Two critical factors to attain marketing excellence

Companies need to commit to innovation and build meaningful, long-term relationships with patients to bring longer-term benefits on top of the short-term gains.

How do brands know when they have achieved ‘Marketing Excellence’? Your product sales are blazing? Your company name is in the media regularly (in a good way) and you are growing by leaps and bounds? Yes, that’s part of it, but marketing excellence is not just about whether your marketing looks cool. Or sounds good. Or tells a great story.

For truly exceptional marketing, brands must focus both on providing immediate opportunities to impact sales, while also focusing on long-term needs. But how do brand teams do it? By strengthening their commitment to innovation while also striving for deeper long-term relationships with their patient communities.

Brands must innovate

Google has a unique way of driving innovation among its employees: 80 per cent of their time is spent doing their jobs and 20 per cent is spent on innovating for their work and for the company overall. On a daily and weekly basis, employees schedule time to think and brainstorm new ideas with their fellow employees. This seems pretty basic, but in this era of ‘always on’, people are often reactive, which reduces the opportunity to contemplate without distraction, which is detrimental to today’s workforce. When given time to think and brainstorm, employees are more effective at strategic clarity and innovation for their business.

At this year’s Digital Pharma West conference in San Francisco, Dan Seewald, director of Worldwide Innovation at Pfizer, took the audience through what it means to be innovative in the pharmaceutical industry. He segmented innovation into three types – Sustaining, Adjacent, and Breakthrough:

• Sustaining innovations are those that can be accomplished now and are core to the business, like Pfizer Viagra’s innovative use of social media to combat the counterfeit drug industry (read the case study here).

• Adjacent innovations, which serve companies’ needs but aren’t core to their business, are those where the value is coming, but technology needs to catch up to make it affordable and accessible. Alcon’s recent partnership on a diabetes screening tool embedded in a contact lens that can evaluate glucose levels in tears is an example.

• Breakthrough innovations, also known as Disruptive, are like Google’s foray into driverless cars – neither core to its business, in its wheelhouse, nor do-able now.

Seewald recommends a 70/20/10 approach to supporting innovation, with the bulk of effort in Sustaining (70 per cent), some effort in Adjacent (20 per cent), and experimenting with Breakthrough (10 per cent), much like the Coca-Cola plan for marketing (read about it here). Pfizer’s ‘Dare to Try’ innovation programme is putting this thinking into practice by expanding innovation opportunities outside R&D, into groups such as marketing.

“Culture and commitment must also change for barriers to innovation to come down”

Culture and commitment must also change for barriers to innovation to come down. “The status quo can weaken the resolve of executive leadership to support a long-term commitment to breakthrough innovation,” Seewald remarked. Although encouraging (i.e. incentivising) employees to drive innovation is key, sometimes it can be as simple as giving them permission to innovate.

Connect with patient communities

Short-term sales results are especially important to manufacturing companies, and the pharmaceutical industry is no exception, but it can lead managers to focus on today rather than investing in opportunities that take time to demonstrate results. And, while some of the best examples of marketing effectiveness are ‘quick wins’, thoughtfully building a relationship with a patient community over time can deliver returns on another level.

For the last five years, Sanofi US has been carefully cultivating its relationship with the diabetes community, effectively repositioning the company as a leader in the diabetes space, much of the credit for which is down to social media advocate Dennis Urbaniak, the former head of Sanofi Diabetes.

To achieve this kind of success, Sanofi US made significant changes to its marketing organisation. The company focused not only on making an initial connection with patients, but also on creating long-term, sustainable relationships with them. This means breaking down some of the internal silos and looking at what it takes to get to the end result.

“The external relationships they are building with their audiences have become a key component in defining marketing excellence”

There has been real innovation in terms of Sanofi US’s marketing structure to allow this kind of new relationship with patients. For example, Sanofi US even changed the job titles of its brand team, moving from ‘product manager’ to ‘community manager’, for example. As a result, the external relationships they are building with their audiences have become a key component in defining marketing excellence in the space.

Precarious balancing act

Yes, you need innovation and you need to focus on patient communities, but the question is how to measure long-term marketing excellence success when it can be difficult to tie directly back to short-term sales revenues. And this brings us back to the need to focus on the right mix of innovation. Brands need to ensure that they allow for 20-30 per cent of their marketing budget to be allocated to Adjacent and Breakthrough innovations, with 70 per cent of their focus on Sustaining innovations.

With brand teams turning over every 18 months, on average, brands may not ‘see’ the effects of their efforts in their ‘lifetime’ on the brand, but if leadership keeps this long-term view aligned with short-term goals, then an internal cultural shift will begin to emerge and more brands will realise their true marketing excellence potential.

About the author:

Zoe Dunn, co-founder and principal of Hale Advisors, is a digital marketing and communications specialist with more than 15 years’ experience in the pharmaceutical and consumer products industries. She has held senior strategic agency positions at DVC Worldwide, imc2, and Sapient. In addition to experience in digital marketing and communication strategy, Zoe’s experience also includes online compliance training, pharmaceutical conference development, and online media planning and buying.

Zoe co-chaired the 2014 Digital Pharma West conference and is a regular speaker at conferences on the subject of digital marketing and the pharmaceutical industry, including topics focused on social media, traditional digital and emerging platforms.

Zoe is also involved in community activities, including increasing awareness of domestic violence and empowering women to become financially independent.

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