Marketing: The next generation

— What modern customers expect, and how to prepare your organization to give it to them

By David Windhausen, president of Intouch B2D, and Brady Walcott, executive VP of Intouch Group


David Windhausen

What is modern marketing in pharma?

Hold up. Before even asking that question, we need to answer another.

What is a modern customer?

A modern customer is someone with broadband, with a smartphone, with multiple social media accounts. A modern customer thinks having to make a phone call is one step too many. A modern customer is someone accustomed to seeking out information, not depending on “authorities” to provide it. A modern customer expects brands to personalize their interactions and anticipate their needs – to recognize them irrespective of channel, to remember their preferences, to never have to ask for something more than once. A modern customer expects to have agency in their brand experience, and will switch brands if they don’t feel they are getting it. A modern customer wants to feel in control … and any friction against or obstruction to that control, and a modern customer will happily go elsewhere.

Brady Walcott

Oh, and when people, whether patients or HCPs, interact with pharma brands, they don’t suddenly stop being modern customers. They bring the same expectations to the table that they bring when looking for a humidifier on Amazon. Is it more difficult to create a modern customer experience in the pharma context? Of course. Do our audiences care? Not even a little. 

So, again, what is modern marketing in pharma? 

In our view, modern marketing in pharma or anywhere else is the confluence of three pillars, which together must support any effort to satisfy the modern customer. 

Data relevance

Achieving the sort of customer experiences that an Amazon or a Sephora or a Zappos does requires what we might call exceptional data maturity. Organizations like that have gone far beyond the mere collection of data; they’ve figured out how to use data to develop meaningful customer experiences and proactively mine for insights. They’ve broken down the siloes that sometimes develop in organizations between the collection of data and its use in making customer-facing decisions to create what folks used to call a closed loop – a constant, self-feeding virtuous circle of data collection leading to improved customer experiences leading to more data collection ad infinitum, being supported by artificial intelligence and predictive analysis, with the data driving tactical and even strategic decision-making all the way up to the top of the organization. That is the kind of data maturity that pharma organizations will need in order to become real modern marketers.

Customer experience

Not so much the experience itself from the customer perspective but the way an organization thinks about and approaches customer engagement. Are you still trying to maximize the performance of your website or your social media properties? Are you still thinking in terms of individual campaigns? Or are you thinking like the conductor of a vast symphony played by many different instruments, each a little different but all pursuing the same harmonious goal of learning, understanding, and providing for each customer’s needs? Is your customer’s experience a culmination of interrelated and carefully considered touchpoints? That is what customer experience maturity ought to look like to a modern marketer. 

Applied technology

What does your organization’s relationship with technology look like? Is it something you just fix or upgrade when broken, something reactive? Is it managed by a dozen different brand managers with a dozen different ideas? Is it a Babylon of different vendors and goals? Or are the people at the top already thinking about the marketing platform of 2030 and figuring out how to implement it and educate the whole team about how to use it? Is technology a continuum rather than a tactic? Do you know where you want to go and are you working to get there? Technology has the power to support and improve every part of the brand development and maintenance journey, more so every day, but only if we make it part of the blood flow of our organizations, a resource whose growth and value is looked after just as we look after the growth and value of the human talent in the building. That’s what technology maturity looks like. 

At the center of these three pillars, we believe, is modern marketing. The modern marketer will be able to use data to anticipate customer needs and make key strategic choices; to move the customer experience above and beyond platform or channel to create customized and predictive one-on-one dialogue; to place technology at the center of decision making and use it to integrate and optimize every communication with every audience.

All very well. But nobody in pharma, really, is there yet. How do we get from here to there? And how far do we have to go?

The first step towards modern marketing is an honest assessment of where your organization stands today, through the lenses of each of the three pillars. How do you collect, store, and use data, and what role does it play in your decision making processes and your customer communications? How unitary, interactive, targeted, customized – or not – are the customer experiences you create? And what is your relationship with technology? Every organization will answer these questions a little differently; much like that middle-schooler in your life, you might be particularly mature in one area but not so much in another. And that’s fine. Wherever you stand today, if you are less mature in one of the pillars than you might want to be, it doesn’t mean you’ve committed some sin. And not everyone needs to be at the top of the scale on all three. Every company’s brands, patients, HCPs, are unique and have unique needs; yours might not require spacecraft-level capabilities in all three pillars for yours, now or ever. But what every organization does require is the self-awareness to know where they stand and the vision to know where they need to stand in the future – what level of maturity will be required to best interface your unique brands with your unique audience, given your unique resources.

So we’ve made it easy to figure out where you stand now. Just pay a visit to and take our quiz. We also provide cross-functional workshops to organizations to help figure out where they are on the three pillars, where they’d like to get, and how to get there – to find out more, email Brady at [email protected] Either way, modern customers aren’t going to wait around for pharma brands to grow up. Growing up is on us.