“You Have To Be A Lemon Coke, Not A Regular Coke”: Lilly Global CMO

“You Have To Be A Lemon Coke, Not A Regular Coke”: Lilly Global CMO

Rob Brown, Global CMO of pharmaceutical company Lilly, has seen a change in his role over the last nine years of building and leading the business’s marketing capabilities.

Catriona Hay
Posted by Catriona Hay

Speaking to B&T this morning at Dreamforce in San Francisco, Brown said that in his function as CMO, he used to spend the vast majority of his time with the science and the development of drugs. Now he spends at least a quarter of his time and meetings with the IT team.

He’s found that the type of IT people they are hiring need to be different, but that the type of marketing people have to be different too.

“You have to be a marketer with a twist. You have to be a lemon coke, not regular coke,” he said.

A new approach to technology

Technology firms can appear to bombard CMOs with the latest product, all with the promise of solving all their problems. Lilly have taken a new approach to technology on-boarding since the summer of this year.

Brown shared that they kept finding they were behind the curve when it came to technology for the business.

Fortunately, their consumer audience is a bit older so they don’t tend to be the early adopters of technology anyway. This gives them enough leeway to catch up.

This year Lilly set up three technology centres across three continents (The US, Europe and Asia) and they bring in people outside of the business with technology capability like Torchlight and Salesforce to test and trial new technologies before considering whether they could be relevant to the entire business.

The Lilly CMO describes it as a “cog in the wheel” which helps them learn before making a large investment in new technology whether it will work for their audience in a heavily regulated pharmaceutical industry.

It also helps them make quicker and better decisions; a decision like which channels they should live in and which are more research-based. For example, social advertising is too hard with all of the regulations in the pharmaceutical industry but it’s a great learning channel for Lilly.

Brown warned that “we have to be careful about not letting technology drive play. You can’t be the dog in the movie Up and get distracted following the balloons.”

In his experience, the technologists often get excited about shiny new toys. As the CMO, the only thing Brown cares about is finding a solution to a problem he has. Business led outcomes are key rather than the latest technology.

By focusing in this way, you “get rid of all the clutter”. This keeps Lilly out of a lot of things but that’s ok. Not every solution works in every industry.