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Powering Ahead With Agility

State of the Industry

Over the course of last year, the pharma industry has undergone a monumental shift in digital adoption across the value chain. Several organizations had to overcome traditional barriers to transform themselves and embrace a digital-first strategy. A year into the forced digital experiment, the industry needs to address some critical issues going into the next decade of hybrid engagements and a new commercial model that accounts for far greater digital components in the mix.

Digital Fatigue

Pharma companies have accelerated digitization in all aspects of their operations and communications. However, as most industry veterans have highlighted, this approach has swamped customers with content and resulted in substantial digital and content fatigue. Content and channel elements will continue to evolve with technology innovations. However, it is impractical to introduce something new to customers all the time, as this further induces fatigue and is also financially unsustainable for the companies. It is time to take a pause and ask “what really engages and creates value for customers?” For instance, while ramped-up email engagements and virtual congresses have increased the brand's share of voice, the drop-off rates indicate disengagement. This also calls for greater personalization for better customer engagement. Organizations need to resist the temptation to chase the shiny new object and adopt a framework to evaluate and introduce scalable capabilities that create value for their customers.

Measurement Framework

The digital proliferation in the last year has led to a greater demand for the right metrics to measure engagement. From this perspective, pharma companies must break free from the channel mindset and adopt the publisher's mindset and metrics that inform what engages the customers. Traditional reach and frequency metrics may not be true indicators of effectiveness in this regard. Instead, metrics centered around the customer, their engagement, experience, and journeys are better indicators and allow organizations to optimize their engagement and affect customer behaviors favorably. However, with the sophistication and advanced analytics driven metrics being built out by organizations, companies should not lose sight of foundational metrics. Advancement shouldn't come at the cost of core fundamentals.


Pharma has traditionally been a laggard in using next-generation technology for marketing functions. For instance, cloud adoption has been slow when compared with other industries. There is a dire need for an end-toend technology suite that connects everything and helps marketers on the journey of full value creation and the complete spectrum of marketing operations. Integration is another critical aspect; while there are some bestof-breed single-point tools such as content approvals tools, they don't necessarily lend themselves to end-to-end integrated operations. Going forward, the challenge would be to decide whether to persist with these single-point tools or to seek end-to-end integrated capabilities.


In the new normal, it is well established that customers are going to use a range of tools and technologies to make more informed decisions on health outcomes. This evolution has transformed the role of marketing in delivering a better customer experience. Among various levers, agile can be the key to unlocking the value marketing can generate for customers and organizations. Agile requires a certain discipline all the way up to senior leadership and a common understanding of agile marketing processes and goals. While embedding agile methodology in marketing, it is important to begin the journey from the customer and not from the inside. Whether it is generating digital content multi-fold, running more multichannel campaigns, executing virtual meetings seamlessly, or enhancing reporting capabilities on engagements, everything should lead to customer delight.
Pharma is not new to agile marketing. There have been agile teams in the past, but eventually, they tend to become siloed and disjointed, largely due to the lack of strong change management drive from the top. Agile involves redefining the framework, investing adequate time and resources to train the global and local teams to align with the broader objectives.
In their journey toward agility, some organizations are now establishing new processes to integrate more robust insight cycles to feed into customer engagement and capability-building decisions. They are also re-establishing their brand planning cycles to lend themselves to greater agility than the traditional annual cycles allowed for Few other organizations have established full-fledged agile processes for capability buildouts based on user stories, product backlogs, prioritization, etc.

Scale Versus Flexibility

While adopting an agile approach, organizations have to strike a delicate balance between scale and flexibility. In most instances, scale and flexibility are not necessarily needed at the same time, but the teams need to deliver one or the other when needed. There are two important considerations the organizations have to note while structuring agile teams/squads and embedding capabilities locally or at a global delivery level. Organizations also need to balance agility with financial sustainability. For instance, embedding a full range of capabilities in all the local markets may lend itself to greater agility, but it may not be a financially sustainable model.

Agile Content Operations

The decoupled model for content creation and production, which many large organizations have adopted, brings its own challenges to agile operations. Modular content is touted to be a plausible solution to this agility problem. Instead of creating master assets, agencies can create flexible content modules that the downstream production capabilities can leverage and assemble to churn out content in an agile way. Organizations can also consider expanding the scope of content factories to perform an end-to-end suite of services including tagging, analytics, etc. to enable better agility.
In addition, the agile model requires a new level of integration and alignment with creative agencies (partners or in-house) and content factories. Companies need to identify key activities that need greater agility and evaluate partners accordingly – who can deliver agility for “key activities” versus who can deliver cost optimization for “business as usual” activities.

Agile Squads, Structures, and Roles

As most industry leaders have highlighted, the lines between marketing and technology teams are getting blurred. While brand teams evolve, pharma companies have to create pockets of experiments to figure out team structures and roles of the future. Even though agile does not mandate organizational restructuring, few organizations have established foundational platforms over the last year for marketing and IT to co-develop capabilities in an agile way. They have also set up new roles such as product owners, channel owners, agile coaches, customer marketers, etc. With new agile squads being formed across the organization, leaders need to figure out the interface between various squads in play so that what they perform and build aligns with the organization's strategic priority. They also need to align local squads and global delivery squads to achieve flexibility and scale when required. However, from a resource management perspective, agile squads could become financially unsustainable if not carefully structured.
Regardless of the structure, organizations need to sustain their efforts and investments in training the organization to operate in an agile way to reap the full spectrum of benefits such as greater speed to market, greater personalization, and prioritization of valuedriving opportunities.

Meet the council

Aaron Foster
VP, Customer Analytics & Insights, Pfizer
Brian Cantwell
VP, Digital Strategy, Bayer US Pharmaceuticals
Barbara Salami
VP, Digital for Commercial, Moderna
Bharti Rai
VP, Commercial Acceleration, Novartis
Christine Yeh
VP, Customer Experience, AbbVie
Cristina Carlis
VP, Global Marketing Digital & Innovation, Gilead Sciences
Dana Rodden
Digital CoE & Marketing Operations Leader, Merck
Debraj Dasgupta
Former VP, Head of Strategic Portfolio & Market Management, Biocon Biologics
Dr. Michael Kurr
Global Head of GoTo-Market Services, Boehringer Ingelheim
Elias Khalil
VP, Global Commercial Services, Eli Lilly and Company
Jeff French
VP and Chief Digital Officer ViiV Healthcare
John McCarthy
Principal Consultant, DT an Indigene company
Lisa Tollman
Executive Director Head of US Marketing Operations and Innovation, Amgen
Marc Schwartz
Global Multi-Channel Marketing Operations Lead, Sanofi
Nathan Bowmaker
Head of Global Commercial Operations, AstraZeneca
Raakhi K Sippy
VP, Head of Global Pharma Marketing Operations, GlaxoSmithKline
Tara Stewart
VP, Worldwide Engagement Planning & Content Capabilities, Bristol-Myers Squibb
Thomas Thestrup-Terp
Corporate VP, Commercial Operations, Novo Nordisk
Tina Goyal
Former Global Head, Marketing Innovation & Execution, Novartis