Pharma Must Look Beyond R&D to Inspire the Innovation Story

— Catherine Devaney 

The pharma innovation story isn't resonating with vital stakeholders in the healthcare space. That's the headline from WE Communications' 2018 Brands in Motion global study.

The data reveal that in three out of seven markets (UK, US and India), the pharmaceutical industry is considered as innovative as the finance and banking sector by B2B decision makers. This isn't great news for an industry that often defines – and defends – itself through its leadership in breakthrough science and pioneering new discoveries for patients.


Reshaping pharma's reputation

The study shows that, with the exception of Singapore, China, and Australia (just), B2B respondents see the pharmaceutical industry as 'stuck in the stone age' as opposed to 'cutting edge'. Responses for 'cutting edge' were as follows: US - 38%, UK 39%, India - 49%, Germany - 50%, Australia - 51%, Singapore - 61% and China - 74%.

And yet pharma has the best innovation story to tell of almost anyone – it's a case of finding a way to unlock it. Many companies focus on science and R&D for the narrative, however this means that we often get tied up in compliance concerns. Companies that look for inspiration for content beyond product are succeeding.

For example, the EFPIA #WeWontRest campaign aims to tell the industry's innovation story by demonstrating the passion and commitment of individuals and companies.  As well as science and R&D, the campaign includes of examples of innovation in patient engagement, access and eHealth.

Worryingly, the prescription health data also revealed that in many markets, B2B audiences see the industry as 'doing more harm than good' when asked about their overall impact on society (UK - 63%, USA - 60%, Germany - 47%, India - 44%, Australia - 44%, Singapore - 37% and China - 25%).

This is a reflection of audience perception over reality. According to the UK's Charity Aid Foundation's Corporate Giving by the FTSE 100 report, pharmaceutical companies have consistently been the most generous sector in terms of giving. They have donated over £6.7billion to charitable causes globally over the last seven years, the equivalent of 7.5% of pre-tax profit over the same period. Whilst CAF acknowledges that part of this figure will have a financial value assigned to it, average levels across FTSE 100 are just 2.4%.


Revitalising the meaning of innovation

The Brands in Motion study also asked about ethics in relation to the three pharmaceutical companies included within the research -  How would you characterise [company] on their commitment to responsible business practices for society and the environment?  High level of commitment or low level of commitment'.  Germany and the UK, both sceptical markets, do not believe that companies have a high level of commitment to responsible business practices for society and the environment. Between 33% and 42% answered positively in the UK and 34% and 39% in Germany.  Whereas in more optimistic markets - China and Singapore - the answers were between 79% and 80%, and 62% and 66% respectively.

Innovation meets ethics is a key trend from this year's study. Brands that get their innovation story right will see a strong, positive engagement with audiences; but we are seeing 'innovation fatigue'. Based on the data, WE has created a framework to revitalise the innovation narrative. This includes avoiding overused language which lacks meaning for audiences, demonstrating innovation through proof, looking beyond R&D for examples, and not neglecting ethics and authentic purpose.

Telling an engaging innovation story isn't easy. We are dealing with high science and complicated issues within a highly regulated space. But if pharma doesn't get better at telling our story, our reputational and engagement issues won't change. Others will continue to write our narrative for us.


Background on the 2018 Brands in Motion global study:

WE partnered with YouGov to survey more than 25,000 consumers and B2B decision-makers across eight global markets.  The data on the pharmaceutical sector data came from 3,400 B2B decision-makers working in a healthcare setting. They identified their roles as either prescribing medicines, devices and diagnostics, or deciding which medicines, devices and diagnostics are made available to prescribe.