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COVID-proof: How Teams are Creating Launch Intensity thru Adversity

Now that the game has changed, how are marketers shifting their launch behaviour? We've identified 5 common observations from effective teams.


Teams who dare, are investing in approaches that leverage behavioural design to inform personalisation and achieve digital enablement as crucial to future launch success in the post-COVID world. Read on...


Growing competition, pricing pressures, and shifting expectations of stakeholders has meant that launches have failed to meet forecasts. Now, with 400 product launches and new indications anticipated in the coming year, COVID has only sought to further complicate this challenge.

Over the last 10 years, up to 40% of drug launches have failed to achieve initial forecasts. 

Some companies have delayed launching. Regulatory and supply challenges have affected others. During COVID, the median interval between approval and first scripts had increased more than threefold to almost 2 months. COVID’s impact on financial performance is estimated to be a 9% decrease in launch drug value - an overall loss of $10 billion globally.


There are clear shifts in how HCPs engage. There’s been a huge reduction in sales force access to HCPs. In response, there’s been accelerated growth in the adoption of digital by HCPs in interactions with patients and pharma.

There's been a 70% reduction in access for sales teams to HCPs, across healthcare companies

So, whilst ongoing engagement is evolving, the traditional launch model will need to rapidly adapt to the new post-COVID normal. Access challenges will remain, so a strong digital launch, based on a strong foundation of access and consent, will be vital in the new engagement landscape.

To do that, launch engagement needs to be meticulously planned to empower a new approach: one that is carefully designed around behaviour and employing digital methods to personalise engagement wherever possible.


Generally speaking, companies appear to view launching in one of 2 ways:

  • the brave see them as an opportunity (even necessity) to try new methods to connect and differentiate in the minds of prescribers
  • the cautious view launch assets as far too valuable to experiment with
Given the uncertainties triggered by the pandemic and the shift in physicians’ behaviour - does pharma really have a choice when it comes to changing launch behaviour?

Our recent experiences suggest that leaders looking for a new way to launch are focused on five measures. We outline each of these five factors in greater detail below.

Make it behaviour-based & forward thinking

If COVID has changed the game, we need to shift the way we think. That means understanding how our audiences NOW think.

In the past, ATUs promised to inform pharma on how physicians makes choices to initiate and continue new therapies. By adding more tracking data sets, we’re told more insights can be gathered about how retrospective choices were made.

As our understanding of behaviour increases, we’ve developed approaches that can reveal the underlying drivers of physician and patient choices.

These new methods, break away from conventions & habits of traditional research data to provide a science-based, prospective breakdown of how physicians are influenced today.

This provides the capability to develop agnostic profiles - segmentation based on data to help identify and target early adopters, informing content, channels, experiences that aim to accelerate early momentum.

Make it data-based & focused on early adoption

COVID has forced change upon launch teams. The days of relying on holding calls and conversations in hospital corridors are now gone. Instead, all engagement now needs to be scheduled, meaning it has to be on the terms of the HCP meaning they need to see immediate value.

Mapping launch engagement requires that we connect our strategy up on high, to activity implementation on the ground. This we achieve by understanding the underlying drivers, barriers, influences of target segments, informing how we achieve value in their eyes.

A clear and consistent planning approach is needed to ensure the ‘red thread’ runs through all launch intentions: profiling prioritised audiences informing optimised narratives and content connecting through priority channels. All phased to evolve over the launch period from the burden urgency to eventually build product belief.

In targeting early adopters, teams generate initial case examples to convince those physicians who depend on the experience of others to gain the confidence they need to start trialling themselves. 

By focusing on the drivers of progressive thinkers, there’s an ability to create accelerated adoption.

Make it personal, be prolific and centralise it

With face to face access limited, and HCPs’ wanting information on their terms, we need to make our digital presence and relevant and compelling as we can.

As we introduce new treatment alternatives, establishing belief as well as awareness of product data will be vital. The initial demand may well be to convince physicians on the urgency for change. As a result, much of our content, needs to be relevant context about the current burden of disease. Many of the authors or convincing voices will be trusted, progressive third parties, not the marketing department.

Effective content strategy recognises that every piece of content you create is an opportunity to bring a new lead closer to prescribing or to inspire an existing prescriber to take action.

Basing content on an undifferentiated ‘average physician’ will result in limited impact in the quest for early momentum. Instead, through clear profiling, we can streamline our content strategy to meet the individual needs of our audience, informing what we deliver to them and where we route them to. This ensures that the launch experience is personalised to address the drivers and barriers of prioritised targets.

Convincing early adopters to see the urgency of change, demands more than awareness of our data. Effective teams explore all content options to engage audiences with what matters most to them. The more context provided for why new options are needed, before introducing product messaging, the closer we bring them without frightening them off (by messaging on the product too soon).

Launch teams need to be prolific, preparing a diverse library of content modules well in advance, to be able to deploy in an agile manner, adapting where necessary.

Support patient needs, overcome potential patient delays

It’s well documented that patients are delaying presentation, either because they are concerned about infection risk, or to avoid adding to the physician’s burden. Similarly, physicians are conscious of being efficient with time.

Launches of course represent a time challenge. Once physicians get comfortable with the product, they then need to support the patient to onboard and be enabled to be vigilant to any unwanted complications.

Together, these concerns can dramatically slow down launch intensity.

By providing patient with support to onboard, part of the burden on a physician can be lifted, releasing one of the brakes on launch. 

Video conferencing medical consultations has reduced in-person visits to hospitals, limiting exposure for healthcare professionals and patients. Intelligent virtual assistants have also proven their value during the pandemic to reduce the burden in the healthcare system for monitoring and consulting the public.

78% of patients were interested in being able to choose between in-person and virtual care options.

Chatbots and voice assistants (VA e.g. Amazon Alexa) are popular examples. Both enable communications with patients through rule-based algorithms or machine learning, with VAs primarily engaging users through voice interface and chatbots through text. Responsive companies have been stepping in to facilitate such inter­actions.

Infusions and injections can also present significant complications during COVID. Resourceful companies have expanded their relationships with home care companies, to provide ‘at-home treatment’ that is supported and managed through an app, that can provide a live window into the patient’s care for the managing physician.

Brand teams have partnered with tech developers and regulators, ensuring that their company is familiar with all guidelines for implementing voice assistants.

Be connected, cross-functional, and be agile

For marketers to truly understand their markets and be able create effective launch experiences, they need a continuous flow of accurate data and behaviours flowing through their marketing ecosystem. It should empower regional heads to fine-tune the launch approach, through targeting and engagement planning in response to the data and insights they collect in country.

Approaches that prove effective can be scaled up across broader geographies, while ineffective campaigns can be replaced with new campaigns that are tested and, in turn, refined or replaced as needed based on their results.

Teams can share best practices or make suggestions by aggregating data on the success rate of different approaches across target segments.

Consequently, launch engagement plans can be updated to ensure that insights and opportunities are fully captured. To manage this process and experiment with new thinking, some companies have established agile operating model to be able to analyse launch performance in real time. Where insights of significance are revealed, they’re able to quickly disseminate data cross-functionally to optimise launch campaigns / messaging.


The disturbance and confusion of the past few months has challenged launch teams to rethink their launch planning - to make adjustments and try new methods, or to simply delay until conditions improve.

Moving forward, should pharma act to adjust their launch model or wait to see how things settle post-COVID? This brings us back to the brave and the not-so-brave approach to launch.

With the ongoing pressure to deliver shareholder value through the launch of new drugs, adversity is forcing companies to experiment with new approaches without disrupting their entire model.

Becoming a leader in digital connectivity will be a key part of this and involves upskilling. And, whilst learning and development might not seem a priority right now, those that do will ready for post-COVID opportunities that demand strong digital behaviours across the business. 

They will have learnings, tools and processes that leave them well placed for the new normal, having adopted these methods over time into their existing model, reshaping the commercial approach of the organisation.


New drug launches stalled by COVID-19 pandemic.

Impact of COVID-19 on Pharmaceuticals Market Size, Share & Industry Analysis.

Ready for launch: Reshaping pharma’s strategy in the next normal.

Readiness for voice assistants to support healthcare delivery during a health crisis and pandemic.

COVID-19: UK industry focus – Where next for pharma and life sciences?

4th May 2021



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