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Smart Thinking blog

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

Launch leaders' blog part 3

How can launch leaders innovate?

2020 has been a tumultuous year on so many fronts and has also stimulated so much innovation across different teams, functions and disease areas as our industry jumps into a new way of working in the ‘next normal’.

There are some wonderful examples of multi-brand, multi- country innovation across our industry as we strive to do things better and solve problems, with the ultimate goal of improving the lives of patients. Don’t forget to tune in to the PMEA awards’ virtual ceremony on the 25 November 2020 where the finalists and winner of the PMEA Innovation category will be announced.

In recent months I have been doing a good deal of work with teams who are working on how to innovate, evolve and transform in different ways to launch their medicines successfully. It’s really thought-provoking and rewarding work!

So what do we mean by innovation? I like to think of three different types of innovation:

  1. Incremental innovation – utilising existing technology, processes and capabilities to deliver small stepwise improvements
  2. Disruptive innovation – where a smaller company/player with fewer resources is able to successfully challenge incumbent businesses
  3. Radical innovation – new industries, products, services or processes that are transformative.

A launch leader will be best served to deliver an innovative launch with the right internal environment. In his book ‘Be Less Zombie’, Elvin Turner identifies that organisations which are highly innovative will have processes, capabilities, leadership, culture and resourcing dedicated to supporting innovation.

We could all do with being a bit ‘less zombie’ in our launches, but in practice that’s easier to say than to carry out in reality. Tight timelines, low levels of resourcing, complicated external environments, changing product profiles and complex internal stakeholders are just a few of the challenges that a launch leader has to navigate.

So which companies are winning at innovation in 2020? Forbes’ most innovative companies in 2020 has Siemens, J&J, Bayer and Novartis in its top 50. However, if we look at the other companies across tech, social media, devices, diagnostics and more, many of the top 50 companies
have a significant interest in healthcare.

So, if you’re a launch leader and thinking about how you can innovate across the different strategic elements of launch, I’d like to propose a ‘ten Ps’ framework (yes, Ps are well used in business practice). Consider the following ten Ps to give you some stimulus to identify two or three (but no more) areas to innovate across your launch: Price, Partnership, Physical Evidence, Patient, Place, People, Processes, Product, Personalisation, Promotion. Run a workshop with your cross-functional launch team and see where their collective creativity, expertise and energy takes you!

I’m also asked other questions, such as ‘Are there truly innovative people and less innovative people?’ and ‘How do we build innovation skills within our launch team?’ Research into innovation highlights the five key skills of an innovator: associating, observing, experimenting, questioning, networking (The Innovators’ DNA, INSEAD). The recommendation in this great study into innovation is that we can all rehearse, hone and use our innovation skills in our roles with a little bit of discipline and effort. So what does this mean in practice?

If you’re a launch leader and keen to foster capabilities and a culture of innovation, there are lots of things you can do:


1. Spend some time as a cross-functional launch team to reflect, plan and implement innovation initiatives

2. Track what the competition is doing to be innovative in your therapy area, category or sector

3. Create reward and recognition schemes for the innovators in your launch team

4. Plug into internal and external networks for practical sources of ideas on innovation

5. Give yourself some protected time to ‘be innovative’ – to think, plan, read, play around with an idea or problem

6. Hire great agencies and partners that offer new ideas and capabilities, and be careful not to shut down their innovative ideas.

I’m so excited to see brand and launch teams across countries defining problems or pain points, devising solutions and then testing/evaluating them. Whether you have a company innovation team or hub, retreat or hackathon – just go for it! Innovation is a core ingredient of a successful launch.

There are some great models, articles and resources if you are inspired to be more innovative. My favourites are Frugal Innovation and ‘Be Less Zombie’, but I’d love to hear from you too. Message me on LinkedIn.

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

3rd December 2020

From: Marketing

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