Pharmaceuticals & Biotech

Q&A with AbbVie: Powering CX innovation with digital transformation

July 31, 2019 | Q&A |

Q&A with AbbVie: Powering CX innovation with digital transformation

Key takeaways

  • The yardstick for customer experience has changed. It needs to be significantly more personalized at an individual customer level, harmonized across a wider variety of available channels and made highly responsive based on customer engagements.
  • When you get into omnichannel and digital marketing the data becomes more complicated. You need different ways of analyzing it, measuring it and making sense of it to find unique insights.

Pharma has been on the digitization path for over a decade, but a second wave of digital has arrived in the industry. The earlier wave of digital was focused primarily on digital marketing and gaining access to a long tail of customers that did not make sense to cover predominantly through a traditional sales force. However, the efforts in the earlier part of the decade were focused more on “digitization”—such as converting paper detailing aids into interactive visual aids—and less on digital transformation, as these efforts did not radically evolve ways of working or engaging customers.


Now, digital’s second wave is at pharma’s doorstep, and it’s being driven by three key drivers. First, digital initiatives are becoming increasingly important to the C-suite. Since digital has the potential to create significant moats between leaders and laggards, companies are becoming less inclined to use it simply to achieve competitive advantage; they’re seeking digital dominance. Consider, for example, that although Blockbuster was the first to create an online movie platform, Netflix’s bolder digital ambitions completely reshaped the industry’s model of content distribution and streaming services. Second, the intensity of AI is changing the trajectory of digital in pharma. AI is unlocking and accelerating new high-ROI use cases at a scale that was unthinkable even five years back. Third, digital’s scope is becoming much more holistic, transforming not only existing business functions but also creating new revenue streams through digital medicine and digital therapeutics.


We recently sat down with Chad LaCrosse, senior director of business technology and digital transformation at AbbVie; and Saby Mitra, a ZS principal who leads the customer-centric marketing technology practice, to discuss the industry trends that are driving pharma to prioritize digital transformation, opportunities for commercial organizations to create stronger customer experiences and the challenges those companies need to overcome to be successful. While the topic of digital transformation can be broad, the discussion is deliberately focused on the commercial organization, specifically highlighting opportunities for driving delightful customer experiences.

Q: What are the key business trends that are leading pharma organizations to invest in digital transformation?

Chad LaCrosse: Three business drivers come to the top of my mind. The first is recognizing that patient experiences with consumer-based technology are strong, and those experiences apply to how they engage with healthcare as well. The second pertains to healthcare providers. We’re starting to see how digital and omnichannel marketing and digital engagement works for us as individuals, whether we’re technology executives, business leaders in consulting firms or practice leaders. Good use of digital works to cut through the noise and connect with people, and that connection should include HCPs. Third, there’s the field sales force. Access to doctors and their staff is limited, so how do we use data and digital to create insights that make the limited amount of access that sales reps have as effective as possible? These three trends are largely what’s leading to investment in digital transformation.


Saby Mitra: I’d add to that by saying differentiation in customer experience has been in the forefront of the industry for at least the last five years, if not longer, but the trend—at least from my vantage point—is that there is a stronger desire now from companies and brands to own and control the customer experience and enabling capabilities. The yardstick for customer experience has changed. It needs to be significantly more personalized at an individual customer level, harmonized across a wider variety of available channels and made highly responsive based on customer engagements. As such, we have started to observe a larger shift towards establishing customer operations organizations in pharma, with the core objective of designing and delivering very deliberate and timely customer experiences and sales force communications. That will be difficult to accomplish in a fully outsourced and fragmented marketing ecosystem.


CL: That’s absolutely on the mark: Data and analytics are how companies are going to win. [Pharma] data used to be all over the place, with different agencies and different companies. With the responsibility for building a holistic customer experience in-house, companies are realizing that they also need to bring their data in-house, to have access to and an understanding of the data, and to help create and manage those experiences.

Q: What key capabilities do organizations need to deliver truly omnichannel go-to-market models that support digital transformation?

CL: First and foremost, data. Most pharmaceutical manufacturers and promoters are very comfortable and familiar using traditional script data to understand the market, segment doctors and measure the business. Companies need to build a competency around understanding and managing the diversity and the grain of different kinds of data. Second, analytics. When you get into omnichannel and digital marketing the data becomes more complicated. You need different ways of analyzing it, measuring it and making sense of it to find unique insights. Third, you need a channel-centric enablement ecosystem that allows you to orchestrate what you’ve learned from your analytics in a seamless way. All three of these become large challenges for companies because these usually cut across organizational boundaries. Data is usually managed in a data warehousing group, analytics in a market intelligence or market analytics group. We tend to organize marketing by channel as opposed to by experience, and now we’re talking about orchestration across these channels. Building the organizational competency and incentive to coordinate across these silos is an interesting and complicated problem that many companies are still trying to crack.


SM: There has been significant investment from many companies for the past few years in getting the data right and building robust data platforms that get us closer to the customer 360-degree-view vision. I believe the industry has moved the needle on the data dimension. As Chad mentions, omnichannel customer experiences will need to leverage advanced analytics and AI by harnessing the available customer data to predict customer preferences and sequence tactics, as well as build decision engine capabilities to design adaptive, dynamic customer journeys potentially in the form of next best actions. Companies should also build marketing automation platforms to deliver those journeys to providers and patients, and digital asset management processes and systems for faster creation, approval and retrieval of content.


CL: If content is truly going to be effective, you’re also going to need more than you’ve had historically, and the content has to be fit for channel. The same video that’s effective on a website isn’t going to be effective in a [presentation] that a rep does in front of the HCP, or on a YouTube or social channel. The content ends up being fit for channel but it also ends up being more personalized. How we do storytelling and how we create content are questions that organizations need to answer.

“What I’m seeing is that a traditional market-research-based approach to segmenting customers isn’t good enough to win in the digital space.”

Chad LaCrosse

Q: How should data be managed to support the needs of a modern-day marketing organization?

CL: We need to get as close as we can to the customer 360-degree view, which means that all the data that may have been managed in silos comes together in a way that can be consistently linked.


Also, we need data grain to have a greater level of detail than has been typically captured and used within marketing organizations. The data needs to be time-bound; time stamping and understanding sequencing and relevancy of certain actions or activities within the data is also important. The data also has to be accessible. From my experience, this is a big change. The data won’t just be locked up in a database somewhere with a limited number of analysts or IT people being able to get at it. You need capabilities to describe the data in business terms and allow it to be exposed to people of all different kinds of functions. You need integrated data and analytics capabilities that allow data scientists the flexibility to augment data on the fly without having to wait for IT and to allow the organization to explore unstructured ways of analyzing the data. Traditional “set it and forget it” dashboards aren't good enough now.


SM: I agree that in pharma there hasn’t been enough democratization of data as we move across departments. Besides that, the expertise that today’s marketers are required to bring to the table at forward-thinking organizations is not just about marketing but also being comfortable with technology. One trend that we’re perhaps going to see more of in coming months and years is bringing disparate data sets together to allow for quick experimentation and analytical workbench capabilities to deduce intelligence in a very rapid fashion. Additionally, two types of data are becoming increasingly interesting to marketing organizations. First, “un-addressable” or anonymous data from channels such as websites can help discover new audiences, drive smarter targeting and optimize media spend when used in conjunction with first- or third-party data. This will require the use of algorithmic, look-alike modeling and technology but by ZS estimates it can boost target audience size by 20% or more.


Second, the idea of how to manage consent data is coming to the forefront for marketing organizations, not only for compliance reasons but also to boost multichannel exposure through “opt-in broad and opt-out narrow” principles.

Q: What’s the role of a decision engine in optimizing customer experience?

CL: What I'm seeing is that a traditional market-research-based approach to segmenting customers isn't good enough to win in the digital space. As the number of micro-segments grows, as some brands or marketers express the ambition to [achieve] one-to-one personalized marketing, and as the demand for turning around content becomes faster, the complexity gets to be too much to manage without technology like a decision engine. A decision engine helps you scale digital across channels to cut through the clutter and let the data drive what’s best for those micro-segments. Then orchestration keeps the channels in sync, so that customers have a holistic and consistent experience regardless of how they’re consuming your brand story.


SM: It’s a significant opportunity for the industry to elevate the personalization quotient at scale. We’re not talking micro-segments; we’re getting into the world of individualized journeys for each customer. That’s the exciting part of it. A decision engine not only helps us do that but uses AI to make journeys highly adaptive and contextual. Say I have a customer, Dr. Smith, who I may think about taking on a particular path for the next 13 weeks. How can we break away from that static and predefined engagement plan to a highly adaptive journey that changes based on the latest cross-channel customer engagements and market contexts? That’s what decision engine technology is allowing us to do, at scale, while continuously optimizing for the best possible customer experience and commercial impact, which five years back was almost unthinkable.

Q: How should campaigns and digital content be managed to support an agile customer engagement process?

CL: They should be actively managed. The data that informs the consumption of the campaign and the content—where each customer is on their journey to being an advocate for your product—needs to change more quickly. We need to have faster cycles. That’s where tools need to come in, to get the kind of agility and speed necessary to continuously learn and adjust these campaigns. When you extrapolate what it means to be more agile and have faster cycles in your campaigns, it means more content, and it’s the same thing with content fragments. If we’re not going to significantly grow [review] teams so that they can keep up with the amount of new content, then there’s a place for AI and machine learning, or character recognition and digital-to-text technologies, to help with things like visual identification and inspection.


SM: I totally agree. Our studies show that content creation for an average brand, from concept to approval, can take more than 50 days. That’s way too long in today’s customer-centric business environment. There are definite opportunities for automation and process reengineering to accelerate content creation and production.


Another opportunity is modularized content: mixing and matching quantum fragments and components to come up with new and more composite content. That way there is incremental content variety, better personalization, increased cross-channel content reusability (where it makes sense), and improved speed of content production. AI and automation will have to play a prominent role in delivering on the idea of hyper-personalization through content fragments. This can be the next big mission for the industry overall.

Q: What sort of organizational changes are needed to drive a digital transformation?

CL: More effective cross-functional operating models. We have to realign the way that traditional digital agencies work to fit into this new structure, and we need to shift to a culture that’s much more adaptive to testing and learning. It’s okay to take risks to implement A/B and other multivariate tests and to have multiple things happening at the same time. These are changes needed to take advantage of the technology and opportunity that digital transformation affords us in the commercial space.


SM: I like the A/B testing idea, setting up digital labs and fostering a fast experimentation and learning-based culture and mindset. Along with some of the key organizational changes, I believe this generation of digital transformation will lean heavily on organizational structure and talent. Digital is creating demands for new types of roles: experience architects, agile coaches, content librarians, user experience designers. We have not seen these roles in this industry as much in the past. Yes, the industry historically built cross-functional operating models, but these models had limited longevity with temporary scaffolding built specifically to support digital projects, which then dissolved as the projects were completed. However, more recently we are seeing the advent of the chief digital officer role in pharma, which comes with a mandate to pursue digital. Perhaps we may expect to see more structural solidity in coming years when it comes to executing on digital intent.


CL: It’s important for leaders to recognize that the word “transformation” is there on purpose because it’s not easy. We’re trying to do things that we’ve never done before in this industry, and there are going to be cultural and people changes that come along with it.