Defensive Marketing

A couple of things I read this week seem to be connected in some way and I think both could help spur valuable thought and discussion for pharmaceutical marketers.  One of the lead stories in the New York Times talked about some massive changes being recommended for the frequency of medical tests routinely ordered by physicians.  The second piece came for Seth Godin’s blog where he talked about planning in the new digital environment.  It struck me that both pieces had to do with unnecessary defensive posturing.

The Times article talks about 9 major medical specialty boards changing recommendations for 45 tests that should be performed less often.  They point out that the frequency that these tests are done is not supported by the value they provide.  By having these policy groups make these recommendations it should provide “cover” for individual physicians and insurers who can now change their protocols with less concern about lawsuits.  It seems that defensive medicine has led to unnecessary tests, higher costs and in some ways, less than appropriate care for the patient.  This is not much of a surprise.  This is exactly the type of thinking and change that is so necessary in medicine today.  Just because things are routinely done one way does not mean it is the right way.  There is a need for constant questioning and modifications based on the best data currently available.

Seth talks about the evolving role of planning, given the changing economics of marketing in this digital age, where costs are falling dramatically.    It doesn’t make sense to do the same work we did a decade ago and, quite frankly, with today’s sense of urgency the planning may actually prevent timely action and this could result in lost opportunity.  Likewise, market research may be overdone given the intended use of the resulting data.  Sometimes meetings are held and research done mostly as a defense against making mistakes.  I wonder if the mistake is doing the research and holding the meetings?

Like the physician policy groups, marketers should also be evaluating the usefulness of what is routinely done.  Is too much time spent planning and researching where the answers really don’t make all that much difference to the success of the brand?  How much time is spent researching visual aids and other materials that barely get used by the salesforce?  How much effort is spent trying to analyze a doctor and put them into a decile “something” bucket using faulty data and erroneous assumptions?

There definitely is a place for planning and market research, but I would contend it should be directed at the more emerging parts of the business.  Work should be done in those areas where we really do need to learn something and the results will actually transform the business.  Research and planning should be directed at totally new customer groups or major market changing strategies rather than looking for small nuances that will make very little difference when executed.

Perhaps the best way to think about this would be from the view of an entrepreneur.  If the expenses and revenues for your brand were really your own, when and where would you spend your research money and spend time holding planning meetings?  The money and time spent would have to prevent major disasters or uncover big upside opportunities.  The thinking that should be stimulated by Seth and the doctor groups in the New York Times article is when are where you should continue to do the same thing and where change is needed.  The goal perhaps should be to spend your money and time looking for major new opportunities rather than defending against insignificant mistakes.  Think offense, not defense.

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