5 Keys to Marketing Pharmaceutical Products in a Post-COVID World

Will Brown
4 min readNov 23, 2020

The pharmaceutical industry spends more money every year on marketing than it does on R&D. While NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) studies show that for every new drug introduced to the market, nearly $2.6 Billion is invested prior to launch — as a general rule, most company’s overall expenses are more weighted toward marketing costs than R&D. In recent years Johnson & Johnson has spent more than $8 Billion on total marketing costs, more than double their R&D budget.

The question all companies face today is how to make sure their marketing investment is being put to best use when face to face access is more limited due to virus-related safety protocols.

The 5 Keys:

  1. Figure out what will really help your customers. While pharma CEOs will say that new products are the driving force of growth, professional marketers know the truth. Existing products are driving profit contribution at a far greater rate than new products. As a result, pharma marketers will need to focus more on how to BETTER ADDRESS CUSTOMER NEEDS, rather than try to sell a product based on marginal differences from their competitors. The goal of the entire healthcare value chain is to address the challenges of the Quadruple Aim: better patient experience, better health outcomes, improve overall cost of care, and improve provider engagement and satisfaction. Pharma companies can fuel growth by figuring out how to create leverage in one or more elements of the Quadruple Aim and focusing on marketing efforts to communicate the value they are delivering to the market.
  2. Since the gap between competing pharma products is narrower than ever, marketers need to find another approach than just selling product features. So marketers must USE AN ANALYTICS-DRIVEN MARKETING APPROACH. When beginning to employ an analytics-driven method, most marketers find the results are far more impressive than with taking a conventional branding approach. Data is now an important element for effective marketing and measuring the results is just as important. To this end, marketers can use analytics to measure effective marketing strategies and also to eliminate the risk of reactionary decisions that might not produce a decent return on investment. Analytics-based decision-making can save both time and money for pharma companies. In short, branding is important, but data analytics are critical for measuring success.
  3. Large pharmaceutical companies might realize this concept at the highest levels, but many brand teams, and smaller companies don’t realize they really have two audiences: doctors and patients. While many product managers might say, “We don’t do Direct to Consumer” advertising, they don’t realize that they are, but they just may not pay for TV ad spots. Websites and online resources are driving higher levels of patient awareness and direct involvement in treatment choices. So marketers must pay very close attention and KNOW WHAT THE CUSTOMER AUDIENCES NEED to make a decision to use your treatment.
  4. MARKETING TO DOCTORS is all about providing well-researched clinical data to support decision making, and providing that information to them through tactics such as media placement, direct sales force interactions, and industry-supported educational events. Messaging to doctors must be specific in order to maximize the impact, placed into the appropriate communication channels in order to reach a highly desensitized audience, and well-researched so that the doctor will not dismiss the information as not credible. With face-to-face access to doctors becoming limited, a more creative approach using digital communication methods will be required to break through the crowd. Unfortunately, most companies use communication and marketing approaches that look just like every other company. The regulatory environment is certainly a major consideration, but creativity is needed to get past the doctor’s natural tendency to filter out “savvy” marketing.
  5. MARKETING TO PATIENTS is all about discovering individual needs and creating & delivering a better patient experience. Creating a better patient experience often means investing more in digital assets, such as websites, and educational platforms for direct patient education. The reality is that patients are online, and the statistics are there to back it up. For example, depression-related searches online account for more than 2.5 million searches per month, and many pharma companies are not yet bidding on these search terms. As the COVID virus has impacted our collective mindset to do more shipping online, pharma companies need to be ready to take a more digital-focused approach to reach patients. Amazon Prime will now offer prescription delivery services at no cost, which can potentially shake-up distribution channels, as well as drive patients even deeper into the online space for managing their health.

Marketing pharmaceutical products is a unique endeavor because there are two main audiences that require different approaches and communication methods. Implementing these strategies can take time and effort because the ideas around digital marketing and search optimization are new concepts, and many leaders are stuck in the “old way of thinking.”

If you would like to learn more about these concepts and how you can help drive value in your own organization, The Brooks Group is offering a 3-Day Virtual Workshop called “Introduction to Pharmaceutical Marketing in a Post-COVID World.”



Will Brown

Entrepreneur, Marketing, and Business Strategy Professional. Adjunct Professor of Business and Entrepreneurship.