More and more, what they're actually in is the information business. Seth Godin sort of says so. So does (or did) Paul Hawken. A mashup of the two provides, we think, the right answer.
First, Hawken. Paul Hawken is the founder of Smith and Hawken, the garden company, and an extraordinarily prescient, original writer and thinker about business. One of his best books is The Next Economy, and here is a quote from a chapter entitled "The Informative Economy." it's almost eerily on target:
Since using more energy, whether directly or indirectly, makes goods more expensive and therefore less available, we will have to use less energy to produce the same or better goods if we are to maintain our standard of living. To do this, the amount of information per unit of prodution must increase correspondingly. Remember, we are defining information here as design, utility, and durability or, to put it another way, the application of the knowledge of how to best make or accomplish something.
Now, here is a quote from Seth Godin's post today, entitled How to Make Money Using The Internet.
Make money: not by building an internet company, but by using the
net as a tool to create value and get paid. Use the internet as a tool,
not as an end. Do it when you are part of a big organization or do it
as a soloist. The dramatic leverage of the net more than overcomes the
downs of the current economy.
The essence is this: connect.
Connect the disconnected to each other and you create value.
- Connect advertisers to people who want to be advertised to.
- Connect job hunters with jobs.
- Connect information seekers with information.
- Connect teams to each other.
- Connect those seeking similar.
- Connect to partners and those that can leverage your work.
- Connect people who are proximate geographically.
- Connect organizations spending money with ways to save money.
- Connect like-minded people into a movement.
- Connect people buying with people who are selling.
If you are a pharma company marketing a drug for a chronic condition, providing the drug is increasingly only part of what you're selling. The FDA will make sure that the drug is safe, efficacious and so on. The other part of what you're selling is connecting patients with information, or the source of information, even if you don't yet know exactly what they want. This role fits into at least three of the bullet points Godin mentioned; I've highlighted them.
Whether it's an 800 number for questions about using a glucose meter, an online message board where MS patients can communicate stories, experiences and approaches, or web site copy that explains, directly and meaningfully, what the side effects of a medication are, it's no longer enough to simply hand patients medicine and then move onto the next one. The better your drug, the more information will be available to patients along with it. Your job as a pharmaceutical comany is to connect patients to those information sources. Use as many channels as possible. Make the connection as strong, flexible and vital as you can. The patients can, and have, and will, take it from there.