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Published March 29th 2021

The Big Pharmaceutical Industry Trends for 2021

To say 2020 was a big year for the pharmaceutical industry would be an understatement. Let’s explore what 2021 could have in store

The pharmaceutical industry had quite the year in 2020, often facing seemingly insurmountable new challenges. 

Groundbreaking work on Covid-19 vaccines were created under intense public scrutiny all while normal industry research ticked along behind the scenes. Consumers have also become increasingly health-conscious and misinformation has run rampant.

Now that we are firmly in 2021, what do we expect next for pharmaceutical companies and the industry as a whole? And, importantly, how are consumers thinking and feeling about pharma? Here are five big trends for the pharmaceutical industry from the perspective of digital consumer intelligence.

Trend #1: The importance of data-driven communication 

People are burnt out from the emotional toll of a long-term public health crisis. These same people are navigating a completely new landscape with rising uncertainty and a hyperfocus on personal health, community transmission, and vaccinations. 

Part of the antidote is data-driven communication from the pharmaceutical industry. So far, navigating all the necessary comms has been (and will continue to be) treacherous. Pharmaceutical companies are faced with a litany of critical questions. 

  • When should they respond to public outcry? 
  • What will assuage consumer fear? What will heighten it?
  • What product announcements should be made? 
  • What donations to charity or health organizations might be well received by the public? 

The clear cut PR processes of the past just aren’t cutting it anymore. And, while decisions are being debated, there are the risks of chastisement for silence and misinformation filling the gap.

Leading companies will use the data to guide their strategy. Competitor analysis can be incredibly useful when assessing whether or not your brand should be active within a conversation. Examine previous events that have similarities to the current situation. How were communications received? Being proactive with this kind of analysis means you can plan, knowing the potential risks and rewards of speaking up. 

Timing and tone of voice are also key considerations. But make sure to check the mood of conversations you’re seeing. Even if you’ve got a positive initiative to share, the wrong tone of voice could spark backlash.

Trend #2: Continuing to understand key opinion leaders

Influencers? It might seem like an odd topic in an article about pharma, but discovering and monitoring what key opinion leaders have to say is an important use case for the industry.

This trend is less about targeting high-profile supporters and critics and more about finding influencers talking about your area of interest and understanding what they’re saying. Conversations might be positive, negative, emotive, or misinformed, but all are vital to getting the full picture.

This practice could apply to any topic of interest. Perhaps it’s politicians talking about their worries around a Covid-19 vaccine, key healthcare practitioners discussing the pros and cons of a group of drugs, or patient advocacy groups discussing a piece of policy.

When pharmaceutical companies don’t keep their finger on the pulse of the commentary about their products or services online, they’re not working with the whole story.

Pro tip: Key opinion leaders evolve over time, so ongoing discovery is important for keeping your monitoring up-to-date. A tool like Brandwatch Consumer Research can be invaluable for both discovery and ongoing tracking. 

Trend #3: Keeping up with competitor intelligence

Rebrands, mergers, and new companies are continuously grabbing headlines. It’s a fast-moving landscape with lots of players in the race. In the same way you have to keep tabs on online customer sentiment, you should always be informed about what your competition is doing and how those organizations are being perceived.

Once you’ve identified your competitors (and this should be an ongoing process), choosing the right metrics to monitor is next. As Evelyn Castillo explains in our recent guide to Competitor Analysis, this is about going beyond simplistic measures like share of voice. Use historical data to track changes in perception over time to see how competitive brands are rising and falling in your measurements. If you want your brand to be seen as sustainable, ensure that that’s an attribute you’re measuring against when looking at the competition.

Pro tip: To find emerging brands, search broadly in your category. For example, searching for generic terms for feminine care products will help you surface lesser-known brands garnering attention online.

Trend #4: Staying on top of brand health

Despite the pandemic creating additional workload and things to monitor, the importance of tracking brand health has not diminished. You can incorporate a wide range of metrics which will differ depending on your organization and your objectives. 

For pharmaceutical companies, common ways to check on brand health will include general brand monitoring over time, keeping an eye on conversations or news clippings around CEOs, and checking on the reception of earning reports or launches (among many other activities).

If your brand health measurement isn’t teaching you anything, it’s time to rebuild it. It’s an easy thing to kick down the road, particularly in times of crisis. But reliable brand health tracking can help set the pace and keep a business accountable to its objectives. Arguably, if brand health measurement is aligned with company goals, it can help with course correction even when things are going wrong.

Pro tip: The key to the cadence of brand health insights is to ensure they reach decision-makers at the right time, when action can be taken.

Trend #5: Managing crises and adverse events with the right tech

Pharmaceutical leaders are no stranger to crisis management. The only remedy to crises is information. When things hit the fan, your customers are going to want to know details and the narrative can slip from your control very easily. 

Great crisis response teams know exactly what’s happening in real time, giving them the best chance of responding appropriately and on time. Partnering with the right data providers can help crisis management processes run much smoother, from training data partners on adverse event processes through to dealing with rapidly evolving real-time conversation around a perceived scandal.

Remember, minute-by-minute tracking is vital. Especially when a crisis is in full swing. Real-time analysis of the situation is so important for stakeholders to remain agile and enact their plans while reacting to the latest information.

Pro tip: When the dust settles, don’t skip out on a review. Take all the data gathered and incorporate learnings into future crisis plans and processes.

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