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Thoughts from the OTC Pharma Conference in Singapore

Written by:
John Hall
John Hall

Skarbek Associates sponsored the 2016 OTC Pharma Conference in Singapore. Paul Heugh gave a talk about innovation and agility which was very well received. Entitled “How fast can we go without the wheels coming off?”, the talk focused on lessons that can be learned from other sectors and disciplines which can give OTC Healthcare organisations the edge in achieving their growth goals.

John Hall, one of Skarbek’s Associates based in Singapore wrote this article inspired by attending the conference.

“It’s Asia right? It’s emerging, a large and important opportunity, still growing and therefore we should make it a region to give it the same focus as our mature markets. It’s near that far-away-place Australia so let’s make it Asia-Pacific to be sure. Time for a reality check, courtesy of our Skarbek associates who attended the recent OTC Asia Pharma conference in Singapore and put their minds to testing these assumptions.

The reality is one of highly fragmented markets, often very different to each other. Latin America can make do with one label for its OTC products; this is decades away in Asia. Local players are strong and place pressure on the margins of multi-national corporations. Centralised demands to keep price points static stifles the ability to add innovative features that consumers here will pay for.  In this scenario, efficient growth is a challenge and expectations may need to be different or even lower than other regions. All of this creates quite a dissonance with the outward picture of bountiful opportunity.

Then into this difficult environment is served up a helping of corporate left-overs. Research and line extensions from Western markets, developed for Western consumers. Visions of routes to markets that ignore many of realities of a disorganised retail market – “the man with the barrow”. Key executives who earned their spurs in developed markets, and are maybe not even based in the region. All of these factors serve up a smorgasbord of mismatched expectations and missed insights which cripples the ability to execute innovation and grow.

There are strengths to which OTC can play that our FMCG cousins know well. Compared to pharma, the regulatory environment is easier, we can look to engage the end consumer (rather than the doctor) and thus create experiences through our brands that engage emotionally. MNCs can also bring scale to successful local operations if they do it right. They can defend against price issues through soft currency sourcing.

Achieving success in Asia will be a learning experience where the fast eat the slow. Agility and adaptation is the key, not the lift and shift of corporate heft from elsewhere.”

For more information about the ways in which Skarbek Associates can help organisations achieve their growth and innovation objectives, contact us.