Finding Your Voice: Marketing HEOR Services

February 27, 2013

I’ve been at the intersection of research and marketing most of my career. It was this crossroads that drew me to enroll in Pharmacy school back in 1980. I wanted to be a pharmacist not because I was enamored with pharmacology or medicine, but rather, because I was captivated with the art of communicating these things to a vulnerable patient. I wanted to be like Doc Coleman, the grizzled old pharmacist at Weir Drug in Starkville, Mississippi, and I wanted to interact with customers (they weren’t called patients back then) just like he did. You see, Doc Coleman took time with each of those customers, from many different walks of life, to listen and hear (two different things), and then he’d share a few spare words, delivered with the utmost compassion. He managed to create a vessel of trust, right there in the aisle next to the Coca-Cola machine and the Toni Home Perms. I wanted to do that.

By the time I graduated from Pharmacy school, my sights had been re-focused on the big city, far away from the small town drug store environment. These independent pharmacy relics with their soda counters were quickly being swallowed up by the big chains anyway. And, in this process, I had since become enamored with another type of communication: the burgeoning field of pharmaceutical marketing. I happened to be in graduate school taking classes from the Father of Pharmaceutical Marketing, Dr. Mickey C. Smith. He taught me, and scores of others who are now leaders in the industry all the way up to the CEO level, about communicating the 4 Ps of pharmaceutical marketing, among other things. But again, it all came down to a simple message: take time with each customers to listen, hear, and then share a few words, spoken with compassion within a vessel of trust. That message of understanding the customer needs, combined with trust in the product and the company, has been a common theme in most blockbusters for the past two decades.

In my time running Health Economics and Outcomes Research Departments, I was often called upon to be the “communicator”. I was told I excelled in making complex messages easy to understand, whether it be to the payer, FDA, physician, or sales rep. In fact, one CEO of a company where I worked tapped me to help him figure out how to deliver a message on a particular product’s value. This was not the regular “company line” message, but a training session of sorts over several days where I walked him through ways to think about the product and discuss its value with major investors, government officials, key customers, and even employees. I guess there was something in the way I could translate a message, and he liked my use of analogies. Consistently, my advice to him was: take time with that customer to listen, hear, and then deliver your message, sparsely, with compassion and trustworthiness.

Today, at HealthEconomics.Com, we again are at that intersection of science and communication. You, our readers, look to us to feed you knowledge, separate the wheat from the chaff, and help you navigate the internet airwaves of making your company and message stand out. I’m often asked to help you craft your story. Often, there’s not much to work with, because we health economists, as a group of people, are often extremely cautious in speaking from the heart, without – for example – 16 references to back up what we are saying. Case in point: If I took a random selection of websites from 5 HEOR consulting companies listed on the HealthEconomics.Com Consulting resource page, I’m pretty certain I’ll see the same words, just used in different orders, describing the services of each company. As a matter of fact, let’s play that game. What words do you think you’ll see on an HEOR website service description? OK, now I’m actually going to do an analysis. Hang on.

Here’s what I found:

Companies are generally either a global specialized, global healthcare, scientific, or global provider agency/consultancy. Yawn.

Companies typically engage in three or more of the following activities, in varying orders of emphasis:

• Health economic evidence
• Evidence-based programs
• Evidence-based market access solutions
• Value message evidence development
• HTA development
• Systematic review
• Outcomes research
• Market access and health outcomes/economics
• Value-driven healthcare
• HEOR expertise
• Reimbursement support
• Market access, pricing, and reimbursement
• Observational research
• Late Phase/Phase III and IV research
• Budget impact

As my 13 year old twin boys say, “Well, DU-UH!” Of course all of you do this. But, what makes you different? Why do clients want to work with your company? More importantly, why do your clients come to YOU, as a human being who works at your company? You need to dig below this staid rhetoric and corporate-speak, and tell others why your company exists and what makes you get out of bed to come to work every morning. To get your creative juices flowing, think about how you describe your job, company, or project to someone at a dinner party. How do you defend your work as meaningful and relevant, and if you can’t, then maybe you indeed should you just chuck it all and go buy that ice-cream store!

But, I’m betting there’s something worthwhile there. Let’s strive to be a little more like Doc Coleman and take some time with each of our customers to listen, really hear them, and then share a few words, delivered with compassion and trustworthiness. So, sometime in the next few weeks, why don’t you gather your colleagues together and do some re-writing of your company message. You can submit changes to your profile on HealthEconomics.Com here.

I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

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