McKinsey research

McKinsey interview: "The beginning of a very long journey"

GSK Japan KK is among the top 10 pharmaceutical companies in the Japanese ethical market, with sales of more than 322 billion yen ($4 billion). Headquartered in Tokyo, its core therapeutic areas of focus include allergy & respiratory, diseases of the central nervous system, oncology and dermatology.

Since July, Philippe Auvaro has been GSK’s Business Innovation leader. The Business Innovation division includes business development, digital marketing, new products planning and the business model laboratory. Auvaro has been with GSK since 2005, working in various positions in the sales and commercial organization. He recently spoke with McKinsey’s Brian Salsberg, a principal in the Tokyo office.

Salsberg: How long has GSK Japan been engaged in e-detailing in Japan?

Auvaro: I would say that GSK Japan engagement in e-detailing is as old as e-detailing in Japan, and the pioneer role of GSK in this field already existed when I joined in 2005. I believe we ranked among the very first supporters of MR-Kun when created their platform in Japan. [MR-Kun, or, is a physician portal launched in 2000]

Salsberg: How advanced is e-detailing in Japan versus other developed pharmaceutical markets such as the US and Europe?

Auvaro: It is difficult to speak of Japan e-detailing in term of “advance.” I would rather speak of originality. Part of this originality comes of course from the behaviors of health-care professionals in Japan. Another part would probably find its origin in the original path of Internet technology in Japan compared with the rest of the world. Smart phones have now invaded our environment but we must remember the days when emails relayed via mobile device already exceeded the volume relayed via laptop and desktop thanks to i-mode and other Japanese original platforms. However, the biggest difference is that very early on, service providers were keen to develop virtual contacts between pharmaceutical manufacturers and health-care professionals on an unbiased platform. Interestingly, such a powerful tool has not found its path in other markets. That confirms in my opinion a unique character of the e-detailing practice in Japan.

Salsberg: Can you describe some successful examples of how GSK uses e-detailing to promote its products?

Auvaro: It would be difficult to single out examples of best practice, and the measure of success is highly subjective. However, I wish to say with some pride that GSK has certainly contributed to very original approaches, for example introducing video clips to provide simple, yet accurate testimony of patients’ suffering or interrogation. In difficult areas such as asthma, Parkinson Disease, or epilepsy, we managed to combine sensitivity and medical information. This shows that it is possible to apply our patient-focus value, one of GSK core values.

Salsberg: What is the most interesting or counterintuitive lesson you have learned?

Auvaro: E-detailing is still highly intuitive, and it is still an experiment. As such, I strongly believe that it is important to keep an open-minded stance, and to be ready for surprises, good or bad. GSK is experimenting a lot in the field of e-detailing, and every experiment is a contribution to a more sophisticated model—testing the limits; measuring the synergies with other channels; evaluating the content impact; and acknowledging as best we can the feedback from medical professionals. Those with a soft brain, yet a solid methodology, are more likely to gain from the model than those simply trying to replicate the real into the virtual.

Salsberg: What are the pitfalls and challenges?

Auvaro: E-detailing cannot stand on its own. It cannot turn into an independent model of promoting pharmaceutical products disconnected from the other channels connecting a manufacturer with academic, medical or clinical circles. So the real challenge is to know exactly when e-detailing makes sense; when it changes the game; when it fits with a specific expectation from the customer; and when it stops doing so. The other key challenge is that the digital experience gets more sophisticated as people get used to its benefits and its convenience. E-detailing in Japan today is still a mass-market type of marketing, while we know that Internet technology enables us to capture a share of our customer’s intimacy and to anticipate their needs. Individualized or personalized e-detailing is the next frontier. It is demanding in technology investment and in competency development, and it is most likely to become the norm over time.

Salsberg: Where should responsibility for e-detailing fit into an organization (e.g., sales, marketing, or somewhere else)?

Auvaro: It should be where the intellectual flexibility is, where the passion to achieve the best connection with the customer is the strongest. As I said, I do not believe that e-detailing is a self-sustaining model of promotion. In other words, it works best when combined with different types of promotion channels, and it certainly works even better if the customers feel that their particular needs are specifically addressed. I personally believe that it is not where the e-detailing fits in the organization that matters. It is how the organization as a whole embraces the digital ambition and envisions turning it into a key connection to the medical community.

Salsberg: Do you measure the impact of e-detailing on the top or bottom line?

Auvaro: The aspiration is to measure success by the impact, and top line is the usual surrogate, but it must of course make sense from an overall ROI perspective, including the measure of the carry-over effect. If you think of e-detailing as a cheap way to do detailing, I am not sure you build on success.

Salsberg: What’s next?

Auvaro: There are several areas worth watching: the digital interference in the act of consultation between doctors and patients; the personalization of information to medical professionals based on large data mining; the growing influence of social networks; and the emergence of virtual thought leaders inside specific medical communities. I am also keen to keep in mind that every year, a new generation of physicians and pharmacists comes into the profession. With the renewal of generations in the profession, it would not be surprising to see new behaviors emerging. I buy CDs in a store, my sons only download. They call me a “dinosaur.” If you try to extrapolate this change of customer behavior and see how it would influence the practice of medicine and the access to medical information for drugs, we have only seen the beginning of a very long journey.

Read the related McKinsey interview with Dimitri Livadas of Lilly Japan, “E-detailing will be evolutionary.”

To read McKinsey's research on e-detailing download, “Making sense of e-detailing in Japan’s pharmaceutical sector” (PDF–1.96 MB).


Philippe Auvrol, GSK’s Business Innovation leader

Philippe Auvaro

E-detailing is still highly intuitive, and it is still an experiment. As such, I strongly believe that it is important to keep an open-minded stance, and to be ready for surprises, good or bad.”