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Abcam CDO: the analogue strategy behind a life sciences digital transformation

Yvonne Chien is one of Hot Topics leading Chief Digital Officers, but explains here why it's actually the offline, analogue, experience that compliments her digital strategies.

Rarely does a conversation include such deep and detailed talk of customer behavior offline when discussing the digitization of brands.

Legacy infrastructure within companies is being deleted or updated as digital strategies, led by the Chief Digital Officer (CDO), implement change.

Arguably, digital transformations should focus on digitizing analogue channels.

Yvonne Chien disagrees.

“People who step into the role of CDO quickly realize that the remit involves much more than just the digital scope. To truly transform, you need your company to engage both offline and online channels.

Chien is the CDO of the British biotechnology company Abcam, and after starting her role at the beginning of 2015, was surprised to learn about the cope of her role.

Abcam specializes in supplying protein research tools to life scientists, with a world leading range of 118, 000 antibodies, kits, proteins and other reagents, with bases in Cambridge, UK, San Francisco and Tokyo.

“My remit included the website and the e-commerce elements, digital channels including search and paid media, the brand strategy and marketing, comms, content, PR and events. I’d call it a hybrid role, which reflects the way Abcam has translated not only what digitization means for the company, but also for improving customer experiences.”

Chien had no experience of the life science space, having come into the industry from the media and internet space.”I had very little knowledge about the products themselves.”

It was that lack of experience that gave her an open mind and helped her to accept the many facets of the company she would have to engage with as CDO.

“The first year has really been about laying the foundations of our brand strategy; what we stand for, and how that then translates into a connected customer experience throughout their journey with us.”

That journey however needs both online and offline experience products and services to work seamlessly, she says.

Life sciences as an industry can’t, for the moment, be completely automated or digitized like other technology sectors because of the nature of protein creation and investigation.

Chien made several key investments early on to guarantee that Abcam would benefit from both angles of their digital transformation over the course of her position.

“Infrastructure was my first consideration, whether or not we had the newest systems and capabilities to reinforce our science structures. We also invested in marketing automation, our e-commerce road map and its features, and how those tied into the way we looked at contact marketing; we weaved many elements together to get a better view of the task ahead.”

The combined online and offline approach then needed to convince Abcam as a company.

CDOs tend to face a tricky balancing trick between achieving short term wins for a company, whilst laying the groundwork for future successes too.

Chien thinks that you can waste time worrying over this. ”Although you can keep talking and evangelizing the process, the best method is to just go ahead and do it.”

This is especially true for a life sciences company that hasn’t had much exposure to marketing tactics that are otherwise common in retail or financial services companies.

Both company and CDO were having to discover and learn from each other in order to make the digital improvements that Abcam sought.

After less than 12 months in the role, Abcam then promoted Chien.

Whilst combining offline experience and online services to lay the groundwork of her digital transformation strategy took her six months, Chien’s promotion allowed her to properly combine each channel to service one consumer experience platform, including all of their sales, customer service and scientific support team.

“[Abcam] widened my remit again to cover all customer experience touch points, to take my role and our commitment to this viewpoint to the next level.”

The life sciences company has used Chien’s digital remit to transform the end-to-end consumer experience in an appropriate way for the kind of customers they attract.

Offline experience capabilities aren’t normally so credited within digital future-proofing, and yet Chien explains how she is utilizing both to render their technology investments key to their future.

“Some of the key things we are doing is to make sure that we are putting the most relevant content out there for our customers, personalizing that experience, and thinking about the life cycle of its context. Our scientists require detailed information on their chosen topic, so we create the products that not only help them with their experiments, but how to understand the science behind those experiments.

“Abcam have always been good at providing that, as well as the digital data around the product and research areas, so already we see that we have been engaging with a form of educational inbound-content marketing that needed to be more consumer focused.”

Chien’s strategy compliments Abcam’s overarching journey of a company always in tune with digital channels.

At 15 years old, it’s still relatively young – young enough to have been created at a time when brands were already moving online – and that heritage has always been a part of the company, as Chien iterates.

“In terms of being more digitally-orientated, I think the company has always been aligned that way, more so than competitors, and our challenge now is not about how we begin our digital journey, but more about advancing our current position, and combining that with more human contact and offline experience capabilities.”

CDO strategies have to be sector specific, but Chien and Abcam have decided to approach their future strategies with two contrasting languages, one of the present and near future, and one rapidly disappearing.

Digital transformations undoubtedly require the right digital tools, products, culture and technology, but Chien is convinced that they need analogue techniques to succeed as well.

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