3 Things FMCG Innovators Can Learn From Healthcare

When you initially consider this question, the obvious differences between these two juggernauts probably spring to mind; decade long pipeline timelines, clinical trials and reams of regulatory red tape that the Healthcare sector have to negotiate aren’t exactly familiar territory for your average FMCG marketer.  

So, what can FMCG learn from Pharma or Healthcare when it comes to thinking outside the box for innovation? 

1. Offer B2B services to build loyalty with customers (ultimately driving brand preference)

Obviously within the Pharma world, offering services to the patient (= the consumer) is strictly prohibited, but companies have managed to set themselves apart by offering services into GP practices, which builds loyalty with healthcare professionals (= the target audience) and, in turn, directly impact the patient. Specialist nurses are a particularly successful example of this – companies such as GSK led the market in respiratory care for years by providing practice-based nurses to support GP surgeries.

How could this work within FMCG?

There are already some examples from consumer healthcare brands that demonstrate a similar approach, the majority being online support services:

  • One example is Oral B and Fixodent’s Dentist training and support programme dentalcare, which offers continuing professional development opportunities and provides the customer (the dentist) with product samples to pass on to the consumer. 

dentalcare.com website main page

The essence of this idea is that providing support rather than product itself builds advocacy for your innovation, which in turn encourages people to seek it out and buy it.

For example,  

  • Could Piriton provide Boots with Allergy Experts for the summer months to support consumers?
  • Or J&J to support with Baby Sleep Experts in Mothercare?
  • Why not consider further developing existing activation tactics for food brands such as product sampling in store by adding in a nutritionist or chef to offer advice and tips as well as recipes and ideas?
  • Could Bacardi put mixologists that could help drive their new innovation in a chain of trendy bars?


2. Create a system for consumers to engage with your innovation

Some healthcare brands are starting to think differently, having created self-diagnosis systems to enable consumers to navigate through a range of products, confirming which one is most appropriate for their symptoms.  Canesten has done this both online and instore in Boots, whilst Infacol offers an online questionnaire or dedicated app to help parents understand more about colic and how to manage their baby’s symptoms.

infacol website main home page, text says is it colic? is your child showing the symtoms of colic?

How could this work within FMCG?

  • Again, Oral B has developed a great system to engage kids with brushing their teeth. Their Disney MagicTimer app simply provides a countdown for optimum brushing time, and when linked to a specific Oral B device it enables you to collect virtual rewards and track progress over time. Think about how you could develop an app or ancillary service or product that could underpin or support the launch of your new innovation. It’s the cleverness of the bundle that you provide that ultimately engages the consumer – not just the new product in its own right.


This approach could surely be taken further into classic FMCG categories – for example the tea market, which has exploded in recent years with ever more variants and quirky flavours.  Create a system to help navigate the range and suggest an appropriate choice.  You could have three main filters to get there – taste preference (spicy, mellow, fruity); desired mood (calming, energising) and health outcome (digestive benefits, improved sleep, stress relief).  Dependent upon the channel used to deliver this system (app vs. instore) both could offer the benefit of immediate purchase at the point of recommendation, but also follow through with additional support in terms of information around the desired health benefit expressed –  e.g. “10 ways to improve your sleep”.


3. Use channel differentiation to create new opportunities

Using virtual technology to bypass traditional structures and processes to create growth is an obvious approach for a cash-strapped and resource stretched NHS.  An example which really highlights this is pushdoctor, which is all about using FaceTime or Skype for consultations with registered doctors to bypass long waits for traditional appointments with GPs.  The obvious benefits are that this cuts costs and reduces overheads whilst, most crucially, delivering a faster solution for consumers. 

How could this work within FMCG?

For Millennials, who already do most of their communication and interaction via their phones, could this type of approach provide a step change in the way they engage with certain brands and categories? 

Take a classic teenage issue such as acne, or a stage further with something like psoriasis. The ability to photograph skin alongside answering some questions about symptoms could help provide an initial diagnosis or product recommendation. It removes the need for the person to engage directly with someone else.  A specialist skin care brand like Clearasil or E45 could take this idea, which already exists as “tele-dermatology” in Pharma, and commercialise for their product range by offering an immediate “click here to buy” option. 

The benefits are obvious for any self-conscious skin care consumer. They probably would rather not sit in a waiting room at the GP surgery or queue up at a Pharmacy to discuss symptoms in front of Joe Public. Instead, they can engage in the whole process from the comfort of their own home.

MD Acne is a great example of this, but it is a generic service and not intrinsically linked to or owned by a brand – yet!

website called MDacne it says treating acne has never been this easy there is an iphone which as a picture of a young girls face being analysed

Top Tips

  • When launching range extensions or NPD, how can you create a system so that consumers can discern which of your product offers will best meet their needs? This would be a great way to minimise cannibalisation of your core range, but still attract new users to the brand.
  • Don’t default to the standard FMCG route to market – will your innovation be more relevant and targeted via an e-commerce only strategy? i.e. – no retail distribution
  • Think about how to engage consumers with your products with ancillary support in the form of products or services which make the experience easier or superior in some way vs. using the product on its own