4 obstacles to customer centric brand planning in pharma

by Phil McNamara

While pharmaceutical companies strive to be customer and patient-centric, in reality, many organisations are set up around a brand-centric view of the world. This approach is becoming increasingly challenging however, due to a new landscape filled with greater competition, more rapid drug developments, and dramatic changes in how healthcare professionals (HCPs) want to be engaged. How can pharma evolve the brand planning process to become truly customer centric rather than oriented around the brand itself?

Competition in the pharmaceutical market is intensifying as patents expire on more products and new launches have smaller patient pools in niche therapy areas. This changed environment has led to increased competition from generic drug manufacturers and increased cost pressure from buyers – both of which have combined to tighten margins for most across the sector.

The rise of digital has been a double-edged sword with significant opportunities and threats introduced through new and emerging channels. Demand for face-to-face meetings is diminishing as HCPs become more sophisticated thanks to an increasingly complex decision-making process.

While it’s important for pharma companies to reorient their brand planning strategies around the customer, the following four challenges ultimately stand in the way of success.

1) Increasingly complex planning processes

Thanks to the evolution of technology and customer needs, the brand planning process has become even more complicated, elongated and often separated from financial planning processes. Primary drivers of this change are increasingly time poor HCPs reducing face-to-face access for sales reps, as well as the rise of HCP’s multichannel expectations.

Best practice solutions: 

To come out ahead of the competition, pharma companies should evolve from their heavy reliance on face-to-face sales channels. Instead, they need to shift to an integrated multi-channel approach that engages with HCPs in the most effective and cost-efficient way.

Pharma companies should also be leveraging robust market insights to gain clarity on the competitive landscape of the brand. Business leaders will need to understand and apply key personas for both the HCP and patient journey within their multi-channel brand strategy. Finally, an aligned message and content strategy is required, including the build, deployment and degree of personalisation to support the brand planning process.

2) Inconsistencies between strategic objectives & functional tactics

When creating the overarching strategic initiatives of the brand strategy, what does this mean for functions such as marketing, sales and medical at an operational level and the actual tactics that drive these functions’ individual goals? Traditionally, pharma has seen a lack of metrics and accountability cascaded from the global strategy to the functional and individual level. Too often ‘last year’s plan’ becomes the starting point for tactics, ultimately impacting the effectiveness of the ‘signed off’ brand strategy.

Best practice solutions: 

We recommend three key steps to effectively align brand strategy and tactics:

  • Define explicit, measurable outcomes for each strategic imperative
  • Set out clear, measurable lead and lag metrics which can track progress of the brand plan at both a strategic and tactical level
  • Ensure the strategic brand plan converts to functional operational plans

3) Inefficiencies of a functional silo mentality remain

A combination of traditional functional hierarchies and an ever-growing list of compliance protocols makes it even more difficult to achieve an aligned, coordinated and customer-oriented approach to brand planning.

Silo thinking within the brand planning process will lead to isolated initiatives and tactics, and will not deliver optimal use of resources against the defined strategy.

Best practice solutions:

Business leaders should be focused on how to get cross-functional engagement, with clarity around who will own the different initiatives and how the success of those initiatives will be measured.

Pharma should move from an internally-focused strategic perspective around what the company itself should do. A better approach is to examine what the drivers are from the customer’s decision-making angle. Consider which factors are important from their point of view and how the organisation as a whole can support the customer through the prescribing continuum.

Finally, to break through the traditional silo mentality, business leaders have to ensure appropriate levels of engagement and buy-in from their functional areas (market access, marketing, medical and sales), through the brand planning process. An engaging frontline plan is also essential to inspire functional teams via clear collective and individual actions.

4) Friction between global and local needs

The difference in global ‘consistency’ versus affiliate ‘fit for purpose’ needs has been amplified in a world that is more oriented around individualised customer/patient outcomes, as pharma organisations seek to reduce costs in their go-to-market approach.

At the global level, pharma companies are more progressive when creating brand plans and providing support at regional and country levels to achieve these goals. However, as these brand initiatives filter down to the country level, there may be resistance especially when the global strategy is seen as something not fit for purpose around that country’s individual needs.

Best practice solutions:

‘Freedom within boundaries’ is the best practice approach to accommodate local nuances at an affiliate level. Brand planning templates should be there to guide and encourage the breadth and robustness of strategic thinking, rather than becoming a ‘tick box’ exercise to appease the global/regional sign off process. A compelling story is needed from strategic planning through to tactical execution to drive consistency and effectiveness at all levels and across functions.

Reorienting around the customer

With the right forethought and planning around both strategy and tactics, pharma companies can complete the brand planning process in a more customer centric manner. By refocusing on the HCP and patient journey, pharma can ensure alignment across functional silos as well as global, regional and affiliate leaders. This will result in a multi-channel strategy which has a higher chance of breaking through to today’s more sophisticated HCP.

Find out more:

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