Design systems in pharma marketing

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Pharma gets systematic

As pharma marketing becomes ever more digital, the way that we create content is changing. In the past, everyone focused on individual assets. Now, forward-thinking companies work with ‘design systems' to unlock digital technology's scalability. These systems enable pharma marketers to produce more content — and take advantage of the ever-increasing number of channels to create more personalised HCP communications.

Overview of design system in pharma marketing
Content systems are changing pharma marketing asset production

Meaning of design systems

A design system is a set of standards and reusable components that can be assembled to build any number of assets. In other words, it is a kind of ‘content building kit'. You decide on what elements are required, set the rules for their use, and ensure that the different pieces fit together. In effect, you invest time to build the design system but save much more time creating each marketing asset.

This way of working is new to marketing content creation but well-established elsewhere. You can think about design systems as being like the innovation of mass production in the 20th Century. The classic example is the Ford Motor Company. Efficient processes and standard components lowered Ford’s Model T production time from 11 cars per month to one car every 12.5 hours. Refining those processes further reduced production time to one car every 93 minutes.

When people talk about a ‘content factory’ in pharma, this is what they mean. It doesn’t require scaling up the creative workforce. That would be like Ford hiring more employees to build more cars (they actually reduced their workforce). Rather, it means implementing a more efficient system to scale content production and get far more from your existing budget. This is achieved by a systematic approach — and a better use of technologies — that result in greater efficiency, while meeting the all requirements of pharma’s regulated business environment.  

Example of design system in pharma: component, module and asset
Design system example: modular content creation

Why pharma is switching to design systems

The driving force behind the switch to design systems in pharma is the desire to improve the HCP experience. The ambition is to provide more personalised marketing communication delivered at the frequency that each customer prefers. Rather than one message for all, now companies are producing content tailored to different profiles in the channel of the HCP's choice.  

This is entirely the right move — give customers what they want, when they want it — but personalising content requires increasing the production volume. For example, rather than sending out one marketing email to everyone, reps and MSLs can now choose from multiple approved email content that matches different HCP profiles. Pharma companies have also been expanding their communication channels, adding remote engagement solutions and new kinds of on-demand channels to existing investments in eDetailing and brand websites. The increase in content volume that all these activities demand, strains the traditional content supply chain — causing problems for MLR to approve it and affiliates trying to localise all the materials. Ultimately, it slows the entire system as content gets stuck in internal bottlenecks and asset time-to-market increases.

Companies that switched to customer-centric marketing models like omnichannel discovered that changing the strategy requires changing the content production too. In other words, genuinely digital marketing strategies need truly digital production methods. And this is now being implemented through content excellence programmes that introduce design systems to pharma marketing.

A good example of design system thinking in pharma is modular content. This provides the reusable components needed to assemble marketing assets at speed. And, if implemented correctly, it also provides the right compliance controls. For example, core claims libraries, business rules, templates, MLR workstreams, global and local module libraries are all examples of good governance and shared internal processes that ensure regulatory compliance.

How design systems simplify and speed content production in pharma
Design system simplify and speed content production

Benefits to pharma

Speed: create content quickly and at scale. The primary benefit of design systems is the ability to rapidly generate design assets by reusing premade UI components and content elements. In other words, brand teams do not need to reinvent the wheel each time an asset is required. The result is increased content volume — and a reduction in asset time-to-market — without negatively impacting budgets or colleagues' workloads.

Brand consistency: speak with one voice. The lack of design systems in pharma can lead to inconsistent brand experiences, as affiliates try to solve the same problems in different ways. By contrast, design systems provide a ‘single source of truth’ for content and produce a unified experience for HCPs. This enables managers to stop acting as the ‘brand police’ and invest more time helping affiliates engage their customers.  

Compliance: meet all regulations. Pharma operates in a regulated environment in which oversight and controls are essential. Design systems make compliance easier, providing more control while empowering affiliates to work with confidence. For example, well-designed modular content links to core claims libraries, so local markets know they are always working with the latest approved content.  

Democratising design: empower people to create. A design system enables everyone to build on-brand and fully compliant marketing assets. Before, even tasks such as building simple email content had to be briefed to agencies. Now people can create materials and respond faster to customer data. This also frees agencies to focus on high-value work, directing their creativity where it is most needed.

Simplicity: make life easier for colleagues. Design systems aren't brand manuals that provide instructions for people to follow. Instead, they are more like tools that people work with on a daily basis. For example, a good design system doesn’t require the user to know exactly what dpi a graphic should be on a remote detailing presentation slide. Instead, it will enable the user to create the slide with the right components automatically.  

Integration: provide a unified design language. For global pharma companies, design systems provide a ‘common language’ that avoids a lot of miscommunication. For example, even the appearance of a simple drop-down menu can be repeatedly discussed and debated internally by multiple affiliates — a process that slows asset time-to-market.

Strategic marketing: focus on more important work. Design systems with templates and reusable content enable marketing teams to work more strategically. By freeing up time currently spent managing many small (but frustrating) tasks like ensuring brand consistency, marketers can spend more time on activities such as customer journey planning.

Simplify and speed asset production

Design system thinking facilitates omnichannel marketing in pharma. Companies now implementing these ideas have the efficiency required for fully digital strategies and gain the ability to engage HCPs in more personalised ways. Excellent, fully-compliant marketing assets can be built at speed. Brands are strengthened by providing HCPs with one unified experience. And brand teams and affiliates are pulling together, better leveraging the IT infrastructure that is often already in place, such as Veeva Vault.

You can hear more about the process for implementing design system thinking in a recent webinar with Novo Nordisk and learn how they partnered with Veeva and Anthill to apply design system principles and modular content to their HCPs engagement — at a global scale.  

Watch the webinar recording

More on content excellence

Modular content guide: get the full explanation of modular content in pharma, with a clear definition and best practices. Read now
Webinar recording: learn how Novo Nordisk partnered with Anthill to speed omnichannel content creation. Watch now
Whitepaper: learn how to increase content supply chain efficiency, reduce content costs, and speed time-to-market. Download now
Anthill Activator: discover how our latest innovation makes Veeva eDetailing content creation easier and faster. Learn more
Agency services: learn how Anthill enables pharma and MedTech to redesign asset creation for the digital age. Read now


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