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The importance of pharma intelligence in setting brand strategy

Looking at the different approaches that can be leveraged to assess the competition

Brand strategy is a critical task that companies must undertake when differentiating products from competitors in the market.

In the pharma industry, brand strategy needs to begin the moment an asset moves into early development, even as early as lead identification from a commercial perspective.

The key to success is to identify the greatest threats and assess them for current or prospective product features that may appeal to prescribers, payers and patients. There are several different approaches that can be leveraged to assess the competition, such as secondary and primary competitive intelligence analyses, competitive simulations and development of target product profiles.

Assessing the competitor landscape

The first step in any competitor landscape assessment is to begin with secondary sources for competitor information. We call it ‘information’, because intelligence includes insights and foresights about the information. The pharma industry market is ideal for gathering information on competitors within a given therapeutic area. There are regulatory layers that require disclosures, long development timelines and a large amount of analyst coverage.

In addition to numerous original sources for gathering competitor information (eg, company websites, clinical trial registries, etc), many subscription services aggregate competitor asset information. No other industry will provide the breadth and depth of available information that can be leveraged to assess the competitive environment.

Intelligence derived from secondary sources can be converted into intelligence through analyses to assess development timelines, filings, approvals and launches, as well as assessments of product differentiation and weaknesses. A good composite analysis will include a timeline landscape that maps all main competitors and includes individual product and product profiles that highlight points of differentiation.

Closing knowledge gaps

Secondary research efforts will plateau in terms of what can be learned about a group of competitors with knowledge gaps that must be closed before full insight development can be achieved. In these cases, brand teams often close the gaps through primary competitive intelligence (CI). Primary CI is gathered through verbal interactions with sources that are aware of publicly disclosed information that cannot be accessed via electronic means.

This can also include information shared at industry- sponsored events (eg, working lunches), where information is disclosed outside the context of confidentiality disclosure agreements. Except for industry participation in medical and scientific conferences, where it is reasonable to expect to see participants in open dialogue, most primary intelligence is not gathered by pharma company employees.

The accepted approach for essentially all primary CI is mediated via agencies that can act on behalf of their clients to conduct the research. The process involves the development of key intelligence topics (KITs) and questions (KIQs) that can close the knowledge gaps if answered correctly. For their part, agencies notify targeted interviewees that they are conducting research on behalf of a (unnamed) client, and they remind them to stay true to their confidentiality agreements.

Interviewers also avoid asking the actual KITs and KIQs and instead use elicitation methods to learn what they seek to reveal. Through the course of their conversations, they listen for answers to the lists of KITs and KIQs, but their elicitation methodology will not, in and of itself, cause an inducement to break confidentiality. In addition, no remuneration can be offered to interview sources, as this would constitute a form of induction.

Even within this context, primary CI is extremely informative and can make significant progress in closing knowledge gaps and offer significant time advantages. In this way, the insights that can be generated through a combination of both primary and secondary competitive analyses can lead to greater insights and enable more accurate predictions of competitor moves and assessments of competitor asset profiles.

Internal strategies and decisions

Once a brand team has amassed enough information about all of its competitors in the market and in development, it is time to generate the insights that inform internal strategies and decisions. One of the most powerful tools for accomplishing this is the construction of a target product profile (TPP).

A TPP is comprised of a side-by-side listing of product and candidate characteristics that describe essentially everything that is required to define its potential in the marketplace. It is important to include the brand team’s own assets (product or pipeline) in this process that can be compared head-to-head vs the competitors. The analysis begins with an assessment of what must be included (and excluded) in the comparisons.

The first level of insights has to do with determining what constitutes a viable competitor and what can be set aside or grouped as a class. For each asset in the TPP, there should be a similar list of characteristics that need to be included in the analysis. These include time to launch, dosing, key efficacy parameters (each key endpoint listed and scored separately), adverse event and safety measures, potential for food or drug-drug interactions, as well as any definable characteristic that would contribute to a decision to select one therapy over another.

Key to success with a TPP analysis is inclusion of one’s own assets, along with assessment of all similar parameters. Insights that come from TPP analyses can inform assessments of how competitors plan to launch and market their assets down to the level of messaging and detailing.

Understanding the competition

Even with a fully completed TPP in hand, many brand teams struggle to agree on how competitors will commercialise and inform people about their products. The key to success for any brand team is to have a shared understanding of the competitors’ likely actions and efforts to inform and influence for increased market share.

One of the most powerful tools to come to an agreed understanding of the competition is to conduct a competitive simulation (CS), which is sometimes called a war game. A decision to engage in a CS is usually triggered by a pending market event, which could include a launch or competitor launch, release of new clinical data, or anything with potential to influence the balance of market share of a brand team’s own product.

The essence of a CS is to bring together a broader group of internal subject matter experts (SMEs) from various functions across marketing, market research, market access and pricing, clinical, regulatory and manufacturing. Teams are provided in advance with a briefing package that includes the completive landscape, competitor asset profiles and TPP.

The workshop, which can include up to four teams comprised of six to eight SMEs, begins with a level-setting on the competitive situation and the purpose and intent of the workshop. This is followed by break-out sessions, where each team places themselves in the mindset of the competitor. Each team answers a set of agreed-upon questions that help to define their commercial strategy (relates to launch, reaction to another’s launch, life cycle management, etc).

Answers relate to how competitor brands can appeal to patients, physicians and payers. They identify opportunities to gain market share, as well as addressable gaps that may help to reveal future efforts and events designed to ensure market success. After one or more rounds of ideating as the competitor, as well as sharing of the insights that have been derived from the exercise, teams reconvene and use the competitor learnings to help define a best course of action (strategy and tactics) that are better guaranteed to bring success.

To succeed in the competitor phase, it is key to set aside one’s own company and brand and immerse in the thinking of the competitor – a competitor intent on winning in the marketplace. To succeed in the final phase, it is key to accept the predicted realities of competitors’ future actions and plan a best strategy with an intent to win.

Where commercial strategy is critical to product success, it is vital to have a current understanding of the competition with likely scenarios that point to the future. Companies that remember this and execute well in the four categories (primary CI, secondary CI, TPP and CS) assure the greatest odds of success. Those that don’t should reconsider their intelligence strategies.

The author thanks Rachel Reichmann and Caroline Schaufelberger (Lifescience Dynamics) for assistance in drafting this article.

Alfred Reszka is Chief Business Officer of LifeScience Dynamics

5th October 2020

Alfred Reszka is Chief Business Officer of LifeScience Dynamics

5th October 2020

From: Marketing


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