When it comes to innovation, consumer & pharma brands have more in common than you think
Happen’s newly appointed Business Director, Lee Gazey, talks about how pharma brands can stand out from the crowd through successful innovation.
You’re new to Happen. What excited you about the world of innovation?
I’ve always been an “agency man”, working across insight and brand strategy. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the world’s biggest pharma and healthcare brands and have always been struck by how the desire to provide innovative solutions for patients and customers has often been hamstrung by the failure to adopt an effective process to innovation, one that combines creativity and process to deliver commercially viable solutions that meet genuine customer needs.
There are some great examples of how innovation can improve patient’s lives. Anyone attending CES this year would have been amazed at the amount of digital health innovations being exhibited. My favourite was a blood pressure watch, which was as simple as it was effective. Medical grade blood pressure readings taken whilst you’re going about your daily business could save many lives across the world. A clear need answered with a simple solution.
But it feels that much of the real innovation is coming from start up or technology companies and not necessarily from the big pharma companies. It seems that Innovation is an area where “big pharma” could improve its success rates.
What does innovation mean to you?
At the heart of it, it’s about trying to uncover frustrations and needs within your market, then developing products or services that meet those needs. In the past, this is where the pharma industry has struggled. In many respects, their innovation is outstanding. The industry is at the cutting edge of technology, consistently developing new drugs and treatments that can change lives.
The struggle lies in creating innovations that provide support for patients and consumers when it comes to dealing with their condition or treatment. The healthcare industry has talked for a while now about going “beyond the pill” and looking to provide services that support patient wellbeing. It’s a huge opportunity, but I don’t think we’ve been as successful as we could be.
What’s the toughest challenge facing healthcare brands at the moment?
In many ways pharma brands are encountering the same problems as consumers brands. Brands are really struggling to be distinct from each other. If you look at most medical categories now, the products are very similar. They work in a particular way and they’re all effective and safe, to a greater or lesser degree. Increasingly marketing teams find themselves trying to ‘dance on the head of a pin’, trying to stand out over tiny points of difference. Yes, there is the occasional game changer, a new medication that changes lives in a meaningful way. More often than not though, new products or treatments offer relatively small or incremental changes that don’t make a lot of difference to the customer or patient.
I think that’s where a more robust approach to innovation could help. At the moment many pharmaceutical brands don’t have an established process for working out what their customers real frustrations are and what potential innovations could help solve these problems.
I believe they struggle to uncover new innovation opportunities because they don’t have an established way of generating ideas. It feels almost like a guessing game: they ask patients and customers, “what are your unmet needs?” And, of course, that’s very hard for people to articulate. Clients need to work with agencies that have a tried and tested approach to innovation, a way to harness creativity through an established model of thinking.
Great innovation comes from truly understanding your customers lives. What frustrates them. What excites them. What are the touch points where your brand intersects with their lives.It’s only by understanding this that you can understand where innovation is needed. This insight can come from many different sources. We could look out into the world to see what’s happening in other categories or industries. We could immerse ourselves as deeply as we can into the world of our customer and consumers. We could look at insight that we already have, but do so with a different focus to see if a different perspective could open new avenues of opportunity.
The most successful consumer brands do this and I think healthcare brands will need to do this in the future if they want to stand out from the crowd.
What excites you about working at Happen?
What I’ve found particularly interesting is the way Happen’s approach to innovation combines creativity with process. That’s something that gets missed a lot of the time. Yes, you can be creative, but without a process behind it, you’re being creative for creativity’s sake. I think they combine these two things really well. It’s that combination of imagination with commercial pragmatism that helps client be more successful at innovation.