Never doubt the power of a calcified narrative to warp perception.

You know — “football teams need to establish the run” and the like. These and other ingrained narratives ask us to ignore the data at hand, or sometimes what we see with our own eyes. Most are easily dismissed, but others prompt us to question or change our behavior. As such, they can do real, measurable damage.

Which brings us to one of the prevailing narratives around pharma in recent years: Its presumed reluctance to fully commit to innovation and transformation. The industry, it is often said, won’t act until organizations in other verticals successfully execute a certain type of program or initiative. And even then, many companies would supposedly prefer to wait until somebody else — even a competitor — goes first.

Forget that this ignores the reality that drug discovery is innovation in its purest form. COVID-19 vaccines were a distant wish in March 2020; they were in arms by mid-December. No, it’s pharma and pharma alone that excuses away its reluctance to innovate by pointing to a handful of limiting factors (e.g., “We’re regulated and you’re not”).

This line of reasoning was absurd well before MM+M and Publicis Health decided to gauge the industry’s appetite for digital reinvention in the first-ever Pharma Marketing Transformation Survey. We hoped to provide a snapshot of whether marketers are successfully integrating machine learning and other new and scary (wink, wink) tools into their workflows, and whether they believe these efforts have paid off. In other words, we wanted to bust some myths.

The survey results, alas, were far from definitive. While 68% of respondents said their organizations have the skill sets or capabilities to successfully execute transformation efforts, only 44% believe that healthcare organizations in general have the skill sets/capabilities to succeed in these initiatives. The overarching conclusion: Pharma is headed in the right direction, but is not quite there yet.

The next step is one that — cue flashing ENTRENCHED NARRATIVE sign — pharma has been reluctant to take: naming names. In conversations with MM+M reporters and at industry events, innovation leaders have started to discuss their transformation initiatives in broad terms. What the industry needs is for these leaders to detail, specifically and candidly, where they’ve succeeded and failed.

That will be a story worth telling.