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Redefining Customer Centricity

Updated: Dec 2, 2021

Words by Kirstie Turner

As pharma strides towards becoming a more customer-centric industry, they must look outside of the industry and learn from other sectors. From banking to toy manufacturing, we look at the customer-focussed industries who can teach pharma marketers how to be led by their customer.

Our solar system is held together by the vast gravitational pull of the sun, which guides the journey of each planet. Without the sun, planets would move away and be lost in space forever. Within the pharmaceutical industry, departments are travelling in different directions, working in isolation, rather than as part of one cohesive orbit. Pharma marketers must take the lead and actively learn from industries such as finance and retail, who have created exemplary customer-centric ecosystems. By placing the customer at the centre of the marketing cosmos, unity can be created to pull all departments in the same direction, achieving true customer centricity.

The phrase ‘customer centricity’ has lost its meaning for pharma: it’s thrown around as a buzzword, rather than as a strategy that truly drives progress. Speaking at Reuters Events Pharma Marketing Europe 2020, Edel McCaffrey, Communications Consultant, Healthcare Communications Agency (HCA), says: “We all have the mantra that we are patient- or customer-focussed and we are listening and putting them at the heart of everything we do. But if we truly put our hands on our hearts, could we say that we are absolutely doing that to the best of our capability?”

In order to achieve this goal, pharma must learn from companies in other industries who are showcasing the value of customer centricity. Insights such as this were revealed when “the HCA, together with communications agency, 90TEN, brought together seven senior pharma communicators to hear their thoughts, with representation from Roche, Ferring, Novartis, AstraZeneca, Sanofi, Celgene, and Pfizer,” explains McCaffrey, adding: “We brought innovators from outside the industry and asked ourselves what was holding us back.”

The group came up with recommendations for pharma to become a more customer-focussed industry. “We need to create a culture that embraces innovation and creativity. Culture changes from the top down, with the role of the CEO and leader playing a key role in that,” outlines McCaffrey. Recognising this makeover as a journey steered by industry leaders is a key part of succeeding.

Multinational banking and financial services corporation, ING, are exemplary in their top-down customer centricity: “They were ahead of the curve with digital and ahead of pharma in that way. They went through a huge digital transformation focussing on their customer,” explains Philip Atkinson, Founder, Hive-Logic, Communications, Coaching & Consultancy. Throughout this overhaul, transforming their culture was the most important thing for them, followed by leadership and talent. The key takeaway from ING for pharma is: “You need the vision, you need the leadership skills, and you need the right people with the right mindset,” explains Atkinson.

The importance of customer-led decisions is being recognised, but pharma is slow to change. Erasmus Holm, CMO and Digital Strategy Lead, Nordics, MSD: “We have to get better at speed. We have heard a lot about enhancing processes, but I think we are notoriously slow. I think we can change as fast as many of the other industries, but we cannot execute that change as fast.” We are seeing other industries moving faster because of their acceptance that risk is a key part of innovation

and change.

Naturally, pharma is very risk-averse, but while mitigating risk is critical when it will impact safety, this fear of risk carries, hindering areas where it is important to innovate. Dirk Otto, Head of Marketing, Spain, Boehringer Ingelheim says: “My magic wish is that tomorrow, as an industry, we would be incredibly clever about where to take risks and where not to. We would move away from reducing risk in every single thing we do and spend our risk budget wisely on the essentials so we can experiment in all of the other areas.”

A fear of risk and failure that hinders innovation and agility is something that toy giant, LEGO, has turned into a measurement of success. “At LEGO, failure is not seen as something to be punished. People are asked ‘what are we going to learn from this?’ It is a very different cultural mindset and people are encouraged to say: ‘I got this wrong.’ I think that this is part of the success of LEGO,” explains McCaffrey.

While we do need to learn from other industries, Holm warns that balance is key: “We can learn something from their marketing and how fast they are going, but don’t get too distracted.” He advises that we should take their learnings and shape them into a version that works for pharma: “Be mindful and careful. Acknowledge who you are and what you are really good at and drive that forwards.”

Look outside the sector and take in the learnings from them

As an industry, we must overcome fears of risk and change and embrace the opportunity to learn from other sectors. McCaffrey concludes with the advice: “Look outside the sector and take in the learnings from them. Put experimentation and learning at the heart of healthcare. Create opportunities to learn and don’t be afraid of failure.” By placing the customer at the centre of pharma’s universe, marketing can help lead all other departments into one cohesive, customer-centric orbit.

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