Pharma marketers steer through changing tides

In some ways, the more pharma marketing changes, the more it stays the same. Despite moves into e-detailing, in-person meetings with doctors and speaker programs still rule in sales. Despite significant growth in pharma's digital advertising, television captures the lion's share of ad spending, and that's not likely to change soon.

And those forward-looking folks frustrated with the industry's reluctance to take big risks or break new ground--they're likely to remain frustrated in 2016, too.

But that doesn't mean change isn't coming, or that it won't do pharma any good. Payer pressure is forcing drugmakers to rethink their pricing and negotiation strategies, and though some attempts at performance-based payments fell flat in 2015, we'll see marketers reorienting toward outcomes, services and payer relationships.

Technology is spurring pharma marketers toward new ventures, too; consider Sanofi's ($SNY) diabetes-focused partnership with Google ($GOOG), or Novo Nordisk's ($NVO) with IBM Watson Health. Marketing intelligence and patient engagement are part of that, and more pharma-plus-tech teams will form. Meanwhile, data-gathering and data-crunching and predictive modeling will remake pharma marketing just as it's remaking R&D.

Then there are the big-picture challenges. The drug industry's reputation has taken a major hit this year, as a couple of high-profile pricing scandals spawned questions for all drugmakers. More is ahead--2016 is an election year, after all--and pharma marketers will be fielding those questions and working to polish their companies' reputations.

That's going to take some creativity--another big-picture challenge. Is 2016 the year that drugmakers get jiggy with their advertising and marketing? We've seen a few sparks here and there, so it's not impossible; just think, AstraZeneca ($AZN) became the first drugmaker to actually win a Health Lion at Cannes in 2015. And healthcare agencies seem to be gearing up for a renewed effort. We'll have to wait and see on that one.

Finally, we have a fairly long list of inescapable, no-doubt-about it shifts in pharma marketing for 2016, in the form of new drug approvals and launches. With 2015 already boasting 45 FDA nods--and some more hotly anticipated products coming next year--new rivalries are shaping up. Cancer and heart disease, hep C and HIV, diabetes and multiple sclerosis will all be proving grounds for new launches, and established meds won't let their turf go without a fight.

FiercePharmaMarketing will be taking a holiday break after today; call it a pregame warm-up for our 2016 coverage. We'll return to your inboxes Jan. 4. Have a safe and happy holiday season. -- Tracy Staton (email | Twitter)