NEW YORK: Merck, the pharma group, is pushing ahead into digital marketing despite the challenges of tight regulation and the need to transform long-standing mindsets.

Patricia Brown, Executive Director/US Marketing at Merck & Co, discussed this subject at the 2017 ePharma Summit held by KNect365.

"First of all, we are seeing a change in digital," she said. (For more details, including further strategic tips for pharma brands, read WARC's exclusive report: Merck dives into digital.)

"There are two brand teams at Merck, with high digital IQs, that have significantly increased investment in the last year. And they've significantly decreased what they spend on TV. So, it is happening."

As a 128-year-old organisation, Merck fits the definition of a legacy business. But Brown has found huge receptivity to digital inside its four walls.

"What we've done in the last 12 to 18 months is to take a very true, real environmental scan to know what was important to our customers in the marketplace," she said. "We then did [an] internal environmental scan to see how far off we were."

Their discovery: "An enormous gap. So, we got approval for a digital strategy with key areas of focus. We communicated that broadly. We incorporated [digital] objectives into everyone's personal objectives, which is critical," she continued.

"We have alignment of senior leaders, which is also extremely important. And we are starting to shift the way we work across functions."

Many companies, in fact, are seeking to adopt a test-and-learn approach to digital marketing, and Brown suggested pharma firms have a natural advantage in this space.

"We are trying to work with that – to inspire people to do things differently. And the way we do that is to go back to our roots. All of us are trained in a scientific method. And that is: test and learn," she said.

"You do an experiment. And when you learn, you do another experiment. And when you share that with our group, they say, 'Oh yeah, we're doing that across the business. We are just not thinking about it that way'. That seems to be helping when we frame it that way."

Data sourced from WARC