Interview with Michelle Melka, Director, Global Product Strategy, Digital Transformation, at BioMarin
“We don’t want to make changes just for the sake of it but design our interventions to make as much impact as possible,” says Michelle Melka, Director, Global Product Strategy, Digital Transformation, at BioMarin. “We try to measure this impact by asking feedback from patients to know what they need.” This is just a small taste of the advice that Michelle Melka will dispense at the Reuters Pharma Customer Engagement Europe 2023 event, which runs from 9–10 November in London. Michelle will participate in a panel discussion at the event entitled: “Content quality over quantity: Create meaningful moments rather than seeing what sticks.”
We had the opportunity to speak with Michelle ahead of the event to hear her views on how marketing is changing and how pharma companies can best position themselves to keep up and make the most impact.
Please explain what your role entails as Director of Global Product Strategy, Digital Transformation
So, my focus is to evolve our digital capabilities across our commercial offerings at BioMarin. Like other companies, we are on a journey in trying to develop new ways of working and in having a digital-first mindset, but truly with the end-goal of having customer-centric information that patients and families want to find and read. I think that such journeys require a lot of internal change from a traditional pharma model. We are evolving new processes, bringing in new technology, and changing our marketing strategies to address this.
What is the most important shift you have managed to implement to date in terms of responding to customer preferences and needs?
We implemented customer journeys across all of our brands to really focus on what people want to know about the various conditions that they are experiencing. One aspect of this is working with patient groups to ensure that we are listening and learning the moments of truth that impact families and their choices. As we deal with rare diseases, often the choices these patients face is finding the right answers for their family. The goal is to find and understand information that really resonates with these patients. What makes them seek a diagnosis? Once we understand these factors, we focus on providing this information in a way that is understandable and accessible for patients. Conversely, for healthcare professionals that are busy and have a lot on their plate, we focus on ways to make information findable, and in an appropriate length and format for time-limited professionals.
What have been the main challenges in doing so?
It has been a mindset shift over time. BioMarin is very patient-centric, but we still sometimes look at things from the perspective that we want to share details about our products. However, this mindset shift is somewhat nuanced, in that we want patients to get the information they actually want and need rather than just what we want them to know. This requires subtle differences in what we write and what we release. One of the biggest challenges that we see in interviews with families is that they want information about their health, but we can’t make claims that are not supported by the data. We have to ensure that we stick to our labelling and maintain regulatory compliance, and market our products in a responsible way.
Given that we work in rare diseases, often there isn’t much information available for patients, and we may be the only ones providing information to them and building that market, further highlighting our need for responsible marketing. In rare disease, getting a diagnosis can take years, so it is also important that we make the information as accessible and findable as possible to help with that journey as best we can. Digital helps make this possible
What is your ambition for the company, to make its digital transformation more powerful than that of competitors?
We have plans for internal improvements. Change takes time, but our approach is to make small changes regularly and maintain our overall focus. We work in small teams, and our goal is to introduce digital approaches where we can. We don’t want to make changes just for the sake of it but design our interventions to make as much impact as possible. We also try to measure this impact in patients’ lives to keep track of what worked well.
Understanding how to drive better efficiency internally is also a focus, so our teams don’t have to work as hard to get the information out, and are excited about the work they do, and the outcomes for the patients we interact with are also improved. When it comes to competition, often we don’t have many competitors, particularly in the rare disease space, but when we do, we aim to showcase our products in the best light possible and highlight their advantages, while being as innovative as possible, and using the right channels for engagement.
Do you have any specific views on the future direction of content and omnichannel strategies to build meaningful relationships with your customers (healthcare professionals)?
We have a lot of technologies now that can support how information is found. If you think about the way that AI is evolving, the way that we are evolving our medical legal review processes, the way customers have different expectations for us, all of these things are changing rapidly. The more we embrace this change and embark on this journey, the better off we will be in the future. Everyone in the pharma industry is moving in that direction and aims to be as nimble as they can, to use digital technology effectively and ensure that we produce content in the format and location that is most useful for patients and healthcare providers.