Second Opinion: Is ChatGPT the solution to soaring marketing cost bases?

2023-03-30 |  Shrinivas Anikhindi & Carol Cao

Welcome back to Second Opinion. This month, we’re looking at cost. More specifically, the soaring cost bases of pharmaceutical marketing.

When thinking about pharma and cost, we often jump straight to the cost of medicines, not the cost of operations. But as pressure rises to invest more in R&D and provide more services for the same price, pharma must pivot to explore how it can cut into the bottom line and find efficiency in how it works.

Most excitingly on this topic, we’re going to be looking at automation, and the role tools such as ChatGPT can play in simplifying marketing operations, allowing more space for humans to do what they’re best at while removing the delays and the errors from more consistent core activities.

We’ll also look at new metrics you can use to pin down real value in your activities, as well as the opportunities for greater investment externally as Carol Cao breaks down the UK Government’s latest Medtech Strategy and its implications for you.


Looking across the portfolios of top pharma companies, we’re approaching an interesting time for pharma strategy. Rich pipelines and diverse multi-indication medicines are setting the stage for a period of pharma that will be defined by maximising more for less.

Fundamental to these strategies will be the management of cost bases as the complexity and scope of operations increase – so how do we deliver the same quality and consistency of customer engagement without cost bases growing out of control?

Spending on marketing agencies and routine activities has not only grown but become so complex as to be inflexible to any potential restructuring. Marketing budgets encompass a range of activities, not all of which are fully understood, and the ability to adapt the changing market conditions or best practices in marketing capabilities is limited.

This might soon change, however. The last few years have brought a wave of developments in automation technology – from back-office operational developments such as process automation, through to the truly customer-adjacent technologies of voice assistants like Alexa and Siri.

Pharma has never been shy to talk about new sexy technologies (remember blockchain?), but so often the real-life developments of this tech fail to materialise even given time. So why would natural language generators such as ChatGPT be any different?

For one, its accessibility. In comparison to the complex nature of concepts such as blockchain, ChatGPT and tools such as DALL-E have brought generative technology to everyone from creative teenagers to experienced professionals. It’s proven that, despite extensive caveats about the accuracy and reliability of its outputs (which we’ll get to), it can be a powerful tool to begin making the most of our human resources.

Human creativity, robotic productivity

Every strategy from the last 10 years regarding the improvement of customer engagement and generation of superior experiences has spoken to the need of making things more human. Understanding human needs, making content more personal, and using empathetic understanding to drive strategy. So why are we now talking about automation?

Ultimately, between the human innovation process and the human packaging of content for customers, is a whole lot of extraneous and difficult work. Building materials, reviewing materials, combining and reconstructing content, and all of that hampered by the creator-approver back-and-forth most marketers are familiar with.

Furthermore, finding the right information, managing internal knowledge, and sifting through what’s available in large organisations also requires a lot of time and resources.

Step past the buzz of ChatGPT, around being able to answer contextual answers based on internet data up to 2021 only.

Think instead about piping in your own information base and using it to handle knowledge management, query triage, onboarding resources, and even to analyse trends and generate insight for data-driven decision-making.

In short, natural language-enabled chatbots can trim the fat from the way we work, especially if plugged into internal libraries. Humans still drive the processes, ask the questions, and filter the outputs – but with a powerful concierge handling the grunt work.

The buck still stops with us

Crucial in any discussion about AI, and especially ChatGPT, is a conversation about reliability. What chatbots are not, unless specifically designed to be so, are search engines. Many generative chatbots work on simulating real outputs, even creating false studies or statistics when asked to provide an intelligent-sounding answer.

In a quick example by one of our team, when asked to summarise the key points of a clinical study twice (to check consistency), the chatbot provided different drug names and diseases, and even changed patient numbers.

This can be managed with specific development, but it is important to watch out for in order to ensure these tools are not treated as silver bullets or omniscient content engines. Developed chatbots for specific purposes can operate with greater trust, for example, Google’s Med-PaLM, designed to handle medical queries, which has outperformed all other similar on medical exam questions but still only scored 85% accuracy on the US Medical Licensing Exam.

When all is said and done, these tools, however powerful, do not allow for the abdication of responsibility. HCPs and patients have a right to be treated responsibly and ethically – so we must ensure we have the right safeguards and processes to validate any automated outputs.

Making ChatGPT more than just a trend

Like all innovation, starting off with structured thinking is critical. With these generative tools being so readily accessible, it’s easy to make the mistake of diving straight in without understanding and exploring opportunities or what success could be defined as. As Lewis Carroll says, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there”.

Furthermore, consider the limitations of these tools to work in a vacuum of context. Imagine a 10-year-old with all the knowledge of the internet – how would you with them to get the answers you require, and what guidelines and context might be needed to secure the right outputs?

The potential for setting these tools up to supplement and grow marketing operations with an efficiency contribution to cost bases is high, but the level of structure must be high, and the usage profile must be based on real needs from teams.

Are your teams struggling with being overwhelmed by queries and customer requests? Are you trying to solve the challenge of turnover and knowledge continuity? Or, quite simply, do you need to generate and turn around more content than you have the capacity for?

Start with the need, set out tests, and success criteria, and work iteratively to slowly phase in this new technology and you have a strong chance of making this buzzword technology a familiar presence in your organisation’s day-to-day. 


In a world of soaring costs, it becomes increasingly important to focus on the activities which provide us with the most value, and which don’t. At a time when pharma is hastily reorganising itself around new metrics, how do we start to measure this?

Well, the answer comes in the form of Customer Lifetime Value (LTV), a customer-focussed metric that looks at the span of a relationship rather than discrete moments across its journey. More importantly, LTV considers the level of investment in customer relationships as a factor of the value returned over time by that relationship.

This immediately opens up a door to being able to help pharma make decisions in the context of the entire customer journey beyond a single activity. For example, a stable or increasing LTV score can indicate efficiencies in the cost to serve the customer as well as the effectiveness of your engagement activities in generating value.

See below for a graph of how the cost to serve customers decreases as the value provided by the relationship rises. The longer the relationship, the easier it is to surface and meet the needs of those customers, decreasing the cost required to deliver the same level of value. That is to say, the cost to acquire those customers (1) is far greater than the cost to retain them (2), which is what LTV recognises. 

Looking at customers this way, therefore, allows you to better understand and manage customer acquisition costs, as this article by Qualtrics goes into in detail.

If you want the pharma-specific detail on why LTV is the way you should be examining and comparing your customer engagement activities, read this piece by my colleague Caz Hanrahan. Caz delves into how the LTV approach takes a new spin on the traditional way pharma looks at customers, and how best to simply embed LTV into your business and planning approaches. 


If we’re talking about brand-new technologies that can be used to improve pharma’s internal operations, we must consider the overall landscape for tech in pharma, and what governments are doing to increase the attractiveness of innovation.

Medical technology, or ‘medtech’, plays an important role in all aspects of the pharma value chain – product development, clinical trials, and post-market surveillance of pharmaceutical products. Innovations in devices such as self-injectors can improve patient compliance and drug efficacy, while wearable health devices can be used post-launch to monitor the safety and effectiveness of products.

While companies have been quick to explore the new solutions apps and devices have the potential to bring, governments around the world have been slow, playing catch up as they try to regulate the booming market. Total healthcare expenditure in the UK is rising year on year, and of that total spend, medtech makes up a significant amount (an estimated £10 billion a year). The UK government has now, however, published a new comprehensive medtech strategy that aims to ensure reliable access to safe technologies, making sure that devices deliver high-quality care that improves patient outcomes while making effective use of taxpayer money.

The UK strategy has 4 main areas for priority focus:

⛓️1: Supply chain resilience must be the shared responsibility of all parties

A major side effect of the pandemic was exposing the fragility of common supply chain models. From superconductors to exports of chemicals and metals, few industries have been spared the side effects of the “perfect storm” of factors that occurred during COVID-19. Medtech supply chains are no different – they are reliant on multiple different nations and vulnerable to global economic disruptions or changing trading agreements.

The continuity of medtech supply is essential to ensure ongoing care for patients, as well as to establish reliability in the industry. To increase the capacity of medtech supply chains to respond to shocks and shortages, multiple organisations should work together to bear responsibility and plan for future risks proactively and pre-emptively.

❓2: What defines ‘innovative?’ A new framework for product evaluation is needed

Medtech is a fast-growing area of innovation – in 2021, 1 in 12 of all UK patents to the European Patent Office were made for medical technologies. With pharma companies being slow to fully capitalise on technological improvements from other industries, it is easy to see why an endless sea of medtech startups have appeared to fill that gap.

However, companies often create shiny tools without any focus on the value-add or the end-goal patient outcomes – there is no clear idea of what the healthcare system wants and needs. This is further complicated by high levels of variation in product use, perhaps due to the fragmented market in which there are no clear winners. The UK strategy is set to review guidance and frameworks for evaluating both new and existing products, to ensure patients have fast access to the best products for them that are aligned with their real needs.

🤝3: The infrastructure should enable medtech strategies

To deliver the ambitions of the medtech strategy, the underlying environment must enable rather than hinder the positive changes needed. One of the biggest priority areas for healthcare in the UK has been data. For medtech, this means harmonisation of data standards across the industry and encouraging proactive data collection to feed insights.

A second priority is the centralisation of partnerships between the government and the medtech industry, to move away from partnerships created out of the urgency to address specific priorities and move towards a collaborative mindset that is embedded into the way we work from the beginning.

🏥4: A broad-stroke strategy should consider specific challenges

Even though medtech contains an exceptionally diverse range of products, the majority of these are designed, developed, selected and procured through broadly comparable systems and predominantly face common challenges.

In an effort to recognise the diversity of challenges present across healthcare, the UK government plans to tackle specific market segments by applying the principles of their broader medtech strategy in more granular detail. The two areas are diagnostics and community care, where there is already a dependence and demand for medtech, but specific challenges are currently preventing value-adds.

Balancing the many plates of medtech

The UK’s approach to medtech is focused on enabling technologies that are a balance of many criteria: safe, clinically effective, value for money, outcomes-focused, and easily accessible. By doing so, the government hopes to accelerate the development and commercialisation of medtech products, improve patient outcomes, and ultimately, drive economic growth and position the UK as a centre of technological excellence.

Among many challenges facing the pharmaceutical industry, one of the most pertinent for commercial functions is the rising cost and inflexibility of marketing operations. Don’t be slow to start thinking about how you can use technology and measurement to streamline and restructure the way you approach market – it’ll be what determines market leaders over the next 5 years. 

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