David Blecken
Jul 17, 2015

Why pharma companies must embrace UX: McCann Health's John Cahill

On a trip to Tokyo today, John Cahill, global chief executive of McCann Health, met Campaign to discuss the future of healthcare marketing, which he said includes a profound shift towards ongoing user experience and illness prevention, and thinking more in terms of brands than specific products.

John Cahill: pharma companies have an opportunity to build better engagement by helping people live healthier
John Cahill: pharma companies have an opportunity to build better engagement by helping people live healthier

Cahill said the healthcare model had moved from “creating new molecules” that offer a solution to illness to “reward for outcomes”, meaning it is in pharma companies’ interests to promote wellbeing throughout people’s daily lives.

He said McCann Health was now thinking more in terms of user experience on behalf of its clients, drawing on experience from other sectors serviced by McCann Worldgroup, from cosmetics to automotive to inform how healthcare brands can play a more meaningful role in people’s lives.

“We’ve found user experience is a valuable asset, but [healthcare brands] don’t use it,” he said. “The industry doesn’t have a lot of brand interaction with the consumer.” He added that pharma companies should consider much more seriously how they can operate as brands. Companies typically underuse their brand names, he said.

Cahill said despite pricing pressures, the changing nature of the industry gave cause for optimism, especially in Asia. Following are his views on the current state of the sector in the region and how it is likely to develop in the near future.

What do you think has been the most important change in healthcare in the last year, particularly in Asia, and how has it impacted the business of healthcare marketing?
Where the more obvious answers include technology, trust issues, regulation, market access, and the persistent demise of revenue from innovative products, the biggest change has been pharma's acknowledgement that they have to do things differently. That courage will define the winners. That re-modelling their organisations, as complex and challenging as this will be, is the only path to success.

The expiry of patents/growth of generic products in recent years has meant pharma companies have had to think much more like brands than they have in the past. On balance, have they adapted well?
They are adapting, but will themselves confess to inertia within their organisations to become agile marketing companies. They are wrestling with a decade long collapse in revenues from innovative products, R&D productivity challenges, regulatory burden and reform constraining market access when disease burden remains unacceptable high in developing countries. They are ‘managing' on a lot of fronts. Marketing clearly needs their attention and this creates significant opportunity for organisations such as ours. One of the greatest opportunities for pharma companies is indeed to think more like brands, but maybe the corporate brands we remember from three decades ago such as Wellcome Trust.

How has this affected the makeup of healthcare companies’ marketing departments? Do you find yourself dealing with different people than would have been the case some years ago?
Our organisation approaches brand marketing differently—from a time before an asset becomes a brand in the traditional sense. So yes, we are dealing with different people, from R&D, to pricing and market access to medical/clinical, at least within those organisations that see the opportunity as we do. Brand life (I’m talking here the product as brand) begins as information that emerges from early phase clinical trials. This means pharma is as much an information management organisation as a product company.  So the marketing ecosystem expands. Of course it’s not that easy as research and development people remain largely siloed and Church and State still prevail with tensions but this will change. It will have to change.

Do you believe healthcare marketing has become more creative and if so, what form does that creativity take? How do you define creativity in healthcare?
The domain for creativity should be far greater than it is. But let’s first make a clear distinction between creativity and creative expression—or the work. When pharma is faced with so many challenges on so many fronts, creativity must be in demand. And here I mean creative problem solving. Ideas that make a meaningful difference to the revenue line. This is our definition of creativity. Additionally we see the need for better creative expression increasing as we engage and motivate more stakeholders around a brand story and brand experience. We have put a major focus on creative ideation as a cornerstone of our offering.

Patients today are more empowered, with more knowledge, than ever. How has this changed the way healthcare companies interact with their stakeholders?
Profoundly,  and we have the privilege or working with many companies, here in Japan, and across the region and the world, to ensure that the right information is received by the right people at the right time to ensure the benefits of drug therapy can be optimised. The spirit of that regulation that bans DTC was never intended to disadvantage the patient. Prohibition of branded product DTC is intended to be in the patient’s best interests and we are very comfortable and skilled in reconciling the need to inform the increasingly empowered consumer. We believe the empowered health consumer is an important development in creating more sustainable health systems and pharma companies have a big role to play through their brands.

What do you see as the most interesting areas for healthcare and healthcare marketing in Asia specifically over the next few years?

  • Developing markets harmonising the tension that exists between disease burden and poverty and the need to address that disease burden through better healthcare systems (universal coverage, PPPs etc) and access to innovative drug therapies
  • Technology redefining how medicine is practiced and health care is delivered, particularly when the institutional infrastructure (hospitals, centres, primary care) will never keep pace with the demand from health consumers
  • Hyper-specialisation and the opportunity for personalised medicine within an envelope of hyper-personalised information/education
  • The emerging role of the pharmacy as a primary care provider enabling re distribution of demand through the health system enabling better usage efficiency and effectiveness, especially in high population markets 
  • Technology—Asia-Pacific will embrace technology, especially mobile, to drive improvements in health delivery and participatory care.

Asia is about time-earned credentials in understanding what health means both culturally and in the context of standard of care the relationships between wellness, prevention and disease management, and the role societal constructs, allopathic and natural remedies play in managing health and outcomes.

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