Bringing customers back to the heart of pharma marketing

Anthony Welch
Anthony Welch
5 Apr 2022
Healthcare professional

When we think typical pharma launch, the focus is all on product or molecule. And it’s no surprise really. After all, it’s rare for a blockbuster to launch into a therapy area without having to fight it out with existing, established brands.

The battle at launch

Who will convince HCPs to choose their brand vs what’s already out there? 

Historically, a brand launch zones in on what a product can do vs competitors. They talk product efficacy, safety, and studies on performance and patient outcomes. All so people believe their product is the one that meets patients’ needs better than competitors.  

A very rational approach and one that makes a hero out of their product.

Rocket launch

But where’s the customer in all this?

This starting point and our heavily regulated, risk adverse industry has led to launches following the status quo.

You know the drill. A brand team creates a website, maybe even some disease awareness ads, a sales aid, or e-detail. Then field teams are sent out to start interacting with their customers to drive the launch. 

But in all this they abandon a fundamental person to the sales process ― the customer.  

Why launches miss market expectations

To understand it all, Deloitte got together some real research on the matter. They studied actual vs expected sales data from US pharma launches between 2012 and 2017.

What did they discover around brands underperforming at launch? 

Limited market access – Lack of coverage, formulary restrictions like step edits, greater than expected expenses on discounts and rebates, or high patient cost-sharing due to unfavourable placement on formulary 

Lack of understanding around market needs – Underestimating challenges in converting customers – prescribers and patients – from existing therapies 

Poor product differentiation – Product proposition didn’t offer compelling enough value, or product formulation presented hurdles not balanced by additional clinical benefit, in the customers’ eyes  

It’s clear the customer was left out. Launches failed to convert or positively impact prescribing behaviour and couldn’t overcome customers’ barriers to acceptance and uptake. 

A strong start makes the difference

Deloitte’s analysis tells us the first year of a pharma product’s life directly impacts how it performs in the long run. Here's what they had to say: 

“Of the 64 percent of drugs with a strong performance in the first year, 86 percent and 78 percent continued to meet or beat analyst expectations in year 2 and year 3, respectively. Of the 36 percent of drugs that missed expectations at launch, 70 percent and 68 percent also missed expectations in year 2 and year 3, respectively, and only about 30 percent managed to reverse course.” 

That’s pretty powerful evidence. If a product fails to meet expectations in the launch year (in Deloitte’s definition that means hitting 80% of 1st year commercial targets) data tells us the product will continue on that downward trajectory. What’s more, chances to recover and make up that revenue in the years to follow, decline.  

So how do we maximise the chance of a successful brand launch? 

What does our HCP really need? 

The classic rep visit just doesn’t cut it anymore. A 2019 report looked at the role of digital in HCPs’ practice, based on surveys with 211 HCPs and 103 pharma industry professionals. Of those interviewed, 65% and 45%, respectively, valued independent medical websites and on-demand recordings.  

Only 16% valued rep visits.  

So HCPs are telling us they want independent content. Yet as an industry, we still insist on rep visits.  
Frame this against the cut-paste-replicate brand launch we just talked about ― it’s easy to spot the lack of customer focus. 

But why do they want it to be independent?

Well, our HCPs look to a pharma company to understand how their brand can help them. But there’s still a lack of trust in the traditional rep-led pharma engagement model. They want independent resources to educate themselves on therapy areas. This means content like webinars, KOL interviews, and whitepapers. It’s more than a simple brochure with stats, facts and figures. 

Add into the mix that brand websites exist as islands of information. HCPs have to jump across multiple sites, particularly if they’re working in complex therapy areas. It’s no wonder they see brand-owned information as less valuable.

Healthcare professional on laptop

Let’s move to a customer-first way of thinking 

Here’s how you can get your launch to give your customer what they need, when they need it, exactly how they need it:  

Define your key stakeholders – Who are the payors, HCPs, practice managers, and KOLs who can change or help change prescribing behaviours? And what are the key personas you need to develop? 

What are their pains and gains? – Where are the challenges and opportunities for each persona?  

Define content and messaging – What can we give your audience to address their pains and drive real behaviour change? 

Channels – How can we maximise the impact of your content by driving it through channels your audience engages with?

Content planning – The what, when and where of your content. 

Healthcare professionals are at the heart of a pharma brand’s success

It’s only by thinking of your customer first that you maximise your brand launch. Thinking product-first is a little like shouting in an empty room, a lot of effort and not much reward. 

You have to understand who your key customers are and figure out the best way to talk to them, both during and after your launch. Only then will you give your brand the chance it deserves at success.

If you would like support or advice on moving to a customer-first way of thinking, drop us a line.

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