By Greg Fisher

Managing Partner, The Stem




Much has been written about the impact of digital media on the life sciences industry. However, an area less discussed is how to maximize that impact globally, and in particular how to organize for success. This issue remains a challenge for many global life sciences companies who are still organized for a ‘pre-digital’ environment, which should serve as a call to action for global marketing and strategy leaders to fix it.


The Challenge

Many life sciences companies still approach global activity in much the same way they did ten years ago — defining global strategies that set the stage for local planning. And, coordinating select tactical activity, mainly congresses, PR and advocacy, publications, market research, sales aid materials and the occasional global website. All the “rest” is then left to the local market affiliates, including all local selling and promotional activities.

This decentralized division of labor works fine in a world that is limited to face-to-face selling, journal advertising and the occasional global congress. Affiliates can adapt global materials to their markets and all is fine. But, it is proving inadequate for the more complex multi-channel environment we currently inhabit, a fact we have observed over and over in our work with numerous global teams.

An organizational approach that decentralizes “digital” activity (leaving much of it to local affiliates), sub-optimizes digital’s potential for all markets. This happens for several reasons. First, unlike local print or face-to-face selling, digital knows no geographic boundaries. Customers can search and find whatever digital materials affiliates create. As a result, companies that leave their wider global digital ecosystem unattended and end up with numerous disconnected digital assets, differing looks and feels and, ultimately, a poor customer experience.

Second, unlike most traditional tactics, digital activities lend themselves to significant economies of scale. In other words, they become more efficient to implement with widespread adoption. This is certainly true for digital infrastructure such as content management, marketing automation and digital analytics. It’s also true for other digital activities such as global digital media planning and buying where companies can take advantage of purchasing power. A decentralized approach requires markets to make these investments on their own, which in practice means they don’t make them at all as they choose to prioritize their scarce funds on “turnkey” tactics which in practice means engaging in simplistic digital activities that are cheap and easy to implement (but not always very effective). It also frequently means defaulting to face-to-face sales force support, because this is safe and proven.

Finally, digital innovation (all innovation for that matter) accelerates as the perceived risks of innovation decrease and the perceived benefits increase. When affiliates work in isolation, they are forced to climb that learning curve on their own, without the shared learning of a global enterprise. As a consequence, markets have a perverse incentive not to innovate digitally and you get uneven performance across markets and few best practices.


The Solution

These three factors – interconnectedness, scale economies and shared learning, along with the growing stakes of digital stagnation – explain why senior leadership must expand their remits of their global team to compete in today’s digital environment. Beyond coordinating strategy and isolated international tactics, global teams must take wider responsibility for developing globally coordinated customer experiences, supplying the infrastructure to deliver those experiences and the learning environment to nurture innovation and best practice. While larger markets can tackle these responsibilities independently, smaller markets cannot, and the reality is that all markets, regardless of size, benefit from a globally coordinated approach.

Making the shift to a globally coordinated approach implies three significant changes to the traditional set-up. First, global teams must take on a wider role in the planning and implementation of customer experience, and the development of customer engagement capabilities. They must explicitly deliver a globally integrated customer experience strategy and digital ecosystem, taking care to avoid disconnected assets.

Second, senior management must think differently about budget allocation, allocating greater funds to global teams to plan re-usable global customer experiences, implement enterprise-wide infrastructure and programs and tools, and drive shared learning and competence development. Reciprocally, local market funds should be focused on local adaption or implementing market-specific programs.

And finally, senior management must explicitly measure capability development and maturation. Teams must have a clear sense of how mature they are now and what the next level of sophistication means.


A Path Forward

Making these changes must start with a recognition of the problem, a vision for change and alignment on a new organizational approach. This requires expanding the remit of existing global or regional business functions (e.g., marketing, business intelligence, medical, advocacy, IT) and creating new functions that may not exist (such as global digital strategy and digital operations). There is no single perfect formula for organizational change but rather a spectrum of options available, each with advantages and disadvantages for companies of different sizes, with different strengths profiles and at different stages of maturity.

Once a clear organizational vision is in place, global teams can make their impact felt fully. The opportunities for improvement are numerous. Consider whether the changes listed below are relevant in your organization.


Global functional area

Opportunity area

Business intelligence

·       Do you have a rich understanding of the customer experience journey for stakeholder, including barriers, unmet needs and interaction preferences?

·       Is this journey explicitly driving customer experience decisions globally?

·       Do you have a consistent approach to cross-channel measurement and optimization?

Brand team

·       Are you aware of all digital activity globally?

·       Have you benchmarked yourself vs. the competition?

·       Do you have a global customer engagement strategy for each prioritized stakeholder?

·       Does this strategy map out a clear global customer experience for prioritized moments in the customer journey?

·       Do you have a complete global digital ecosystem that is integrated?

·       Do you have a global core team focused on coordinating and aligning global digital activity?


·       Do you have a clear capability development roadmaps?

·       Are the key IT capabilities to delivery on the brand’s customer experience strategy in place?


·       Do you have a standard approach to digital opinion leader development?

·       Have global DOLs been identified and engaged?

Customer engagement strategy

·       Can you quantify your current customer engagement maturity?

·       Do you have channel and content standards and playbooks?

·       Are you re-using content globally?

·       Do you have digital learning program?

·       Do you have a forum for sharing learnings?

·       Do you coordinate local market pilots that can benefit the wider organization?


Very few organizations have achieved consistent digital excellence across markets because most still rely on an anachronistic notion of what “global” means in a digital world. Only by embracing an expanded role for global teams will life sciences brands achieve their full potential online.


About the Stem

The Stem is a global management consulting firm specializing in customer strategy and experience solutions. We provide Health brands with specialized expertise in strategy and innovation, insights + analytics, digital operations and execution support through a “networked consulting” model that draws on the industry’s leading talent. Please visit The Stem at