Skip to main content Skip to Footer


Q&A: Kevin Guerette, Executive​ Director Global Commercial Operations, AstraZeneca

Kevin Guerette explains the how Harry Potter generation is changing the digital strategy for the life sciences industry.

What do you enjoy most about working in the life sciences industry?

Even though I’m on the operations side of the business, I really feel that I’m working for a noble cause. Our mission is to discover and launch innovative medicines that meet a current unmet need and ultimately have an impact on patient health. Our R&D organization has responded and set a course to meet the bold ambition that by 2020, AstraZeneca will be a recognized leader in our disease areas, bringing 10 new medicines to patients.

I’m particularly proud of the work AstraZeneca does in oncology, cardiovascular, metabolic, respiratory, inflammation and autoimmune diseases. The innovative science that we can bring to the patient is incredible. One of my most memorable experiences was attending an Ovarian Masterclass at Gustave Roussy in Paris. I had the opportunity to see firsthand the difference that AZ’s products can make in the lives of women with ovarian cancer. New breakthroughs in testing and treating ovarian cancer have helped extend average survival rates from this fatal disease. I feel lucky to work in an industry with such a noble cause.

How do you foresee digital changing the way pharmaceutical companies connect and interface with consumers/patients?

Through digital channels, patients have significantly more and better access to information about their health—including everything from products to services and communities who are facing similar health issues. As a result, patients are becoming much more proactive in their own healthcare and making more informed and holistic decisions. This has huge implications for pharmaceutical companies to figure out the best way to reach health care providers and patients in the way they want to be reached with the content, services and information that are meaningful and useful to them. Our pipeline of specialty or precision medicines will require precision marketing. Externally, our customers today live in a hyper-connected world and the proliferation of low cost devices will only act to add huge new customer groups in the developing markets to that connected world, creating new expectations.

How important is digital to AstraZeneca achieving its goal to “make a meaningful difference in people’s lives”?

It is more than “digital” and a focus on a “digital” strategy. It is a fundamental shift and a focus on a business strategy in an ever connected world. One of AZ’s bold ambitions is to improve the lives of 200 million patients by 2025. One of the many ways we can reach that many patients and have that level of impact is to take advantage of digital and all it has to offer, particularly the ability to engage with patients and customers. We need to act now to be in position to meet the internal and external demands required to reach the 200 million patients that will fulfill our bold ambition.

Digital lets us provide information where and when customers need it and it lets us listen to their wants and preferences. But one thing to remember in this digital world is that the half-life of content has been reduced from months to hours. People today expect content to be unbiased and up-to-date and most importantly relevant.

Content is king. There’s no getting around it.

How does digital content fit into the broader digital strategy?

Content is king. There’s no getting around it. Whether we create content ourselves, curate it from other trusted sources or look at content syndication through sites such as Medscape, the most important questions we have to answer are “What do our customers want?” and “How can we provide it to them?”

Thinking about how that fits into our broader digital strategy, I’d have to say it’s about enterprise thinking and that must begin with alignment on global accountabilities verses the local market accountabilities. There is a significant overlap in many areas that prevent us from better addressing our customer expectations and delivering efficiencies. Promotional asset production is a great example. The evidence would suggest that there is significant redundancy across the markets that does not create a difference in the market but merely increases costs. At AstraZeneca, we’ve discovered commonalities across many different business units within the organization. For example, when we looked at the safety of products and how we communicated that, we found that safety information was being created independently for each geographic area. It makes much more sense to centralize that content creation—creating the content just once and then distributing it to the different groups.

If you could invent one new digital solution, what would it be?

I’m not sure we need a new digital solution as such, but I do think we need to stop looking at digital as a strategy in and of itself. Instead, we need to see digital as part of our “business strategy.” We need to strengthen our mobile and social strategies if we want to remain relevant in the connected world of our customers. "Mobile" no longer describes just customers’ devices, it describes customers’ behavior.

For example, right now we’re in the enviable position of potentially launching 10 new products over the next 5 years. In the past that would have put a tremendous pressure on our resources, but by including digital as part of our overall business strategy, and by choosing strong strategic partners (like Accenture) we are finding ways to become more efficient, nimble and freeing up the resources we need to focus on delivering these medicines for patients.

How do you see brand managers’ jobs changing over the next two to three years?

Brand managers are going to have to learn to think at the enterprise level and focus on strategy, positioning, story flow and the order of messaging, rather than on the day-to-day tasks of promoting the brand. That will mean centrally creating commonalities or “consistent chapters,” across the organization and centralizing some of those project management and production tasks they’re comfortable with in order to increase efficiencies and reduce redundancies.

It might also mean a behavioral shift in order to be less “brand focused” and more focused on the customer experience. I believe the brand manager role is evolving, and will require enterprise thinking and leadership, a different mindset and a greater degree of collaboration with others across the globe in order to enhance the customer experience.

What types of challenges do life sciences companies face relative to their digital content? How can life sciences companies address these challenges?

I’d say the biggest challenge for life sciences companies will be transitioning from being “mega-brand” focused to more personalized, specialty-aligned, niche products. This means they need to reach a much more a targeted group of customers who are often much more savvy and involved in the decision-making for their health. We recently attended an Accenture innovation session that talked about how we need to figure out how to reach the “Harry Potter generation” who expect “magic to happen” and turn to social media as a primary way of getting and sharing information. This really struck me. It has huge implications for how brand managers will promote our products and services to future generations.

This requires a whole new level of communication with customers, and it means we can no longer assume that our branded portal is where customers will go for information. Instead we need to be more agile and responsive, and find ways to reach the patients who will benefit most from our products and services. I think that if we combine innovative science with the digital technologies that support a connected world, we can meet our goals to make a meaningful difference in patients’ lives.