GSK Consumer Healthcare: A digital transformation case study

On day one of the Festival of Marketing 2018, Louise Kristensen, Digital Commerce Director EMEA for GSK Consumer Healthcare, gave us an excellent overview of the company’s ongoing digital transformation.

In the context of consumers taking greater responsibility for, and management of, their health, Kristensen gave some detail about how a “very traditional CPG” is “empowering people to take charge” of their health.

The context: Consumers want experiences

Kristensen began by name-checking some of the competition, brands such as Dollar Shave Club and Amabrush. The latter is an automatic toothbrush that uses toothpaste capsules and Kristensen suggests these entrants to the market indicate that consumers are seeking out superior experiences, regardless of the sector, whether healthcare, entertainment or lifestyle.

At GSK, Kristensen says, the company is also looking to create these “meaningful consumer connections”.

GSK Consumer Healthcare’s three areas of focus

1. Consumer expectation

More and more people are searching for healthcare solutions. 160bn annual health-related searches was the figure cited by Kristensen. And while she admits that “not all of those [searches] are credible sources of information”, the company has to ask “how do we organise ourselves for this? What content do we need?”

2. Consumer journey

Half of sector growth over the next five years will come from ecommerce, according to Kristensen, who says that the consumer increasingly “does not distinguish between online and off-… with 75% of us comparing products on our phones in store.”

As GSK Consumer Healthcare is multidistribution and not direct-to-consumer, the challenge according to Kristensen is “to work with customers and retailers to make sure we are there for moments that matter.”

3. Data

Kristensen believes the data revolution will have a “positive and long-lasting impact on people’s health” and she gave one example of how data is influencing marketing and commerce.

Last year, GSK and its brand Theraflu created a cold and flu tracker for the Russian market. The tracker used search, social and weather data to identify instances of cold and flu across each region in Russia.

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This tool involved content, subject matter experts and product information offered up to the user, and provided the brand with first-party data to enable better targeting of media. Kristensen stated that the tracker tool was much more powerful than the Theraflu brand website had proven previously.

Owning the tech stack

In 2017, GSK partnered with Google to bring data management in-house. Kristensen said this made the company the first consumer healthcare brand to own its full tech stack.

Combined with a framework of KPIs, Kristensen adds that this tech stack is vital to “creating assets at scale” and “buying digital media much more effectively.”

Digital innovation hub & new processes

The healthcare brand now has a digital innovation hub which is global and ensures “proper processes are embedded in the business.” A digital advisory board holds the activities of the hub to account, offering an external and guiding voice.

Kristensen earmarks product sprints and “failing fast” as part of GSK’s new culture. Though she readily admits that in marketing “we hear a lot about ‘fail fast’ and ‘agile’”, she says the brand has a success framework to determine exactly what those terms mean. Ultimately, “if [a project] doesn’t stack up with the three year P&L, that doesn’t mean we won’t do it.”

Revealing, Kristensen also adds, “we’re also getting better at getting rid of things when they don’t work.”


Kristensen shared the following slide with GSK Consumer Healthcare’s four priorities in digital commerce.

Kristensen also gave more detail on each of these points:

1. Upgrade media ROI

GSK is driving financial efficiency from digital media using a holistic approach.

“We have some TV-dominated markets,” say Kristensen, “but it doesn’t mean people aren’t online. So we review the media mix and we’re conscious digital can’t be the first thing we cut when we’re under pressure.

“We have a robust media mix model.”

2. Boost ecommerce with omnichannel tactics

“We’ve had to nail the basics… But they are anything but basic in a big FMCG. We have had to reset [our business] to work with algorithms when we are working with pureplays and bricks and clicks.”

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3. Efficient content

“We can’t just repurpose TV creative… We now have a global digital asset management tool which means smaller markets can take assets and run with them.”

4. Spark disruption

“Our mantra is do and learn. Not test and learn, which implies we can’t do it. We try on the job in small sprints.”

Initiatives such as shark tank funds – panels that approve new project teams –are “fuelling creative spirit internally.”

The FCP ecommerce model

GSK Consumer Healthcare has created the ‘FCP model’, which stands for ‘findability, conversion, performance’.

Kristensen gave some excellent examples of work on each of these fronts, which she said was an effort designed to look good in all channels – in her words “are we happy spending huge amounts on packaging but then look horrendous in the Amazon channel? No.”

One excellent example of ‘findability’ work saw GSK regulatory teams partnering with Digital Commerce and the MHRA to do simple things like change product titles to fit with user search trends on Amazon. Further work allowed star ratings to be used in medicinal advertising on the Amazon platform – something that hasn’t been done before.

Kristensen points to increased spend on Amazon as a sign the company is taking omnichannel commerce seriously, where previously, spend was dedicated to trade partners.

Where does GSK Consumer Healthcare go next?

There was time at the end of Kristensen’s talk to give a nod to the future and the possibility of “becoming CEO of our own bodies” by using new technology to take control of our own healthcare data.

Such a scenario would create great opportunity but also great challenges for GSK. It’s a good job the commerce team is starting now.

Econsultancy will be attending Digital Pharma East October 16-19 in Philadelphia, with our VP Research Stefan Tornquist running a GDPR compliance workshop. Book now using code ‘STEFAN’ to get 15% off standard ticket prices.

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