People’s approach to wellbeing has gone through subtle but significant shifts for some time, with the coronavirus pandemic creating a moment of salience that has accelerated much of that change. Behavior has adapted as individuals’ attitudes to health have become broader – encompassing physical and mental health. In conjunction with this mindset of complete good health, the increasing sophistication of technology and products makes recording and mapping of personal health data and performance commonplace. From body fat % measurement to watches tracking heart rates, the power of taking care of one’s health now sits comfortably with the individual. It’s not surprising that the global medical wearables market is expected to reach $19.5 billion by 2025 – up from $7.4 billion this year. And if all this wasn’t enough to spell a shakeup for the traditional pharmaceutical market, personalized DTC (direct to consumer) healthcare brands are also disrupting the sector. Several companies stand out here – for example UK mail order blood test health brand Thriva, supplement business Vitl, at-home test kits EverlyWell and LetsGetChecked, and male focused personal wellness company Hims, just to name a few. Whilst we can agree that, when it comes to healthcare, both category and consumer behaviors are rapidly changing, the question is now how more traditional pharma establishments can capitalize on this moment of change to generate new business opportunities and positive social impact. We believe pharma brands can do just that by learning from DTC and mastering four critical dimensions: distinctiveness, substance, intelligence and experience.
Distinctiveness and substance
What we’re seeing is the healthcare DTC market moving in the same direction as beauty brands, with a sleek and contemporary look and feel. But as the market gets more crowded, differentiation is going to be crucial, meaning brand building will require designing and using distinctive assets. The most successful brands in the category are going to be those that can demonstrate their distinctiveness and ability to satisfy multiple consumers’ needs. When Bayer acquired DTC vitamin and supplement start-up Care/of, the German pharma giant said: “Together we plan to grow the Care/of business across new channels, categories and markets to deliver even more personalized nutrition.” Being distinctive means standing for something and giving people a brand and product that they can buy into emotionally. It means ensuring brands have substance. This is a particular challenge for pharma, where the product is so often shrouded in mystery and where trust levels have been historically low compared to other sectors (although it must be noted, the pandemic has improved perceptions, at least in the short term). This means that, the more effort pharma brands make to reach the public and explain the tangible benefits of the work they do – the more meaningful partnerships can be built with customers and the higher levels of trust can be maintained.
Intelligence and experience
A significant advantage of the DTC healthcare relationship is the proximity and the stronger feeling of connection consumers experience with personalized products. Of course, this does rely on people being willing to share their private and sensitive data. In 2020, Deloitte found that 70% of consumers will share their data with healthcare providers and another GfK research study showed that consumers are comfortable with sharing data especially when they gain benefits or rewards like lower costs or personalized services in return. This means pharma brands need to work even harder to show consumers the tangible value exchange they’ll gain from sharing their personal information. The new symbiotic relationship enabled by DTC is something pharma brands can take advantage of. By establishing conversations with people, they can rely on a steady stream of consumer data and feedback to feed into product development and shorten lead-times. We’ve already noted that distinction in the market will gain importance, and as products and user experiences become similar, Brand (with capital B) will provide stand out. From how the website operates to the unboxing experience as products are delivered, the brand purpose and personality should underpin the entire experience and imbue all stages of design to build stronger bonds and consumers’ loyalty.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts
According to industry experts, an implementation gap – rather than an information gap – prevents healthcare systems from prioritizing preventive care services although they know the impact of prevention in reducing the incidence and burden of chronic diseases. By empowering people to self-manage routine health checks, maintain their wellbeing through personalized products and services and take prevention in their own hands, the advantage for pharma brands might be two-fold. They will sustain their growth through a renewed connection with consumers whilst generating a wider, positive impact on the health of entire nations.