GSK launches brand incubator as it shifts to ‘fail-fast’ culture

On a mission to ‘rewire’ some of its brands for the modern consumer, GlaxoSmithKline is pursuing a digital transformation agenda aimed at boosting ecommerce performance and upgrading its media ROI.

GSK oral health brands

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is rethinking how its organisation is set up to compete in the digital world as it faces competition from direct-to-consumer and online pureplay businesses.

Louise Kristensen, the company’s digital and ecommerce director for Northern Europe, believes this means being very clear about both the opportunities and challenges ahead. Speaking today (10 October) at the Festival of Marketing, she identified four priorities for the organisation going forward – to improve media ROI, boost ecommerce, create efficient content and spark disruption.

These priorities feed directly into a wider digital transformation agenda at GSK, which is reframing its brands for the modern consumer.

READ MORE: How GSK’s digital transformation enabled it to ditch ‘safe’ advertising

Two weeks ago, GSK introduced a brand incubator that takes brands the business believes need to be “rewired” out of their category or brand teams. Within the incubator, a team of specialists are tasked with rethinking everything from how the brand goes to market to how it addresses the consumers’ needs.

The incubator sits separately from the wider GSK business, unlike the global digital innovation hub introduced at the start of the year, which has been fully embedded within the organisation.

The changes are part of a strategy to move GSK to a fail-fast culture that aims to stop people across the business from being afraid to dump projects that are failing to deliver.

“We’ve got much better at GSK at throwing things away if they’re not working and not holding onto something just because it had months of work and we feel we need to keep putting everybody through it,” she explained.

“If [something] doesn’t work we accept it and move on. That’s been a big cultural shift within the business.”

That culture also works with the types of ideas the company will now take on. To help breed innovation, GSK has implemented a new success framework that means not saying no to an idea just because it fails to stack up with the three-year P&L.

Kristensen insists the team look at the benefits of any proposed project through a different lens. Part of this includes consulting every other month with GSK’s digital advisory board, made up of external digital transformation specialists who assess the viability of any ideas generated through the hub.

In-house advantages

GSK was the first consumer healthcare brand to own its own tech stack and this is helping the company improve media ROI. Kristensen explained that bringing this in-house has enabled GSK to buy digital media more efficiently and gain more visibility in terms of media spend.

The money saved is being reinvested in other areas so GSK can buy “better quality media”, enabling the company to take a much more “holistic approach” to its media mix, explained Kristensen.

“Instead of markets saying ‘we’re a TV market, that’s why we’re spending nothing on digital’, we say ‘hang on a second, review the mix’. We’re very conscious that digital can’t be the first thing that’s cut when we’re under pressure within the business,” she stated.

Taking control of its tech stack has also enabled GSK to better organise and analyse its data. It has appointed specialists within the analytics function who help visualise data and prioritise what matters to the marketing team.

Another key area of focus for GSK is to drive creative excellence.

“70% of ROI in our marketing spend comes from our creative so we have to nail it and we have to make sure we’re not just making a TVC and putting it into a digital format and saying we’re doing digital,” argued Kristensen.

“In full transparency, before our transformation over the past 18 months we weren’t doing fit for purpose digital content.”

To help create consistency across markets, the company has rolled out a global digital asset management tool that allows teams in any region to access the best quality assets to use online.

This is particularly important because GSK does not do “campaigns in digital”, but instead is in an “always on” state, enabling it to constantly iterate and learn.

Eyes on ecommerce

Kristensen also believes it is no longer good enough to just have “fantastic scientifically-backed brands”, particularly because half the healthcare industry’s growth over the next five years is expected to come from ecommerce.

The ambition to boost ecommerce success has seen GSK introduce what it calls an FCP framework – findability, conversion, performance. The framework includes 10 steps all markets must follow when setting up an ecommerce business.

Kristensen explained that GSK is aware it needs to get much better at being agile to compete with digital native brands. That has meant breaking down internal silos and piloting new ways of working between marketing, sales, data and supply.

In recognition of the fact that, unlike direct-to-consumer challengers, GSK does not own the end-to-end consumer relationship, Kristensen said the business is committed to building more meaningful consumer connections, a key cornerstone of the digital transformation project.