Change Management: The Key to Multi-Channel Pharma Marketing

File under: Patient Engagement, Pharma innovation, Relationship Marketing

This recent blog post Pharma is willing, but is it able? is an insightful read on multi-channel marketing, with many good references to published analyst reports. It notes that pharma is finally at a place where its marketers understand the value of multi-channel marketing, a realization that wasn’t true even two years ago. For years, marketing executives were satisfied just using a portfolio of individual, stand-alone tactics to build awareness that would lead to intent to prescribe.

Now everybody seems to appreciate the idea of coordinated, cascading messaging through multiple channels. The problem is that there are barriers, principally within pharma, to actually implementing this new world of marketing. According to a recent report from Accenture, pharma recognizes that it doesn’t have the in-house capabilities to pull off multi-channel marketing and is reaching out to experienced agencies for help.

This should be good news. However, the biggest barriers aren’t actually lack of capabilities. The biggest challenge is that when agencies step in to implement these techniques, they often run into pushback from internal vested interests or legal and regulatory departments not willing to make the necessary allowances to implement multi-channel strategies.

It’s a cultural issue.

topo mapThe Need for Change Management

The fact is that the implementation of multi-channel marketing doesn’t begin with technology or a new agency model. It starts with internal change management within pharma itself. Multi-channel marketing requires a level of coordination and trust between departments that have traditionally been at odds. It involves longer-range planning than normal. It demands a new culture of coordination between and among agency partners.

Creating these necessary changes requires an internal champion who has the trust of senior leadership and the personal will to take a huge political career risk. Before true multi-channel marketing can take root in a pharma marketing organization, there must be leadership in place with the will to implement change.

How Agencies Can Help

By their nature, agencies want to help. We generally feel compelled to come in with a “big idea” that will address big challenges with a comprehensive solution. This always requires a commensurately large investment of time and money, both of which most internal champions initially don’t have. If we really want to help these internal risk-takers, the place to start is with smaller on-ramp pilots that reduce risk and avoid internal pushback. Start with a strategy that provides the opportunity to show significant upside potential, even in a small test market.

Successful change management always involves an element of “de-risking” the future so that the new proposed approach isn’t scary. Small but very strategic projects are always easier to sell internally. But we also need to demonstrate impact.

As agencies, we must step up and take accountability for our campaigns and enroll our pharma marketing teams in thinking seriously about analytics. This gives support to those champions within pharma who’ll be able to go back to senior management and say, “Look, this really is a better way. I need your help with legal and regulatory so that we can create the context for implementing multi-channel marketing.”

An Opportunity for the Taking

Those brands that actually manage the internal changes necessary to implement multi-channel marketing will enjoy a competitive advantage in the marketplace. And those agencies that are there to midwife the process will benefit from learning how to help pharma through the change management process, a perquisite to providing a new value proposition in a new market environment.