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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Pharma marketers' blog: on your marks, get set...brand plan!

An upfront investment of thinking and investigating will enable a sharper focus on the issues that really matter

It is fast approaching ‘that’ time of year. The period of the year when the timings for the brand planning process are shared, when the words ‘insight’, ‘SWOT’, ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’ start appearing as the subject line of emails and when diaries begin to fill with cross-functional team planning sessions.

However, as a consequence of the pandemic, some teams may feel that they have done nothing but plan, revise and replan over the last 12 months.

Companies, teams and indeed healthcare systems have grappled with the need to adjust, adapt, reinvent and innovate to find ways to do the right thing for healthcare professionals and patients during the global pandemic.

The impact of all this forced change could result in this brand planning ‘season’ 2021 being one of the most important we may ever be involved in. How do we start to plan and prepare? How do we incorporate the ‘new normal’ into our thinking when the lasting changes that we, our customers, our patients and our healthcare systems will bring into this changed situation are still evolving?

I was asked this question recently and my first response was that we will get out what we put in. Although this may sound like a teacher encouraging a reluctant class, this very simple piece of advice could be the difference between teams that add real value and those that struggle with working through the execution of the plan once it is in place.

The simple fact is that we will need to spend time, effort and energy at the start of our thinking and planning to really and truly understand the situation and our customer and patient issues. This investment of investigation, discussion, challenge and questioning will enable us to gain a level of real understanding that will set the tone and direction for the further development of our plans. In our virtual ways of working, it can be tempting to rush through this deeper exploration, but our plans will be poorer for it.

I would advise teams to take these steps:

1. Start with the patients:

The first is connected to the theme of last month’s blog; being patient-centric. Start with the patients in the very first planning discussion, bring them to life and really get to know the changes, challenges and frustrations they are facing and will go on to face.

Another layer to add to this is to examine the equivalent issues and frustrations experienced by your healthcare professional customers. Which aspects are just not working for them?

2. Critically appraise the current plan:

Step 2 has to be a long, hard look at the current plan, and this is often a critical step that many teams miss. As you work through it, challenge yourself and the team to think about the following:

  • How well did the current plan do against the targets for the year? Do you know why?
  • How effective has the strategy been to guide and direct the plan?
  • How well was the plan actioned operationally?
  • What do we know about the customer experience? How successful has this been so far?
  • Which measurements and checks have proven valuable and helped adjust the plan?
  • How does the team feel about the plan? Are engagement levels high?

Once you know more about the current plan, can leverage the learning and have been immersed in the patient’s perspective, you and your team can approach the planning sessions with a deeper level of knowledge and confidence – you know the scale of the challenge.

The third aspect to consider is how we use the time with our teams and the narrative of our plan story – this is all connected
to how we use the ‘planning process’:

3. Flex the process to the key questions to address:

There are often many mandatory elements in planning processes: key deliverable milestones that need to be met, senior management presentations and often a planning template.

All of these elements will drive the planning schedule, but to develop a really robust, differentiated and patient-centric plan it is essential to ensure the thinking and decision-making carried out by the cross- functional team addresses the key questions for the specific patients, customers and brand, not just what the template requires.

  • Ensure there is a good explanation of the ‘why’ behind the data that you include, and that this has been fully investigated and pressure-tested by the team
  • Use the situational analysis, backed up by data, to filter through clear and focused implications
  • Spend time (and slide space!) clearly articulating insights that will allow for a much clearer understanding of the following decisions driving the plan – this allows you to take the team and your audience with you.

All of this upfront investment of thinking and investigating enables a sharper focus on the issues that really matter. It allows the team to fully engage and step out of the ‘heads-down delivery’ mode and project into the future.

The energy and motivation you and your teams will gain from this may be what is needed to drive your plan to the finish line in the best shape possible.

Stephanie Hall is MD of the award-winning brand planning healthcare consultancy Uptake Strategies

3rd June 2021

From: Marketing

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