Pharma marketing in a post COVID-19 world

In this article you'll learn:

  • The changes in HCP / patient behaviour in light of COVID-19
  • The key considerations for your internal communications
  • The challenges and opportunities for pharma brands in this unprecedented time

If you were to pick a key word to describe the feeling around COVID-19 it would be ‘uncertainty’. As we are dealing in what could be argued as a once in a generation occurrence, a feeling of uncertainty has dominated the majority of the population’s sentiment, impacting areas from politics to economy to social etiquette. We as humans do not particularly appreciate uncertainty - we like to plan and know what comes next so that we can maximise the positive outcomes for ourselves and those around us.

As the initial shock of the virus begins to calm and we settle into the new ‘normal’ it makes sense to understand what a post COVID-19 world may look like for pharma brands. We’ve explored how COVID-19 will impact marketing communications from three different perspectives – your audience, your internal teams and your external marketing.

Your audience

Two things by far that have had the biggest impact on your audience (HCPs and patients) are social distancing measures and resources being exhausted by COVID-19. Social distancing has resulted in an increase in remote consultations (telehealth) across the board. This naturally has its advantages and disadvantages. It could be argued that time can be saved in what are increasingly burdened schedules for HCPs, but conversely, not being to able to see patients face to face potentially lose that layer of human interaction and relationship building that can only be appreciated when someone is in front of you. Either way, the behaviour change is likely to be here to stay in some capacity as COVID-19 has accelerated the need and made it more acceptable.

Juggling resource and time has been a major concern for many during the initial outbreak, with attention being diverted away from ongoing treatments and complaints etc. This struggle has only been exacerbated by the general confusion around how to conduct daily life during lockdown. Moreover, recent reports have suggested that the shadow of COVID-19 is one that is not likely to go away any time soon so its important for HCPs, patients and associated stakeholders to figure out a manageable solution for how the HCP-patient relationship and treatment pathways can continue without being compromised.

Your internal teams

For many who are more involved in the marketing and medical communications side of the organisation, the impact of the lockdown will not have been too detrimental – most are very used to working remotely. What will require ongoing attention is how plans and more importantly, integration of those plans, need to adapt to the post COVID-19 landscape and how it is communicated amongst internal teams. In addition to this, those that rely on Sales Rep activity will have to focus more heavily on remote meetings and supporting materials – this in itself raises the question of whether those teams have the supporting infrastructure and skills in order to effectively do this.

The suddenness of the outbreak and uncertainty on the impact on the economy has meant that many best laid plans need to be adapted or changed completely. For larger organisations changes of this nature can be akin to trying to turn an oil tanker and therefore clear internal communications are imperative to ensure everyone pulling in the same direction.

Your external marketing

The COVID-19 pandemic has shines a light on the healthcare industry: not just on frontline workers but also on the corporate pharma companies who are rallying to find a treatment or vaccine. Related to the previous point, it is now more important than ever to ensure other channels outside of Sales Reps are utilised and the messages are integrated with one another. Multichannel marketing is certainly not a new thing but many companies do not execute it effectively due to the conflicting messages and objectives of various departments within the organisation. Whilst this is not so much of an issue for Public Affairs teams and their patient audience, many different teams are involved in communicating with HCPs and this audience suffers as a result. Add on top of this, different markets and regulations to consider and you have a very confused and ambivalent audience.

Despite observations of how HCP behaviour may change, their less than positive perception and expectations of pharma organisations are likely to remain the same or be even less forgiving. For the majority of HCPs, there is an acceptance of pharma companies and the value they add but lots more work has be done to re-conceptualise the position of of the big corporate only out for their own interests. A consistent, integrated marketing message that can demonstrate an understanding of them as opposed to focusing on just pushing product and brand will go a significant way to remedying this.

What does this mean for pharma?

From a marketing perspective, the pandemic has acted as a catalyst and accelerated many behaviours that we were already on the path towards. What it has also highlighted is that many of us have not been as prepared as we’d like to be with a lack of contingency planning and capability to deliver a rapid response. Despite the initial panic and confusion for many, we have come to realise that it actually is ok – like most things we are unfamiliar with and outside of our comfort zone, once we are in the moment and gone past it we realise it is not so bad.

The marketing themes expressed here are focused on putting the audience at the heart of your approach and using that to guide your plans. If you rigorously follow this philosophy then creating an apt response for the COVID-19 pandemic is not something that should alarm you, your teams or the organisation. If anything, the spotlight given to pharma brands provides an opportunity to ‘reset’ the sentiment with your audience and that is a rare thing.

At Stickyeyes, we work across a wide range of different sectors and have found a significant amount of variance in how it has impacted different industries. What this perspective provides us with is a good overview of how to apply different ideas from one sector to the next and coupled with the data and tools at our disposal we are able to provide certainty in uncertain circumstances.

  • To find out more about our approach to responding to COVID-19 for pharma brands, or if you’d like to get in touch – drop as a line at We’d love to hear from you