Archive for March, 2013

Getting Agile: Stretching Pharma’s Digital Marketing Muscles

It’s been fascinating to observe technology become more and more of a foundation for pharma marketing, and not just in the form of digital media. We are now seeing new technology tools and processes that enable us to author medical content and get it approved faster than ever. Many of the new Agile and Lean software development processes are making their way into the pharma marketing world.

The Old Waterfall Method

Traditional medical content development, just like in traditional software dev, has tended to follow the waterfall method.waterfall

Key medical claims will get approved by medical, legal, and regulatory (MLR) staff before going to medical writers. After the writers are done and the promotional copy is finalized, it goes back to MLR where it gets reviewed. It’s not unusual for there to be more than a few rounds of revisions before it can be handed off to designers to develop the visual messaging. And then it goes back to MLR for review.

Only after the design sign-off milestone will it go to the interactive team to build the project… and then back to MLR. Traditionally, if even one page or section is rejected and sent back for revision, the entire marketing program will need to go through the review process again.

This can be a very long drawn-out process, often taking up to six months to develop and approve a simple website. Heaven forbid that new customer insight is uncovered mid-project that suggests a change in the words or images! This would force the process to start over back at the top of the waterfall!

Becoming Afraid to Innovate

This approval gauntlet often leads brand teams and their agency teams to avoid content or marketing innovation. They fear repeated revisions leading to missed deadlines and budget overruns.

Agencies learn to self-censor. They hesitate to bring innovative ideas to the brand team for fear of getting shot down. And brand teams begin to measure agencies based not on their creative but on their ability to get stuff through the regulatory review process quickly.  This is a frustrating and dysfunctional arrangement, to say the least.

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The Future of Pharma: Revolution? Really…?

Revolution often begins quietly, at the edges. By the time the mainstream recognizes what is happening, the change is virtually unstoppable. Only in hindsight can one glimpse the seeds of change taking root in the least obvious places. The Arab Spring that rocked countries from Tunisia to Egypt started years earlier as pent up frustration in the alleys and markets of northern Africa. Apple’s domination of multiple consumer electronics industries began with the beautiful but quirky iPod music player.

Behind the headlines of healthcare reform we see seeds of change taking root that may have a similarly profound impact – changes that will create many new markets and that will potentially challenge the very foundation on which pharma is built.

It’s hard to overestimate the impact of the healthcare revolution that’s coming in the next decade. Let’s look at some of the emerging technologies that could lead to remarkable changes in how healthcare is bought, sold and delivered.

The Advent of Synthetic Genes

DNA HelixI recently met Craig Venter, the scientist who was the first person to map the human genome. His aptly named company, Synthetic Genomics is building on his successful attempt to synthesize a gene. I had the opportunity to visit his laboratory and see a few of his current projects. Craig is forging an intersection between biology and the digital world. He’s not only working on the genome, he’s turning it into digital content.

According to Craig, now that he can synthesize genes, he can turn the genetic instructions embedded in the DNA into a digital file and literally email a gene. “If there is someone at the other end who has a properly equipped wet lab, they can take the digital content that I’ve given them and then turn that back into a biological gene.” This could revolutionize the way we respond to outbreaks of disease, develop tailor-made diagnostics and create targeted therapies.

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Stepping into Your Customers’ Shoes

Physicians are justifiably skeptical when a drug rep walks in the door. The relationship is purely transactional. The rep wants the doc to commit to writing more of whatever the rep is selling. The doctor is late for her next appointment.

There is an alternative however. It requires a great deal of patience and a willingness to take the long view, something not every sales organization is ready to do. There is the potential to create a competitive advantage in the market by stepping away from the hard sell long enough to determine, “What are the challenges facing this practice right now and how can we solve them?”

This attempt at true understanding is a great deal more effective than just trying to persuade the overworked doc to write more of your drugs. Although it may take a few months to persuade a physician of the sincerity of this question, it has the potential for changing the nature of the relationship.

Pharma needs to move beyond simple product promotion and much more towards long-term relationship building and thought leadership recognition. Brands need to position themselves as partners with physicians, not just as the manufacturer. Technology can be an enabler to help brand teams do just that.

Using Technology to Help Physicians Quickly and Effectively Diagnose a Patient

Most doctors are extremely busy. One of their biggest challenges is getting to a diagnosis as quickly as possible. Often they have only fifteen minutes with each patient…

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Keys to the Lamborghini aren’t enough. Can you drive is the question.

I recently met Rayid Ghani, the former Chief Data Scientist for the 2012 Obama campaign. He regularly publishes on machine learning and data mining. He had a simple but profound insight for anyone investing in CRM and Big Data.

2Success comes when you have both data richness and the ability to take action on the data. One without the other is a non-starter, like having the keys to a hot sports car without the ability to drive anywhere.

In the pharma world, for example, spending on marketing databases is hot right now, and for many of the right reasons. There’s a lot of data involved in communicating with physicians and patients. But is there an adequate budget, a strategy, and the will to take action based on the insights gleaned from the data? Data mining without the ability to take action will be frustrating and ultimately embarrassing when the money is spent and there’s no change in sales.

Start with a strategy that clearly identifies what needs to change and what marketing actions are possible at your company, and that will tell you where to focus your efforts back in the data mine. Put physician data richness together with the ability to act on its insight and you have pharma CRM.

And a license to drive.