4% success? Pharma's 'conservative nature' dooms digital product launches, report finds

Here's a dire metric: A mere 4% of pharma’s digital product launches proved successful. And to change that, the industry needs to be bolder and more customer-centric.

That’s according to a new report out by Graphite and Reuters Events, which found that pharma’s “naturally risk-averse culture” is holding back its digital launches.

The report is specific to digital products within pharma and healthcare such as apps, websites and any other patient- or provider-facing digital tools, and not medicines.

Pharma is aware of the need for digital: In the survey, 91% agreed that “pharma-sponsored digital products can add value to the [healthcare professional] and patient by supporting the overall customer experience,” but companies are tripping up when it comes to following through.

The report found that only 4% of respondents said their digital pharma product launches “regularly succeed.”

There are some clear reasons for this failure: “I think people have the best of intentions and may want to change their behaviors, but they’re hampered by legacy, standard operating procedures and regulations,” explained Malcolm Fogarty, founder of Next @ GSK consumer health care/Haleon, in the report.

Of those who said they were having the lowest rates of success with their digital product launches, the most common issues included the organization's lack of experience in digital or lack of "in-house digital maturity."

Another problem was direction. Around 80% of respondents agreed that pharma “gets too distracted” building websites and apps but “doesn’t follow through on creating services that provide long-term engagement" for providers and patients.

Another “necessary shift” highlighted by the report is “modernizing the role and mindset of the rep.”

It found that 14% of respondents said changing sales reps' mindset from sales to customer success was their biggest challenge in the next two years, with organizations with 5,000-plus employees feeling this the most (at 53%).

Using digital tools to take over administrative and day-to-day tasks can free up pharma companies and their reps to handle the "high-quality, high-value interactions with HCPs,” the report noted. That, in turn, would help the sales rep role evolve and add more depth to relationships with doctors and other providers.

But the problem is broad, too. “A naturally risk-averse culture results in projects taking a long time to get to market, and when they do arrive, their purpose and impact are often lower than originally intended,” said Rob Verheul, managing director of Graphite.

“The ways of working need to change, particularly when it comes to user research and customer centricity. By moving from a product-first to customer-first mindset and approach, pharma companies can improve the impact and success of their digital products in the future,” Verheul said.

The report was based on surveys and input from more than 400 manager to C-suite level respondents around the world, with roles across commercial, marketing, digital, brand/product and medical affairs, predominantly from large pharma companies.