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Marketing: Ready for the Next War?

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-12-01-2014
Issue 12

How pharma companies can catch up to the requirements of the modern marketing model.

Like many armies, pharmaceutical marketing organizations are usually better equipped to fight the last war rather than the next one. This is plain human nature; after all, today's leaders were yesterday's young rising stars, gaining their formative experiences in that last war. But success, in war and in marketing, usually goes to the side which accepts and acts on the challenges of the new environment more rapidly.

We have an advantage over those armies, though. Unlike the British strategists whose early investment in air power helped save their nation from invasion in 1940, we have a clear view of the challenges of our next war because they are upon us already. We know that modern healthcare marketing is going to require: a more complex and multifaceted relationship with the patient and the physician, deep analysis of the vast pools of patient data that are becoming available, new ways of narrowing the scope of our targeting capabilities, and the ability to rapidly respond to changing market conditions. These challenges are not news, and their solutions are well within our reach. The following are three of the obstacles of our next war and how we, as marketers, can overcome them.

Challenge: Thinking remains short-sighted 

For all the "slow and steady" that is required on the drug development side of the pharmaceutical industry, pharma's marketing decision makers tend to think in terms of short-term rather than long-term goals. Marketing and sales goals are set in increments of 12 months; brand managers are rotated out every 12 to 18 months; compensation for those managers is based on how the brand does now rather than five years from today; and the challenge of med-reg approval means that an agency partner will breathe a sigh of relief if it can get even one or two campaigns out the door in a year. Twelve-month budget planning and annual performance review cycles often lead to a "checklist marketing" mentality from brand managers who need to show some kind of progress before year-end. This sort of structure may make perfect sense in the context of a traditional large sales organization, but in a marketplace where long-term relationships with patients and physicians are becoming more critical each day, it has outlived its usefulness.

Solution: Change the incentive structure. If brands are to have long-term relationships with patients and physicians, we need to find leaders who are going to have long-term relationships with brands. Rather than a brief stop in a lengthy management rotation, serving as a brand manager should be a long-term commitment that is rewarded and compensated accordingly. If a brand manager knows from the beginning that his or her fate will be tied to the brand's fate for the next five to 10 years-that the person's hopes for a jump to upper management depend on the brand's performance over time-then he or she will be naturally incentivized to look beyond the annual budgets and marketing checklists to think in broader strategic terms. The individual will see the value in slowly building a tapestry of brand touchpoints over a period of years. Leaders whose compensation is based on a long-term horizon can afford to be patient, and the virtue of patience in brand development will only grow as our ability to target becomes more granular and the digital tools become more complex.


Challenge: Big data is, well, big 

No one will argue the point that big data is offering a transformative opportunity to marketers. But collecting all those mountains of data is one thing; sifting through all of it and drawing actionable conclusions is very much another. There's no way around it: learning how to handle big data is going to be a long, difficult, and expensive undertaking. Large organizations being what they are, many marketers may feel the pressure to invest in a single solution or software package or data warehouse on the enterprise-scale to try to efficiently deal with the challenge of big data. But in so doing, they may only compound the problem-multiplying the volume of data, forcing the entire enterprise to change its workflow all at once in a short period of time, and trying to stretch that single solution across the complexities of many different brands and brand audiences. On top of that, given the speed of change in technology, it is quite possible that any enterprise solution on such a scale will be obsolete by the time it is fully integrated into the processes and another round of lavish spending and training will be necessary just to keep up.

Solution: Think small. Just as with the previous challenge, this one demands the virtue of patience. Rather than throwing vast resources into a single solution to the big data challenge, companies and brands should think small, slow, and steady. Start with small-scale, highly targeted data collection and analysis pilots on individual brands or audiences that seem particularly ripe for a granular data approach. And prioritize-choose for your target the data that's really critical or could offer the greatest potential upside. This approach offers three major benefits:

» It's substantially less expensive.

» It empowers brand managers to make their own decisions as to the right approach for their brand rather than accept a solution dictated from on high.

» It allows one to show the value of their approach at low risk and gain institutional buy-in gradually.

Each success story will encourage other brand managers to try their own big data pilots while justifying a greater resource commitment from the enterprise at large. And the experience gained at low risk and on a small scale will come in handy as your organization dives deeper and deeper into more complex and larger-scale data analysis. After a few "wins," you'll find the big data ethos seeping through the entire company; rather than thumping that single big data solution down on the desk of each brand manager, you'll find them competing to outdo each other with their own solutions. Not a bad result.

Challenge: Pharma has creaky joints 

Or, put differently, pharma isn't agile. A modern integrated marketing program is going to call for an iterative, nimble, test-and-learn, agile approach with active participation across various functions and a large volume of customized content being produced and rapidly deployed at any given time. The pharmaceutical industry is not noted for having a surplus of any of these characteristics-in fact, just the opposite. We are slow, we are tentative, we are risk-averse, we set it and forget it, we move like an aircraft carrier, we work in siloes. And even when something does get done, it takes six months for legal/medical/regulatory to approve it.

Solution: Make agility mandatory. Pharma marketing departments are not going to magically become nimble after 50 years of creaky joints just because external conditions suggest that doing so will be beneficial. It is going to take an enterprise-wide commitment to break down all the impediments to real agility. To achieve this, we need leaders, leaders at the highest level, who are willing to make agility mandatory across the company. Those leaders need to encourage innovation and smart risk-taking, reward speed and efficiency, and not take no for an answer when the fate of a brand is at stake. The single most critical factor observed in achieving this sort of agility is uncompromising, demanding leadership. Big company or small company-size doesn't matter if the person at the top refuses to accept obstacles.

If a pharma is fortunate enough to have that leader in place, what are some strategies he or she might try to start greasing up the joints?

» Innovation labs-Try testing ideas or prototypes in innovation lab settings. Innovation labs, in some cases, have worked extremely well in order to prove or disprove the viability of a tactic or marketing tool quickly so the team can make a move. Get everyone-brand team; sales; legal/medical/regulatory (LMR); developers; physicians; patients; etc.-in the room, all at once, to talk through the problem, develop a prototype together, give people something concrete to see and touch, listen to what everyone has to say, and make a decision.

» Streamline LMR processes-In a tapestry-style integrated marketing program, the differences between many of the assets will be small, and the number of assets will be large. So rather than having to approve every single bit of content, LMR departments should be approving templates, outlines, general approaches-basically a variety of preapproved roadmaps into which the marketing team can plug a specific route for each specific circumstance. Some companies have already done this successfully in the social media space.

» Cross-functional matrix teams-Plenty has been written about the matrix team concept-ask Doctor Google if you want to find out more-but the basic idea in this case is to create a team in which members come from different organizational functions and are led by a particular "activity leader" to whom they may not have a formal reporting line. A good matrix team with both breadth (leaders across functions) and depth (from decision makers at the top to the guy in the cubicle at the bottom) can go a long way toward breaking down the silo mentality that is so prevalent in large organizations.

The right path 

These, of course, are not the only new challenges we face in healthcare marketing, but they underlie nearly everything else. Those who turn to face our industry's habit of short-sighted thinking, come to grips with the difficulties of exponentially growing pools of data, and figure out how to grease the joints of their marketing processes-those will be the winners of our next generation of brand wars.

Faruk Capan is CEO of Intouch Solutions. He can be reached at faruk.capan@intouchsol.com

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