The Pharma company of 2025 probably doesn’t look like a company that makes Medicines; it looks more
The march of the millennials is gathering pace as they close in on being the largest adult sector of the population and a primary focus for healthcare. The pharmaceutical industry has mainlined its marketing on the baby boomer generation, which has engaged with medical advances like no other, but now needs to grab the attention of a new breed of health consumers who don’t always play by the rules.
Many millennials are market delinquents, refusing to be directed by GPs’ advice, government health warnings, or traditional pharma messaging. If there are models, they want to break them. They ask questions first and continue the interrogation throughout most healthcare contact, viewing big corporations with initial suspicion and demanding greater transparency.
So, how does pharma reach this important and tech-savvy strata without sounding like awkward parents trying too hard?
Synchronising language, style, and delivery across millennial favoured channels is a start, but it is also critical to understand they interact with information in a far more dynamic way than previous generations. Dennis O’Brien, CEO, Lucid Group, wants pharma to shake free from its low risk and multiple approval characteristics. “Pharma can and has to change if it is to compete, because if Amazon or Alphabet start playing in the healthcare space, they will find a new way of communicating with patients which enables them to work faster and take more risk”, he says. “We have to find today’s way of communicating to patients that does not involve working through the job bags and approval systems we have now. We have got to take a bit more risk in what and how we communicate to be more effective.”
We have got to take a bit more risk in what and how we communicate to be more effective
O’Brien, whose group advises pharma and healthcare companies, believes attracting millennials to the workforce and giving them responsibility will liberate approaches that may be anchored in the silt of tradition. “The typical pathway is to put graduates in junior roles and train them up, and pharma does that very well. But we say it is about how people think, how talented they are, and how curious their minds are. We have been putting quite inexperienced people into senior roles and, although it may take them 6 months to do anything, they then innovate more than someone who has been there 10 years.
I don’t think pharma can innovate quickly enough with its current model, so it needs to think very differently by bringing in amazing talent and giving them much more responsibility. If you speak to any millennial, what they want more than anything is purpose, and pharma has the opportunity to give them much more purpose than they have ever given new starters before.
The biggest risk for pharma is to continue doing what it has always done. These ambitious, purposeful, tech-savvy people want to make a difference, but if they are given very junior jobs, they will go elsewhere.”
Lloyd Price, Founder and Co-Chairman of Zesty, an early, successful mover in online medical appointments, is at the heart of digital disruption across healthcare and believes industry needs to learn from consumer games and marketing to tap into new audiences.
“Millennials don’t want a massive data dump and to be told they are not very well, but they will respond to gamification and rewards, diaries, and journals”, he says. “There are some good examples out there, and pharma is learning to engage on these levels. But it needs to look hard at what is working in digital healthcare and ask what healthcare can learn from popular games.” It is illuminating that the leading meditation app was developed by Michael Acton Smith, who created the online gaming phenomenon Moshi Monsters.
What they want more than anything is purpose, and pharma has the opportunity to give them much more purpose than they have ever given new starters before
Pharma is making strides to create a new playbook driving better outcomes for patients while helping younger HCPs assimilate and use information. Companies such as MSD, the global healthcare company, which has a $10 billion plus research and development budget, are acutely aware of the shifting generational tides.
“We know that the digital world requires a faster approach and are striving to be more effective and innovative in the ways we communicate to meet our customers on the platforms they are working in”, says Heather Hancock, the company’s Executive Director of Business Operations. MSD uses machine learning, AI, and advanced analytics to enhance its agility and finesse working practices and patterns.
“Aligning the organisation to new marketing approaches can be a real challenge, but our goal is to make the complex simpler through training and social learning to drive sustained change and thrive in this new world of engagement”, adds Hancock, MSD’s Digital Transformation Leader. “Transformation in this space is not a nice to have, it’s a necessity.”
Pharma’s challenge is clear: to forge relevant connections with the public and physicians, but the mechanics for success – which will be measured in better outcomes and improved levels of trust – are still being geared up.
“The pharma industry has got to go through a significant period change with the evolution of technology and innovation”, adds O’Brien. “The pharma company of 2025 probably doesn’t look like a company that makes medicines; it looks more like a healthcare company.”