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Innovation is occupying an increasingly prominent position on the agendas of pharma marketers, with several organizations beginning to operate under innovation mandates from senior leadership. Realizing innovation is easier said than done in the most freewheeling of industries, let alone pharma, which raises the degree of difficulty in several ways:

What we hear from our Pharma Clients

It can often be an uphill battle to build an innovation mindset into the day-to-day management of your brand. Many organizations who partner with us have innovation as a defined goal within their enterprise, but don’t always have a system (or the appropriate resources) to bring it to life. 

An effective approach to innovation often starts with the right definition of what innovation means. Beyond an understanding, come the tools to properly operationalize innovation within an organization. Organizations without the tools to drive appropriate innovation within their organization, often tell us things like:

“I’ve been asked to deliver on innovation for my brand. I think I need a VR strategy.” 


“Can you come in and do an innovation day? I’d like to see what’s innovative at the moment”


More often than not, innovation can be synonymous with risk. That risk might be monetary (e.g., a need to justify the expense with benchmarks) or regulatory (e.g., the regulated environment requires precedence to confirm compliance). Organizations that struggle with the risk of innovation often tell us things like:

“I need three in-market case studies to get the green light for this innovation.”


“If this thing isn’t ROI positive, it will be deemed a failure.”


Innovation can also often be conflated with “big and expensive.” These types of projects can be large-scale investments that take on a life of their own. The projects end up with very little sense of what the investment will deliver in terms of value for the customer.  Organizations that aren’t geared to evaluate small innovation pilots often tell us things like:

“We don’t have the budget to do innovation.”


“We’ll have to wait until next year to do something innovative”


Working with your agency to deliver on the mandate of innovation can help circumvent some of the common aforementioned pitfalls. Your agency can help brand teams find appropriate places to innovate and ways to deliver value without breaking the bank. Finally, we can help sell through an innovative solution by leveraging our experience across a variety of clients and client types. Benchmarks, models, and frameworks can be used to bring the pro forma results into focus and visualize the solution before an investment is made.

You don’t have to go it alone

To be sure, there are very good reasons why innovation can seem daunting in pharma. The good news is that you don’t have to tackle it alone – at every opportunity, you should lean on your agency partners to help. We, at Klick, have helped many leading life science companies across the primary stages along the innovation journey using what we like to call the “TEAM” framework: Think, Evaluate, Activate, and Measure.

The TEAM Framework


Before ideating against a marketing innovation initiative (or any business initiative for that matter), it is critical to frame the right problems to solve. Your agency can help with the right framing in the following ways.

Start with the problem, not the technology

Often the lure of shiny new technology takes center stage, and it’s tempting to anchor on the technology and try to find a problem to solve (a classic case of the tail wagging the dog). You should be able to count on your agency to provide a sober second look to ensure that the problem is the anchoring factor.

Contextualize the problems/opportunities

Your agency partners are steeped in the understanding of your audiences’ behaviors/attitudes/lives. Lean on them to help place the problem in the broader context of the audiences’ experiences – using this lens: is it a problem that is big enough to matter (yet small enough to solve)?

Expose previously solved problems

Your agency has a wealth of experience across many clients, and can help broaden the field of view re: the what and why behind previously-solved problems. This type of intel can provide invaluable context as you embark on your own innovation initiatives.


For the evaluation of innovative ideas, your agency can help you establish evaluation criteria and set appropriate expectations via the work activities below.

Develop pro forma models based on aggregate experience

Your agency has a depth of experience with other clients. They can combine those in-market program data with rigorous modeling to help identify what value a pilot project may drive for the brand in terms of awareness or TRx.

Familiarize/pre-seed key stakeholders/MLR with information on the solution/technology

Helping key stakeholders or senior decision-makers understand an innovation project is a place where your agency can add value. Your agency can create introductory “101-level” content for those who need it and more advanced mock-ups and visualizations to help understand the idea. Pre-seeding and education can deliver a smoother path to regulatory approval and maybe even advocacy and excitement.

Set appropriate performance expectations to protect budget

Beyond pro forma modeling, goal setting can be an exercise where your agency can deliver real partnership. Often this becomes a matter of making the case for “failures we can be proud of.” Learning as an objective is a hard sell in organizations that are geared to evaluate all investments based on a hard dollar return. Your agency can help set expectations with case studies of the value of broader learning objectives beyond pure financials.


Once innovative ideas have been filtered and the most promising candidates are identified, your agency can help to make them a reality in a number of ways.

Build Proof of Concept (PoC) solutions to produce immediately valuable data

Getting quick data reads on innovation pilots can be a critical gate to making deeper investments. A Proof of Concept is all about testing feasibility. The evaluation of whether an innovative idea is “doable” is often the first answerable question and can be a safe gate to limit further investment in a weak or impossible to execute idea.

Design fast-to-market experiments with Minimum Viable Product (MVP) prototypes

Your agency can help by leveraging their in-house lab or “maker” teams to produce low-fidelity versions of larger investment projects. Building pilot programs with the intent to read out statistically significant results as early as possible requires measurement planning geared to that objective. Avoiding the polish of a finished product is a tricky balance that an agency lab team can help strike; enough functionality to prove the case, but not to blow the budget before feasibility is assessed. Unlike the PoC, the MVP is about testing more than just whether an innovative solution is possible but rather evaluating a shallow test of the potential impact of the innovation.

Conduct rapid usability testing

An alternative to in-market testing of a lower-fidelity pilot can be rapid usability testing. Your agency’s research team is well-versed in using the tools of remote and in-person usability testing to get both qualitative (e.g., verbatim quotes, long-form survey responses, etc.) and quantitative (e.g., eye tracking, web traffic analyses, etc.) feedback.

Build end-to-end solutions and integrating with 3rd parties

Creating pilots is not always a solo act. Partnerships that leverage data, APIs, 3rd party channels for distribution, etc. are often needed to bring programs to life. Your agency can help find, evaluate, and integrate 3rd party services into your pilot to increase the speed to market and program ROI.


Innovation without proper measurement can devolve into one-off exercises in chasing empty sizzle. The criticality of measurement to innovation cannot be overstated, and your agency can help in the following ways.

Position performance reports in the context of analogous benchmarks

Tapping into your agency’s wealth of cross-client/sector experience, you should absolutely lean on this invaluable database of knowledge to help contextualize forecasted/realized performance against appropriate benchmarks.

Set expectations for KPI and LOI

Instead of limiting initiatives to standard KPIs, agencies can help to provide a more balanced outlook that also incorporates LOI (Learning on Investment). After all, innovation often involves sailing ahead in truly uncharted waters – where the very act of charting/learning has intrinsic value (e.g., setting the stage for a more-informed Phase 2 initiative).


If you have any questions about how Klick Health can help your team explore innovation, please reach out to us at connect@klick.com for more information.

More About the Author

Ari Schaefer

Ari is passionate about using data and research to help understand not just what is happening but why it is happening and leveraging those insights to drive impact for the clients with whom he works. Ari specializes in the development of data-driven cross-channel marketing strategies for sites, services and products.

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