Category Archives: Strategy

Why digital? Because everyone loves a rainbow!

A few years ago it was totally normal to have to convince people that digital was a valid, and important, channel.  That fact is now a given – and yet there are still people who need to be convinced.  One issue is that traditional marketing is a safe option and it has worked in the past.  During this tough economic times people are more wary of trying something “new” (even if strictly speaking digital is no longer new) and this is why they need convincing that they should shift some of their budget from their “safe” traditional channels to this “new” and “dangerous” channel.

The trouble is that this traditional way of splitting budgets no longer matches users needs and behaviours.  How come some pharmaceutical companies are spending less than 5% of marketing and sales budgets on digital when physicians, for example, would like to receive over 60% of their product information online?  This seems like a huge disconnect with reality and customer needs and cannot be sustainable.

HCP information preference

HCP information preference

It also seems rather ludicrous given clear direction from customers, physicians as well as patients, that they want more information and resources digitally, that we still need to stand up and argue the need for more digital to be included in the marketing and communications mix.  We should no longer need to be trying to persuade senior managers on the need for digital – rather we should be working with them to look at how best to integrate on- and off-line resources and how to get a more balanced marketing mix.

There will always be a need off-line materials but they should work in harmony with online elements and all marketing and communication elements should be integrated and optimise each other.  There is no battle between digital and traditional – one is not better than the other on its own.  Rather they tell a far more powerful story when combined in an integrated and strategic way based around customer, and organisation, needs.  Just like a the colours of the rainbow are truly impactful when joined together in a smooth combination, communications should be joined together to provide an impactful and memorable experience for the end audience.

Right now the pharmaceutical audience is just getting a huge sway of reds and oranges but there are hardly any blues coming through which is not impactful at all.  We need to stop defending why we even need digital, and and stop fighting to get more digital budget, but instead we need to start working on getting the mix and colour combination as perfect as a rainbow.

Rainbow in Sri Lanka

Rainbow in Sri Lanka

Multichannel – not exactly new!

The latest buzzword in the pharmaceutical industry seems to be multichannel marketing or multichannel strategy.  I am reading numerous blog posts about multichannel this and multichannel that, how to do it, how important it is and so forth, and I am also getting increasing requests from clients around the area.  The problem is when I was with McKinsey multi-channel was a buzzword . . . but that was over ten years ago!

Now do not get me wrong I think multichannel strategy and multichannel marketing (two different things) are extremely important.  In fact multichannel marketing really is basic and all companies will be doing some form of multichannel marketing.  The big issue, and the reason it is this year’s phrase du jour, is that very few pharmaceutical companies are demonstrating a clear multichannel strategy and therefore a consistent multichannel approach.

If we take a step back to 1996 and take a look at Tesco, the UK supermarket, and the launch of their Clubcard.  This was done with an integrated PR, TV, press advertising, and in-store support. Whilst this was still pretty much pre-digital this was already using multiple channels to market – namely publication, TV and in-store.

Now jump forward to today and Tesco is still using multiple channels to market – they have however added digital areas such as websites, email and social media.  They still integrate across the channels so the experience the customer gets in-store is mirrored in the other channels.  The messages the customers are exposed to are consistent and match across channels.

Looking at other industries today, such as the highly regulated financial industry, they too generally provide a consistent presence and style across channels.  Lloyds TSB for example matches their advertising (TV, print, etc.) with their in-store and online branding.  There is a clear, consistent look and feel across channels – the customer knows that every touch point, regardless of which channel, is clearly Lloyds TSB.

One can also see that they have a clear strategy around their channels and how they work together.  Offline materials for example will drive customers to an online asset, and they may also train in-store staff to be aware of the various marketing materials available in other channels.  A classic example of this would be walking into a store and enquiring about an offer that the store has online – in my experience the salesperson will often be able to answer whether they are matching this in store or whether it is online only.

If one then looks at pharmaceutical companies and their marketing practices not much has changed over the years.  We have added new channels but we have not done a great job of integrating across channels or providing consistent experiences or messages across channels.  The contact an HCP gets at a conference may be very different from what he experiences through the website or sales rep meeting.  Similarly the materials patients are exposed to through patient hand-outs from their HCP and the information they get from the company’s public website may not have a consistent look and feel.

One of the big reasons for these inconsistencies and lack of integration across channels is the siloed nature of the industry.  There will be different people responsible for congress and sales materials, for example, and they do not always work in a collaborative way.  This is within the same product team – you can then imagine how this works when you have people from the same company, targeting the same customers (for example oncologists) but from different product teams.  Rather than work collaboratively and ensure that when they are targeting the same people (e.g. the same breast cancer specialist), they combine resources and provide a single, integrated experience to this customer across channels, they will each deliver their own brand experience with no correlation with other brand experiences.  The pharmaceutical customer today then gets very different experiences across channels and from the same company.  There is a very clear lack of integration and consistency.

There are also regulatory barriers such as medical teams or the R&D teams not being able to work with or match what the marketing teams are doing.  However this does not mean they are not able to provide a consistent experience and ensure an integrated strategy across channels.  Just because they are not able to work together does not mean they are not able to communicate – after all they share the same brand strategy.  But again these siloes are very ingrained and there is a limited culture of collaboration – be it cross-functional or cross-brand.

Here lies the crux of the issue and the reason that multi channel strategy and marketing are such hot topics at the moment.  The industry is looking increasingly dated as customers get exposed to more integrated, consistent and sophisticated marketing from other organisations.  HCPs are people and they use shops and technology just like other people do – they are exposed to the Tescos and Amazons of the world.    When it comes to contact with pharmaceutical companies however they have to put up with one feel at congress, another through the sales rep and then what they get online may be totally different again.

There is now a growing realisation within the industry that this must change.  It is time for the industry to grow up and become more customer centric but also more sophisticated.  The only thing holding pharmaceutical companies back from providing a consistent, integrated face to each and every customer is internal process and politics.  Unfortunately these can often be the hardest things to change.  Will a year of having multichannel as the hop topic have an impact?  I hope so!

Strategy – more than a list of tactics

I am a strategist by nature and have spent most of my career in strategy.  I believe that you can learn about strategy but to be a great strategist takes more than just studying it in a book.  A great strategist has vision and passion and is a forward thinker.  A great strategist also knows that strategy is a living thing that needs to be based on insights and understanding and needs to be adapted.  A great strategist also knows that strategy is not a list of tactics.

Unfortunately strategy is a word that gets bandied around a fair amount without it always being understood.  Every Tom, Dick and Harry now has to have a strategy – but that does not mean that every Tom, Dick and Harry has the required skills or expertise to put together a strategy.  The result tends to be a “strategy” that is little more than a list of tactics. The result is disjointed, inconsistent and ineffectual marketing and business.

A strategy should be the cornerstone of any business venture – be it a product launch or a new Twitter campaign.  The strategy should be based on knowledge and insights – not on what the team leader thinks and knows or what tactics the agency happens to suggest.  The strategy should be a road map which provides the team with the directions to success and how to get there.  Tactics are then the vehicles used on this road – but they are not the road themselves.

A strategy is also a multifaceted document. Like any good roadmap it features more than just a line where the road is.  It also gives you distances, key points on the map, alternative routes, etc.  McKinsey’s 7 S model provides a good overview of the various key elements for the Strategy roadmap.


Most important is the shared values.  If doing a digital strategy, for example, at its centre should be the corporate strategy and values, and if appropriate the brand strategy and values, as well as the values and needs of the target audience.  A strategy should not be a stand alone document but should link to other relevant documents and should be founded on the corporate strategy.  I have however rarely seen a brand team approach the corporate strategy team to ask for the latest corporate strategy on which to base the brand strategy.  Unfortunately I have also come across brand digital strategies that were not even based on the brand strategy.

A further important element in the strategy is the structure and systems.  It is all well and good developing a brilliant, innovative strategy, if the infrastructure or internal systems required to implement it do not exist.  In the case of marketing the strategy should also include the structure of the ecosystem (so for example how will the various channels be interlinked).  Given the changes in marketing today the strategy should also include the process and systems that need to be put in place to be truly successful, for example cross-functional workgroups.  Whilst the industry may be highly siloed the outside world is not.  A strategy should suggest how to tackle this issue in order to follow the road successfully without getting diverted onto a side street – what systems need to be in place in order to overcome these obstacles?

Style is also worth mentioning.  As one progresses down the road will the style remain the same or will it evolve?  Should the style be a mirror image of the corporate style or is there a need for different style in order to achieve the objectives.  Having a clear idea of style before going to an agency is worthwhile as it gives the agency a clearer direction and ensures that everyone has the same idea in mind.

Last but not least are skills and staff.  If there is a need for more headcount this needs to be flagged in the strategy – and if that headcount cannot be met then the strategy should also provide an alternative route.  When it comes to implementation these elements are also very important.  A great strategy will fail if there are not the right people with the right skills to implement it.  Education is a key element to many successful strategies.  In particular when looking at “new” areas, such as digital, education is critical to success.  If you come up with a great strategy but people just do not understand it or the required steps, then it will fail.  Providing clear directions around the education needed for the strategy to succeed is very useful.

Finally when looking at skills and staff there also needs to be the acceptance that not everyone has the required skills to develop a strategy.  This is why consultancies like McKinsey do so well – they are strategy experts. However too often strategy is left to the team and very few will have the sort of expertise that McKinsey does.  Many of these strategies consist of no more than a mission statement and a list of tactics.  There is minimal research behind this, little analysis and very little direction.  The result is a document called “strategy” that is however nothing close to being a real strategy.

This is a huge flaw as the strategy is the most vital element to any business.  It is worth investing in doing a strategy well up front and providing sufficient resourcing for this – including for market research and external expertise.  Managers should accept that they may not have the required skills – or indeed time – to develop a great strategy – and should reach for support (internally or externally). Strategy is the foundation stone and as such it needs to be robust and taken seriously – and any manager handed a list of tactics called “strategy” should be very concerned.

The strategy is after all your roadmap and if you have the wrong map you may take a disastrous wrong turn.  Invest in the map first – then you can judge what type of car you need.