Genentech's Culture Shift: Rethinking DTC

DTC may be a simple equation when you are selling sustainable, hemp-based paisley neckties to wired and well-paid pseudo-hipsters.

Not so much for a major biotech firm with legacy marketing chains across multiple constituencies. What do “direct” -- let alone “consumer” -- even mean when you are talking across health care providers, oncologists, MS and cancer patients, their worried families?

As Erica Taylor, CMO at biotech firm Genentech recognizes, you need to rethink what those terms mean in different contexts. 

Genentech is part of the even larger Roche Group, and is best known for offering the first targeted antibody for cancer and the first medicine for primary progressive multiple sclerosis, among many other endeavors.

Taylor had been at the company for 10 years before taking a year with Gilead, and then returning to Genentech two years ago. She was appointed CMO six months ago, and part of her mission is to up the company's digital game. She will be keynoting next week’s Pharma and Health Insider Summit in La Jolla, California.



MediaPost: Obviously, drug companies have been going direct to consumer via TV and print for a long while now. But the patient journey -- even treatment -- has become so fully digitized just in the last few years. What are the big current challenges to pharma marketing as we know it?

Erica Taylor: This is something I think a lot about. I think pharma as an industry has been arguably a bit behind some of our other consumer goods in terms of being sophisticated in who exactly we target and really thinking deeply about the words direct and consumer. I think, as an industry, we have an opportunity -- and more importantly, our patient and our customers are demanding the same kind of on-demand “when I need it, when I don't need it” communications from their drug companies just as much as they do any other entity that they interact with.

MediaPost: You say the direct and consumer in that DTC configuration can mean a lot of different things. How do we need to think, maybe harder, about what we mean when we use that phrase?

Erica Taylor: Yeah, I would say traditionally, in our industry, we've always used DTC as anything that you see on a TV or a printed ad in a magazine. I would argue, most people don't consume any content through either of those two channels. So that is why I thought you have to think about direct in a very much more broad way.

Most of us are doing this through our phones and our devices while we're doing other things, so we do not have the attention span to sit through a long bit of information. It has to be quick. It has to grab our attention. So that is the direct part. When I think about consumer and the increasing complexity of the healthcare landscape -- yes, there are things that we need to do to activate our patients.

But now we've got prescribers, we've got health care systems, we've got payers, all of whom have a role in the decision-making for product selection -- and we have to speak to them too, and to their needs.

MediaPost:  What have been the biggest shifts in your marketing spend?

Erica Taylor: I would say, our biggest changes have been mostly around, of course, our investment in digital technology, but really also data and analytics. We now have an ability to gather information about how things are performing for our media channels real time. We should be leveraging that to make decisions. When I think about direct and consumer in this regard, we can now get very sophisticated about the kind of individual that we're targeting, because we now have the data to understand them at a nearly individual level and being able to customize to that. So that is where we have shifted our investments as an organization both in terms of the infrastructure that we need to do, the capabilities that we need to bring into our organization, and the content.

MediaPost: Where are you getting your data, and what level of granularity do you have insight visibility to who the patient really is?

Erica Taylor: When we think about the data sources we've invested heavily in, how we understand prescribing information from our decision makers, our prescribers, payers, and health systems, and where we can, on patients, we are not as sophisticated as say an Amazon. I actually think we don’t need to get that far. I think decision making, and how patients understand information about their health and make decisions about their health exists at a different level in terms of day-to-day. Whether or not to buy a refrigerator, those are different kinds of decisions, and so I think we need to attenuate where we are going to get the level of granularity for us very much a work in progress. We don't have a large primary care footprint. So, some of our patient populations exist in very rare disease states where, we really start to abut the privacy challenges. And so, we're finding ways to work through that compliantly. But it's definitely one of our current challenges.

MediaPost: Have you had to reorganize internally, especially around data since you have multiple brands? 

Erica Taylor: I would say we centralize most of that, particularly when we think about data investments and how we deploy that. And so, because our portfolio is so large and so diverse, I would say we walk a delicate balance between customization and standardization because when you're looking at something like hemophilia, that is very different than ophthalmology. Your treaters and just your patient journeys are very different. So, we're trying to walk that delicate balance. 

I think one of the areas of opportunity for creating a one-marketing organization as we have here is to start to leverage learning across seemingly disparate therapeutic areas, seemingly disparate geographical areas. We can see connections and efficiencies across ways we haven't done before. That is a little bit of that culture shift. We've been a science-first company, which is why I feel very at home here as a scientist but it also means we spent a lot of time deep and embedded in our therapeutic areas, and not as much time sort of picking up and looking over your neighbor's fence to see where we might derive learnings. I feel like part of my mission is to help our teams do that.

MediaPost: So how do you get your arms around a marketing culture, let alone find a strategy for changing it at a large legacy organization?

Erica Taylor: It's certainly a challenge. I will say, one of my advantages right now is I've been at this organization for the better part of 13 years, and so I have a lot of connections and relationships that help a lot. You can imagine, each of the therapeutic areas has their own personalities. We serve portfolio customers, such as health systems and payers, that has a very different kind of personality. I have an understanding of how that has all come to be in the historical context. So, it's sort of how I wrap my arms around it. Getting an organization to think about marketing as one organization, and that function is my greatest challenge. What I think I am most encouraged by is my organization's excitement about what is possible, about doing something new and different. Culture is mercurial. It's also ever changing. We have new people entering and exiting our culture every day. And so, I’m looking for those individuals that are newer, that are questioning things we've been doing for 10 years, and trying to elevate some of those voices to try to keep folks excited about change and what's possible.

MediaPost: You made an interesting point that when companies think about needing to make a radical culture shift, they often are hiring from outside. They want somebody to bring in a fresh vision. But one of the points that you briefly made there is that your knowledge and familiarity with Genentech, puts you in a better position to communicate and persuade for a real culture shift than maybe an outsider who comes in and says, I've got a whole new vision.

Erica Taylor: I certainly hope so. I do feel like it's more of an enticement with what's possible. I'm leveraging the fact that our organization of marketers is highly competitive. And so, when I point out some of the things that we can do, that our competitors cannot - these are things that having been in this culture I understand that I can tap into. I have told my team, I said discomfort is going to be a known side effect of the work that we have to do. So if you're feeling a little uncomfortable, phone a friend, you're doing it right, and we're going to keep at it. And so really trying to encourage that, normalize that. I've got folks that are go-getters. I've got folks that are more skeptics. I'm playing to as many of the masses as I can, and I know that I’ll keep those who want to be on this journey, and I might not for those who don't. I have to accept that as a leader.

MediaPost: You were the first Director of Diversity and Outreach to increase diversity in the graduate program at Stanford. This is more than 15 years later, and you’re CMO of a major biotech company. So, two questions: as an industry, where is pharma in its journey to greater diversity. And in terms of marketing how we go deeper than just diversifying the casting of pharma ads? 

Erica Taylor: It's interesting that we’re still talking about a lot of the same topics 15 years later. I would say, pharma as an industry has come a long way and has a long way left to go. I think that we have to have more sophisticated views of what diversity and inclusion are. It's not just diversity, outreach, and recruitment. Those are things that get people in the door, and maybe keep them there. But that is not culture, as we talked about earlier. And particularly, and I think this has been, you know, loud and clear in our face as a result of the pandemic, health inequities exist everywhere, we all know we can rattle them off. I think pharma has a responsibility to begin addressing them.

When I think about this in our marketing context, this comes to how we communicate in a culturally competent manner. I've told my teams I hate the term multicultural marketing, not because we shouldn't do it, but because it otherizes it. It makes it sound like it's not like the rest of marketing. In fact, we're talking to people, and you have to meet them where they are. Particularly patients are often at one of the most difficult [times] in their lives, and you cannot do that if you don't have a diverse and inclusive culture in the companies that are serving these patients. There is a clear link and relationship between the two. So, I have an entire diversity action plan as an officer of Genentech that is focused on how we bring in more diverse perspectives, how we have a focus on health equity, how we make sure we're reaching patients that might not have the opportunity to benefit from our medicines, and that we're finding them.

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