Our new global study reveals how Covid may reverse the sector’s reputational fortunes
In the stormy world of the global pharmaceutical sector’s reputation, 2020 has been an exceptional year. The industry has been attracting much scrutiny of its business model in recent years, and then came the Coronavirus crisis as a literal game-changer. Could it also change the tumultuous relationship between pharma and society?
The main issue that emerged was a lack of perceived relevance and differentiation in the sector as a whole.
Starting last year, Caliber has been tracking public perceptions of 67 pharmaceutical companies in 17 countries, using our Real-Time Tracker platform. Our aim was to get a better factual understanding of the pharmaceutical sector’s reputation among the public worldwide in light of public debates around access to medicine and sustainability. Most importantly, we wanted to find some clues as to what companies should do to improve this relationship for the benefit of the sector and society. We extended the duration of the study into Q2 2020 to better understand how the pandemic is affecting the reputation of the sector and what kind of future it is shaping.
The study shows that the reality of the global pharma sector’s reputation is more nuanced, and in fact more positive, than expected. Public perceptions of pharma companies around the world are actually improving year on year, and the views of many segments and countries are in fact very favorable. But the sector also struggles with perception issues, particularly in Europe and among the elderly population.
Many interesting insights emerged from the study. For example, the fact that the better a nation’s health system is, the less favorable its population is towards the pharma sector. And the fact that Small Pharma is better perceived than Big Pharma, primarily because it is seen to be more responsible and differentiated. We also found that the more known pharma companies are, the less trusted and liked they are – a real challenge for communicators in the sector.
But after interviewing more than 13,000 consumers, patients and physicians worldwide, the main issue that emerged was a lack of perceived relevance and differentiation in the sector as a whole. In other words – a problem of identity. And when it comes to identity, COVID-19 is already playing a very important role in reminding people of the sector’s importance and relevance, especially in markets like the US where the pandemic’s positive reputational impact has so far been greatest.
The pharma sector’s reputational woes have been building up for years and are to some degree inherent to its business model and the sometimes-unrealistic expectations of patients dreaming of a remedy to cure all ills. But as this report suggests – and as others have recently claimed – the pharma industry is in dire need of reminding people what it stands for, and COVID-19 has given it a rare opportunity to do so. If it does indeed take this opportunity to prove its relevance, a whole new relationship with society may follow: one that sees patients, employees, physicians, organizations and governments being more supportive and less critical. One that solidifies the sector’s legitimacy, ensures its future success, and enables it to fulfil its true role of improving lives and livelihoods.