In today’s environment, an effective pharmaceutical marketing plan is no longer about getting as many patients as possible on your product. It’s about having your product bring value to the marketplace by meeting the needs of patients, and educating the market to ensure the right patients derive the benefits of brands—in other words, becoming patient-centric, not product-centric.

A simple 10-item checklist for developing a powerful marketing plan that goes beyond the traditional activities—research, positioning, messaging and strategic planning—to integrate newer approaches to marketing, starts with this:

1. Get Off Your Rear and See Your Customers in Action

The first step in developing a powerful marketing plan is to understand how your product addresses the unique wants and needs of your customers—HCPs and patients. Unlike many consumer markets, pharma must consider involving a learned intermediary between your product and its users. As a pharmaceutical marketer, you must learn as much as possible, not only about the consumers of your product, but also about those who will recommend it.

In addition to having the traditional advisory boards and market research, you need to see providers and patients interacting in their own environment. Observe the things that influence attitudes and behaviors in their environment so you can better prepare for how you, as a marketer, can go beyond the product to develop solutions to address the needs your customers may not even recognize.

Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!’” Don’t just hear what customers say they want: Get out and see what your customers really need.

2. Know the Apples and the Oranges

Not all customers are the same. Some have very different attitudes. Some are motivated in different ways. By understanding what shapes attitudes and behavior, you can begin to segment your customers and align your brand differently for each segment. The more precisely you segment your audience, the sharper the focus, the more personalized you can become, the better the results.

Segmenting helps deliver the right message to the right stakeholder based on the specific wants or needs important to that stakeholder, and then allows you to measure the responsiveness of those segments. For example, look at the success of Dropbox, now a billion dollar organization that, through extensive segmentation, identified a group of customers largely ignored by IT infrastructure companies—the average consumer—and customized its offering and messaging to that specific segment.

3. If I Can’t Get It, I Can’t Use It

In the ultra-competitive environments in which many of us operate on a daily basis, the key to success is access to your brand. Without access, how will a product be obtained and consumed? In today’s world, access is no longer a given. If you have an effective therapy for a specific condition, gaining FDA approval certainly doesn’t guarantee access.

Therefore, access must be planned before you come to market. A trial conducted today must consider how the commercial team needs to align the brand to the wants and needs of stakeholders beyond just HCPs and consumers. Payers, who continue to exert tremendous influence on consumers, are demanding that companies provide a reason to cover a product beyond its effectiveness. You want to ensure that the majority of your patients, not just a small segment, will have access to your brand.

4. Create Value

“Value,” once called “value add,” is no longer optional. Given the competitive nature of the pharma industry, there is significant pressure from all stakeholders to communicate the value your brand offers well beyond the traditional features and benefits. Product value means not only that the product works, but also that customers who select your brand feel they’re getting something of worth—something they believe is important to a better life.

Establishing a customer connection to the brand and nurturing value creates brand loyalty (or “stickiness”) so customers are unwilling to switch to a competitor even when it offers equivalent or better value. Take a hard, honest look at what the brand offers and try to think above and beyond its obvious features. Consider Hyundai. Yes, Hyundai. In a down economy in 2009, the company went beyond product with its Hyundai Assurance plan, offering consumers who lost their jobs or income within a year of buying the car the ability to return it without penalty to their credit rating. This delivered real “value” by enabling consumers to reduce risk. In the first month of the offer, Hyundai sales nearly doubled, while industry sales declined by 37%.

5. Think Education, Not Promotion

Going beyond “promotion” to focus on “education” requires a simple shift in philosophical focus from “selling” a product to “educating” the market about why your product exists, which can reshape your approach entirely. From hiring representatives to advertising and peer-to-peer programs, the approach to educating the marketplace in a manner that addresses individual needs in the buying process will make a significant difference in your ability to change stakeholders’ perceptions, and ultimately behavior. Walk into any Apple store today and you will notice the conversation goes far beyond the features and benefits of products toward how Apple products and services can transform your life.

6. Spot the Speed Bumps

Anticipate, identify and address obstacles and/or opportunities to your success. Don’t try to avoid obstacles: Have strategies in place for dealing with any that might crop up. A former boss once told me, when I was developing a plan, that I should ask myself, “What challenges, if not addressed, will prevent me from achieving my goals?” Going through the exercise, I realized it’s a simple way of identifying key issues that must be addressed in order to be successful. In developing strategic approaches to resolve these issues, you dramatically increase the likelihood of success. Concentrating on the top three to five will sharpen your focus and allow you to direct resources to where they’re needed most.

7. Think Long-Term On Opportunities

The first challenge is opening your eyes to see the opportunities. The second challenge is addressing them. Often the ability to address and influence opportunities can be complex and time consuming. Identifying and addressing opportunities require an open mind—capitalizing on the opportunities that make a dramatic and lasting impact on brand success. Too often, marketers become so blinded by the immediate challenges that they forget to cultivate the sustainable opportunities. Deriving benefits from those opportunities requires a focused and structured approach, which can take time to evolve and requires patience.

8. Be Bold

There is a lot to be said about being bold, and incredible success usually requires some risk. Although data is crucial in decision making, don’t ignore your instincts. Data is subject to considerable bias based on who is asking the questions and what questions are being asked.

At times, the data and insights generated may not always correlate with our instincts. When Steve Jobs was asked how much research went into the development of the iPad he said “None. It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.”

Taking risks on new innovative ideas will help you reach customers to communicate the value of your offering. If you don’t take those risks, your competitor will. By the time you catch up, your competitor will have already moved on to more innovative ideas.

9. Live Your Plan

A marketing VP used to say, “Plan your work, and work your plan.” Over the years, I’ve learned just how right she was. It’s easy for an initial plan to get derailed by day-to-day events. Yes, you have to spend time to create a plan that will drive success, but, just as importantly, you have to stick to the plan you develop. That’s not to say you can’t adapt and respond to shifts in the market, but had you planned appropriately, you may have anticipated those shifts. The plan is a dynamic tool that should be adhered to and tweaked when necessary. The point at which you have to throw it aside is often when you realize you didn’t plan well enough.

10. Execution Is Everything

This may sound simple, but those of us who have executed a marketing plan know it is anything but. There are diversions and distractions that crop up and distract us from our objectives. A simple way to help keep focus is to select trusted partners to help you achieve your mission, and allow them to keep you on task. Keep all your team members, especially those in the field and those providing support, informed and focused on their missions. Measure and adjust regularly to ensure that what you are implementing is having its desired effect.

Looking Ahead

In today’s business environment, a product-focused model is giving way to a customer-centric model offering service and solutions. By becoming a customer champion and putting the patient in your plan, you will stay focused on providing the solutions that are right and are valued by the people using your brand.

  • Jeff Meehan

    Jeff Meehan is CEO and Co-founder of CancerActionNow.com. Jeff’s company facilitates and organizes the global personalized cancer education and collaboration process to improve patient outcomes.

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