The Clock is Ticking: Pharma & Biotech’s Road to Slow Digital Transformation.

The pharmaceutical industry’s implementation of digital marketing and use of a true multiple channel strategy has been under pressure for the past 10 years as virtually every other industry and sector has surpassed them in both customer-centricity and progress in digital marketing.  Many pharma companies both big and small have been testing the integration of a customer engagement digital commercial model during this time.  Some may ask, Neil, “What exactly is digital transformation?”  Brian Solis, a digital analyst and best-selling author, has done significant amount of work in the digital space defines digital transformation as follows:

“The realignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital customers at every touchpoint in the customer experience lifecycle”

Notice that Brian defines the ‘transformation’ as both technological and customer experience dependent.   Our business goal should be to have an internal capability for executing a digital strategy while utilizing internal resources, maximizing a real customer engagement – creating digital transformation for your brand and hopefully your company.  However, most in the industry would say that full digital and multi-channel system integration has not been achieved in the industry.  I spoke about some of these areas of success at Future Pharma last year, specifically how companies need to evaluate these challenges, take a look at my content @  

The concept of digital transformation has become a major focus for how we improve marketing capabilities in multiple areas and the time for customer centricity and digital transformation is now. In fact, 40% of all technology spending will go toward digital transformations with enterprises spending in excess of $2 trillion by 2019, according to IDC.   The challenge is to create an improved digital marketing plan with this important investment.

Creating Leadership in Digital

Another sobering fact is that some of the largest pharma companies have not prioritized digital as part of their leadership goals.  Only seven of the nearly 30 pharma and biotech companies valued at more than $10 billion rank a chief digital or information officer alongside their heads of science and research on their executive committees.  Companies need to make the organization nimbler, which is quite a task for an organization valued greater than $10B.  To start, the strategic goals should be to create a more customer-centric organization, which requires skills and structure that cannot be supported by the traditional CMO role.  The best fit for these roles are those who are able to work at the C-level across functional silos AND who are capable of understanding the potential customer marketing disruptions enabled by these technologies.   

Potential Change Drivers

There are several fundamentals requirements that have forced us to delay a holistic digital transformation.  It’s no longer something that only the large companies do, everyone has to be deploying a digital strategy of some kind.  Some major questions come to mind – What defines success? Who is doing this effectively?  Is it the Billion $ global companies?  Clearly not, if success were to be achieved through allocating the largest budget to digital for pharma/biotech firms, then the companies with the deepest pockets would all be beating everyone else but that has clearly not been the case. 

You have to start somewhere.  The following 2 change/success drivers need to be part of what every company is working towards in digital transformation:

  1. Capabilities & Operations:  A significant strengthening of a company’s commercial capabilities in digital marketing while integrating and functioning in the customer engagement strategy functions will need to evolve rapidly.
  2. Systems & Things: A new system of how a company designs, implements and executes a digital strategy while moving away from the reliance on outside agencies and building its own multi-departmental digital Center of Excellence (CoE).  The creation of a system of executional and strategic excellence will have to formed as part of a be a multi-disciplinary, company-wide initiative.

Now is the Time for Action

In a recent small roundtable discussion hosted by the marketing agency OgilvyOne Business, the following conclusion was reached, “Everyone is talking about digital transformation, but there is a lack of doing.”  Basically, we are talking about and investing in digital and customer engagement but not getting results. 

In the past 5 years, pharma and biotech have been doubling down on their digital transformation, however, we have not seen results that would be expected given the level of investment.  This has largely been due to the implementation being executed under the old models of siloed capabilities in pharma driving each company’s sales and marketing capabilities.  The e-mail group is separate from the digital group, the enterprise group from the analytics and so on and so on.  There is the continuous need to improve and pharma needs to invest in the change needed to build the customer engagement for the expressed goal of a go-to market digital plan.

Overcoming internal silos that I mentioned earlier and the development of new capabilities to encourage the innovation within your organizations has to come from senior management and demonstrated with sound budget investment followed by an aggressive but realistic long-term digital plan.  The bottom line is that customer-centric, digitally enabled commercial strategies are the future prerequisites for growth, competitive advantage and market leadership, enabling pharmaceutical companies to finally be successful in implementing a successful digital Center of Excellence.

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