Our thinking

Pharma’s digital transformation should start with marketing

For pharma leadership trying to define “digital transformation,” I would suggest that marketing is a great place to start the journey.

For one, marketing is an area where there has likely already been some experimentation, even if it hasn’t been defined by an overarching strategy. Secondly, if done well, digital marketing can have an immediate impact on share of voice, Rx lift and marketing cost reduction. It’s low-hanging fruit for most companies.

And finally, unlike R&D or the supply chain where you’ll be making significant capital investments in process and technology, it’s much easier to experiment quickly in marketing. This can give the pharma company valuable experience with agile project management methodologies.


Marketing is an efficient way to start the digital transformation journey.

Let’s take a closer look at the three ways marketing can kick-start the digital transformation journey for a pharma company.

1. Past experience with digital tactics can help inform a strategy.

Most pharma brands have been investing in brand websites or HCP portals for years. It’s become a standard part of the launch playbook. Some have used e-detailing to reach physicians or email marketing and digital media to reach patients with coupons. The next step is to connect these tactics into a more cohesive and overarching digital strategy.

While budgets have been allocated to online tactics for years, rarely has there been an overarching strategy that ties digital activities to business outcomes. We have seen many one-off campaigns handled by multiple agencies with milestones or campaign targets as the goals rather than core financial or patient outcome metrics. While this has certainly added to the collective experience of the brand and its agencies, it hasn’t furthered the cause of digital transformation or necessarily attained C-suite buy-in.

Digital transformation becomes real when marketing tactics and activities flow from a thoughtful digital strategy and are measured by centralized data analytics.

2. Digital marketing can provide an immediate impact on financial returns.

Once you’ve put together a marketing strategy with a set of interlocking, customer-centric digital tactics that reinforce one another, digital can have an immediate impact on the organization.

We’ve witnessed this impact multiple times when clients decide to build a digital pre-launch strategy. We begin to engage patients or physicians around a disease or an unmet need while a drug is still in the clinical trial phase. By providing relevant clinical content, we can opt in many interested physicians to ongoing communications. On the day of FDA approval, the brand can immediately reach out through digital channels to these physicians, providing a dramatic jump-start to the launch.

This is a simple example of one area in which digital strategy can financially affect the organization and begin to lay a cultural foundation for digital transformation.


Digital transformation becomes real when marketing tactics and activities flow from a thoughtful digital strategy and are measured by centralized data analytics.


3. Becoming nimble and responsive

A third reason why starting with marketing makes sense is that it can be nimble. You can move quickly in marketing.

Marketing is the ideal environment for testing, for learning, for iterating. Since digital marketing is essentially content plus software, it gives you the ability to stay agile and respond to customers’ reactions in real time.

For example, CRM provides insight about individual customers based on their apparent or reported needs and preferences. With a content management system, it’s possible to put together multiple message components that can be combined and personalized based on what you’ve learned about a physician or patient. Data analytics will track performance and, with the right analyst and strategy team involved, will provide actionable recommendations on the next marketing move.

A marketing hypothesis can be developed quickly and tested in the marketplace. Unlike the normal “waterfall” development and approval approach with a triannual plan of action (POA), you can test your targeting and content strategy on a continual basis. Simple software tools allow you to do A/B testing with your marketplace and make changes quickly.

This will not only have a positive financial impact on the brand and organization, but it will have a huge cultural impact. By introducing agile methodologies to marketing project management and building a responsive data culture in the company, the organization will begin to take meaningful steps in its journey of digital transformation.


Next steps

For many pharmaceutical companies, however, the lack of experience with digital strategy and data analytics among their core agency partners can derail the transformation process.

Since pharma rarely has the internal capabilities to do digital marketing, they expect their agencies to do that for them. Over time, the proliferation of vendors managing different aspects of the digital promotional plan such as social media, websites, email marketing, et cetera becomes a rat’s nest of uncoordinated and inefficient tactics with no overarching strategy behind them.

Given the fact that most large healthcare agencies and agency networks still make most of their money managing traditional media (although that’s changing), most AORs haven’t developed a deep bench in digital strategy or data analytics. It’s critical that pharma marketing leadership makes digital strategy expertise a key requirement alongside clinical, creative and media proficiency for their agency partners.

Ultimately, not only does pharma need to go through this digital transformation journey, but their entire ecosystem of agencies also needs to go through this journey with them.

our thinking

Illustration of pharma R&D process

Value creation powered by data

Value creation is “product innovation” at work.

Read more
Man on laptop looking at screen

How to use data to capture value in pharma

Value capture encompasses the strategies for bringing a new therapy to the market as effectively and efficiently as possible. If the value creation process was well-informed by the patient journey, the needs of providers and the realities of payer economics, then there is likely a differentiated product that is ready for market.

Read more
Mother and HCP on telehealth call

Building resilience for the “next normal”

The immediate response to the global COVID-19 pandemic was to quarantine the sick, create physical distance among the healthy, and triage thousands.

Read more

Letʼs work together.