Fail Fast and Agile Are at the Top of the GlaxoSmithKline Marketing Agenda

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It seems like every day some hot new business buzzword emerges which is claimed to be the future of brand promotion. However, while many of them fall to the wayside without much fanfare, others find a strong foothold in the zeitgeist.

"Agile" is one such philosophy - and that's mainly because it makes so much sense and represents a way of working which enables brands to be more responsive and productive than they otherwise would be. The ability to react quickly and with agility to changes in the environment enables marketers to produce content which speaks to current world affairs.

One example which springs to mind was when Oreo was able to react to a power cut at Super Bowl XLVII with a genius tweet - with an accompanying image of a cookie in dimmed light - that said simply: "You can still dunk in the dark". It was put together and posted in just ten minutes - before the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans managed to get the lights back on.

This is agile marketing in a nutshell - and it's what GlaxoSmithKline is looking to bring to its own marketing strategy.


While agile is a concept usually found in direct-to-consumer markets, GSK is keen to introduce it to its B2B pharmaceutical operations.

GSK is using digital technology to become a more agile marketer. The multinational pharmaceutical company wants to run more efficient programmatic ad campaigns to connect with its audience more effectively with targeted content marketing. Artificial intelligence and specifically machine learning are great fits for this strategy as they enable GSK to quickly analyze data and be more adaptive to change. AI-driven agility lets GSK deduce which parts of its marketing strategy are and aren't working, then make the necessary changes to drive sales.

"I have seen the success of agile first hand," reports Colin Lewis for Marketing Week. "I also ran innovation programs using a series of agile 'sprints' where you create ideas, test solutions and roll out prototypes in just five days, focusing on customer acceptance as part of the process. And, yes, it really worked - we launched some amazing new products on the back of this agile process. Proponents of agile claim you get more done, get the right things done, adapt faster, build collaborative and self-organizing teams and improve communications within a team and with senior management."

Agile on its own is an amazing tool in the hands of the right marketers. However, another philosophy which GSK is looking to incorporate into its marketing strategy is what is known as "fail fast."

Fail Fast

A way of working more commonly found in smaller startups, fail fast refers to a business philosophy which attempts to drive the fear of failure from the minds of innovators.

Most ideas fail - but allowing this knowledge to prevent you from trying out new ideas and innovations can leave your business treading water instead of pushing forward and becoming an industry leader. GSK wants its marketing people to be constantly pushing the envelope, developing and beta testing new ideas. More importantly, however, fail fast teaches us not to be afraid to quickly ditch ideas which are clearly not going anywhere.

Crucially, fail fast teaches not to see abandoned ideas as failures but to treat everything as a learning exercise which can inform the next innovation.

"There is a huge amount of risk for a startup," said Vice President and Region Head for GSK Consumer Healthcare in EMEA, Tamara Rogers. "Whereas we have some resources that we can invest into all sorts of ideas and we are learning how you call time on them if they're not going to work, because we know that 95% of new ideas fail. You have to set yourself up to not invest the whole business in those experiments, but instead have lots of experiments and pour gasoline on the ones that work."

As a giant B2B pharmaceutical corporation, GSK is not as well placed as B2C companies are when it comes to understanding the needs of the end users of its products. This is why the company is taking cues from the B2C marketing world and experimenting with marketing strategies traditionally favored in that arena of commerce.

Final Thoughts

Taking cues from the direct-to-consumer world and employing strategies such as agile and fail fast is allowing GSK to become a better and more responsive marketer. Huge companies such as GSK are often far removed from the audience they ultimately serve, and anything which can help them to bridge that gap is to be well-received.

"We are continuing to work with all sorts of routes to the consumer because they're all reinventing and making sure that we're becoming more efficient and productive in the different routes, whether it's bricks and mortar, whether it's pure-play, or whether it's brick and," said Rogers.

You can hear GSK's Senior Director of Marketing for Zoster, Jay Sabbah, speak at Future Pharma 2019, taking place this September at the Boston Marriott Long Wharf, MA.

Download the agenda today for more information and insights.