Unless you have been vacationing on a remote island recently, you may have heard that Steve Jobs passed away. I did not know the man personally, but I can say with certainty that he impacted my life. As a college freshman in 1985, I can remember the exact moment when the library at the University of Rochester got a whole bunch of Macintosh computers. Looking back on those machines, they did not do much by today’s standards, but they were cool. I recall that every workstation was occupied, even though most people were just fooling around with MacPaint. Since then, Apple devices are as ubiquitous in American homes as television sets, according to Nielsen, and this is part of Steve Jobs’ legacy – he made you want what he was marketing.

Pharma can learn valuable lessons from the work of Steve Jobs. Home electronics and pharmaceuticals have a few justifiable similarities: the target audience is large, there is a lot of competition, and they are both dominated by brands that can deliver a “wow factor.” What that “wow factor” is can take on many forms, but its importance in undeniable. As more and more brands vie for space in the American medicine cabinet, pharmaceutical marketers need to convince patients they should want (or even need) what they are selling.

So how does pharma capture and use some of that Apple magic? In the pharmaceutical space, it comes down to two basic elements: an educated consumer/patient and brands that deliver more than just the essentials.

Consumer/patient education: We are all consumers in one way or another, but not all of us are patients. A patient is a consumer who has been diagnosed with a disease, disorder, or condition. Are these groups separate or are they two sides of the same coin? In the United States, almost 19 million people have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes mellitus, and this makes them patients. However, an additional 86 million are either undiagnosed diabetics or have a condition known as prediabetes. Technically speaking, these are not patients, but I believe we can agree that they could benefit from educational programs and communications on a disease that could make them consumers of antihyperglycemic medications.

Bang for the buck: Years ago, you could have 5 or more drugs in a therapeutic class competing for market share with little differentiating them. Most of the time, the data available for decision-making were limited to common endpoints used in the registration trials for FDA approval. Furthermore, since little or no head-to-head data were available, medication choices were only “lightly” based on evidence. Therefore, if you want your target audiences “to want” your product, you need to give them a reason. These reasons do not need to be clinically based*, but can take on other forms with surprising effectiveness. One place we are seeing growth is in the number of brands providing financial support to patients in the form of prescription rebates and coupons. A brand that can reduce a burden, in this case a financial one, may find itself with many fans.

The take home message today is simple – if you want to succeed and you exist in a crowd, you need to be noticed. In pharma, you need to offer your providers, customers, patients, and payers a reason(s) to buy what you are selling. It worked for Apple, and it can work for us.

Rest in peace, Steve.

*However, these are always the best places to begin.