The digital-first launch: the key to connected stakeholder experiences?

Srividya Sekar, Senior Consultant, Erin Johnstone Senior Associate Consultant, and Oliver Longstaff, Associate Consultant | March 09, 2022

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, a new digital-first launch model emerged as a gamechanger for driving better customer experiences. Here, Senior Consultant Srividya Sekar; Senior Associate Consultant, Erin Johnstone; and Associate Consultant, Oliver Longstaff, discuss the benefits of the new model and how life science companies can leverage the benefits of digital communication early on to drive a connected and agile launch.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, most pharmaceutical companies were set up to excel in face-to-face communications, with some embracing multichannel approaches. However, few companies had embraced a digital-first launch.

In 2016, digital accounted for less than 20% of the overall marketing budget for life science companies. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in 2020, the share increased to 66%. During this time, customer needs evolved, and life science companies scrambled to keep up with shifting stakeholder requirements.

The adoption of virtual and digital solutions by healthcare professionals (HCPs) and patients during the pandemic has created an experience gap between different stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem. The new environment has created novel patient, HCP, and payer engagement needs, which are now translating into long-term preferences that will remain in 2022 and beyond. Today, more than 85% of healthcare professionals say they prefer either virtual communications or a mixture of virtual and face-to-face communications, while a research report published in January 2021 found half of patients aged 55+ preferred digital tools to in-person consultations during the pandemic.

The pandemic brought to light that HCPs are not fully satisfied with pharmaceutical digital engagement. In one recent survey, 43% of physicians revealed no pharmaceutical company is providing quality digital support for their day-to-day practice. Additionally, 60% of providers agree that at least one life science company has “spammed” them with digital content during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Such bad experiences lead to disenfranchised customers who are less likely to retain brand loyalty, engage with the brand, and remain wary of future interactions, such as signing up for email communications.

To meet stakeholders’ changing engagement needs, life science companies are transforming the way they approach the product launch to drive better digital customer experiences.

What is a digital-first launch? 

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the pharmaceutical industry executed a reactive response to meet the new digital and virtual engagement demands of their customers in a world where face-to-face engagement was tightly constrained. To do this they implemented new teams, processes, and technology at high speed. However, in doing so, they uncovered important gaps in skills, processes, tools, and operating model structures.

Now, as we near the end of the tunnel and the world starts to reset and enter its new phase of normality, it is time for life science companies to re-evaluate customer engagement preferences, ensuring they are set up in a way to meet those requirements.

Stakeholders are striving for more connected experiences and solutions which meet them at the point of need. A digital-first launch is based on building a digital ecosystem across the entire customer journey, from content creation to campaign development, data and insight generation, and measurement and optimization.

By developing a connected ecosystem, life science companies can create a flexible launch that optimizes the right channels at the right time for different stakeholders‑a crucial part of developing positive customer experiences that not only drive better engagement but ensure an agile launch.

Becoming a successful digital organization is rooted in a deep understanding of the needs and preferences of your customers. These needs inform how your customer-facing teams (e.g. sales reps and Medical Science Liaisons) operate, including the support, skills, knowledge, people, and systems they require in their ecosystem to drive improved digital engagement experiences.

Fledgling and smaller biotechnology companies have the opportunity to create a digital-first model at the point of transition from an R&D organization to a commercial organization. In contrast, the prime opportunity for more established pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies is during the preparation for a new product launch. It will be much easier to launch with a new flexible, scalable, and agile operating model at this point than changing an existing model.

However, setting up a new operating model is not without its difficulties, so it is important to map the risks upfront and plan for challenging scenarios. For example, one of the greatest barriers is fear of change, which often occurs when the rationale behind the transformation and the communication surrounding the change is unclear. Transparency and uniting teams around a shared goal will make change management far smoother and drive buy-in of the new model.


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