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Can pharma marketing be truly agile?

Why is it so difficult for pharma to understand the greatest advantage of the digital age?

Facebook is so effective because it's simple, fast and because it offers (mostly) interesting content. Don't worry, this isn't an article on Rx social media, but Facebook can provide some interesting insight into online success.

When the digital revolution arrived about 15 years ago, coincidentally when I joined my first agency after a career in television production, it meant we could develop solutions for our clients that technology had always prevented before. Being able to develop content for a website knowing you could add to it quickly and easily as the product evolved was liberating.

Some brand teams decide against digital communication on the grounds that it takes too long. In the search for perfection IT, legal and brand teams can conspire to make web-based projects take years, cost hundreds of thousands and still achieve nothing.

Often they want to launch their whole website in one go as if they were developing a printed monograph when the advantage of digital is the speed and flexibilty it offers to react to changing market conditions. A promising new study or a sudden change of mood in patients following a TV report can influence the market immediately and digital channels have the flexibility to capitalise on this. Discussion moves faster than any marketing plan.

Used in the right way, digital channels are capable of transmitting the right information to customers at the touch of a button. We have the ability to change content after its launch. Why change it? Because we can learn from our audience and find out what they are actually interested in, rather than simply guessing.

It makes sense to work in smaller bite-size projects so that we can listen to the market as it changes and make our content better, more relevant and more in-line with the needs of healthcare professionals and patients. This is what we call Agile.

Agile is the ability to be nimble and adaptable. Unlocking the power however is still proving to be a hurdle to many brand managers who are stuck in the long-term budget planning cycles driven by the thinking of the analogue age. This thinking makes us unable to react to changing market conditions.

So many projects get held up in round after round of amends when the content is not getting better, only different. This is costly and a waste of valuable time. Launch the project in small amounts and measure the reaction. Develop content that works, discard content that doesn't.

What is needed is a mind shift within the brand teams and procurement to allow us to be a little more reactionary. Predicting our audience is not an exact science, but reacting to it can get pretty close. Planning too precisely puts digital communication in hand-cuffs and compromises its effectiveness.

This needn't be a nervous leap for procurement either, we understand the pressures of modern business. Agile means working with lots of small budgets rather than one big one. It still means working to a plan, but a flexible one. Agile doesn't mean chaos it means working with the agency to adapt and change according to the ever changing market conditions.

The future will be about speed – the future belongs to agile marketing.

JIm Owers

GSWThe Author

Jim Owers is director of digital strategy at GSW Worldwide
He can be contacted at:



29th September 2011


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