3 ways pharma can draw inspiration from digital-native brands

As pharmaceutical marketers prepare their brands for the future, there are a number of important ways they can learn from digital-native brands.

Companies like prescription glasses firm Warby Parker, shoe brand Rothy’s and teledentistry SmileDirectClub have grown up in today’s digital-native environment and can offer some key pointers for pharma.

Unlike the consumer goods conglomerates of the past, who’ve grown up with traditional analogue media channels, these newer companies have been sculpted by the fact that everything is digital, so their initial touchpoints are always digital-focused media.

This gives them huge amounts of customer data that allows them to shape and personalize the way they engage with their customers, not least thanks to the direct-to-consumer sales model they often offer.

Analyzing the world of digital-native brands highlights three standout ways in which parts of their approach could be brought to the pharmaceutical world.

1. Be more agile

Pharma’s go-to-market strategies have tended to be more traditional than those seen in non-regulated sectors, but there are some signs this is changing, with an acceleration in the pace of change forced by the COVID-19 pandemic that is allowing the industry to close its gap with faster, more nimble consumer brands. The huge rise in the use of telemedicine services during lockdown has brought care directly to patients in their homes, while pharma’s communications with healthcare professionals (HCPs) has experienced a similar push to digital channels.

Digital-native brands are typically agile businesses from the ground up, and agility and flexibility are part of their core makeup. This is reinforced by web-focused marketing strategies that give them a highly-targeted approach when it comes to marketing execution.

Their agility is combined with an ability to scale quickly, to create content faster and cheaper, while their digital-first approach confers an ability to pivot quickly based on marketing data, customer feedback or changing times.

The need for more traditional companies, including those in the pharma sector, to react ‘at the speed of digital’ has seen them follow a gradual learning curve, driven by their stakeholder expectations that have been calibrated for the internet and social media age. Pharma’s challenge now is to build on its explorations of customer experience, customer journeys and modular content and then take this thinking to the level in which it is practiced by some of the newer consumer brands.

Many direct-to-consumer brands create great customer relationships and they do this through very diligent planning – this doesn’t happen through happy coincidences. Brands spend a huge amount of time and effort in building hyper-relevant content relationships with their customers.

Their close customer relationships are further nurtured by a focus on community and advocacy and enabled through the direct distribution that many of these brands have. They also employ exceptionally high levels of ‘test and learn’ activities to understand which campaigns work and should be upscaled.

In addition to striking very smart technical partnerships, successful digital-native brands also take a two-pronged approach to nurture their own agility,

For pharma companies, COVID-19 has proved that they can be agile and responsive to rapidly evolving market conditions, as evidenced by the way they have adjusted to a new global paradigm while successfully continuing operations. As part of this, a number of big pharma companies are also racing to develop a safe and effective vaccine for the coronavirus. The health crisis has given a huge boost to the industry’s desire for greater digital transformation and that commitment needs to continue as companies look to the future.

2. Focus on the customer, not the brand

The ‘agenda’ for a digital-native brand is to connect with the customer, changing with their needs, instilling trust and building loyalty. Doing so is an inherent aspect of the ‘test and learn’ approach they take, and the resulting content personalization gives brands a very authentic feel.

Digital-native brands also have a laser focus on the channels they’re executing for. A huge amount of content is required to hit mobile, social, display and other channels.

The lesson for pharma is that companies can retain the great creative agency relationships they have for the ‘big idea’, but when it comes to the high-level efficient production of marketing materials companies should consider partnering with a specialist.

3. Build on the rapid responses to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed unprecedented pressure on pharma companies to reimagine and recreate print materials in a digital format and provide different calls-to-action that take account of the rise of telemedicine and plummeting availability for face-to-face interactions between HCPs and patients.

The evolving medical response to the virus, including repurposing established medicines for new COVID-19 uses, has demanded rapid responses from the pharma industry and it has risen to the challenge.

There is today a pressing need to successfully adapt materials at speed for MLR approval – rewriting labels for changing medical needs, adapting and shifting materials to send different messages, and so on. The mindset that accomplished this needs to be retained.

However, that could be hard to do with the multitude of local agencies and regulatory companies that any pharma company might work with – not to mention their typically high turnover as brand managers change roles and review the firms they work with.

Pharma’s challenge is not just about agility in ordinary times or even responding to the extraordinary demands of the COVID-19 pandemic; the industry must also be ready to take advantage of future opportunities.

Pharma companies are trying to find ways to automate, and that is going to be one of the biggest components of how the industry moves forward.

Preparing for an agile pharma future

The more agile pharma companies can be, the more successful they will be. As they pursue greater agility and the ability to quickly change content without error it can offer, they must improve their internal processes.

Learning from digital-native brands, and the way they ‘go and grow’, can be assisted by support to build a base of people, best practices, processes and technology, with trusted outsourcing partners overcoming any fear about ‘losing control’ – even within the MLR process.

Pharma businesses are built by providing lifesaving drugs to the people of the world – but without timely, responsive content they cannot help empower patients, through the right tools and communications, to access the medicines they need.





HCP Digital Engagement: Trends and Effective Strategies for Medical Affairs Pharma Teams.  
Data-driven insights and an optimized orchestration of content delivery and channels are essential for Pharma to expand their relationships with modern HCPs.
AI’s Transformational Impact on the Patient-Physician Relationship.

The Transformational Impact of Artificial Intelligence on the Relationship Between Physicians and Patients.In today’s ever-evolving healthcare landscape, the integration of…

What is Medical Communications? The definitive guide.

Medical Communications. The demand for clear and integrated dissemination of scientific knowledge is critical for the Pharmaceutical industry. Medical communications—or…

Enhancing engagement with healthcare professionals (HCPs): How AI is transforming Pharma relationships.

Pharmaceutical companies are progressively turning to the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a tool to transform several aspects of…

Six communication trends Pharma needs to watch in 2024.

Six Communication trends Pharma needs to watch in 2024.As we approach 2024, the Pharma industry’s focus on developing and maintaining…

0 +



0 +




0 +



Whether you’re looking for effective solutions to transition F2F meetings to a virtual or online environment, support with clinical trials, medical advisory boards, symposia, key opinion leader (KOL) management, internal medical training, medical writing or speaker training programs and more, count on our 16-year experience and expertise over 40 therapeutic areas.

SDM also offers strategic consulting services and can help with communication and engagement of your target audiences as part of market development opportunities.

Discover why over 95% of clients are “Extremely Satisfied” with SDM and over 90% say the agency deliver “Much more than expected”.