UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


The new normal


The shift in healthcare marketing from a product to service focus was the subject of a panel at the third annual Healthcare Conference at UNC Kenan-Flagler Nov. 15. 

Dan Stevens (EMBA ’08), marketing director, UNC Health Care System, moderated “Marketing Insights and Applications: Shifting from Product Focus to Service Focus.” Panelists were:

  • Tara Stewart, executive director of multi-channel hubs, Bristol-Myers Squibb
  • Greg Christianson, senior director, GlaxoSmithKline
  • Mark Thomson (MBA ’10), director, Johnson & Johnson
  • Lewis Bertolucci, head of social media, Humana Inc.

Communicating with customers

Patients once viewed medical providers as the ultimate source for information, but today they can access multiple sources from the comfort of their homes. Websites such as Wikipedia can provide valuable information, said Stewart, but alone they can’t be a complete channel that links the customer directly to the provider. 

“Pharma doesn’t touch Wikipedia,” said Stewart. “Because of the regulations, we do not engage in Wikipedia. That’s an example of where people may be getting misinformation since the liability is more problematic than updating that information.” 

Providing instant access to reliable information is a daunting task that Bristol-Myers Squibb addressed when it launched a 24-hour live chat service to link customers with care counselors and nurses, Stewart said. 

Johnson & Johnson is exploring similar solutions, Thomson said, but each step comes with a unique challenge. “Our companies are set up to manufacture and distribute products efficiently, so all of a sudden if you’re managing a call center, it becomes a very different situation,” he said. “Then again, if you hear your call center is being inundated with questions x, y and z, one of the things you’re now able to do is address those directly.” 

Companies must take into account the liabilities involved with answering medical questions over the phone or posting health advice on their Facebook and Twitter accounts. “Consumer expectations are so different in other areas than in pharmaceuticals,” Thomson said. “It’s a shame when someone asks, ‘Can I have an ice cream cone while taking Zytiga?’ and they’re expecting our Twitter handle to reply even though we can’t.” 

Putting “care” back in healthcare

As global healthcare demand shifts from the current focus on acute care to an intermediate and long-term health model, the healthcare system will begin to regularly serve more than just chronic disease patients and portions of the elderly population. 

The transition from product-based to solution-based marketing will inevitably be difficult for some consumers to grasp, said Christianson. 

“Pharmaceutical companies are trying to develop patient therapies surrounding products, so that when we prescribe a product we’re prescribing more than just a drug,” Christianson said. “Ultimately there are some challenges still in trying to convince people that this is a good thing long-term. Is there clinical proof? Is it more confusing? So how do we clarify and become more holistic in approaching patient care?” 

Getting customers on-board is challenging enough, but convincing providers and producers to embrace the shift to solution-based marketing is an entirely different story, said Stevens. 

“I was one of the people who brought Crest White Strips to the market,” Stevens said. “Even though there was whitening toothpaste, there was an unmet need for dentist-level whitening. We not surprisingly encountered resistance from the physician community that we were going to take out these very profitable procedures from the office. So as you empower the consumer, are the physicians and your professional customers giving you push-back?” 

Customers come first

The panelists agreed that the core of healthcare reform is putting the customer’s interest first. By putting in place resources that address patients’ questions and concerns every step of the way, the interests of providers, producers and patients are finally beginning to align. 

“We are focused on the actual patient journey – the actual physical journey the patient goes through,” Christianson said. “On that journey are all the people who surround that patient – family members, good friends and healthcare providers. And it’s our job to understand how these healthcare providers can manage to reach the best outcome possible, not necessarily to sell the most drugs.”

The MBA Healthcare Club at UNC Kenan-Flagler organized the conference. Students, alumni, academia and industry leaders explored such trends as patients controlling more of their care, healthcare IT, delivering innovation to the patient, healthcare marketing and startups within healthcare. 

GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Humana, Becton Dickinson, Quintiles, Eli Lilly, Deloitte, and Ernst & Young sponsored the event.