11 of 14 Thought Starters

The phrase, “Who do you want your customers to become?” jumped out at me one day while flipping mindlessly through my e-mail. These words pointed me in a whole new direction in thinking about customers—both my own and those of my clients. So it hit me that the phrase might serve as a great thought-starter for 2013 planning.

Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become? is the title of an e-book by Michael Schrage being offered by the Harvard Business Review. The basic premise of Schrage’s book is that new products and services transform customers. Each new product and service asks a customer to become someone different. One example Schrage gives is Facebook: “Facebook asks its users to become more open and sharing with their personal information,” says Schrage. Another example is how the Prius brand asks customers “to evolve from merely being drivers to becoming ‘environmentally responsible.’”

Businesses can keep growing by asking, “Who do our customers want to become?” and helping them get there by strategically investing in customer capabilities. Invest in customers, because, as Schrage puts it, “your future depends on their future.” So it’s essential that marketers/innovators understand and support what their product/service asks their customers to become.

This concept seems to have special relevance to pharmaceutical marketing because, after all, don’t our medicines transform patients into healthier people? Don’t our relationship marketing programs foster education and adherence?

It seems to me that the question of, “Who do you want your customers to become?” has a lot of application in our 2013 plans.

So I ask you; what does a good pharma customer look like now and in the future?

  • Patients: Someone good at self-advocacy? One who can effectively conduct research online? One who knows how to build a support network, on- and offline?
  • Physicians: A physician who can effectively navigate the transition to electronic medical records? One who can effectively communicate with patients? One who can convince managed care organizations to authorize the use of a Tier 3 medication only when medically necessary?
  • Emerging customers: What does a pharma-friendly Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH) or an Accountable Care Organization (ACO) look like?

Once you have a vision of what a good customer looks like, both now and in the future, you can start to think about investments that your brand can make to help these customers along the way. A program that teaches patients how to be better online researchers is one example.

The question also provides a useful way to consider the effectiveness of planned innovations. For example, do you have an app scheduled to launch next year? Schrage would urge you to consider how the app will make the customer more valuable. Do patients and physicians become more valuable because you can reduce the amount of paper-based education you provide? Can physicians offer a higher level of patient care? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, what can you do to accelerate the proper use of the app to achieve these benefits?

There are lots of great questions and exercises in the book that broaden one’s approach to meeting customer needs. So I am asking you to become more of a change agent in your organization: Ask yourself what new questions you can ask your team in your 2013 planning sessions.