- Utilizing a modular content system offers a streamlined Medical-Legal Review (MLR) process for global markets and cost savings for local markets.
- Modular content can result in significant cost savings, an increase in first-round approval, and a reduction in the time required to create content.
- Implementing a new strategy requires investment in platforms, research technologies, training, and infrastructure.
- When transitioning to modular content, key steps include conducting an initial discovery, selecting a pilot team, creating templates and content libraries, and running pilots to collect data.
- The successful implementation of modular content requires people, processes, and technology.
JoAnn Spause is a seasoned marketer and operations leader with deep expertise in the pharma industry. For the past seven years, she's led the Aquent Studios modular content team at Merck, transforming the way content is developed, approved, and distributed at the company.
We recently chatted with JoAnn about the advantages of a modular content strategy in the pharma industry, the biggest challenges that come with a modular approach, ideas for starting a successful modular content program, and her thoughts on the future of modular content.
Here's what JoAnn shared with us.
Modular content in a nutshell
Let's start with a quick overview of modular content. So modular content breaks down content into pre-approved content blocks or “modules,” which can be repurposed, reused, and remixed to create new marketing deliverables. In the pharma industry, this approach streamlines the complex Medical-Legal Review process, allowing us to create content more efficiently, at a lower cost, across global and U.S. markets.
With a modular system, there are pre-approved templates for each brand and channel. These templates can also be customized for different segments like patients, healthcare professionals, and payers. When an agency creates the initial tactic, it can include variable content for different audiences, which is then approved through the MLR process.
Once everything is approved, local markets can confidently select content for their target audience, knowing that it has already been approved. This approval can come from a local MLR review or a business review.
When a module is switched out in the template, it still needs to go through a review, but this process is expedited as it goes through a smaller, local review. This leads to greater efficiency, as reviewers can feel confident that the content has already received approval.
A central team and system then oversee the templates and content, which lowers risk and promotes efficiency. This ensures that all content being created has the correct label. If the FDA approves a drug for a new use or identifies a new side effect, a modular approach ensures updates to the label are automatically applied to all future marketing assets.
The power of modular content
We all like to save time on tasks and processes, and pharma as an industry requires a lot of detailed and time-consuming workflows around reviews and approvals. So modular content is a really effective way to drive efficiency in that process.
For example, at Aquent Studios, we've found that it takes a third less time to approve content modules for production compared to traditionally created materials. This is due to the template-based content and reviewers' familiarity with it. We also see that an impressive majority of modular content materials are approved for production in the first review, reducing the need for revisions before certification.
Cost avoidance is another big benefit of modular content. At Aquent Studios, we track cost avoidance for some of our clients. For example, one of our clients would have spent tens of millions of dollars on content production annually if not for their modular approach to content.
Challenges to modular content adoption
The biggest challenges I've seen in pharma when it comes to succeeding with modular content are budget considerations, change management, and cultural or organizational factors.
Let's start with budget considerations. Implementing a new strategy requires investment. This investment could be in a new technology platform and the integrations that may be required to connect it to other systems in your tech stack. It could also involve hiring new resources with modular content skillsets or outsourcing the project or workstream to outside partners. These investments could be seen as barriers, particularly for smaller pharmaceutical companies.
Change management is a perpetual reality in the pharma industry. The constant need to adapt strategies, realign priorities, and foster a culture of resilience can put even the most seasoned leaders to the test. It requires a delicate balance of communication, foresight, and empathy to successfully guide an organization through change. Nonetheless, by embracing these challenges head-on and fostering a culture of adaptability, senior leaders can pave the way for transformation and growth.
Lastly, cultural and organizational factors, though they might seem minor, are also worth mentioning. Over the years, pharmaceutical companies have been known to be conservative and risk averse. Implementing a new strategy is inherently risky. It's a balancing act of supporting day-to-day work while also changing how reviewers review work and agencies create work. This requires a significant cultural shift within the company, and it's crucial that senior leadership in the organization supports it.
Success boils down to people, process, and technology
In my experience, the successful implementation of modular content is a combination of people, processes, and technology.
When it comes to people, we focus on skills training, partnerships, and collaborations. This involves both internal teams and external partners, including CMS providers and local vendors. The goal is to ensure everyone involved has the necessary skills and knowledge for a smooth transition to the modular content approach.
Regarding technology, the primary concern is the Content Management System (CMS). You'll need to think about choosing a CMS that supports modular content, understand how it integrates with your existing systems, and define who will implement and should manage it.
The process aspect involves content management and governance. Establishing effective practices in these areas is crucial for maintaining consistent quality and compliance, as well as managing versions of content. This also involves defining the roles and responsibilities of different team members.
I always recommend starting small and running a pilot when transitioning to a modular content approach. You could focus on specific audiences or tactics, such as emails and banner ads, then expand to other channels like sales aids, web, and social media. This allows you to test and learn what works best in your organization, create some early wins, and then expand more broadly. Here's what this might look like:
- Conduct an initial discovery and select a pilot team. This allows for defining roles, responsibilities, goals, and objectives before launching a full-scale shift.
- Create a template library, either with new content templates or by converting existing content into a library format.
- Transfer the existing content into the modular content tool.
- Run your pilot, collect data, and present your findings. Analyze the successes, challenges, and areas of improvement, and then plan to scale or roll out further.
- Focus on continuous improvement. Regularly analyze and experiment to enhance the system and support additional capabilities. Identify the key pieces per brand to include in your library.
The future of modular content
The rise of modular content is a trend that is set to revolutionize many industries. This approach could be particularly beneficial for sectors such as financial services, which require stringent regulation, as well as online retail, where there is an ever-increasing demand for dynamic content.
The technological advancement supporting modular content is nothing short of remarkable. We can expect more integrations between content management systems and other key tools in the marketing tech stack, like automation and AI, thereby streamlining workflows and enhancing efficiency.
A notable development to watch is the use of automation for creating modular content. Cutting-edge projects in the U.S. are already employing bots to assemble tactics from approved content modules, minimizing human intervention and thereby reducing risk. This innovative feature is rapidly gaining ground within the industry.
The potential of generative AI in content development is immense. AI's ability to analyze data, identify effective content or modules, and assist in creating audience-specific content opens up new avenues for marketers. Rather than relying on external agencies, marketing teams and copywriters could harness the power of AI to generate focused content for specific markets once the key content has been created.
The future of modular content is exciting and filled with possibilities. As technology evolves and becomes more integrated, we can anticipate a significant shift in the way content is produced and consumed. The journey has just begun, and it's a thrilling ride ahead.