The Thought Leader Interview - Marc Schwartz

In this interview, the Global Multi-Channel Marketing Lead at Sanofi stresses that pharma must adapt quickly as Apple, Google, and Amazon are setting the bar for a new customer mindset. An edited transcript of the conversation follows.

Indegene PharmaFuture: In pharma, digital is often approached separately from other marketing initiatives. How does this impact the ability of our industry to adopt and advance our marketing capabilities, and what can be done to approach this differently?

Marc: You’re right! In pharma, digital is often seen as a bolt-on for marketing. In other mature verticals, digital is part of marketing and not a separate strategy. For example, you cannot have a digital strategy and a separate marketing strategy. They are one and the same. The conversation must shift from “adoption” of digital to how do we more quickly embed digital into our overall marketing strategies. When initiating a digital strategy in pharma, it is commonplace to create a separate focus or Center of Excellence to accelerate more quickly. This does make sense to ensure the entire organization quickly scales competencies, frameworks, and platforms. However, integration of these digital strategies should be a core focus and not treated as a separate and distinct capability from marketing.

​It may make sense to globalize certain practices, platforms, etc., to achieve scale and acceleration of digital capabilities. Just to reinforce, we must change the conversation from adoption to how quickly can we integrate digital into our marketing strategies to create long-lasting digital experiences for our customers. 

Also, there seems to be some confusion between digital and multichannel marketing. When we talk about multichannel, it is really about the customer experience and achieving an “omnichannel experience.” The whole idea is to make sure that we’re delivering an optimized customer experience. Digital is likely to be a core part of this experience to help create these great, lasting digital relationships with your customers.

Indegene PharmaFuture: There is a certain amount of risk built into deploying new technologies and undertaking the digital journey. How do you ensure that these investments are fully leveraged and don’t end up as technology solutions that do not impact the business?

Marc: Very simple: you don’t build technology first. Business needs and requirements come first. You need to be very careful that technology does not outstrip the business needs; so, you should only build a technology or platform to address a business need. Companies should always consider joint business and technology ownership in that regard. The business needs to take equal ownership in the deployment of new technologies, otherwise adoption will always be in question. You should not overbuild and build only what the business can handle.

Also, if you have the support of the top management, then business adoption becomes easier. Any new technology deployed should address a business need, but most important, technology should be an enabler in the creation of giving customers what they want, when and how they want it. It’s about personalization and the creation of customer experiences similar to what you see with leading experience companies like Amazon and Google.

Indegene PharmaFuture: We’re now moving towards an era of patient-centric, evidence-driven, and outcome-focused healthcare, what are the key 1-2 trends that you see playing out in 2019 and beyond?

Marc: This is an era of patient centricity. Companies like Amazon, Apple, and other progressive companies remind us that the customer should always come first. We all need to shift from being company and brand centric to being completely focused on the needs and wants of our customers. Everything that we do must be customer centric. In pharma, we still have a long way to go. We have to look at companies like Google, Amazon, Nordstrom, etc., because these are the businesses setting a new bar for customer expectations. It is no longer okay to be mediocre at meeting customer needs. We must always exceed customer expectations at every touchpoint. I come from the hospitality industry, and exceeding customer experiences was our single most important guiding principle.

In pharma, we should be no different. It is not enough to be digital, but you truly have to be digital for a reason, and that is to improve the overall customer experience. 

Indegene PharmaFuture: If you were to think of 2019, from a very short-term perspective, do you see anything changing drastically or do you see it as an ongoing journey?

Marc: It’s a journey, although I’ll call it a rapid journey that’s required. The good news is that over short term, pharma recognizes this as a priority, and they’re all trying to figure it out. I think there is consensus that the customer is the focus, and if they don’t act now, they will be playing catch up. Pharma companies are all at different points in this journey continuum. Some have capabilities, organizations, and strategies in place, while others don’t. However, all are realizing that this capability building is not a “nice to have” but a “must to have.” 

Indegene PharmaFuture: Over the past decade, the excitement about the new innovations in technology (including AI and ML) hasn’t been matched by the rate of adoption on the ground. How do you see that playing out moving forward?

Marc: Everyone is talking about AI and ML, but generally there is not enough concreteness or specificity yet. Companies are exploring, hypothesizing, and beginning to pilot a burst of AI and ML projects and seeing how they apply. Shorter term, I think it’s very ambiguous in terms of where all of that is going. The good news is that pilots are happening, organizations and competencies are being embedded, etc. Longer term, there is no question that AI and ML will play a critical role and will impact all functions.

Pharma should continue to “test and learn” with emerging technologies, but we also need to make sure that we do not lose focus on the fundamentals – becoming great at meeting the needs of our customers. And, yes, AI and ML will become critical to enable these capabilities. Today, it’s very unclear how AI and ML will be incorporated, but suffice to say, it will play a critical role in meeting the needs of our customers. This will transform all healthcare. It’s just not there today.

Indegene PharmaFuture: You mentioned earlier how customer expectations are not being set by the pharma industry anymore but by global companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon. Can you talk about how the industry needs to change to meet those expectations?

Marc: Expectations are being set by the likes of Amazon, Google, and Apple. Customers own the content they want to see. Companies and brands only develop the content that help to personalize individualized experiences as desired by our customers. Pharma needs to transform itself – strategies, platforms, competencies – to deliver against the new customer expectation. Again, the good news is that pharma recognizes the need to transform, and like any industry, some companies will do it more quickly than others. We’re starting to see a transfer of talent and skill sets from a broader talent pool outside the industry over to the pharma side.

I do think we underestimate the need for aggressive change management. It’s not just about new strategies but also about new ways of working. It’s about being more agile and nimble and be guided by the addition of new metrics around customer satisfaction. We all should adapt very quickly because Apple, Google, and Amazon are setting the bar for a new customer mindset.

Indegene PharmaFuture: How should pharma companies react to disruption coming from tech companies, including Amazon, Google and others, entering healthcare?

Marc: When we talk about Amazon and others, we do know they are trying to disrupt the commercial models. Pharma clearly understands this, which is why we are all trying to transform ourselves. We should continue to focus on our fundamentals and get them right. At the same time, we should all be extremely aggressive and establish innovation teams to ensure that we are not left behind in the digital and customer experience evolution.

There are many ways to do this, but we must act now and not wait. It’s important that all levels of the organization have an ambition set in motion and put actions in pace, knowing that more disruption is on its way. We need to think differently, proactively test new, innovative ways of customer engagement, also be focused on core competencies, and partner with those innovators who can help accelerate our efforts.


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Note: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the article belong solely to the thought leader, and not necessarily to the his employer, organization, committee or other group or individual.

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