It was great to be back in Singapore for the 4th Nicholas Hall Asia-Pacific Conference and as is custom, Nicholas opened up the two days discussion as he went through the current situation facing the OTC Industry, underlining the mediocre growth that we are experiencing across the world. Clearly there are some factors as to why this growth is under performing, with the US growth depressed, plus the unfavourable macro trends and regulatory situations. However what was important to note is that the trends that drive self-care aka consumer healthcare, are still strong and consumers are increasingly invested behind wellness and prevention, as well as being increasingly hungry for information and advice in regards to their self-care.
On the positive side, we see good growth from medium size companies and niche categories, and indeed we see some of these niche categories, such as probiotics, becoming major growth drivers for the industry. There has also been dynamic growth from mid-sized companies and I hypothesise that this is because these companies are hungrier and more ready to take brave steps to engage with the consumer.
What we need to think about, which was very clearly articulated by Nicholas, is the total opportunity for our industry and bigger market that we currently do not measure. This is driven by factors including women’s health, aging population, adjacencies, sexual health, digital and m-health, pharmacy point of care and ecommerce. Our challenge as an industry is to start looking for growth in those areas, where traditionally we have left the field to technology companies and niche players.
The conference was also remarkable this year for the number of best practice case studies, presented by the Nicholas Hall Group of Companies as well as individual brands. Some of these were a part of the awards for best practice, while others were integrated into different presentations. This underlines the importance of demonstrating not only what we need to do but also more importantly how we need to bring it to life.
I was particularly inspired by the presentation on Systane, which demonstrated some exciting insights into what is a high potential category for eye care, currently under penetrated as most sufferers do not go to the doctor or pharmacist as they believe their condition is due to their lifestyle.
Taking over the stage after a small networking break on Day 1, we had dynamic presentation by Shayne Garcia (iProspect) on the engagement of consumers with digital. Some very important points were made in regards to how we must change the way we build trust with our consumers. She made the point that we have gone beyond rule books, advertising and brands, and we need to start focusing on building trust through the collective experience with consumers. Building a digital strategy as part of the integrated communication strategy has always been a stumbling block when it comes to engaging the digital consumer. Shayne gave some great advice about how we might consider starting small, experimenting and building on what works. It made me think that actually new communication strategies are more successful when they are built with strong engagement with the consumer’s right from the beginning so that indeed the consumer is part of the process for creating and improving the communication message and media.
We now have the opportunity to engage with the exact ‘moment’ that we can touch the consumer and leave the most impactful messages at key moments, ensuring that our message gets through the mental filter and engages their conscious thoughts. These programmatic functions building on artificial intelligence would effectively allow us to speak to every individual at the times and in the ways that they want. This requires us to completely rethink how we begin to develop our integrated communication strategies. So the future for communication has more to do with chaos thinking then with a rational and structured plan.
Straight after Shayne, we heard from Irena Chang (P&G), who inspired us with the approach that P&G is now taking to engage with the digital consumer, moving from claims data to observed behaviour data in the development of insights.
She spoke about the zero moments of truth, where consumers are searching for information as being a critical touch point for our brands. There was a great statement by Irena with regards to our own people, where she articulated the quote from David Taylor (P&G) who said ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’, underlining the fact that people are your most important resource to building brands and reputations, and that we ignore the importance of culture with a huge element of risk in our organisations.
The future of retailing is very much Omnichannel, where consumers will use information from online to engage with a pharmacist virtually or face to face, but then buy from an online pharmacy or drugstore. So we have to start thinking of how we begin to build our distribution strategy in a much more fluid way than our traditional bricks and mortar. The differences between online and real stores is now a very grey area and the winners of the future will be those that are able to easily ensure a common message and identity across these relevant channels.
Later in the day, there was a good example of how this Omnichannel comes to life within China, where Leon Duan (Acorn) made a very strong case for entering e-retail through the use of e-retailers such asnAlibaba and T-mo, where products can be made available to the Chinese consumer within three to four months, versus the uncertain registration route which may take up to 3 years or more.
Further on, Debjit Rudra (GSK) made a very strong case for ensuring that we focus on empowering consumers to better manage and take responsibility for their self-care. We’ve seen some excellent data, which shows that in markets like India, the spend of GDP is a mere 2% on healthcare and also the ratio of doctors to patients is incredibly low. As an industry we have the responsibility to catalyse healthcare to ensure consumers have awareness of conditions, education and knowledge needed to treat the conditions and then of course the confidence to treat. As an industry we have to better understand the consumer journey, because historically the focus has been clearly on doctors as the catalysts for healthcare, but today the consumer is at the heart of that focus. A great quote from the conference in the WSMI Sydney Conference, which I remember clearly is that ‘the best drug is a well informed and inspired consumer’.