Xpectives News

The Pharma Marketers’ Innovator’s Dilemma

February 18, 2015 by Ashik Desai
Why innovate? It’s a question frequently asked by many pharmaceutical marketers. From a campaign development perspective, innovation is seen as a way to break through the clutter in order to set new benchmarks for success. Unfortunately, in the process, it’s easy to just innovate for innovation sake, and implement the latest thing without regard to how it will accomplish brand objectives or scale in a meaningful way. Measurement is also often an afterthought that mitigates the cultivation of valuable insights and leads to irrelevant KPIs.

Widespread conservatism within the industry, due to regulatory burden, compounds the issue. Unorthodox innovation initiates a waterfall of time-consuming MLR reviews, which can lead to the dilution of the concept itself in order to gain approval. That new thing you were so excited about? Not only has it lost some of its luster, but the window for launch has been delayed to the point that it is no longer considered breakthrough. To make matters worse, the annual planning cycle compresses your once innovative idea to a four-month flight.

Marketers should never veer from paving new ground. It is essential that we identify and execute new marketing strategies that best align to our brands, can be effectively measured, and also meet the restrictions unique to our industry. In a time where technology, platform and content evolution is happening faster than ever in leading consumer and HCP channels such as mobile, social and point-of-care, it’s critical that marketers understand the challenges of adopting new strategies and utilize a tactful, big-swing approach to overcome each of them. That said, a methodical approach to prioritizing should be considered so that the new path leads to meaningful success.

Herein lies the innovator’s dilemma. How do pharmaceutical marketers embrace innovation successfully while adhering to the constraints unique to our industry?

For all of us, a brand’s life cycle is finite. FDA approval process and patent law has given us a clear start and end point. We’re all under pressure to use this time and our yearly budgets as efficiently as possible. Unfortunately, the default is to reinvest in tactics that have worked well in the past. While this is not 100% unwise, there are steps to be taken to reset our baseline for success.

  1. Be Selective: Pursue innovative tactics that are conducive to meeting your objectives. Just because everyone is talking about the next big thing doesn’t mean it is right for you. It’s critical we take aggressive bets on the right innovation, as that is how we can raise the bar.
  2. Think Big: Rather than pursuing many ideas at once, focus on a couple ideas that can make a meaningful difference.
  3. Think Long-Term: Twelve month media planning cycles aren’t going to change anytime soon. What can change is the way we think about our most strategic programs. Rather than approaching impact from an annual perspective, you can focus on ideas that you incrementally improve over time. While you may not be committing to a multiple-year program, empower your partners to ideate with you on what a long-term vision could look like.
  4. Consider Immediacy: Immediacy comes in two flavors – launch timing and time to impact. Innovation doesn’t have to mean creating new assets. It could be deploying them in new ways. Giving legs to proven assets not only squeezes more out of your creative budget, but it also allows for a more timely review so that you can move the needle for your brand faster.

As new technologies, channels and strategies surface in our industry, all marketers will inevitably face the innovator’s dilemma. Take confidence in knowing that innovation can truly change the success of your brand. If we as an industry can take an approach to adoption that is thoughtful, sustainable, and scalable, the pay-off will be tremendous for all groups involved.


Ashik Desai