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Growth Hacking: Pharma Get Cracking

Updated: Jun 8, 2022

Words by Louise Rogers

A growth hacker – “a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinised by its potential impact on scalable growth.” Entrepreneur Sean Ellis coined the term back in 2010, amid the birth of start-ups like Airbnb and Uber. In the early stages, when funds are limited, these companies use social media and email marketing tactics to grow while managing budgets. These tactics fuel their rise from hidden start-ups to household names, and with them comes the rising of the concept of growth hacking: the fastest way to build a customer base through rapid experimentation across marketing channels. But growth hacking is not only for the fresh-faced as pharma too looks to increase its followers and constrain seemingly large marketing budgets.

If the method works accelerate it, if it doesn’t kill it and kill it with pride!

Representing the growth hackers of healthcare at eyeforpharma Barcelona is Kasper Jerlang, Head of Global Digital Marketing and Engagement, LEO Pharma. “LEO is still a relatively small company, and we can’t always schedule face-to-face interactions with our customers”, Jerlang explains. He quotes John Wanamaker, a pioneer in marketing: “‘Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, but the trouble is I don’t know which half’ – we see this constantly in the industry. A rep visits an HCP and we see sales. But was it the message? The number of visits? The data? The fancy iPad? We don’t always know what has worked but the good news is, if we work with digital engagement, we can create mountains of data to make informed decisions.”

LEO recognises the need to figure out the best and fastest way of reaching HCPs to build their customer base and so begin the journey of hacking their way to the top. “You pick what you want to focus on, for example product sales on your online store. You look at your reach activities and access which of those are driving growth the whole way through the marketing funnel towards that metric.”

Whereas traditional marketers will focus heavily on the early stages of the customer journey, the scope of growth hackers is broad; hackers are required to work through the entire marketing funnel from awareness to advocacy – possessing a ‘funnel vision’, you could say. “You shouldn’t be thinking ‘Great! A lot of doctors have clicked on my banner’ – you need to always be looking at the end and whether they are actually converting with what you want them to. We find the minimum viable experiment or minimum viable product and experiment with it – if the method works accelerate it, if it doesn’t kill it and kill it with pride!”, comments Jerlang.

One of LEO’s hacking projects aims to get more newsletter signups. The ambition: to drive HCPs with an interest in psoriasis to the landing page of their online portal ‘Dermaworld’. LEO’s tests consider different methods of driving HCPs to conversion through social media, email campaign, and landing page. On Facebook and LinkedIn, they test various forms of advertising: different content, imagery, text, and even compare the two platforms, to see which outperforms the other. With email, they use A/B testing with headers and content, and the landing pages display different signup forms. All very standard tests; however, it is the volume of data a company can gain from the multitude of experiments conducted that is of value, which can then be used to modify the content and channels through which they communicate. “The hard part is creating enough content that is differentiated towards different needs”, comments Jerlang.

The hard part is creating enough content that is differentiated towards different needs

We can see from this experimentation that a completely new change of mindset is needed. Jerlang highlights “A lesson to learn is to nurture a culture of experimentation and a culture of failure. At LEO Innovation Lab, we have a ‘Hall of Fame’ where we display all of our projects, even the ones that fail – I think this enables people to be braver.”

A crucial aspect to bear in mind is the implementation of growth hacking strategies, as this is context dependent. The balance between global and affiliate execution of marketing experiments and tactics receive attention at this year’s event. While a globalised execution is paramount for enabling and getting capabilities initialised, there really is a need for someone local who understands the capability in each affiliate. Philippe Kirby, Digital Capabilities & Marketing Lead, MSD, shares his experience: “In one of our markets we had a very strong omni-channel team, so we built that structure into all business units instead of centralising the process, but the management of the portal fell to pieces because no one was keeping it alive. You need both a central team to manage the capabilities and the larger organisation to get the best value out of those capabilities.”

What seems the most efficient and logical doesn’t always shine with humans, which LEO figure out when rolling out their global execution. “Our affiliates were completely uncomfortable with someone in Copenhagen launching campaigns in their market – this is not surprising but interesting to learn, and not something we will do again”, says Jerlang.

Is growth hacking the new marketing for pharma? It’s clear that the methods are not only for Silicon Valley start-ups but for any company or division looking to grow rapidly and generate major output, without embarking on a long haul project. It is also important to be aware of the market you are hacking in, taking the human factor into account. With so much data generated, the devil really is in the details; time and effort must be spent in result analysis, so that pharma can execute the changes needed and hack their way to the top.

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