The term “tech company” conjures visions of companies like Google, with futuristic campuses abounding with brilliant eccentrics. But what really is a tech company? According to Wikipedia:

A technology company (often tech company) is a type of business entity that focuses primarily on the development and manufacturing of technology. IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and others are considered prototypical technology companies.

This quote struck me, especially “the development and manufacturing of technology”. So let’s break down what is considered to be “technology” — again, I look to Wikipedia:

…the collection of techniques, methods or processes used in the production of goods or services or in the accomplishment of objectives, such as scientific investigation…

Do you see where I’m going with this? When you read these descriptions, they sound awfully similar to pharmaceuticals and pharmaceutical companies. I would argue that pharma is merely a connotation away from actually being a big-tech industry.

You may say that big pharma is a scrappy tech industry with a unique problem. We have the drive and resources to research and develop life-altering drugs — but one of our biggest issues is that customers regularly refuse to take them.

Imagine if people spent money to buy a new phone with a specific phone plan, but after a few months, many were allowed to cancel their plans because they were unhappy. It would be difficult for manufacturers to justify the continual development of new phones under these conditions.

I’m not suggesting that pharma lock patients into prescription contracts, but perhaps the industry has been using technology in the wrong ways. Approaches in pharma all too often tack technology onto existing business models and just hope the blockbuster results will follow. Rather than focusing on using it to improve processes or invent new channels to reach prospective customers, I argue that we need to use technology to improve customer experiences in unique and deliberate ways.

The other day I was speaking with a colleague who’d recently started using American Express for Business and was blown away by its technology-driven features. She was like a kid in a toy store for the first time. I asked what had caused her to switch and was surprised to learn that those features — which inspired such enthusiasm — hadn’t even been part of her rationale. She’d only heard about the billing and cash-back offerings — those drier, less joy-inspiring facets of the business.

Another example is Dr. Scholl’s. They’ve set up custom-fit, in-store kiosks to map a customer’s foot to determine the best shoe insert for them. It isn’t to promote a new product — the same inserts hang on the same racks. It isn’t a communication vehicle to allow customers to discuss their foot comfort. It’s technology that can enhance the consumer’s experience and make it easier and more fun to engage with the company and its products.

Perhaps the greatest opportunity for applying technology in pharma is to create a magical customer experience.

Perhaps the greatest opportunity for applying technology in pharma is to create a magical customer experience. It may sound un-businesslike, but technology so good it feels like magic is what drives the highest growth in companies. Think about how it felt just plain fun the first time you used your phone to deposit a check, got instant public transit information in a new city, were reminded by your house that you’d left your front door unlocked, or Skyped with a faraway relative. None of those features are the primary purpose of their products, but they drive engagement, delight and future purchases.

What can pharma do to create magical experiences for our customers? Will you be the one to create it?