Pharma marketing requires a global approach

Pharma is missing opportunities to maximise the benefits of applying a digital approach on a global scale, says Gregg Fisher.

Managing for global impact continues to be a challenge for many pharma companies, which have traditional structures suited to a ‘pre-digital’ environment. This is an issue that global marketing and strategy leaders need to address.

The challenge

Many pharma and life sciences firms still approach global activity as they did 10 years ago; defining global strategies that set the stage for local planning. They are still coordinating tactics, mainly congresses, PR and advocacy, publications, market research, sales aid materials and the occasional global website. ‘The rest’, including all sales and promotional activities, is left to the local market affiliates.

In a world limited to face-to-face selling, the decentralised division of labour works because affiliates can adapt global materials to their markets. However, this approach is inadequate in the current, more complex, multichannel environment.

No boundaries

Decentralised organisations leave much of their ‘digital’ activity to local affiliates, which limits its potential across all markets. There are several reasons this happens.

First, unlike local print or face-to-face selling, digital knows no geographic boundaries. Customers can search for whatever digital materials affiliates create. Companies that leave their global digital ecosystem unattended end up with numerous disconnected digital assets, different branding and, ultimately, a poor customer experience.

Second, digital activities lend themselves to significant economies of scale. They become more efficient to implement with widespread adoption. This is certainly true for digital infrastructure, such as content management, marketing automation and digital analytics. It’s also true for other digital activities, such as global digital media planning and buying.

A decentralised approach requires markets to make investments on their own, which means, in reality, that they don’t make them at all because they choose to put their scarce funds into ‘turnkey’ tactics. They end up with simplistic digital activities that are cheap and easy to implement, but not always very effective. In addition, they may default to face-to-face sales force support, because this is safe and proven.

Finally, digital innovation (all innovation, for that matter) accelerates as the perceived risks decrease and the perceived benefits increase. Working in isolation forces affiliates to climb that learning curve on their own, without the shared learning of a global enterprise. As a consequence, markets have a perverse incentive not to innovate digitally, which results in uneven performance across markets and few best practices.

The solution

Interconnectedness, scale economies and shared learning, along with the growing stakes of digital stagnation, explain why senior leadership must expand the remits of the global team to compete in today’s digital environment.

Beyond coordinating strategy and isolated international tactics, global teams must take wider responsibility for developing globally-coordinated customer experiences, supplying the infrastructure to deliver those experiences and the learning environment to nurture innovation and best practice. While larger markets can tackle these responsibilities independently, smaller markets cannot, and the reality is that all markets, regardless of size, benefit from a globally coordinated approach.

Making this shift implies three significant changes to the traditional set-up.

First, global teams must take on a wider role in the planning and implementation of customer experience, and the development of customer engagement capabilities. They must deliver a globally-integrated customer experience strategy and digital ecosystem explicitly, taking care to avoid disconnected assets.

Second, it’s crucial for senior management to think differently about budget allocation. It would be beneficial to allocate greater funds to global teams in order to plan reusable customer experiences and implement enterprise-wide infrastructure. This would lead to development of enhanced programmes and tools, and drive shared learning and competence development. Reciprocally, local market funds should be focused on local adaption or implementing market-specific programmes.

Finally, senior management must make it a priority to measure capability, development and maturation. Teams need to have a clear sense of how mature they are and what the next level of sophistication means.

A path forward

Change must begin by recognition of the problem, a clear vision for change and alignment on a new organisational approach. This requires expanding the remit of existing global or regional business functions and creating new functions (such as global digital strategy and digital operations).

There is no perfect formula, but rather a spectrum of options available. All come with advantages and disadvantages for different sized companies, with different strengths profiles and at different stages of maturity. Once a clear organisational vision is in place, global teams can make an impact.

Ultimately, embracing an expanded role for global teams will enable life sciences brands to achieve their full potential online.

About the author:

Gregg Fisher is Founder and Managing Partner at The Stem. He has more than 20 years’ experience in strategy, marketing and technology. His primary focus, as a consultant, executive and speaker over the last 12 years, has been to reinvent health care customer engagement through technology. Contact him at: gfisher@thestem.com.