Launching and growing a pharma product in disrupted times

Pulse Issue 10 2021

"Launching and growing a pharma product in disrupted times"

It’s a brave new world for pharmaceutical product launches, and a challenge to keep existing products in front of healthcare professionals and patients.

Traditional launch activities, such as visiting healthcare professionals or launch events at conferences, have either gone, or have evolved significantly to hybrid formats. Pharmaceutical marketers must now rethink how to launch and keep momentum alive in this new reality; a hybrid world where in-person interactions are reduced and digital activities are filling the gap.

Here are four steps to launch effectively and support your brand during the product lifecycle.

1. Preparation

Healthcare professional and end-patient ‘customer journeys’ have radically changed. The way to reach them – at the right time, with the right message and with the right frequency – has also changed. Research is key. There is no substitute for effective pre-launch preparation. Closely examine the market, your competitors, and your customers.

Focus on your product’s point-of-difference, how it can be positioned in the segment and, critically, what it means for healthcare professionals and patients. For example, if you were launching an oncology product today, it would be critical to focus on the differentiators, impact to clinical practice, and ultimately, patients’ lives – particularly the benefits it uniquely offers, both medical and emotional.

Create insightful communication experiences that meet your customers ‘where they are’ and make it easy for them to be taken on a journey with you. Put your customer at the centre of your communications to develop integrated and effective plans.

As one approach, Bastion Brands’ Stand, Story, Strategy formula is an effective way to develop a robust strategy and implementation plan for a brand. This ‘science and emotion’ branding methodology helps align your product in context so you can launch effectively, no matter the environment.

2. Launch

Focus on the critical success factors that are actionable, aligned, and realistic for your product launch.

In our oncology example, instead of taking a broad approach, you can be more targeted and appeal to cancer researchers and educators. This has a positive follow-on effect on oncologists, and related healthcare professionals. Collaborate with key opinion leaders in the right therapeutic areas to advocate the data that supports the product.

Many of the traditional pathways to launch have changed. It’s therefore important for pharmaceutical brands to consider the best way to secure engagement through an omnichannel approach. Our research over the past three years, Trends in Pharma Marketing survey, has consistently shown that respondents rate their omnichannel marketing capability as ‘very important’ (8 on a scale of 10), but that execution leaves much to be desired due to tepid effectiveness (around 5-6 on a scale of 10).

Omnichannel marketing requires consistent messaging through multiple channels to reach stakeholders. This means it’s critical to effectively use the latest technology and ‘outside-the-box’ content ideas to create memorable brand experiences.

Elements may include:
> Key opinion leader mapping within therapy areas
> Customer journey mapping
> Patient case studies
> Owned and paid media materials
> Internal and external launch materials
> Virtual product launch meetings
> Steering committee-led medical education webinars
> Remote learning opportunities; and
> Continuing professional development accreditation and peak body consultation.

3. Acceleration

This phase is probably the most difficult in the current climate considering the advent of communication fatigue. Nevertheless, it’s critical to keep your product’s point-of-difference front of mind with your key stakeholders, and to ensure your communications stand out from the crowd.

Drive the uptake of your product post-launch by leveraging advocates, optimising marketing materials and building the next chapter in your brand’s story. Perhaps take a hybrid approach: in some locations it may be safe to hold a conference where some people attend in person, and those who are unable to – attend virtually.

Be sure to revise marketing materials, including advertising and advertorials. Consider the changing information needs of your customers in the months after a launch. Continually evolve your understanding of customers and step up your messaging to revitalise the presentation of your product offering.

You can also adapt the scope of your campaign. If you’ve started with a mass digital approach, what could you do to add a personal, tangible touch? Service offerings ‘beyond-the-pill’ are hugely effective here and keep you differentiated and relevant.

4. Maximisation

By this stage, you will have gathered data and insights from the first few months of your campaign. This is the point at which you should use what you have learnt to maximise opportunities and profitability in a mature market.

Some of this depends on risk appetite. If you have started the campaign by focusing on one segment of the market, for example the cancer researchers and educators, you can broaden your scope to include healthcare professionals and cancer patients. In this case you can recontextualise the narrative of your campaign to be more inclusive.

Another tactic is to find complementary areas to shift the perception of your product. For instance, if your product is pharmaceutical, you are likely to have focused on highlighting the medical benefits. Now is the time to consider including more emotional storytelling such as sharing clinical experiences, real-world case studies, and patient testimonials.

Pharmaceutical marketers are operating in a dynamic market where healthcare professional and patient behaviour is increasingly unpredictable. All products need thorough preparation to identify the right communications strategy for launch before you navigate through the acceleration and maximisation phases of the lifecycle.

Simon Davies


Dan King

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We are always interested in hearing from great people dedicated to making a career in pharmaceutical communications. If you’re ready to make a positive impact with Bastion Brands, get in touch today.