How Design Thinking Can Elevate Pharma Brand Experience

By Anne-Sophie Royer

Design Thinking

In a year defined by the Covid-19 pandemic, personal health has never been more urgent and important as the pharmaceutical industry operates under intense pressure to respond to the crisis. 

As physical interactions have been reduced to a minimum, the burden of care is shifting onto the individual rather than healthcare providers (HCPs). This represents a paradigm-shift for the pharma industry, which now has a more direct connection with consumers and patients than ever before.

One of the prevalent challenges in today’s market is that of its sustainability. Pharma brands must take a turn and seize this opportunity to completely re-establish their relationship with consumers and patients and move the industry out of a “distrusted status”. Design thinking is the most suitable lever to help them in this transformation.

In this light, here are three reasons why pharma companies should care about design thinking in a post Covid-19 world.

Restore trust through empathy

As everyone is coping with the uncertainty of Covid-19, trust has become more valuable than ever. In an unexpected turnaround, the latest update from Edelman Barometer highlights the pharma sector is experiencing a record in terms of confidence (+13 points), while the start of the year was marked by a very strong loss of confidence. Meanwhile, the overall healthcare sector occupies the top spot as the most trusted business sector, with 76 per cent.

The pandemic has undeniably given pharma brands the chance to amplify emotional empathy by responding to needs with confidence, clearly demonstrating a sense of care. Brands should now build on this momentum and start embracing the design thinking and human-centered design principles to create products, services and communications that reliably meet user needs.

Using design to ideate on how to better connect with and serve patient or consumer experience can only begin with empathizing. Spending time and resources in understanding users’ behaviors and needs should always come first.

MIT researchers recently found that people who are asymptomatic with Covid-19 may differ from healthy individuals in the way that they cough, and these differences are not decipherable to the human ear. The team worked on an artificial intelligence model that detects asymptomatic infections through cellphone-recorded coughs.

Doctolib, a Franco-German company, which offers an online consultation management service for HCPs and an online appointment booking service for patients, has set up teleconsultation’s free of change for practitioners during the first lockdown. While there were barely 0.1 per cent of total teleconsultations in February 2020 in France, this practice has accelerated considerably in the space of six months, now reaching 10 per cent of appointments, according to figures published by GERS Data's THIN observatory.

By observing behaviors and needs, we develop a deeper understanding of emotional and functional challenges. These valuable insights can dramatically improve the user experience.

Make the patient a partner

The Covid-19 pandemic has amplified the shift to more self-management in healthcare, an area that has seen rapid growth in the last 10 years. In many ways, encouraged by the digital transformation of the sector, consumers are actively taking charge of their health. They learn about their health risks and engage in preventive behaviors. For example, consumers can use technology and apps to measure and maintain their health. There are currently 318,000 health apps available in the market today; a number that has nearly doubled since 2015, and to that matter, Covid-19 is only accelerating the adoption of virtual channels.

Consumers also changed their attitude about data privacy. A recent consumer survey from PwC’s Health Research Institute found that 50 per cent of US consumers would share their data directly with a drug company, to help discover new treatments or ways to deliver care (57 per cent in the UK, according to research from MHP Health and Savanta ComRes). In addition, when asked about participating in pharmaceutical research to develop a treatment or vaccine for Covid-19, 58 per cent of consumers said they would be at least somewhat willing to do so.

The crisis has brought back to the fore the interconnection of all actions and the need for solidarity. Empowered patients and consumers are expected to take on a more active role in the health system than ever before. Still with the objective of re-establishing the relationship with them, pharma brands must start adopting visions that unite, forging partnerships, integrating the collective by designing open solutions and making collaboration a reality.

Design thinking has a role to play, demanding its practitioners work closely with users throughout the process, from understanding their needs to trialing a concept with them, leveraging their feedback and iterating innovation ideas on the fly.

Deliver change fast

With rapid change becoming the “new normal”, the pharma industry is in the spotlight and under increasing pressure to adapt and amplify speed-to-market. Processes that worked in the past will struggle to cope with the demands placed on businesses today. Anything that may have the power to simplify the innovation and communication development cycles needs to be taken into account.

Design thinking can be used to find those accelerators. It amplifies efficiency, by creating prototypes and testing to see how effective they are. It simplifies the process and aligns all stakeholders at every step of the way. It has also proven effectiveness. According to IBM, design thinking has the potential to deliver immense business outcomes, such as halving the speed-to-market and 75 per cent increase in efficiencies.

The opportunity is now 

The Covid-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the vital role that the pharmaceutical companies play within the health system in a crisis. This must be seen as a pivotal moment for rebuilding consumers and patients trust, and an opportunity to strengthen brand equity by connecting with them at an emotional level, at the right moment, with the right product, service or message. 

It is now time to stop old recipes, which have been definitively disrupted by the global pandemic, and start embracing change. Design thinking is a good way to get a foot on the ladder.

About Anne-Sophie Royer

With 10 years of experience in large integrated agencies, Anne-Sophie joined SGK in 2019 with a proven track record in branding and communication strategies. A graduate of Sciences-po Paris, she joined Ogilvy in 2009 as a strategic planner to work with international brands in health and consumer goods (Nestlé), banking and retail sectors. In 2016, she became Head of strategy at Geometry Global, where she deployed a local consulting offer on journey marketing, in parallel with the brand activation strategies she built for her clients (Bacardi, Danone, Emirates, Piaget).  In 2018, she joined Herezie Group as Managing Director in charge of customer experience strategies. An expert on Design Thinking methodologies, she accompanies client on innovation and precision marketing processes.