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Shifting from Print to Digital: How to Accelerate Time to Market & Save Costs in Life Sciences Marketing

Shifting from Print to Digital: How to Accelerate Time to Market & Save Costs in Life Sciences Marketing

What if we took a cross-section of employees, managers and executives at your life sciences company out of the “building,” put them on an island and somehow removed all memories they might have of print media? Then, we asked them to figure out the shortest way to get a blockbuster life-altering drug into the hands of 20 million people per year.

Further, what if instead of having them start at the beginning with the drug’s launch, we ask them to start at the end and work backwards from the patient and prescriber? A prescriber is reading your latest email, or your sales rep and a doctor are seeing the latest content on an iPad. Your banner ads are popping up in front of prospective patients as they search for symptoms on WebMD. 

Your marketing work has been distributed to patients and reps. Now work backwards for the content-development process:

  1. The Medical/Legal/Regulatory (MLR) team clicks the “go” button and triggers distribution immediately.
  2. The marketing manager approves the content and routes it to MLR staff.
  3. A technician tests the asset and routes it to marketing approvers.
  4. Citations, annotations and content license checks are applied in-line automatically.
  5. A technician flows new creative bits into the template, which is already style- and regulatory-compliant.
  6. A technician puts all the reference material into a template, including the latest changes.
  7. The marketing manager creates the asset.

That’s it. No print, no pages and no recreating digital from print.

If your life sciences company is anything like most, this would be a vastly different way of working—one that could save you time and money. So, what’s stopping it from getting there?

Challenges Facing the Life Sciences Industry—and their Marketing Teams

Change in the life sciences industry is about to accelerate dramatically. There is a growing emphasis on patient-centric healthcare. Pharmaceutical companies will be forced to shift to digital channels as technological advancements become more mainstream. This is all in addition to the myriad challenges pharmaceutical companies were already facing, including:

  • Increased cost of innovation and increased density of competition
  • Bipartisan political pressure to reduce drug prices
  • Pressure to maximize revenue over limited lifespan of a drug’s patent
  • Geometrically increasing data and the need for analytics to generate insights and optimize decision-making

Despite all these general changes in the industry, commercial pharma organizations have been locked into print-production methods for marketing content rooted in the last century. For each piece in a campaign, label change or other batch of work, this roughly plays out as:

  • Production leads shop for reference content, including templates, research and safety language
  • New subject matter is outlined and ready to be designed, commissioned or authored
  • Graphic designers use print production tools like InDesign to layout pages
  • Citations back to the reference sources are applied manually
  • There are multiple marketing reviews to sharpen messaging prior to MLR

“This occurs across many iterations, before technicians even recreate the content using HTML or other coding languages, stretching the timeline out to weeks or even months—and driving up costs with it.”

It’s past time for pharma leaders to step back and figure out the shortest path to getting drug information (and hence drugs) to prescribers and consumers in the least costly way possible. Most  pharmaceutical marketing content should be turned around in hours and days, not weeks or months. How do we get to that state? First, we need to embrace digital-first publishing methods and second, we need to set up the ideal team. 

Digital-First Publishing

Step one in achieving digital-first publishing is to chop up your existing page-based content to pure digital modular bits according to a rigorous ontology. This is partly an initial mass conversion, which then becomes an ongoing pipeline to keep your digital and traditional assets in synch. The result is a knowledge base of content that leads to more reuse, lower creative costs and built-in intelligence that leads to continuous improvement.

Second, by auto-generating PDFs from your modular content you can ease the transition of reviewers until most of the staff is ready for reviewing virtual, digital representations. Think of how mobile apps are pushed most of the way to production using smart phone simulators.

Finally, the knowledge base and pipeline transition to the editorial and production platform, with tooling that turns the craft work of legacy production into automated and drag-and-drop composition. The ability to auto-generate PDFs, annotations and provide intelligent assistance (IA) to production and review staff preserves existing investments in systems of record, workflow kit and archival/audit capability.

Organizational Recommendations

Unlike our previously mentioned thought experiment, we can’t create an entirely new marketing team and process out of thin air—but we can apply some of the learnings from it as we aim to create change.

Digitally transforming your pharmaceutical company’s marketing operation will require many members of your team to dramatically change their ways of working. This includes:

  • Executive team: First and foremost, you will need executive commitment. This will require people with decades of experience to take a leap of faith and embrace the organizational change that comes with an agile way of working. To help convince them, solicit advice from partners who implement this style of content production in other industries.
  • Chief content architect: This person will oversee decomposition of your marketing content into modular bits with an ontology as a model.
  • Curators and librarians: In addition to the chief content architect, consider adding curators and librarians to your team. Curators bring lower-cost quality and production for basics and keep your digital pipeline running smoothly and accurately while librarians will keep growing content assets and reference material organized, accessible and up to date, avoiding entropy.
  • IT: Let’s not forget your IT division. Expecting your newly energized, high-performing teams to execute on top of legacy tech kits will harm your initiative, frustrate your initial chosen few, hamper scaling and potentially risk total failure. Your CIO should be as glued to your executive steering as anyone else at the C-level. The CIO should also handpick a team that supports the content and MLR staff with rapid, agile development of tooling that matches the innovations of your marketing and MLR teams.

Getting Started in Your Culture

Now that you’ve got your collaborative, multi-disciplinary team in place, it’s time to implement a digital-first promotion production process. The three best approaches to implement your agile way of working are:

  • Skunkworks: This approach is most likely to get your organization meaningful results fast. In this way of working, first you select a specific brand and a few types of content, pairing some of your sharpest content people with the channels that will most quickly lead to success. Handpick the group, do your best to extract them from their legacy work and support them with mentoring resources.
    The downside of this approach is that there are only a few content experts working on one brand, so those who are not involved may feel like they had less ownership and lack key knowledge on how to move to digital. To scale, you still must go through either of the other two approaches.
  • Center of excellence (CoE): This approach requires organizational design in advance. Unlike with skunkworks, your teams are specifically selected to bring other teams up to speed, rather than be an execution unit themselves. You can roadmap by brand, content type or other relevant cells of your matrix. Your CoE then raises multiple teams in parallel. The CoE will also pilot parts of your sequence and bond closely with your IT enablers to clear the path.
    The biggest risk of a CoE is that the team can get diverted from the core mission. It is tempting to lend them to legacy teams to help with workarounds and partial patches or divert them to special, urgent and high-risk projects, but this will ultimately hamper speed.
  • Transformation at scale: Transformation at scale is no longer the bet-the-farm approach it once was. We’re seeing more and more organizations apply agile methodologies across business functions, leading them to accelerate the program after they are awed by early impactful results. There are numerous frameworks for scaling agile, and this is clearly a case where you will want to partner with a deeply experienced advisor. The upside of this major initiative is that legacy firms can quickly get to continuous improvement and constant innovation.
    Of course, the biggest risk of moving aggressively at scale is the amount of change imposedon a valuable legacy workforce. Be prepared to invest significantly in change management for this initiative and provide loyal employees with the support they need to adjust. They will reward the organization with high returns—most organizations experience higher morale and greater job satisfaction once rolling.

If you want to shorten time to market and reduce costs dramatically when it comes to marketing material production, it’s essential to involve multiple stakeholders within your company in the transformation process. By doing this, you will gain a more agile workforce and be able to adapt to the market’s ever-evolving conditions, setting you up to outpace the competition by becoming digital-first. 


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