Consumerology: Thinking broadly about pharma

Bensimon Byrne's Max Valiquette on why pharma brands have to define the category in its broadest context, or risk being left behind.

Here’s to our health.

That’s what Canadians are saying, according to our latest Consumerology report, which was all about health care. We field a regular, quarterly study of about 1,500 Canadians and this time the research focused on understanding consumer consumption, perceptions and behaviours regarding over-the-counter medications and health supplements including vitamin, mineral and herbal supplements.

And so, we’ve got two big numbers for you: 20 and 22.

There is a 20-point negative gap between those who say they are using OTC products less often rather than more often. For health and nutritional supplements, there is a 22-point positive gap in favour of those using them more often. So usage of OTC and nutritional supplements are trending in opposite directions. Those two numbers, together, represent a two-goal swing: when faced with a choice between man-made medicines to deal with our conditions and what’s seen as being more naturally produced health supplements, we’re choosing the latter.

Canadians of all stripes have been affected by huge trends in health care marketing – huge trends in marketing, period – that have seen a greater focus than ever before on what’s natural. Consider this to be the pharma equivalent of “organic,” and “green” – this part of a larger trend that sees us all focusing on things we think are more natural, and less chemical, because we think they are better for us and better for the planet.

As well, there’s been a great democratization of information since the advent of the web and in the area of health – in particular we’re more informed (and sometimes more misinformed) than ever before. OTC medications, by and large, are about treating a problem once we feel the symptoms, whereas supplements are as much about prevention – something that it takes a little more knowledge to deal with. In the age of WebMD and social networks, we all think we’re experts, and we’re all exposed to more information and more recommendations than ever before.

The lessons here for shopper marketers are twofold. One, we have to recognize that in arenas like heath care (but not just health care) our customers are more informed than ever before. Purchase decisions – even $10 ones – are made long before we step into a store. If you’re a retail-distributed brand and you’re spending the lion’s share of your marketing budget in the retail environment, it may be time to consider shifting some of that into mass, digital and earned media. Consumers are just thinking too much – and talking too much, and sharing too much – to make their retail decisions exclusively at the retail level.

And two, if you’re a pharma brand and you don’t think of the very broadest context of what pharma is, you’re going to get left behind. The competitive circle in which you find yourself fighting for market share isn’t defined the way the industry defines it – like everything else, it’s defined by consumers. You’re no longer competing for shelf space in one aisle – you’re also competing against a product three aisles over. That’s the ever-expanding reality of health care shopper marketing: more choices and more categories, and more control for the consumer.

Max Valiquette is the managing director of intellectual property and content development at Bensimon Byrne.

For more information on Consumerology, or to download a copy, go to