There is no such thing as a magic formula for innovation. But as some of modern business’s biggest visionaries will attest, the killer ingredient is often ‘risk’. As the saying goes, if you’ve never failed, you’ve never tried anything new. Steve Jobs said that sometimes when you innovate you make mistakes; he warned people not to be afraid of taking risks. Mark Zuckerberg says that the biggest risk is not to take any risk at all; he advises people to ‘move fast and break things’. Peter Drucker says that ‘if you want something new, you have to stop doing something old’. There may not be a magic formula, but one thing is clear: innovation is anything but business as usual.
Except, of course, for the pharmaceutical industry, where innovation pretty much comes with the turf. The sector is acknowledged as one of the world’s most innovative, with a product back catalogue that reflects a conveyor belt of interventions that have saved and changed lives. However, when it comes to introducing – or experimenting with – new ways of working, pharma’s capacity for innovation can sometimes fail to match its R&D prowess. Companies are often risk-averse and this can breed a fear of failure that stifles innovation and allows employees to hide behind the tried-and-tested. For many, this is not only the wrong kind of ‘business as usual’, it’s misaligned with the needs of a changing marketplace. The reality is a harsh one: there are no old roads to new directions. If marketers really are to adapt to a new world, it’s time to feel the fear and try something different.
The dynamics of change
Market dynamics are dictating the need for change. Globally, healthcare systems are battling the need to secure equitable access to high-quality, affordable care against a tide of rising demand. As emphasis shifts towards value-based care, pharma’s historical focus on safety and efficacy is no longer enough as the need to demonstrate real world value highlights evidence gaps in the randomised clinical trial (RCT) model. The concurrent extension of pharma’s customer-base has merely added to the challenge, with payers, patients and a whole host of other influencers each having distinct information needs.
The communications environment has changed too. The rapid proliferation of mobile, digital and social channels has transformed the paradigm; communications that were once one-dimensional have evolved into a web of tools for staying connected, engaged and informed. The statistics below reinforce this message.
In response, pharma’s digital spend is expected to increase to 35% in 2014 (from 7% in 2011), as marketers seek to leverage the medium and, in their view, ‘innovate’. But the question remains: is this true and considered innovation, or merely safety in numbers?
In a marketplace undergoing rapid and fundamental change, innovation is key to future revenues and long-term survival. But how do we define it? Certainly there is a clear distinction between creativity and innovation; creativity is an important stimulus for ideas and the lifeblood of engaging communications, but innovation is the efficient conversion of ideas into products, services and strategies that meet identified customer needs. Crucially, innovation is as much an ‘approach’ as it is an ‘output’ – and the best approaches will be iterative, measurable and agile. The revolution, as they say, will be improvised.
Developing innovation capability, therefore, goes beyond creativity - it requires structures, processes and mechanisms to encourage and support it. And it requires leadership, collaboration and collective responsibility to nurture it. Innovation is, above all, a culture.
And here’s a revelation: it’s not necessarily about being ‘new’. “Innovation is an overloaded and misunderstood term – and it’s often associated with doing something new. This is a misnomer,” says Ceri James, director of innovation and product development, McCann Complete Medical. “Innovation doesn’t need to be something that’s new to the whole world; if it is new to your organisation, it’s innovative to you. It can be as simple as stopping doing something because you’ve recognised it adds no value for your customer. That’s eliminating waste and changing business processes – and that’s innovation. It’s about doing things differently to how you’ve approached them before.”
A different approach
So is pharma doing things differently? And does it have the right culture to nurture innovation? It’s fair to say that, whilst real progress is being made in the most proactive organisations, much more can be done. Best practice within some multinationals indicates an increased appetite for engaging in new approaches, but as huge monoliths with deeply embedded structures, many pharma companies find it understandably difficult to move quickly.
But let’s not waste time procrastinating, pharma’s general symptoms are well-known. Downward pressure on budgets and the ever-present need for regulatory compliance are major contributory factors – but a widespread tendency to work in silos using entrenched, process-driven methodologies has become self-defeating. At a time when the need to innovate is high and the support of external expertise is at its greatest, marketers are often hamstrung by restrictive procurement processes that focus on the wrong metrics. It’s difficult to innovate by tick-box exercise. If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.
“Companies need to develop an innovation culture that everyone embraces,” says Howie Jones, studio director at McCann Complete Medical. “It’s now hugely important that businesses have an innovation strategy that aligns objectives, needs and resources, and that everyone accepts innovation as part of their role. In a connected world, people can no longer work wearing blinkers. Innovation is everyone’s responsibility.”
It’s a collaborative mindset in which innovation needs to extend to how brand teams commission and work with external agencies. The most progressive have recognised the value of broad strategic partners and moved away from the piecemeal deployment of multiple agencies to deliver prescriptive, tactical solutions. The old approach is inefficient; the silent cost of briefing and managing multiple agencies can be significant. Moreover, the approach increases the risk of disjointed brand communications and negates the opportunity to innovate at scale. However, procurement frameworks in many pharma companies are not built to support the identification of strategic partners – with rosters often falling into narrow, specialist categories. But, with the potential advantages of partnering significant, the opportunity for innovation are real.
The deployment of a broad strategic partner that can provide multidisciplinary expertise offers major economies of scale – and a springboard to enhance innovation capability. Long-term partnerships and proactive consultation invariably leads to the collaborative development of solutions that best reflect customer needs – and could help companies eliminate onerous RFP (request for proposal) processes associated with multiple agency deployment. Moreover, a multidisciplinary partner can help brand teams leverage the creativity, technology and experience a network organisation can bring to the table.
The solution all boils down to a question of need: what do pharmaceutical companies want? Well, they’ve looked at the diverse environment and decided that they want it all – they’re moving from the multichannel to the omnichannel. “Clients are looking for programmes that exploit the most appropriate channels that are available to them – whether that’s publications, KOL engagement, face-to-face activities, congresses, digital or social channels,” says Daniel Gibbs, general manager at Caudex London. “But they want it in a fully connected way – with a big idea at the centre that’s really going to resonate.”
And they also know that leveraging technology will be key to their success. “There’s a whole arsenal of technologies out there, but the skill is to find the most appropriate solutions for clients’ needs,” says Howie. “There are increasing examples of companies successfully using immersive technologies, virtual and augmented reality and experiential solutions. But a lot of people play safe. Yet with the right partner and the right level of engagement, it’s possible to exploit the channels of communication that suit client needs and push the boundaries of innovation.”
Progress will ultimately come down to a balance of collaboration, innovation and measured risk. But time is of the essence. “The advice is simple: get involved,” says Richard Ashdown, multichannel director at Caudex Medical. “There are pharma companies out there that are already testing the water; they’re looking across all areas of their business, taking leadership and looking for different ways to communicate with their audience. Brands are experimenting; much of it is in digital, some are even crowd-sourcing, but whatever it is, attempts at innovation are taking place. You can either let them pass you by, or you can get involved and see if the approach applies to your brand.
“It really is possible to have conversations over social media; in fact those conversations are already taking place. The skill is to identify where audiences are participating, and work out how you can establish a presence in that particular channel. A good partner will be able to help you do that as part of a coherent multichannel approach.”Pharma is just one part of an increasingly connected health ecosystem – but it’s often on the outside looking in. So how can companies connect everything together to optimise the multichannel opportunity? The answer is to identify a partner that has invested in an innovation strategy and has aligned around developing products and services that meet client need.
“Driving innovation in a new and challenging healthcare paradigm is not easy. It makes increasing sense to partner with agencies that are being proactive in combining different expertise and have the capability for multidisciplinary collaboration,” says Ceri. “The best partners will have a laser focus on innovation to help clients navigate a changing customer environment. The smartest will be those that open their minds to the need to do things differently. Because if they don’t innovate, plenty of their competitors will. It’s time for some measured risk; because the biggest risk is not taking any risks at all.”
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