Friday, November 30, 2018



Pharma digitization is the silent juggernaut on a roll.  Automation and digital tools initially penetrated production and quality departments of the pharma firm.  Then it was the distribution department, which got digitized, when the ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) wave started.  The level of software penetration in big companies has increased today, with wholesalers having software that communicates the holding rack stock and secondary sales (goods movement from wholeseller to retailer) on a daily basis with the company’s main server.  Thus, the medical representative in companies like Pfizer no more supplies the monthly secondary stock and sales statement to the company; it is the company, on the other hand, which provides this data through a smartphone app to the medical representative!  The tables have turned!!!  This data roll - out is truly the phenomenon of ‘democratizing data’!!

Insights and knowledge from data is driving efficiency and effectiveness in companies.  Top companies are in a position to analyze the main purchasing medical shops (pharmacies) in every pincode, due to the secondary sales being mapped through software.  Subsequently, they are able to chalk out sharper doctor coverage strategies so that the doctors who feed prescriptions to these pharmacies are not ignored and coverage is optimized.

There is limited time, money and other resources; it is the digital wave that is helping optimize the usage of these resources in marketing teams to ensure the best bang for the marketing buck!  Digital wave is helping in rationalizing activity, streamlining processes and activities, provides prompt reports and feedbacks, and optimizing resource allocation.  Eg., if sales of product A is high in certain pincodes or talukas of a MR area, why do we give the same amount of sampling to all MRs?  Many such calls are being taken on the basis of such digitally driven insights.

Imagine a scenario:

Dr. Medha, a leading derma specialist in Varanasi gets the Glenmark MR and support team into the clinic at the appointed hour.  They set up the telemedicine equipment with practiced jiffy.  The medical representative has already ensured that the partner GP clinic from an interior like Rehati, has collected derma patients who will require further consultation advice.  And one by one the remote consultation begins – the telemedicine equipment aiding the magic of derma-healing.  This approach is perfectly suited for derma remote consultation, and all in the chain engage in win-win relationship.  Dr. M get her professional knowledge being put to use, patients who otherwise would find it difficult and costly to go to Varanasi find this consultation better, they can obtain their consultation at the local GP clinic, Glenmark gets brand advantage, and the GP gets a better status.

To provide this approach for other specialities is a challenge, however, the above telemedicine approach is perfectly suited for derma practice.

Digitization, for the competitive advantage

It is the sagacity of pharma marketing practice to put digital technology and enhance value delivery.  However, practical and non-abstract methods of pharma digital practice are need of the hour since; marketing is all about numbers and deliverables.  It is not just ‘feel-good’ that works in marketing, at the end of the month; it is the numbers that save the situation.  Hence, digital marketing practices such as the above involving the derma field, makes the cut as it directly impacts and creates improved sales outcomes.

The fish-fork model is the current status of today’s pharma marketing practice (note, the fish-fork has three prongs, as shown below, the regular fork has four prongs):

The first prong (or tine) of the fish-fork model of pharma marketing product promotional practice: Medical Representative (MR) and his in-clinic, in-stall, in-pharmacy activities; and the campaigns, taxi tours plus CMEs that he executes, which fetch sales results.  The MR is the human touch in each territory.  This adds the hi-touch to the hi-tech dimension of field work.  Today, most top pharma marketers provide a tablet PC loaded with short videos of product activity, powerpoint and other such formats for e-presentations to the target doctor.  Digital touch has replaced the paper or card visual aid.  Collaterals that aid communication practice have gone digital.

The second prong (or tine) of fish-fork model of pharma marketing product promotional practice: This approach of providing reminders through email, special scientific personnel providing field work to selected target doctors, courier of samples and other useful items to doctors, provides excellent engagement with doctors.  This happens when the items being couriered are personalized.  Eg., a personalized doctor table top calendar for the year 2019 (with the doctor’s name and other aspects on each month page of the table top calendar eg., anniversary foto on the month when his marriage anniversary falls!).

The third prong (or tine) of fish-fork model of pharma marketing product promotional practice: represents the thoughtful digital methods of engagement (eg., the Varanasi case of remote derma practice consultation).  Or sponsoring a webinar where like-minded doctors from different geographies discuss therapy approaches and case studies.  Or email marketing of case studies with a quiz that will help the doctor get CME points, and so on.

Challenge is marketing cost optimization

With more layers added to marketing activity, and limited resources including budgets, it is inevitable that only those approaches are selected, which provide improved sales outcomes.  Depending on what programs are being envisaged in the three prongs of the fish-fork model of pharma marketing product promotional practice, marketing budget allotment may be made so that ROI is acceptable to finance department of the pharma firm.

Pharma marketing is always on shifting sands

Pharma marketing - delivering value is always on shifting sands.  What did well in 1970s, will not work in 2018.  Appoint a MR, provide him with a bag full of samples, printed literatures, freebies and the paper visual aid; ask him to meet 10 doctors and 5 chemists; and expect growth in sales - month after month.  The market reality is more complex.  There are atleast 10 MRs meeting each doctor per day; each MR gets 15 seconds to 120 seconds per doctor.  The doctor is bombarded with 750 brand names per month by all pharma sales personnel.  Each pharma marketer is trying to create a WOW moment in the in-clinic activity.  Quality and regular visits by MRs are a means of survival, taken for granted.  How much more can the pharma marketers offer as promotional value and product value to pharmacies and patients (not just doctors) has become the real question

The ethical marketers have to spar with PCD operators and semi-PCD companies.  In any major town there are atleast 300 to 500 PCD and semi-PCD operators.  They are all local operators.  With digital penetration to patients, the pharma marketer has another imbroglio to solve: how much of marketing resources, efforts and time allotment to doctor/pharmacy/patients?

Chatbots are another source of disruption in healthcare field.  Check this link: 

So growth is not easy in the current societal and technological context.  Patient empowerment has changed the dynamics between doctor and patient.  Right Sugar and other antidiabetics too are advertised in newspapers.  Ayurvedics and nutraceuticals are available for order through the web.  FENFURO has seen geometric growth in sales through (FENFURO has relied on the third prong of the fish-fork model of pharma marketing product promotion).

Conclusion: how to use the fish-fork model of pharma market product promotion?

The fish-fork model of pharma product promotional practice puts into perspective various generic approaches possible to reach buyers of Rx and non-Rx products produced by pharma companies.  Which prong of the fish-fork model of pharma product promotion, how much, what sort of programs…all this depends on the SWOT of company and its operating market.  It depends also on the management - their gut-feel and wisdom and response behavior.  In any case, a one-pronged approach will create a lame horse.  Better use the three pronged fish-fork model of pharma product promotion!!!

Thanks for reading this blogpost, do feel-free to roll down the cursor and read all other posts; take a moment and recommend this blog to your friends/colleagues … have a great Dec 2018 (last month of the Gregorian calendar).

Here is a closing limerick:


To catch a fish
Patience one should relish
Many have cast their lines
Fishing is not improved by whines
Use imagination and intellect to fish or perish!