If you want to go fast, go alone,” so the ancient African proverb goes, “but if you want to go far, go together.”
In health, it has always taken partnerships to communicate with and serve an audience in a meaningful way; businesses of all sorts have long been a mash-up of skills in art and a host of sciences. That hasn’t changed. Partnerships can often be arrangements of conformity: acquisitions or vendor relationships crafted to help validate the version of the story the entity in the catbird seat has chosen. These only help strengthen the forces governing the gravitational pull of the familiar.
“Partnerability” is a different thing entirely. In healthcare engagements, no single company can keep pace with the rate of change today. Partnering is no longer a nice thing for health marketers to say we do; it is increasingly the essential skill for any business. While it’s en vogue for big companies today to partner with newer, smaller entities, to accelerate and incubate and mentor, this is not simply a box to be checked. Partnerability is the new capability in health.
Partnering is a symbiotic venture. It can do many things for both pharma organizations and patients, but I think there three essential values for big and small companies to bear in mind when setting forth on partnerships to consider:
- Partnerships help you go further faster, quickly taking you beyond “selling” your product to becoming a valuable resource for HCPs and their patients to find better health outcomes.
- Partnerships create hybridity and open you up to new thoughts and approaches to help people navigate the complex healthcare landscape.
- Most importantly, they forever change you and your partner. You will both move through your partnership acquiring new skills and new knowledge.
That faster is the new fast is obvious, so let’s tackle further. Further can certainly mean expanding into distant and untapped markets, but I look at it as going further into the relevance of your customer’s world. In life sciences, we communicate the virtues and indications of brands to drive preference and use. Partnerships may be just the solution to take you beyond telling people about a brand or disease and providing value in and among things unfolding in the context of an illness.
Exploring what you could, then should and ultimately can do first, is likely to reveal opportunities for you to serve and simplify the needs of your audience. This introspection prior to seeking partners also helps you understand your organizational ability to actually pull off such collaborations.
People tend to surround themselves with validation more than opposition. A new solution with an endemic publisher is comfortable, but your comfort zone is not where exponential growth will occur. Hybridity requires openness to eclectic and seemingly disconnected partners.
Hybridity pads the walls of your echo chamber, making it difficult for yesterday’s familiar answers to reverberate into today’s challenges. A caution is that this is really difficult; it requires an openness to perspectives of people you may not view as having your particular expertise.
Partnerships, especially those between healthcare companies and those outside the industry, open both entities to new ways of thinking and execution. Creatives and chefs tend to get it best. They play with a new group, observe a new artist, hear a different way to tell a story, eat a new dish, and suddenly their skills begin to expand in new ways and they are forever changed and influenced.
Start-ups make decisions differently — faster and with a heightened sense of finality. A stumble for a large company could well be a fatal fall for an emerging one. The disadvantaged nature of start-ups provides them a different lens of the world. Assimilation is never their goal.
The wild things that inhabit start-ups are what attract big pharma, and other established companies in the health and wellness arena to them, and the stability of the larger organization is comforting to the start-up. Adjusting to each organization’s tolerance for risk is imperative to making a successful long-term partnership.
The most difficult thing you will face in this is getting someone to change the very things their ego and economics depend on their not changing – even though they are the necessary adaptations for growth. We all feel the pull of the familiar; it is strong and many times the right direction, but it is comfortable and alone will never provide exponential differentiation for large healthcare companies with their customers: patients and HCPs.
By Richard Schwartz of Digitas Health LifeBrands, a creative agency purpose-built to connect health and wellness brands with peoples’ deep desire to make healthy, confident choices for themselves and for their loved ones. Digitas Health is leading a new wave of thinking around HCP marketing, and the agency partners with Dreamit to provide marketing support and guidance to early-stage startups.