Accentuate the ... non-obvious? Trend-watcher coaches pharma marketers on offbeat thinking

29 October 2020

Beth Snyder Bulik / FiercePharma

Isn’t it obvious? Actually, the best ideas aren't, though they may be hiding in plain sight. And that's exactly what longtime trend-watcher Rohit Bhargava wanted to teach pharma marketers on Wednesday.

To avoid the obvious, Bhargava said, develop new habits to think differently. His five ways to do that? See what others miss, always ask why, take time to think, craft elegant ideas and learn how to move on from the ones that aren't working.

All that may be easier said than done, but Bhargava—founder of the Non-Obvious Company, best-selling author and former ad agency executive—looks to practice those skills every day, he said Wednesday during a keynote talk at Fierce Pharma Marketing’s Digital Pharma Innovation Week.

The offbeat thinking is all about seeding innovation.

“You can’t innovate by looking at the best thing someone else did in the pharma industry and copying it. That by definition is not innovation. We have to think about something outside the industry,” he said.

For instance, Bhargava reads magazines far outside his interest zone, such as Teen Vogue and Modern Farmer. Physical magazines are important, by the way, because they skirt the digital algorithms that might deliver content or advertising tailored to his tastes. With print copies, he sees ads for products he doesn’t use and reads articles about celebrities he doesn’t know.

That reading feeds his curation process, but it's far from the only source. He clips articles, yes, but collects ideas from all over and uses lots of sticky notes to help aggregate themes into bigger trends.

Empathy and open mindedness are a common thread in the trends he articulated.

He calls one of them “human mode,” which describes how people relate to things that are more genuine and have more personality—even to the point of being flawed.

One example? Shampoo bottles. Herbal Essences added raised stripes or dots to the bottom of its bottles so that visually impaired people can tell the difference between shampoo and conditioner. The move ended up working for sighted people who might have their eyes closed in the shower when reaching for the bottles.

“When you innovate for these smaller groups, when you innovate with empathy, you can create something that’s valuable for everyone. And you can respect the entire community as a result,” Bhargava said.

Other trends included “revivalism”—focused on finding comfort in the familiar, as evidenced in the comeback of things like vinyl records, movie remakes and board games—and “flux commerce," centered on the blurring of business lines such as Apple’s credit cards and Taco Bell’s first hotel.

Another "megatrend" as Bhargava calls them is “purposeful profit.” That's the idea that it's important to people that the companies and brands they use are sustainable and stand for something. 

But what do all these trends mean for pharma marketers? New ideas and creative thinking.

“What any of these trends can do for you is not give you sense of ‘here’s the fire and we have to jump on top of it,’ but 'here’s a spark,' ” he said. “They can deliver a spark to inspire new thinking.”

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