

  • Big data and data interoperability – again requiring massive investments in infrastructure to drive effective impact
  • AI and machine learning which can impact everything from drug development, discovery to commercialization (including real-world applications to drive campaign efficiency and engagement)
  • Marketing technology innovation including voice, gamification, augmented and mixed reality, patient/HCP feedback loops, etc.
  • Health tech innovation and the entry of tech disruptors

Digital Health Coalition: Life sciences companies (and brands) often struggle with how and where to make investments in the digital marketing innovation space. How important is it for those investments to address and solve unique challenges experienced by the patient or HCP? 

Brandi: As brands look to increase their value proposition, they must move beyond their own short-term profit goals and consider the needs of their customers. For example, patients may be focused on co-morbidities or trying to understand how to regain normalcy after a diagnosis.  An HCP may be more focused on driving quality measures or adhering to guidelines than trying to understand the data behind of a fourth-to-market product in a competitive category.  Knowing what your customers care about helps you support their broader needs and enhances a brand’s value proposition over the longer term. Finding the intersection between brand needs and customer needs is the sweet spot for innovation that can return benefit for all parties.

Digital Health Coalition: How can a company create – or sustain – the infrastructure to enable and promote innovation?

Brandi:  Focus on big problems that are worth innovation (and worth the “pain,” cost, disruption, etc.); be on the front lines of where the big business problems are.  Then focus on (in this order): effectiveness, scale potential, efficiency.  Most organizations jump to efficiency too soon and don’t consider if something is truly effective or can scale. I’d argue these are more critical to long-term success.

Digital Health Coalition: Where does “beyond the pill” fit into the marketing innovation conversation? While many brands say getting … beyond the pill … is critical to success, many of the programs still seem to be a thinly veiled marketing program to support the brand (as opposed to value-added services).

Brandi: It’s important to leverage innovation to support the brand – it doesn’t even have to be thinly veiled – I advocate for brands to use innovation to promote their product or drive adherence.  At Digital Pharma East I used the example of Spiriva’s use of Healthprize gamification to improve patient adherence.  While this is a beyond the pill example, it also drives brand objectives.  I think the two can co-exist. 

That said, it’s also important to leverage innovation to improve brand’s value proposition so the brand can succeed as the healthcare ecosystem changes. This requires a commercial team to “think above the brand” and go beyond promotion to drive value to customers. To do this effectively organizations need to be forward thinkers (see above for that recipe!).

You can connect with Brandi Ascione on LinkedIN.



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