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Life Sciences Organizations Overcome Today’s Biggest Content Management Challenges


Outdated processes and technologies make it difficult for organizations to customize materials without going through repetitive review cycles. Jason Sundberg outlines how two companies addressed these challenges with a combination of modern cloud technology, disciplined process design, and careful change management.

As life sciences companies create larger volumes of content each year for more digital channels, they struggle to efficiently manage it all. More than 75% of surveyed leaders recently reported that their organizations produce ‘moderate to enormous’ amounts of digital content, but only 13% think they manage content well.1 Some of the most cited challenges include keeping up with the demand for content, ensuring brand consistency and compliance globally, and enabling flexibility to tailor content for local markets.

Outdated processes and technologies make it difficult for organizations to customize materials without going through repetitive review cycles, even though much of the content is the same. Further, content is often siloed with different teams and in different systems, creating inefficiency. Organizations need new processes and better technology to speed development of personalized content for local markets while providing control over increasing volumes of digital assets worldwide. 

Merck, known as MSD outside of the U.S. and Canada, and an emerging specialty pharmaceutical company addressed these challenges with a combination of modern cloud technology, disciplined process design, and careful change management. Each of these companies are at different points in their journeys, but experiencing significant results as they continue to improve customer engagement and speed content to market.

Bringing content, marketing, and agencies together

Due to mergers and acquisition activity and a changing organizational structure, the biotech’s commercial assets were dispersed in different locations and systems. As a result, accessing and controlling these assets was difficult. Often, the marketing team recreated or paid agencies just to retrieve their old files which cost the company both time and resources.  

Growing quickly, the company needed to make a change. Its commercial operations team mapped out and implemented a new approach underpinned by an advanced digital asset management (DAM) application that brings together content storage, creation, review, approval, and distribution on one platform.

Assets are now stored, tagged, and managed globally in a cloud-based system, enabling all of the company’s stakeholders to easily track individual components as well as the associated copyrights and licenses to ensure proper usage. “By organizing and showcasing materials and campaigns in an end-to-end solution, our marketing teams can easily develop, find, and leverage digital assets,” explained the company’s digital asset management librarian.

The company also built a workflow that requires creative agencies to upload artwork before document approval to ensure retention of all source files. Now, it has full control over all its digital assets no matter where they are in development.

“Now that we know what we want to track in terms of permissions and material usage, we are classifying our content assets and associating rules for their use,” noted the organization’s director of marketing services. “This will ensure stakeholders use all content compliantly.”

Breaking content into reusable, pre-approved modules

Merck experienced similar challenges as the biotech. In response, Merck implemented a modular content strategy where core content is approved once and reused across many channels globally, breaking the cycle of creating channel-specific promotional and education materials that must be reviewed over and over by medical, legal and review (MLR) teams.

“The traditional HQ-to-local market distribution of content (see Figure 1) where information is presented in the most commonly used channel layouts is expensive, slow, and unrealistic in today’s digital world,” said Bernie Madden, director of content capabilities, global marketing operations, Merck.

In contrast, a modular content approach saves time and resources by breaking content down into small chunks or modules – the pre-approved, channel-agnostic building blocks of modular content. Modules are defined as arranged text, images, videos, and references required to convey a single thought.

This unique approach reduces rounds of review and approval, and significantly cuts the time to bring new content to market. It also drives global brand consistency and provides greater flexibility to tailor content for greater relevancy in local markets.

“In the old paradigm, we built fully formed pieces one at a time,” explained Madden. “A 12-page sales aid and a 25-screen iPad presentation were our primary resources. Local marketers often broke them down to make a new resource and re-formatted it for a different channel every time they wanted to use it. As we added new channels to the mix, this simply didn’t work. We needed a more efficient way to develop relevant content for the channels customers prefer and enhance engagement.”

Creating layout templates for different channels

As Merck created its initial library of content modules, it also established a highly disciplined process for ongoing asset creation, governed by detailed business rules. These rules define how modules can be used, such as what can be used together (i.e., module A can be used with module C or D, etc.).

The company next created layout templates formatted for different channels (e.g., iPad, smart phone, website, email, WeChat), and finally, created the individual modules. Merck creates, reviews, and approves each module at headquarters, saves them individually, and makes them available for use globally. This process allows its teams to assemble pre-approved modules in different channel layouts to swiftly build final promotional and educational resources. Not only is this process more streamlined and controlled, it also expands capacity for the sourcing and approval of more relevant content.

Merck and its agencies follow this simple process when developing new content from scratch.

Flexibility speeds content development by 28%

Local markets can now choose pre-approved modules to build a final composite piece, and add customizations to optimize for regional differences, such as a language translation. Ideally, the core of life sciences content should stay the same globally, while the remaining ingredients should change to accommodate local needs. Companies can ‘templatize’ their core channel layouts, pre-approve content modules, and make both available globally through one system.

“We create the core content in channel-agnostic modules and each market decides on the sequencing of messages and channels based on their customers,” noted Madden. “They map the content to the channels at the local market level now. It is a market-by-market choice – what message, which channel, at what cadence. With more relevant information available in more formats, we’ve enhanced customer engagement locally and increased content development capacity at headquarters.”

Merck is now able to produce content 28% faster and publish in formats designed for customers’ preferred channel. In addition, the company gives local markets the flexibility to develop promotional and educational resources with greater contextual relevance while maintaining global brand consistency more efficiently from headquarters.  

The biotech is also looking at new ways to transform their content development processes. “We are a rapidly growing organization trying to modernize step by step. We aren’t yet at the stage of reusing pre-approved content but are monitoring the modular content approach as more companies roll it out across the industry,” noted the marketing director.

Choosing the right foundation

Like the specialty biotech, Merck’s cloud-based DAM application is the backbone of its modular content program. “DAM underpins any effective modular content strategy,” said Madden. “We have been developing our modular content program for several years; however, a complex technology stack and associated processes proved to be a barrier to local market adoption. Our recent move to a simplified, integrated solution has removed that barrier.”

Previously, Merck used more than six different systems globally.  “None of these were integrated or interoperable,” explained Theresa Zataveski, director IT account management, global commercial capabilities at Merck. “We researched new options and decided to replace all of these legacy systems with a modern, cloud-based solution.”

After creating the library of pre-approved modules, Merck linked them to composite pieces in its DAM application, accessible in the cloud by all key stakeholders globally. DAM applications enable marketers to efficiently break down approved content into modules, maintaining their digital rights and relationships to references and component assets (groups of modules). Without this essential technology, the creative team would spend undue time and effort gathering or re-producing each component asset, individual module, and their associated rules and relationships.

Two tales of success

Merck’s content management strategy has helped the company increase speed to market by nearly 30%, reduce the number of MLR review cycles by 22%, and lowered cost of content creation by 19% (in agency costs). Merck has set additional goals for 2019, including greater use of digital channels.

The biotech has also reduced review cycles and all of its content assets are significantly easier to find and access. In addition, the company is more confident with content compliance as withdrawal of expired content is fast and easy. “If we go through a label update, for instance, we know everywhere the old label is used so we can find those pieces quickly,” said the marketing director. “While we can’t quantify the time savings this soon in the process, we have experienced a number of early benefits such as ensuring improving the process of making label updates.”

Both life sciences organizations carefully managed the impact of these changes inside their organizations and outside, investing time and training to properly on-board creative agencies. Education has proven key to overcoming any internal resistance. For example, Merck started by talking to a broad range of stakeholders across marketing, regulatory, medical, procurement, and its agencies on the benefits of modular content, and showed how this new approach aligns with Merck’s overall digital transformation goals. Likewise, the biotech has worked closely with all stakeholders, bringing everyone into the evaluation process before rolling out the new processes and system and providing ample training to all stakeholders.

“With our new strategy, content is now a market-by-market choice – what message, which channel, at what cadence,” concluded Madden. “With more relevant information available in more formats, we’ve enhanced customer engagement locally and increased content development capacity at headquarters.”


1. Accenture, “The State of Content Survey for Life Sciences,” December 2016. See the full survey here.

About the Author

Jason Sundberg is the senior director of commercial content strategy for Veeva Systems. He can be reached at jason.sundberg@veeva.com.


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