Moving digital to the core

As new technologies emerge on an almost daily basis, we are seeing major transformations in the way people work, learn, communicate, and share.

As new technologies emerge on an almost daily basis, we are seeing major transformations in the way people work, learn, communicate, socialize, and share. Yet large organizations, notably pharmaceutical companies, have failed to keep pace with this transformation and now lag far behind the rest of society in their digital capabilities.

For businesses to survive, let alone succeed, they must quickly and continuously adapt to the ever-changing digital environment. The need is being driven not only by the pace of consumer adoption but also by the pace of change in business itself.

The pharmaceutical industry has not yet fully harnessed the power of digital; however, the industry must evolve with today's consumer to stay relevant. Digital now provides consumers with rapid response from healthcare providers, actionable and useful tools and resources, and even ways for patients to connect with one another. Digital is at the core of most people's healthcare regimen, and soon, it is my belief that the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries will become the largest beneficiary of the continued use of digital.

The regulatory environment has largely prevented pharmaceutical companies from making significant strides in the digital space. Pharmaceutical companies have become masters at abiding by regulatory guidelines in their communications – online and offline – to patients and healthcare providers. But what they have not taken advantage of is the ability to listen to their consumers through the hundreds, thousands, of digital channels being used. There is a vast amount of data available for pharmaceutical companies to gain real-time, actionable insights into their products and services.

I previously worked at PepsiCo to use various digital platforms and technologies to listen and engage with our consumers. Gatorade Mission Control, for example, is a physical room inside the Chicago headquarters that is outfitted with wall-to-wall screens fed by robust data feeds of social conversation about Gatorade and issues important to the brand. It allows for real-time engagement and response and has significantly affected the way the brand is portrayed.

Companies today are launched with digital as part of their core strategy, but retrofitting a large organization with the digital skills needed to thrive in this new digital environment takes a commitment across all functions of the organization.

Companies must first recognize the need for digital within their business model and the goals it will help them achieve. They must then build an understanding that implementing digital into the organization will not only impact the consumer-facing functions, such as marketing and sales, but also research and development, manufacturing, supply chain, legal, etc. This requires not only resource allocation but also a willingness to re-skill the workforce to learn the necessary digital skills.

Companies such as Pozen that have adopted a customer-centric approach and are embracing the value of social and digital media are at an advantage, whereas companies who have not will have a more difficult time transitioning to the quickly evolving digital environment.

Digital has the power to create a vast network for caregivers, to open new connections between patients and doctors, and even to lead to the discovery of more effective treatment plans. And once pharmaceutical companies unlock the power of digital and bring it to the core of their business model, the opportunities for growth are endless.

Bonin Bough is VP of global digital and consumer engagement at Kraft Foods. He was previously director of digital and social media at PepsiCo. Bough also serves as a member of the digital advisory board at Pozen.

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