Reputational reset: How digital capabilities can help biopharma companies (re)build consumer trust - Thoughts from the Centre | Deloitte UK

By Jonathan Fox, Managing Director, Deloitte Consulting US, and Hanno Ronte, Partner, Monitor Deloitte UK


Let’s talk about trust, specifically, consumer trust in biopharmaceutical (biopharma) manufacturers. Why do consumers trust or distrust biopharma companies? What do consumers think biopharma should do to increase trust? Can companies use digital capabilities to build, or in some cases rebuild, consumer trust? Why is trust important? These were some of the questions we discussed at a digital leader’ roundtable event at LSX’s World Congress USA event which Deloitte was a sponsor. This week’s blog provides our personal take on the key takeaways to emerge from that discussion.

Trust in an organisation is defined by a set of relationships between the entity and its stakeholders. For biopharma companies, these include patients, consumers, regulators, healthcare providers (HCPs), payers, venture capitalists, and employees. An organisation’s actions drive stakeholder trust and resulting behaviours, such as continued product usage, partnering and investment decisions, as well as employee motivation. These, in turn, impacts business outcomes and performance. Building trust is not a one-off activity but the result of cumulative actions and behaviours of the biopharma company operating in a complex ecosystem. Importantly, trust drives customer loyalty. For example, 62 per cent of people who report having high trust in a brand, will buy almost exclusively from that brand over competitors in the same product category.1

Biopharma companies face a number of challenges in building and maintaining trust with consumers; some of which are of their own making. A number of controversies in recent years, including product recalls, the opioid crisis and concerns about privacy and lack of transparency, have diminished the industry’s reputational integrity, leaving consumer trust of biopharma companies divided.

In support of the forum discussion we provided an overview of our January 2021, Deloitte’s US and UK Centres for Health Solutions conducted consumer focus group research in four countries (the US, UK, India, and South Africa), to understand what trust means to consumers and why it is important, the reasons for distrust and what companies can do to increase trust. Our report, Overcoming biopharma’s trust deficit: Why people distrust the biopharma industry and what to do about it, found that 80 per cent of participants said they either trust biopharma or are neutral towards them.

The strongest sentiments of trust were in India (89 per cent), whilst 62 per cent of participants in the UK and 65 per cent in South Africa agreed/or strongly agreed that they “trust biopharma companies”. In contrast, 50 per cent of participants in the US said they don’t trust biopharma companies with one possible explanation being the recent public hearings and press articles highlighting concerns about people who cannot afford critical drugs due to their price, as well as the high volume of direct-to-consumer advertising that includes a long list of drug side effects.2

When asked to choose their most trusted sources of health-related information, focus group participants ranked physicians, medical associations, and government health agencies, respectively, in the top three spots. Participants ranked biopharma companies near the bottom of the list of eight possibilities in all countries, except in India where positive sentiment towards biopharma manufacturers appeared to be higher.3

Trust in biopharma companies is at an inflection point
Our discussion acknowledged the fact that biopharma companies can manage and grow trust with consumers and other stakeholders by demonstrating competence in their abilities to deliver safe and efficacious vaccines and their intent to help patients in all circumstances. In particular that the industry’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a unique opportunity for a reputational reset. There was a general consensus that biopharma can use this opportunity as a springboard for actions to reconnect with consumers globally and build trust by showcasing their innovative capabilities and value to society. Moreover, that companies’ collaborative efforts, both among themselves and with government agencies, to speed up the process of bringing vaccines to market was another opportunity that the industry should build on.

Deloitte research indicates that when a biopharma company demonstrates certain behavioural signals — humanity, transparency, capability, and reliability — consumers will view their brand more favourably. Accordingly, our ‘Overcoming biopharma’s trust deficit’ report, details strategies that can help companies strengthen these signals and gain consumer trust:

  • Elevating and humanising industry leaders, especially CEOs, but also chief scientific officers and other scientists who work for the companies and have a strong sense of purpose
  • developing partnerships with patient groups, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists, and other organisations that can help provide useful information about products, as well as sharing what companies are doing to make drugs accessible
  • designing experiences that proactively communicate and quickly respond to consumer complaints in a timely fashion, using appropriate channels, and in ways that comply with regulations
  • devoting more efforts to support communications that explain complex science and trials to the public
  • calling out “bad actors” collectively and promptly to demonstrate accountability for behaviours or practices that are not representative of how the rest of the industry wants to operate.4

Digital can help bridge the trust divide
The forum discussion moved to focus on the issue raised in our report on lack of transparency about company financials, how drugs are developed, medicine outcomes and the effectiveness and/or side effects that were among the focus group participants’ stated reasons for not trusting biopharma companies. While manufacturers are required to provide such information as part of the regulatory approval process and in reports to shareholders, there was an acknowledgement that it may not always be presented in an easily accessible and understandable way.

The shift of healthcare delivery from in-person to digital settings, which accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, is spawning numerous technology-powered capabilities that can help biopharma companies increase transparency and bridge the trust divide by efficiently and effectively engaging with patients/consumers (either directly or indirectly) and other stakeholders (especially HCPs, payers and regulators). Digital strategies that companies should consider include:

  • Leveraging the company’s digital presence, including maintaining a patient-centric website, to connect with patients, who will be actively living with and discussing their conditions through a variety of online forums (social media, apps or other channels) and to respond to their concerns and queries promptly and appropriately.
  • Partnering with HCPs, payers, and patient advocacy groups to develop additional channels of digital engagement to share product efficacy and safety information, support medication adherence, track outcomes, and provide data to providers and links to other patients and viewing the digital relationship with stakeholders as a long-term asset, not as a one-off transaction.
  • Submitting drug dossiers to regulators and payers electronically and making trial results and data available on platforms accessible to the public.
  • Using experience management platforms, analytics, and other digital capabilities to generate insights that can shape engagement strategies, enable continuous improvement, and drive trust to enable deeper long-term relationships (companies should move beyond basic input measures such as click throughs to identify how stakeholders engage over time).
  • Being transparent about the digital relationship biopharma wants to build with stakeholders, ranging from obtaining consent for digital engagement to ensuring content and campaigns are meaningful to seamlessly integrating digital communications with face-to-face (F2F) and other channels.

Trust matters on many levels
Gaining and retaining consumer trust is a growing imperative for today’s biopharma companies, which are held to an exceptionally high standard as manufacturers of products that are designed to make patients’ lives better. Digital capabilities can provide biopharma with new pathways to improve transparency, educate and inform, and increase awareness of and confidence in industry innovation, value, and integrity. In a digitising world, actively managing trust matters today and even more so tomorrow.


Jonathan Fox - Managing Director, Deloitte Consulting US

Jonathan is a leader within Deloitte’s life sciences practice. He has more than 20 years of consulting experience, primarily focused on envisioning and implementing innovative customer and technology strategies and assisting companies with building capabilities to address evolving market dynamics. Jonathan has focused a significant amount of time on the topics of digital strategy and innovation, patient engagement, mHealth, digital R&D, real world evidence and new care delivery models.

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Hanno Ronte

Hanno Ronte - Partner, Monitor Deloitte UK

Hanno is a partner at Monitor Deloitte, our strategy consultancy business. He has more than 20 years of consulting experience primarily in the healthcare and life sciences sector. Hanno leads the Life Sciences and Healthcare team in Monitor Deloitte and is responsible for building the ‘Real World Evidence Capability’ within that. His projects have focused on corporate and business unit strategy, competitive response, marketing strategy and capability building.

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1 Deloitte HX TrustID™ Benchmarking Survey, May 2020.
2 Overcoming biopharma’s trust deficit: Why people distrust the biopharma industry and what to do about it
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.


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