'What a pharmaceutical product campaign looks like in disrupted times'

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Simon Davies, the founder and chief executive of creative health agency Bastion Brands, says the COVID-19 pandemic means the standard launch plan for a pharmaceutical product is no longer viable.

We are operating in disrupted times. The backdrop of a global pandemic has led to a wider range of obstacles for the pharmaceutical industry, among them the government response to COVID with lockdowns and travel limitations in play, and restrictions on in-person contact.

In practice, this means there’s a spotlight on everything COVID-related, while other medical products are struggling for attention, and all this is happening when the standard launch plan for a pharmaceutical product is no longer viable. No visits to healthcare professionals allowed, no conferences to present at, no exhibitions to accelerate your networking.

As a result, we need to create new product campaign phases to launch a product in these disrupted times. The key to all this is not treating it as a temporary fix but part of a suite of tactics that pharmaceutical companies should use and refine over time as we continue to work in a dynamic environment.

The first six months of a campaign is critical to launch the product and gain momentum. Here is how you should handle them.

1. Planning, preparation and point of difference

Effective pre-launch preparation is the foundation of a good campaign. While this is not a new phase, in disrupted times it’s important not to take anything for granted and rely less on market analysis and behavioural insights prior to 2020. That means re-examining what you think you know about the market, your competitors and customers to accommodate changes.

Focus primarily on your product’s point of difference, its ideal position in the market, accounting for competitors’ products and the part it plays in the story of your target market. The pharmaceutical narrative is often quite heavy with the necessary science, so what is required is using emotional beats to balance out the science and hook your intended audience. How do the benefits of your product change patients’ lives? Giving emotional context to the narrative enables you to launch with a point of difference in any environment.

2. Target and launch

In any campaign, there are a group of critical success factors that are focused, actionable, aligned and realistic for that product launch. Start with a targeted approach in a segment that will make the most difference and invest in turning key opinion leaders into advocates to support the data behind the product.

Because many of the tactics we’ve used in previous times are no longer available, pharmaceutical brands should also take an omnichannel approach to their campaign. Use technology and clever content to incite memorable peer-to-peer learning exchanges.

I recommend combining as many of these as you can manage:

  • Key opinion leader mapping within therapy areas;
  • Customer journey mapping;
  • Patient case studies;
  • Owned and paid media;
  • Product launch meetings;
  • Medical education webinars;
  • Remote learning opportunities; and
  • Continuing professional development accreditation and peak body consultation.

3. Gain momentum and accelerate

Be aware that the current environment sees plenty of medical professionals fatigued and suffering from burnout, or at the very least stretched for time with a shorter attention span. When the initial thrill of the new product wanes, it’s crucial to keep your message fresh to gain momentum and accelerate your campaign.

Focus on your point of difference and strengthen your efforts by reiterating this across various channels. This might include leveraging advocates and optimising, revising or adding advertising and marketing materials to revitalise the positioning of your product and develop the next chapter in the brand story.

4. Analyse and expand

Use the first few months of your campaign to collate and analyse data so you have an insight to how your product is tracking in the current climate. This will give you better context so you can then find areas to maximise opportunities and profitability.

At this stage, you may choose to expand your target market or look for complementary areas to shift the perception of your product. You might find certain emotional storytelling such as personal stories, case studies or testimonials work better to shift the balance of the scientific narrative, so you focus on bringing these emotional hooks to the forefront backed by the scientific data.

These disrupted times are a wake-up call for the pharmaceutical industry. Market behaviour is increasingly unpredictable, which means former tactics no longer apply, so brands need to return to foundational principles and combine them with new tools, channels and technology to tell the product story and launch successfully, consistently and regardless of disruption.