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Agility to Stay Relevant

Updated: Dec 16, 2019

Words by Isabel O’Brien

The digital world has accelerated out of the starting blocks and it is time for the pharmaceutical industry to sign up to the race. We look at how pharma marketers can inspire internal agility and convince colleagues to bet on a new digital approach.

When video gaming became less popular, Nintendo had to re-strategise in order to stay relevant. They came up with Pokémon Go: the iconic mobile game that earned >$200 million in its first month and achieved a daily peak of >45 million users. It captivated the globe by transposing a classic product into a new digital dimension.

This model of agility is introduced by Ryan Connolly, Vice President, Creative, Anthill Agency, at the eyeforpharma Marketing and Innovation Europe event. “This is a non-pharma brand”, he says. “But it’s crucial to have a holistic view of how different companies are having to adapt and adopt to different mindsets.”

Healthcare is not a transient commodity, but it must still evolve and grow with the culture of its consumers. Pharmaceutical marketers are leading this transformation, but often face resistance when proposing innovative new ways to engage healthcare providers and patients with their products.

“We need to understand the world we are in now”, says Erasmus Holm, CMO and Digital Transformation Lead, Nordics and Baltics, MSD. “We are not moving into a digital era – we are already there... it’s really thinking about digital as electricity, when we first got electricity that was a fundamental change.”

Ferring Pharmaceuticals is one company that is pioneering digital. They launched the new generation of their bed wetting drug, Minirin, without a sales force, instead using a tracking app, interactive web resources, and social media.

“The big challenge was to deliver sales and reach the required targets in a declining market”, says Stacey Berold-Kutscher, Senior Digital Marketing Manager and Brand Lead, Ferring Pharmaceuticals. “Not the easiest thing to do with a sales team, not the easiest thing to do without.”

Yet it was a success: the digital strategy engaged children and their families with the condition, freed up the sales force to focus on other products, and improved awareness of the medical significance of bed wetting in HCPs. The return may not have been financially measurable from the outset, but it was rapidly quantifiable in terms of patient centricity, internal workload reduction, and brand visibility.

How then, in an industry that often lags behind due to heightened processes and regulation, do you convince colleagues of the potential of digital transformation and communicate its necessity?

“The way to get there for us has been to give very specific examples of what you need to change”, says Holm. “Because if someone just says: ‘well you just need to be agile and proactive and do blockchain and 5G’, no one understands what that means.”

Decoding digital can also be done through the creation of storytelling tools. When presenting a substantial change that will lead to upheaval, it is important to show colleagues the journey of the transformation – to pitch it, in a medium that works hard to engage them.

If someone just says: ‘well you just need to be agile and proactive and do blockchain and 5G’, no one understands what that means

“The world is moving towards an era of experience culture”, says Connolly. “When we experience something, we understand it in a very different way, it does different things to our brain, creates different connections.”

LEO Pharma are in the process of developing personalised advertising to HCPs, and during his talk at the eyeforpharma event, Christian Scheuer, Vice President of Global Strategy & Commercial Excellence, LEO Pharma, shared an internal video created to show how this would work and the benefits it would deliver.

“We developed this to show what it actually means to go on the journey”, Scheuer says.

The short film invited colleagues to consider their family Netflix account and how the algorithms can alter suggestions based on watch history. Watch Mad Men? Get recommended The West Wing. Go away for the weekend – come back to Stranger Things. Personalisation adapts in real time, and while it can cause frustrations at home, the video analogised how it could revolutionise marketing to HCPs in the future.

Still, we must be pragmatic. “When I watch Netflix at home, there is a whole machinery designed and deployed for basically one purpose and that is to generate data to continuously improve my experience”, says Scheuer. “However, Netflix started out in a different way to how we did in pharma.”

Whilst we can champion the importance of digital transformation and look to companies such as Nintendo and Netflix for inspiration, we must also be aware of the rigid and entrenched infrastructure of our industry. We cannot force agility; it must be gradually worked towards. Pharma can’t dive straight off the top board, we must build up to it, with marketing departments poolside as the enthusiastic coach.

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