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Merck KGaA: Envisioning the Digital Brand Manager of the Future

Fabienne Vanderpoel, senior director, business optimization, healthcare, at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, shares her thoughts on the future of brand marketing and the brand manager role.

Thanks to a career spent in many aspects of life sciences marketing in many corners of the world, Fabienne Vanderpoel has a broad perspective on where the profession has been, and where it is headed. Vanderpoel recently fielded questions from Emma Hyland, vice president for commercial content strategy for Veeva in the EU, about the shifts she is seeing in brand marketing.

EH : How is the role of the brand manager evolving?

FV: Marketers are learning to get more information about customers from more sophisticated data.

It’s not just about clicks any more; clicks are a quantity measurement and they really don’t tell you anything. If you don’t do a quality analysis, you will continue to have the wrong customer experiences. The brand manager of the future must be able to dig into data and understand the story that it is telling. Everyone on our teams must have the ability to do this.

It’s often what I find missing. Marketers don’t go far enough into the data. They don’t have the curiosity to explore the customer data they are given. By doing this kind of analysis, they will one day be able to understand what the person is asking and they can then move in the direction of a tailor-made answer.

There’s also an evolution in roles. Many companies created separate digital brand manager roles in recent years, but that seems strange to me. All brand managers must know—now and in the future—how to operate in both digital and traditional environments.

EH: How do we upskill brand managers or bring in new skills?

FV: You always have to have a good mix of expertise within a team. In certain instances, you may need somebody from a digital world completely outside of the pharma industry. But it cannot be a team of only outside, digital experts because the digital piece cannot be developed without the collaboration of traditional marketing, medical, and commercial professionals. A marketer cannot just be thinking in his or her bubble.

Teams don’t have to be permanent and they don’t all have to report to one person. It should be a collaboration around a strategy with the people who will bring in skills that you may lack. The more this collaboration happens, the better the outcome will be, and the better the customer experience.

EH: How should brand managers think about content in the future?

FV: The need for quality content will not change, but the speed at which it is created and communicated to healthcare professionals (HCPs) and patients will. The pace of brand marketing is faster now, and it will get faster still. We’ve got to get everyone on our brand marketing teams on board more quickly to understand what is happening and create the messages we need.

Digital asset management technology will help brand managers to create more content. Marketers who want to be fast and agile will embrace it. They’ll want to get started with it immediately. These are for me the real marketeers of the future.

Others may object. They may say, “I’m a marketer, not a designer. This is not in my skill set.” But that’s not what we’re asking them to do. We’re asking them to understand that, with this technology, they can quickly tailor a message made for one channel to use in another.

EH: When it comes to brand management, there are so many places to innovate. How do you prioritize where to start?

FV: I think about innovation a lot and, if you were to ask my team, they would say, “She’s reprioritizing all the time.” I would say you decide where to start by doing an analysis to focus on the business needs of your organization and where you can make an impact. You also have to know where not to start: Sometimes you have to say “no” and give up on a few things to really prioritize, and that can be really, really difficult.

For more on Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany’s marketing journey and Fabienne Vanderpoel’s view of the digital brand manager of the future, read this blog.

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