We all intuitively know that marketing in the life sciences industry must constantly evolve, and this is particularly true given this year’s COVID-induced upheaval. The reality, though, is that taking a marketing organization-oriented approach to evolution will not deliver the desired transformation. Rather than attempting to restructure the marketing organization to reflect changing demands, it is better to take an innovation-led approach that integrates marketing, technology, and data analytics.

This kind of structured-innovation approach can deliver true innovation and transformation. In fact, using design sprints and other service-design techniques to facilitate innovation and transformation have proven to be successful catalysts to change the way marketing teams work. To implement this approach, you should follow four important steps.

1. Bring the Right Team

The key to taking an innovation-led approach is to assemble a multidisciplinary team. This is true for two reasons: First, team members’ different perspectives shed light on opportunities that might otherwise be overlooked. Second, a multidisciplinary team implicitly builds a broader base of internal support for any new initiatives that come from the team’s work. When we bring teams together to work on innovation, you should look for three distinct perspectives to be represented—the user (i.e., marketer, payer, patient, or provider), the brand, and the constraints. This typically means pulling in team members from well beyond marketing, including from product, finance, technology, and operations.

2. Begin with Empathy

The starting point for any good innovation is user empathy. This means knowing who the design target is and what “job” that person is attempting to complete, and then understanding how they feel about the job to be completed. This can be complicated in the life sciences space, as multiple inter-related design targets are generally at play.

A new market offering might, for example, need simultaneously to meet the needs of a patient, their healthcare provider, and the paying institution. To build empathy for these groups, consider leveraging a number of tools from the design-thinking toolbox, including exploratory interviews, field observation, and journey mapping. In terms of delivering on transformation, the value of these activities lies in ensuring that any work is based on the needs of the target user, rather than on the desires of the brand.

3. Experiment, Don’t Execute

A key difference in an innovation-led approach is the intentional focus on experimentation. Relative to a more traditional marketing approach, this means building a stable of possible ideas, finding ways to gather feedback on those ideas quickly, and deferring commitment to any particular idea until it has been validated by the user for whom it is intended. For example, in determining how to market a new pharmaceutical to potential patients, first think of many different ways you might market the offering, then explore how you could quickly test each of those potential ways with patients, and finally commit only to those that resonated well with patients during testing.

In practice, you can do this through rapid prototype-and-test cycles. One methodology worth considering for this is called the Design Sprint, originated by Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, which encourages you to explore a concept, create a prototype articulating the concept, and test the prototype with its intended users over the course of three to five days. This methodology will give you a way to learn from users directly before you’ve committed to pursuing the idea, which in turn keeps you from wasting time or resources on ideas that are unlikely to succeed.

4. Think Iteratively

Finally, an innovation-led approach calls for successive iterations that incorporate ongoing lessons, rather than one-and-done solutions. This way of working draws from the Lean Startup methodology, which recommends rapid inspect-and-adapt cycles. So, just as a startup may inspect customer feedback and adapt to market needs, you can use ongoing customer testing (i.e., with patients, providers, or payers) throughout the solution creation process to alter solutions to better meet customer’s needs. The value of thinking iteratively lies in the ability to refine concepts continually as you learn more about what customers value, which in turn ensures the final output aligns closely with those values and needs.

The end-to-end process looks like this:

  • Identify the challenge or innovation opportunity
  • Designate an Innovative Design Sprint Leader
  • Identify a Small Team that brings multiple perspectives
  • Facilitate a three-day Design Sprint to explore the opportunity
  • Fully understand the end user(s) and their need(s)
  • Ideate potential solutions, building the most promising into testable prototypes
  • Decide what to pursue in the short term (this will be your minimal viable product or MVP)
  • Assign a Small Development Team to turn the prototype into the MVP
  • Test the MVP iteratively throughout its creation to hone the concept and align to user needs
  • Refine repeatedly!

An Example in Practice

Using an innovation-oriented approach drove dramatic results for one pharma client, a leading U.S.-based biotechnology firm. In this example, the company’s account teams relied on manual and time-consuming workarounds to identify and share valuable content with end customers. Our team, in collaboration with Entrée Health (our Omnicom Health Group value and access network partners), started by seeking to understand the client’s vision, its objectives, and most importantly the users who would be involved.

We assembled a group—which included IT, analytics, and marketing representatives—to explore multiple possible ways to solve the problem over a three-day design sprint with four-hour sessions each day. One of the possible solutions that emerged was a Netflix-like digital collaboration platform. Because this concept was dramatically different from other concepts considered, the team created a simple clickable prototype over the course of two weeks, and they used the prototype to conduct one-on-one testing with account managers, marketers, and customers.

The testing not only validated customer receptiveness to the concept, but also uncovered several needed refinements. The team then refined the concept based on testing feedback and developed a first release of the solution. In the end, the innovation-led approach allowed the biotech firm to move from a clear struggle to a validated solution within a span of 90 days.

This example illustrates the power of an innovation-led approach. While the ways of working differ from more traditional marketing approaches, the possibility of delivering true transformation makes it a worthwhile endeavor.

Structured Innovation and Marketing Transformation

A top priority for marketers has always been to introduce new digital innovations and transform the status quo. Amid COVID-19, this priority has never been more important, as digital has become the communication driver and not just a channel. Marketers are under significant pressure to manage and reduce budgets while maximizing their existing investments in marketing technology.

Experimentation and prototyping are essential to make the right decisions on innovation investments and rapidly introduce digital capabilities into the market. These kinds of innovative solutions can ultimately lead to long-term cost savings and efficiencies that can help marketers to further meet their objectives. With a structured-innovation approach, companies can quickly leverage their internal organizational structure and existing marketing technologies to bring their innovation ideas from proof-of-concept to real products.

  • Jake Carter

    Jake Carter is Partner and Chief Innovation Officer at Credera. At digital consultancy Credera, Jake works with leading companies to improve their innovation efforts. His work has been featured in publications including Inc., Forbes, Entrepreneur, and MarketWatch. Prior to joining Credera, Jake worked in technology at both Google and Zynga.

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