Klick Health

Agile Pharma: fail fast and change the world

VP Strategy

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Digital has altered the rules of the game, and pharma needs to catch up. Not only in terms of how the industry engages with patients, caregivers, and professionals—but how it handles process. So let’s take a look at what dynamic, real time ideation looks like, and reveal what that means for healthcare communications in 2014 and beyond.

Learning from the Big Digital Players

The strengths that enable victory in one era often become the very same weaknesses that bring failure in another. Nowhere is that more true that in digital, where the marketplace has the restlessness of the electrons that drive it. Case in point, Microsoft’s reliance on enormously complicated operating systems—once the stuff of dominion, eventually the dead weight pushing the behemoth down.

That’s because during the five years the software giant took to update Windows XP to Vista, more nimble, flexible, creative, and risk-embracing companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple revolutionized communications: from application development to mobile technology to social media, fresh minds applied new ways of thinking to redefine the digital landscape itself. Rather than merely build bigger and better, they created entirely new, swiftly transformative channels and changed the game itself.

Why spend half a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars on a single piece of software when users download and discard millions of apps on a daily basis? Why obsess over a platform when success is measured in seconds of engagement? Why take messaging through extensive market research when phones are accessed more than 110 times per day, tweets are limited to 140 characters, and feeds consist of an endless stream of cat photos, disappearing SnapChats, and mashed up news stories?

Birth of A New Model

The ascendency of an obscure academic social network to a user base of a billion plus in only a few short years has not gone unnoticed, nor has the absurd billion dollar valuations of fledgling startups like Instagram, SnapChat, and Whatsapp. The lessons once scorned are as a result now actively embraced: Collaborate! Experiment! Take risks! And realize that not only is failure inevitable, but is encouraged to happen quickly, repeatedly, and not interfere with moving on.

Their precedent set by two guys in a garage creating a search algorithm that now boasts a $200B market cap, Google embraces this methodology, and has even systematized it under the moniker “Agile Creativity.” Consisting of 7 Agility Tips, the approach applies best practices that work for programming to broader projects ramping all the way up to communications plans that could and should directly impact how pharma implements its own brand strategy and tactical planning—ultimately proposing an entirely new way of structuring and managing teams.

The key takeaway is this: Our healthcare audiences have already embraced real time, dynamic communication across multiple devices, often used in tandem, and expect to engage with our brands in the same manner they engage with brands from other verticals, and with each other. And given the life and death importance of healthcare, they expect nothing less than at least the same level of engagement already encountered when ordering a pizza or downloading a pop song.

Welcome to “Agile Pharma”

But no fair, you say, and justifiably cry foul, our industry heavily regulated, after all. Adverse event reporting and reputation management; carefully crafted clinical stories and delicate safety profiles; highly specific patient targets and nuanced trial results; the danger of off label conversations and Sunshine Act accountability—the list goes on and on of The Many Things Keeping Pharma Marketers Up at Night. And all this “agile creativity” might work for tech or entertainment, but not for pharma.

To a certain extent that sentiment remains true, but the essence is erroneous, because mobile and social create risk and even overt failure. You can’t have opportunity and connectivity without exposure and error. Campaigns will miss their target the same way someone will derail the conversation, misrepresent the brand, or foment confusion. The reality is that human communication is inherently messy and chaotic, despite our marketing training insisting on total rigor and control.

What’s necessary is a radical and 180-degree shift in how we create and distribute content. Archaic yearly or biannual production cycles must succumb to smaller nuggets of messaging more frequently and widely shared. Elaborate digital campaigns, websites, and CRM programs that are now heavily researched, laboriously created, extensively reviewed, finally approved, and then “released” must relent to daily experiments in outreach and ongoing, two-way conversations.

How Your Digital Health Partner Can Help

None of Klick Health’s clients has ever received a warning letter during our watch, and everything we do—from our thought leadership to our technical prowess—helps to ensure that remains the case. As an agency that’s digital health since inception and to the core, we thoroughly understand the medical science, the multichannel technology, and the regulatory environment so that everything we ever do remains completely accurate, risk averse, and fully compliant.

That said, we also understand and know how to responsibly push the envelope. From clinical trial recruitment to patient advocacy to social media guidance, Klick Health covers all the bases, and does so by beginning with the end in mind: Imaging opportunities where pharma takes full advantage of digitized brands and their fully engaged audiences, hungry for continuous dynamic content, and eager to share and infuse their own points of view across their many interconnected devices.

Central to that success is reimagining the infrastructure required to flourish within this new digital reality. Quarterly development cycles that morph into daily even hourly management require an entirely fresh approach, with new demands on staffing and resourcing. Most importantly, a shifting attitude toward acceptable levels of risk is needed to up pharma’s game within today’s digital universe. The good news is our patients and professionals expect it; the even better news is this tsunami of content makes audiences more forgiving—and more willing to connect.

Does your agency embrace the latest digital innovation and processes? Does it understand the regulatory environment to the point they can take your outreach oto the next level? A generation from now pharma marketers will look back at our inability and unwillingness to connect with our audiences with wonder: Are we ready to be on the right side of history and use agile creativity to embrace the future, now?

More About the Author

Michael Spitz

A digital health expert since before digital health was cool, Spitz has since developed omnichannel campaigns for top pharma and device brands, and helps drive agency innovation, digital transformation, and emerging channels. See him present at conferences, read his blogs, and follow him for the latest trends and opinions on Twitter @SpitzStrategy.

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