September 19, 2023

Pharma Needs To Stop Apologizing! Looking for Progress At Digital Pharma East.

conference watching a panel of people on stage

There was a lot of apologizing at this year’s Digital Pharma East conference. Apologies from companies not being further along in their omnichannel efforts, apologies that only 32% of patients describe pharma ads as relevant to them (Deep Intent), and even apologies that panel discussions still began with a debate about what definitions of omnichannel we should be using!

What was the source of the problem?  A lot of the usual culprits, MLR teams took a lot of hits, the need for exponentially more content to feed personalization, data was still arriving weeks after it could be useful, and a fractured technology ecosystem, where “only the orchestra conductor knows the music and is turning up to practice regularly” (Michael Rowbotham, Digital Transformation Lead for I&I Franchise, Pfizer).

The organizers seem to have anticipated the apologies, hosting a panel of omnichannel marketers from industries outside of pharma such as telecommunications and finance. “We have regulations too!  It’s no excuse.” But as William Veltre from BMS commented, “we use MLR as an excuse, anticipating it and causing it to limit our thinking.”

A lot of attendees came with great hope for AI and the excitement was palpable. AI technology is now not just a complement to pharma marketing efforts, but core to many organizations’ capabilities, enabling them to move faster, especially in terms of customizing content. John Mangano from Deep Intent talked about the chatbot replacing the doctor’s office in the same way that email replaced the post office. And Guiseppe Firenze, SVP and Information Officer at Eli Lilly talked about how AI can make employees “superhumans”.

But along with excitement, there was also caution. Even a self-professed “believer in AI” like Darshan Joshi, Head of Data – Oncology Business unit at Takeda, cautioned that with AI being so expensive, in the immediate future, it’s going to be focused only on the most broad-based use case scenarios. And there were also calls that the solution was as much a mindset issue as a tech issue. Stacy Trent, Senior Director, Engagement Data and Campaign Management at BMS, argued the industry needs to embrace an “unpharma approach.” John Mangano, Chief Analytics Officer at Deep Intent, challenged the industry to stop thinking it’s behind the curve.  From his perspective, pharma is increasingly at the forefront. “We are the leaders!” with more data than any other industry, and with a nobler goal…saving lives!

These moments when speakers challenged the status quo with new ways of thinking about pharma truly transcended the event across all topics.

  • Paul Murasko, Head of Digital Innovation and Marketing Operations at Azurity Pharmaceuticals, raised his complaint that only pharma uses the phrase “NPP, Non-Personal Promotion” and instead, NPP should be expressed with a more positive, future-forward focus, reframing NPP as “New Personal Promotion.”
  • Michael Kirzhner, Associate Director, US Commercial BTW at Abbvie, talked about moving to the right mindset where organizations are embracing data as a common language and celebrating progress.
  • Dustin Garis, keynote speaker and “Chief Troublemaker” at P&G’s Global Innovation and Marketing Group, urged participants that innovation doesn’t come from trying something new in tech or even AI, but it starts with trying something new from human experience.
  • Jerrad Rickard, General Manager of Email and OneKey from IQVIA urged participants to think of personalization not just as a CTR rate, but as a relationship. If you only measure transactional short-term clicks, you only get transactional short-term relationships. Marketers need to be measuring how they are building the relationship, leaning into metrics like average read time, brand affinity and NPS.

And perhaps my personal favorite and music to my marketing ears was from Jim DeLash, Omnichannel Marketing Director of US Vaccines at GSK. He said it starts with a brief, the most critical document a marketer writes, but one that only 10% of agencies believe their clients write well. For GSK, briefs were behavioral experiments, really focused on a sharp definition of the problem with a maximum 11-point, one-page summary of the challenge, behavioral biases and desired outcome of the campaign. The goal of every marketing program was to be an experiment that they could learn from, and he challenged the organization to get to 100 experiments in 12 months. He shared what they had learned, from micro experiments on the role of emotion in ad copy, to macro experiments on the effectiveness of unbranded communication to nurses. In the end, it took them 13 months to get to 100 experiments. But you know what was great? No apologies!