Lean Digital Strategy

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by Jason Brandt (@jasondmg3)

Can two of the hottest organizational and operational trends from the last 20 years Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma be adapted to pharma? Thats a trick question: They already have been, and quite successfully.

But, how about online pharma marketing? Its a more interesting proposition.

First, some definitions for the majority of us who arent steeped in business-optimization methodologies: There are differences between Lean and Six Sigma methods of business, but both emphasize continuous improvement and a formal process of review and correction. Lean is sometimes seen as less time-consuming than Six Sigma; the easiest way to boil it down is that Six Sigma seeks reduced process variation, and Lean strives for improved process flow.

All of which sounds great if youre running a manufacturing facility who wouldnt want fewer variations from an optimized process or an improved process flow? And theyre proven: Top-flight Six Sigma implementation is one of the factors that helped General Electric become a leader across many industries.

Applying these principles to digital pharma marketing isnt quite the stretch youd imagine. And while implementing a full Lean or Six Sigma strategy in your marketing efforts requires more than a lone blog entry for guidance, you can grasp some of the broad brush strokes pretty quickly:

Get good at measuring, and then measure everything. Whether youre drawn to the Lean or Six Sigma model and theres a case to be made for both when it comes to pharma marketing youll want to figure out how to measure things, both more comprehensively and more accurately.

Anyone exposed to social media or Web analytics knows you can measure online activity, but dont be lulled into a false sense of security by these easy numbers. The sort of comprehensive measurement that these processes call for cover things like median and mean sales growth per sales rep in the weeks following an advertising campaigns launch, or ROI per dollar spent on paid media in category-leading drugs (which might have much higher public awareness) versus secondary drugs.

Bottom line: You cant track what you cant measure and you cant improve what you cant track.

Round up your black belts. Six Sigma relies heavily on small groups of professionals, sometimes called black belts or green belts, empowered to review data, brainstorm improvements and then implement them. They operate with managements approval, but they are also empowered to suggest changes outside of their department or division if thats what it takes to improve quality.

Note a couple of key differences from many marketing processes: First, theres an understanding that solving a problem might mean changes outside of the department or area of business operation a big change for some marketing operations. Second and equally important is the idea of the small force of change agents, something that is necessary for breaking down organizational silos and stimulating overall movement of social initiatives.

Bottom line: Even if an organizations social media strategy is centralized, training the entire organization can mistake-proof social execution.

Commitment to the process matters more than implementing it everywhere. Make no mistake: Its a huge commitment to undertake either Lean or Six Sigma methodologies. Thats why its acceptable advisable, even to dip your organizational toe into the water slowly, with project-level and department level test projects. Try, fail, analyze, iterate and try again get the process right for your team and your challenges, and then you can roll it out to more of your digital marketing efforts.

Bottom line: Every business is different. As new technologies, platforms and devices expand the digital experience, flexibility is necessary for managing a fast-moving, changing environment.

Marketing has always been a simple proposition: Deliver value in order to capture value. Within that context, business-optimization regimens like Lean and Six Sigma not only have a place in digital marketing, theyre just one more step in a long tradition of figuring out the most effective, efficient way to get the right value proposition into the right prospects hands so they can take action.

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