room44 innovates

“You’re eating chocolate? How unhealthy is that?”

“Yeah, well, I just had some great news and this is a mini-reward for being awesome.”


“You drive a Volvo? Jeez, how old are you?”

“Well, I like to protect my kids and I’ll probably walk away from a crash.”

Your context isn’t their context. The reasons consumers buy things are many and varied, and I’m not telling you anything you don’t know already. Except that it’s common for people developing products to forget who they’re for. I’m not talking about how you position your brand when you reach the communications strategy phase of launch planning. I’m talking about why you do it at all.

Cigarette manufacturers have always ignored the facts about health in favour of selling a fictionalised vision of coolness and satisfaction. Who’s that for?

Chocolate brands, bagged snacks, artificial sweeteners, high-heeled shoes…there’s an argument that none of these products are made in any consumer’s best interests but, now that they’re out there, they do keep the machines running.

Design thinking

How you decide to view the consumer need that you then try to meet has a massive impact on the way you develop that solution. At room44, we bang the drum for consumer-centricity because we think this is the only opinion that matters. But…

Ask consumers what they want and they’ll tell you what they know to be available, or what they can imagine as a likely development. Stretch their thinking a little, and other ideas gain more traction.

An industry that has always done this poorly is pharmaceuticals. Look at every pharma brand website – every one – and you won’t find a single mention of the consumer. Sure, they’re patient-centric and focused on ‘people’ and therapy, but this isn’t who Big Pharma talks to. On the websites with the happiest smiley faces and photos of couples walking into the sunset hand-in-hand, the language is all about prescriber understanding of patient need.

Let’s unpack this a bit further

In Europe, pharma has a tough job of marketing its products to consumers. Regulation gets in the way. In the US, it’s a bit easier and so consumer communication is more direct. Europeans interested to read about a product may choose to look at a US website. That’s their prerogative.

However, to cloak science in patient-centric language misses a point. Patients have often been consumers for longer than they’ve been patients. The vernacular that consumers recognise is easy for them; they’re native to it. Ask them to switch to a patient-centric language and things get harder, particularly when they’re also coming to terms with their medical condition.

Similarly, asking patients what they think of a therapy puts the question firmly into a medical context. Ask that person a question about therapy from a consumer angle and the answer is likely to be much more useful. For a measurement of therapeutic effect, take that consumer’s blood. For a meaningful picture of the effect of a therapy on the whole person, shift your perspective.

It’s a tough gig to get scientists to go looking for non-scientific markers. It’s not what they were trained to do. But being as naïve as a consumer when they are introduced to a product can be valuable and revealing.

As consumers get used to receiving advice and behavioural nudges from their personal devices, their/our skill in interpreting signals is developing. Mentally filtering multiple messages every day, we choose how we will behave and what we’ll buy. It’s conceivable that, through these communications channels, we will be able to assess data that goes much deeper than today. This is where Pharma has to wake up.

Dr. Ali Parsa, at an event he and I attended last week, said that we won’t visit GPs in the way we do today, and we’ll self-diagnose most of our conditions, by 2025. Babylon is already making this possible. If so, the pharma industry really must recognise the new reality that is personalised medicine – and that ‘personalised’ means exactly that: not what pharma companies would like it to mean.

Democratisation of medical data takes control away from the trained individuals we call doctors, and allows consumers to judge the relative merits of their conditions and treatment options for themselves – whether regulation permits the brand to talk to you in your country or not. I’d argue that the opportunity to supply licensed pharmaceuticals is also something that is possible from newly emerging sources, but this may be another conversation.

Back to a diagram I’ve used before:

Innovation strategy

If the market has started to move in the direction I’ve described, and the signals are that it has, then the current medical diagnostics and supply environment is already in compression. Knowing how long Pharma takes to make decisions, this puts pressure on the industry and needs acting upon now. If Dr. Parsa’s right, it doesn’t have long.

Book time with me here to talk about this insight and what our approach could do for you.

Seeing it differently. Future-proofing. It’s what we do.

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