By Debraj Dasgupta, Operating Officer, Head of Strategy and Go-To-Market Planning Division, Nippon Boehringer Ingelheim
For those of us who learnt about ground rules of marketing through Philip Kotler’s textbook on Marketing Management, the 4Ps of Marketing—Product, Price, Promotion, Place—are quite well-known and understood as basic marketing principles. In this article, I would argue that for any industry, which has been fairly late in the game compared to other industries in digitally transforming its business model, they will be able to transform effectively by applying a new set of 4Ps: Platforms, People, Process and Proficiency. I have illustrated them in increasing order of complexity from Level 1, the lowest complexity, to level 4, the highest complexity, and will explain what it takes to master each level and why unlocking each level is harder as we go up the pyramid. To make these concepts come to life, I will use examples from the pharmaceutical industry since I know this industry the best.
Ultimately, unlocking all the four levels is what will separate the winners from the losers in the game of digital transformation.
Level 1: Platforms
There is now and will be increasingly in future, a whole host of IT platforms that enable and unleash new ways of working, and will be the foundation upon which digital transformation will happen. The traditional marketing stack of the pharmaceutical industry for the last decade or so has been started with rollout of CRM systems that have been deployed to armies of sales reps visiting doctors. In the last five years, while medical representatives’ access to physicians has become harder and more challenging, we are seeing a proliferation of platforms within owned channels that enable new capabilities such as email marketing, automated campaigns, advanced website capabilities such as personalization or even enabling digital asset management at scale. On the other hand, a rapid proliferation of third-party media platforms are also providing new opportunities for how companies are increasingly engaging with their target customers now and potentially in future, to maximize reach and impact. With challenges around balancing customer information needed by companies to deliver value through personalization vs. concerns for data privacy dominating legal and regulatory frameworks, the future for customer engagement in the industry is going toward a proliferation of more platforms and systems rather than less. Albeit, with greater regulatory oversight on pharmaceutical code of conduct and promotional practices. The key practices to master the platform stage will depend on implementation of global systems vs. locally fragmented systems, 360 degree view of the customer via unified architecture and APIs vs. fragmented platforms that do not speak to each other, movement toward agile IT implementation vs. waterfall methods and overall movement toward agile organizational mindset in rolling out new platforms and capabilities with test and learn capabilities.
Level 2: People
To master digital transformation at scale, there are two ways in which pharma companies can choose to enable their workforce to upskill and drive new capabilities. First, by upskilling of the existing workforce through training programs, and second, by buying talent from other industries that are ahead of the curve in digital transformation and can bring new knowledge and expertise to pharma.
No single one way is the best approach because, usually, it’s the combination of both people strategies that will drive successful transformation. Many of the pharmaceutical brand managers, given their background as sales representatives are still behind the curve on digital acumen which has resulted in many companies setting up a parallel digital teams usually staffed with talent from other industries to help jumpstart digital capabilities within marketing. At the same time, while digital upskilling of medical representatives and MSLs at scale is an ongoing effort, face to face interactions with customers still dominate the mindset and ways of combining these new skills within customer facing teams to drive orchestration of customer experiences across digital channels is very much an ongoing effort. The key practices to master the people stage will depend on creating a culture of innovation and (dis)comfort in learning from failure toward continuous improvement, cross-departmental collaboration, and unleashing bottom up energy within the organization, middle management acting as an enabler for change, rather than a roadblock. Recognition from leadership that focuses on superior employee engagement is a key precursor to driving superior customer engagement.
With the advent of new innovations in medicine, whether it is in the area of digital therapeutics, gene therapies, biomarkers and sensors, 3D printing and smart manufacturing, robotic process automation and virtual clinical trials, digital innovation will transform virtually every facet of the pharma industry value chain …
Level 3: Processes
For many companies who have made the investment in platforms and also have people strategy in place, they get stuck in level 1 and 2 because they cannot re-engineer their business processes at scale, which needs management commitment and alignment at all levels within the organization. Whether it is about disrupting the traditional brand planning process, or simplifying the medical legal review process or content development process, the maturity and determination needed to overcome existing ways of doing work (often hidden behind obscure compliance rules and we have always done it this way mindset) do not allow many companies to move forward. For those companies, which are able to muster the organizational wherewithal to transform their core processes, the light at the end of the tunnel comes from achieving greater synergies between their people, processes and platforms, especially the advanced capabilities that these platforms lend themselves to in order to unleash and exploit the full potential of the promise of transformation at scale. The key practices to master the process stage involves end-to-end process mapping of core business processes and driving toward continuous improvement with focus on optimization, efficiency, value for the organization, and most importantly simplification where possible. It also involves the understanding that with advances in software, many key processes will get automated and will result in more efficient ways of working, and ultimately driving the organization toward key opportunities such as robotic process automation and even AI-driven process efficiencies over the long run.
Level 4: Proficiency
The trajectory of the pharmaceutical industry journey toward digital transformation has gone through several phases over the last few decades. I would argue that there were three distinct eras. The first era was 1980s to 1990s when digitization of the office environment took place as word processors replaced typewriters and emails replaced traditional snail mail as office communication tools. The next era roughly started from late 90s to now, so, roughly over two decades when we saw introduction of the first CRM systems in pharma and most companies rolling out of tablets at scale to medical reps globally equipped with digital promotional aids. This phase saw the shift in how pharma companies sought to engage with their end customers and bringing in more digital means of communication to complement face to face channels. The third phase we are entering now is where I would argue that the business model of the industry itself will undergo a dramatic shift. With the advent of new innovations in medicine, whether it is in the area of digital therapeutics, gene therapies, biomarkers and sensors, 3D printing and smart manufacturing, robotic process automation and virtual clinical trials, digital innovation will transform virtually every facet of the pharma industry value chain resulting in not only internal transformation of the operating model and ways we engage with external customers, but also in enabling patient outcome improvements through breakthrough innovation in therapeutic options achieved through digital transformation. This will be the real game changer as transforming health through digital tools whether in the area of gene editing or in improving mental health through apps with many applications coming in the near future where the physical and digital realm will merge in more ways than we can ever imagine. For those companies who have achieved the first three levels of transformation and think they are ahead of the game in customer centricity, I would argue that they are in the danger of suffering from a major blindspot of not seeing what lies ahead. I know many senior executives will argue and say that with so much innovation happening across the board in the external environment, it’s hard to commit to one area of transformation or place meaningful bets within the company. For those executives, my answer is going to be in finding ways to unlock the secret sauce where conscious investments in organizational culture, people, processes, platforms, and capabilities will come together to create the proficiency that is needed at all levels to make this transformation happen. Additionally, collaborating and exploring new ways of working with external entities like universities, startups, and NGOs through external partnerships will be key to ensure an outside-in mindset is imbibed within the organization to stay ahead of the curve. The energy to unlock and achieve this transformation ultimately must come from within and will involve mastering and connecting many areas so this stage in that sense will be the hardest to achieve.