Innovation is an accelerant. It fans its flames and new ideas spread quickly. In the healthcare marketing landscape, innovation has elevated the role of digital agencies and has placed greater pressure on traditional creative agencies to remain relevant. Historically, traditional agencies of record (AOR) led brand strategy. AORs grew because they excelled in delivering campaigns based on the largest common denominator—the one message that most physicians or patients might respond to.

But digital has changed the paradigm. In order to effectively communicate today, marketers must combine research and creative storytelling with technology to find, engage, and retain customers. Digital-first has become the critical strategy in brand planning. Digital agencies are uniquely positioned to lead, having the culture, infrastructure, and technical resources to understand and support brand experiences from beginning to end.

  • AOR culture is born out of collaboration. Silos create friction and inertia, hindering innovation. Collaboration is inclusive, welcoming diversity. The digital agency culture is inherently conducive to new ideas that nurture innovation and improve creative problem solving.
  • The organizational structure tends to be flat and process is agile. The technical DNA of a digital agency lends itself to Agile methodology, leading to smaller cross-functional teams that are nimble and able to respond to market changes quickly.
  • They continually invest in new technology. To retain their competitive edge, digital shops are constantly exploring and testing new technologies to produce unique customer experiences.
  • The emphasis is on data. Digital agencies understand how to use data, even in a privacy-sensitive consumer health environment. Data insight is enabling digital agencies to predict behavior, respond empathetically, and create personalized campaigns.

To provide the best value for pharma brands in 2020 and beyond, traditional AORs will need to transform their business model and culture to a digital-first posture or become obsolete. Being digital-first means starting with the customer needs, embracing the freedom and flexibility that technology offers, and using those tools to create personalized experiences that benefit patients and providers.

Not surprisingly, digital agencies are already stepping up, in many cases assuming brand leadership roles that were once far from reach. Innovation at its best.


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