Pharmaceuticals & Biotech

For agile marketing success, be “multi-minded”

By Erin Liman, MaryAnn Godwin, and Sean Sinisgalli

Jan. 31, 2020 | Article | 5-minute read

For agile marketing success, be “multi-minded”

For healthcare marketers, agile marketing transformations are essential in adapting to today’s data-driven, customer focused, rapid response world. Making an agile marketing transformation means avoiding four main pitfalls, the first of which is not recognizing and solving problems analytically and creatively — what we call “multi-mindedness.”


Once populated by MBAs and advertising talent, forward-thinking healthcare marketers are now rethinking their marketing teams by hiring more data scientists and veterans from outside the industry to create a team that can efficiently build, test and learn dynamically over time. While this is a good start, many agile teams lack the blend of analytics and creativity, or “multi-mindedness,” required to succeed.

In our experience, the most common “multi-minded” gaps are core curiosity and empathy skills. To avoid these and other blind spots, focus on internal team development by upskilling existing employees and hiring people from a mix of industries, backgrounds and cultures. Upskilling can be accomplished through three steps:

  1. Turning agile coaches into agile + design thinking coaches: While agile coaches typically verse new project teams in best practices and help existing teams improve their performance, in a marketing context, the most effective coaches are experts in both agile and design thinking. Design thinking anchors the team’s approach to customer needs as they design patient and physician experiences empathically and with open minds. Design thinking prompts marketers to ask the right questions: Why are patients dropping out of clinical trials? Are consent forms too complicated? Without a human-centered mindset and design thinking skills, agile teams may be flexible and iterative, but they miss opportunities for curiosity-driven, customer-centric innovations.

    Real-world, action-oriented training is also required. Applied design thinking training breaks down barriers to design thinking approaches and illustrates how to apply them within company contexts. A design thinking partner trains the agile coach in the context of a business challenge, where the coach looks to integrate a design thinking approach as a solution for an organization challenge. The design thinking partner can oversee and guide the in-house coach as they work on the second upskilling step, establishing a base of human-centered design skills.
  2. Establishing a base of human-centered design skills: When upskilling existing employees, keep in mind that every team member doesn’t have to have a fluid skillset or a multi-minded problem-solving capability. Rather, collectively, every team member has the same view of the customer. To make this happen, the in-house agile + design thinking coach helps teams understand the overall user story – what are customers trying to achieve and why does this matter to them? – then breaking that story down into sub-stories, ideally by target segment.
  3. Cross-train to develop transdisciplinary capabilities: Because teams are typically siloed, many team members don’t know what their colleagues’ skills and experiences are, and therefore, individual strengths may be underutilized. Additionally, if one uniquely skilled team member becomes unavailable, the team may run into roadblocks. The best agile marketing teams address these problems through cross-training:

  • Pair up differently-minded team members to accomplish tasks (for example, data analyst and people-centric marketers review physician ad board feedback, and executors and ideators plan patient focus groups)
  • Set aside time for skill or task-specific demos, presentations and training sessions
  • Encourage experts on a certain task or capability to train the next best team member
  • Develop a digital and physical learning community where employees can discuss their ideas for agile and design thinking tools and approaches

Hiring from the outside

To fill any remaining skill gaps, hire from the outside, specifically targeting candidates from industries more experienced in the new world of marketing. While healthcare-born and bred marketers excel in market research, targeting organized customers and partnering with sales, successful healthcare marketing increasingly requires capabilities they often lack, such as:

  • Using non-personal promotion: Consumerism is changing how healthcare organizations allocate resources. In some disease areas, sales force-driven physician targeting is being replaced by unbranded and branded direct-to-consumer marketing. Organizations can no longer rely on sales forces to drive adoption and must excel in non-personal promotion.
  • Demonstrating value: Patients are footing a larger portion of drug costs than ever before and are pushing physicians to consider cost while making treatment decisions. Marketers need to communicate complex medical benefits and access information in understandable terms and via accessible channels.
  • Being human first: As brands become less clinically differentiated, creating content with real patients and real stories will foster trust in competitive therapeutic areas.
  • Operating responsibly: For younger consumers, in particular, everything from product sourcing to profit-sharing matters. Many healthcare sub-industries including insurance and pharmaceuticals still have a way to go to reframe themselves in these consumers’ minds.

Healthcare organizations looking to the outside to address skill gaps most commonly search within consumer packaged goods (CPG), technology and financial services. CPG marketers excel in using real-time, customer-centric interventions to build brand loyalty. Technology veterans can level up the team’s data and analytics capabilities and guide investment in enhanced tools and infrastructure. Financial services marketers are adept at navigating regulatory and compliance hurdles. For entry level roles, find analytical minds at engineering schools and creative minds at business schools, specifically those with strong innovation or entrepreneurship programs. Once brought in, integrate them through upskilling and cross-training.


By marrying analytics and creativity to maximize the “multi-mindedness” of their agile marketing teams, healthcare organizations will begin to realize the full potential of agile marketing transformations.