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 edetailing 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 each other, 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 are able to opt-in many interested physicians to on-going 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 impact the organization and begin to lay a cultural foundation for digital transformation.

3. On 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 to 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 POA (plan of action), 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, etc. 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 make 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 need to go through this journey with them.


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David Ormesher, CEO

Founder and CEO of closerlook, a recognized leader in creating innovative relationship marketing solutions that help pharmaceutical companies get closer to their most important customers. Learn more about closerlook here.


Tags: innovation, marketing, pharma

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The drugs, Optistavin, Easovartis and Librylin, and names, results, case studies and specific information, referenced in this advertisement are fictional and were created solely for illustrating the digital marketing capabilities of closerlook, inc. Any resemblance to actual drugs, medications, treatments, persons, living or dead, or to actual events, is purely coincidental. closerlook, inc. does not assume and hereby disclaims any liability to any party for any loss, damage or disruption caused by such party’s reliance on the fictitious information contained in this illustration.

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