Strategy, Not Technology Drives Digital Transformation in Pharma Marketing

Marketing is constantly evolving function in Pharma Industry. “Digital transformation” has been the buzz word specially post the pandemic. No industry or a business function can stay away from digital transformation if they are looking to generate lasting value.

Marketing Guru Seth Godin says,

Word ‘transform’ has a real meaning and it is abused all the time. What most people do, is they see a new medium and they think that they can use it the same way they have been using the previous.

Here lies the problem, as the majority of the Pharma marketers think on exactly the same lines about digital transformation.

The MIT Sloan School of Management 2015 Digital Business Global Executive Study and Review has pointed out that Pharma industry and marketing, in particular, is one of the laggards in the digital transformation. The report by Deloitte also ranked Pharma industry around the bottom haphazard implementation of digital solutions. Both reports have said that despite the majority of the employees are tech-savvy, a majority of them do not think that adopting digital transformation requires a change in the strategic approach. The study reports that only 15% of the top executives think that their organization has taken a strategic approach to undergo a digital transformation.

In addition to these findings, it is also evident that digital transformation is not a bottom –up approach. It requires a lot more serious thinking and initiative from the top management. The industries and companies who fail to adopt digital transformation have one thing in common, the decision makers of these companies are barely involved in the initiatives. Leadership intervention is critical in such cases for a mindset change. Using digital solutions in silos instead of clear strategic initiatives is a major pitfall in the Pharma industry.

What are the major issues?

Unfortunately, the digital transformation trends in Pharma industry still have not shown positive direction. There are several issues which affect digital transformation in Pharma industry and marketing initiatives in particular. There are many hurdles which obstruct the complete digital transformation in Pharma industry. The most important issues which Pharma companies which face are:

  • Focusing on technological implementation than on building a strategy:Digital transformation is not a mere implementation of technology. There is a strong notion in Indian Pharma industry  that being digitally mature in marketing means creating new websites, advertisements, and smartphone apps. This notion needs to be corrected. The core competency of Pharma industry is creating new drugs and treatments. So instead of focusing on technological implementation, leaders in Pharma should focus on building a strategy for integrating digital solutions within their organizations. Developing technical solutions should be left to experts who have already mastered digital marketing.
  • The inability of some executives to link digital transformation to strategic achievements: There seems to be a major gap in understanding “what is digital transformation?” for some top executives. As mentioned above, digital transformation is not just implementing a technology. Alongside with change in the organization culture, it is also important to understand how adopting complete digital transformation improves the outcomes of the marketing initiatives. For some executives, linking digital marketing strategy to final marketing outcomes is still a novel thing. This novelty or inhibition often puts digital transformation in jeopardy.
  • The shortage of talent:Though majority of the marketing workforce in Pharma companies is tech savvy, many still are unaware of various facets of digital marketing. Digital transformation in marketing cannot excel without a good understanding of various facets of digital marketing. The Pharma industry in India particularly faces a shortage of talented minds who understand the scope and values of digital marketing and especially how they can boost marketing efforts of the organization. The shortage of digitally mature marketing workforce has been one of the major concern areas for Pharma companies in India. To train their marketing workforce to be digitally mature, Pharma needs to look beyond their organization, and partner with the organizations who have gained experience with digital Pharma marketing.

What are the Solutions to Succeed?

Undoubtedly, the digital transformation in Pharma industry needs to be driven from the top. In order to implement a wide array of digital solutions available for marketing, building a strong strategy and a roadmap is imperative. In order to succeed in digital transformation in marketing, it is important for organizations to look into following direction.

  • Initiating training and planning at the highest level of organization: In order to succeed, top management of Pharma companies need to understand how digital transformation empowers the organization. Adopting digital marketing warrants a change in a lot of processes. In order to streamline these processes, top executives need to sit together and formulate a strategy to adopt digital transformation. It is a misconception that marketing through digital media is same as marketing through other channels. No, it is not. Digital marketing initiatives are agile and often require support from other functional areas to succeed. It is also to be noted that benefits of implementing digital marketing strategy are not only limited to marketing. It provides a lot of opportunities to streamline the processes across the board that has a potential to save a lot of time and money and increase profits. Thus, it is very helpful to initiate training and planning at the earliest and at the highest levels of the organization.
  • Roll-out plan for culture change in a top-down approach: The biggest hurdles most marketers face is the fear of failing. That is why most marketers are afraid of measuring different parameters associated with their marketing initiatives. Top management should understand that digital transformation in marketing is not advertising on the internet anymore. There are different ways of digital marketing and depending on your target audience some of them will fail and some of them will succeed. However, trying new ideas is important. Top management needs to create an atmosphere where marketers are encouraged to try and even if they fail, they learn from failure with positive insights. This requires an overhaul in culture within the organization and that can only be driven by executives on the top.
  • Initiate Strategic Digital Transformation, do not restrict to projects: Many times, digital initiatives are restricted to only some marketing activities. When the digital initiatives are only restricted to few projects, marketing managers, and other involved departments are often struggle to achieve KPIs for both digital implementation and traditional approach. As they are more accustomed to traditional marketing, they tend to lose interest with digital approach as measuring the success of digital marketing is still new for the majority of marketing managers. That is why top management needs to establish digital transformation as a key strategic initiative.
  • Set timelines for digital initiatives, streamline other processes around it: In a lot of Pharma companies, functional areas like Pharmacovigilance, Medical Affairs, Sales still dominate. No doubt that these departments are of critical importance for Pharma companies, however at many instances they dictate the pace of marketing initiatives, digital marketing is no exception. Digital transformation is quite agile and it requires cooperation from other departments. In fact, digital transformation in marketing can bring about great change reducing time, money and help other departments become leaner and efficient. Especially in a large enterprise, employees down in the hierarchy lose the sight of larger picture, and focus on local optimizations rather than the global one. Determining priorities and setting timelines by the top management ensures that people on the lower echelons understand the strategic goals of organizations.
  • Encourage risk taking with digital initiatives: Fear of failure while adapting with new initiatives is the most common reason for failure to achieve a total digital transformation. Digital marketing is comparatively new phenomenon and success comes after trying various ideas. Leading marketing experts often state that marketers have only two options, ‘try and fail’ and ‘try and succeed’. Trying innovative digital marketing ideas require support from top management. Top managers need to encourage risk-taking behavior as even a failure of one idea can give huge information about why it failed through analytics.
  • Do not waste time and money creating new digital assets like apps and websites: Pharma companies should worry more about creating integrative digital transformation strategy rather than creating new smartphone apps or websites. Instead, the exploring existing channels such as doctors’ professional networks should be explored. Creating new apps or websites is not Pharma’s core competency and it is losing precious time and money on it. Pharma companies are risking themselves to become a victim of ‘Digital Darwinism’. Digital Darwinism is the phenomenon when technology and society evolve faster than an organization can adapt. Digital Darwinism is a fate that threatens most organizations in Pharma industry. Because of this, businesses not only have to compete for today but also for the unforeseeable future.

How can Docplexus help Pharma Companies?

Digital transformation in marketing is the need of the hour. At Docplexus, we have been learning the dynamics and virtues of it with the community of over 3,80,000+ doctors from 99 different specialties. Every specialty is different with its own unique characteristics. Reaching out to these specialties needs to be done with a variety of special digital initiatives.

Through different modes such as webinars, online CMEs, panel discussions and much more, we can help Pharma companies to reach target audience quickly and prevent you from being a victim of ‘Digital Darwinism’.


Docplexus – Pharma’s Trusted Marketing Partner
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