Connectivity: key to igniting marketing excellence

Samantha Clarke

UCB Pharma

As our marketing excellence month continues, Samantha Clarke of UCB Pharma shares how UCB has developed marketing excellence within its organisation.

When insurance giants CGU and Norwich Union merged in May 2000, over 40 different company trading names came together under one global brand, Aviva. The company focused on aligning and standardising all their marketing approaches, processes and definitions, and found that they can make their marketing campaigns work harder, go further and cost less through developing marketing excellence.

The pharmaceutical industry remains a late adopter of ever-evolving marketing practice but if Aviva, who work in the highly regulated financial services sector, can achieve it – why can’t pharmaceutical companies too?


“The pharmaceutical industry remains a late adopter of ever-evolving marketing practice…”


UCB is not the first pharmaceutical company to embark upon a global marketing excellence programme, but our status as a medium-sized company has carried with it advantages in being able to move the whole organisation forward quickly. Our approach to marketing excellence has started with focusing on processes, skills and people, through establishing consistent approaches for developing, building and implementing the brands which embody our company vision. UCB aspires to be the patient-centric global biopharmaceutical leader, transforming the lives of people with severe diseases, so our ignite marketing excellence programme, launched at the start of 2012, is built to support our marketers in delivering against that vision.

It’s all about the customer

There is a prevailing rhetoric in pharma around customer-centricity, but being customer-focused doesn’t just happen because you write it down. Marketing is about gaining a true understanding of who our customers are and what they want, and therefore marketers have a critical role to play in turning the rhetoric into reality, bringing customer-centricity to life. If our marketing excellence programme is to help our marketers in their efforts, then we need to build our marketing capability in the same way that we build our brands, starting with people.

Our view is that connectivity, both internally and externally, is at the heart of developing marketing excellence.

“There is a prevailing rhetoric in pharma around customer-centricity, but being customer-focused doesn’t just happen because you write it down.”

Internal connectivity

Developing a consistent, best practice approach to marketing means having common marketing processes and terminology for sharing information and ideas. One of our main insights when developing ignite was how diverse the existing approaches were across teams, functions and countries and even from individual to individual.

Changing ways of working is a significant challenge for any global company and there’s a risk that principles established at a global level meet resistance on the ground. Marketing Excellence is more than just ‘training’, it’s organisational change, and we have focused on ensuring internal connectivity in developing our new, aligned approach.

By building a marketing excellence taskforce, with wide representation from across all brands and regions, to develop our programme from the very start, we have been able to ensure rapid alignment and engagement across the company. We have used online virtual classrooms, training days, workshops and discussion forums to teach and embed a shared marketing culture across the organisation.


“…connectivity, both internally and externally, is at the heart of developing marketing excellence.”


The result is that brand plans can be easily shared and compared, duplicated effort is minimised and costs reduced – vital for a smaller global company such as ours, in today’s economy. We are able to spread new ideas more quickly between teams. We are clearer about how closely our actions match up to our company vision and what our customers want, building stronger brands and greater value for patients and prescribers.

External connectivity

Pharma could do more to look outside of healthcare and learn from other marketing organisations. Too often we benchmark only within the industry and repeat the same old practices. Whilst we must clearly operate in compliance with our pharma industry regulations and code of conduct, we can still learn from other industries and leaders. For example, one area where pharma has been introverted and reluctant to learn from others has been in engaging with social media. There has been plenty of discussion over the ‘What’ – a new form of dialogue, a new era for marketing and whether or not we’re ready for it – but less focus on the ‘How’ – how will we support our marketers to build the new skills and capabilities required, how have other companies built their marketing best practices.

At the start of this article we mentioned Aviva and how they managed the merger of multiple diverse company brands. In developing ignite we have used case studies, blogs, forums and advisory boards to learn from a range of world-class marketing organisations.

Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG), who own hotel chains including Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn, have seen solid business results through developing common marketing tools and processes across all their brands. AkzoNobel, one of the largest global paint and coatings company, have been able to thrive in a highly commoditised market because they have thought hard about what their customers look for and ensured their company brands match these expectations. Tesco are past masters at gathering customer insights and acting on what they learn, Apple consistently champion their brand and focus on the customer. There is something to be learned and applied from all of these marketing leaders.


“Pharma could do more to look outside of healthcare and learn from other marketing organisations.”


Igniting marketing excellence

Ignite is at an early stage within UCB but already we are driving organisational change. For the first time we are producing annual one year marketing plans in the same format, using the same language and approach across all brands and in every country. We will continue to leverage our internal and external ambassadors as we continue our marketing excellence development.

The marketers of the future will need different skills and knowledge and, taking our cue from organisations like Aviva, the pharma industry will need to take building marketing capability as seriously as building our brands. In creating ignite at UCB we have learnt from others and are applying these lessons in a rapidly evolving environment, as we focus on the ‘How’ of marketing, as well as the ‘What’, in order to meet our customers’ needs.


About the author:

Samantha Clarke is the Associate Director Global of Marketing Excellence at UCB Pharma.

About UCB

UCB, Brussels, Belgium ( is a global biopharmaceutical company focused on the discovery and development of innovative medicines and solutions to transform the lives of people living with severe diseases of the immune system or of the central nervous system. With more than 8,000 people in about 40 countries, the company generated revenue of EUR 3.2 billion in 2011. UCB is listed on Euronext Brussels.

What can pharma learn from marketing organisations outside of healthcare?