The process of creating an identity for a brand should start at the very beginning—before a drug is anywhere near market. In order to give your brand the best chance when it launches, the marketing team and research team need to partner up at the start of Phase II trials.
Launching a new molecule in today’s pharmaceutical environment is a complex and difficult endeavor. Increasing scrutiny of the development process by investors and advocates as well as by regulatory bodies (not to mention competitors, real and potential) is matched with an explosion of media channels through which information can be shared to nearly any audience, at any time. Activities that in the past were of interest to only a handful of parties, such as the release of Phase II data or updates on clinical trial plans, have become part of the daily stream of data that can be summoned online and analyzed, dissected and picked over for the slightest nuance or competitive edge.
This environment poses unique challenges; yet great opportunities can be unearthed from within. Those with the foresight to be active participants in the developmental process suited for today’s world can position a molecule to reap the rewards of a well-organized launch strategy. The conceptual identity created for the molecule has massive influence over whether it will live (or die).
What are the key factors in planning for success? It starts in the beginning. Constant data amplification serves as a platform for continuous, free exposure of the brand and its future place in the doctor’s armamentarium. Clear, consistent messaging established as early as possible includes a fundamental scientific lexicon that the brand can own. Every abstract, poster, press release, clinical trial update and mechanism of action (MOA) video reinforces what the molecule is at its core.
To orchestrate a plan this tightly formed for launch, the team working on the compound needs to function as a whole to create a unified foundation for the future brand’s scientific narrative. This team extends well beyond yesterday’s model of the marketing team that took the handoff from the scientist. Today, the team creating the fundamental narrative must be broad based.The scientists who developed the molecule, the medical, promotional, and PR teams and the agency partners all have a critical hand in the making of a fundamental narrative from which the brand can build upon throughout the lifecycle. The narrative hinges on a lexicon uniquely owned by the brand and set forth in the market from Phase II trial through commercialization.
Using Science To Tell The Story
Traditionally, we haven’t thought of scientific lexicon as a “promotional” endeavor, leaving the science to the scientists and researchers. In today’s times, this signifies a big miss. The developmental team knows the compound better than anyone on earth. However, they will often name a new compound by a feature or aspect of the molecule that relates more to how it was developed or discovered than how it will be used. Science is replete with examples of names that are arbitrary, confusing and even duplicative. A key example comes from the prostate cancer field.
CYP17A1 was identified as an important target in prostate cancer growth. A major pharmaceutical company rationally designed a small molecule inhibitor targeting the enzyme CYP17A1, knowing that inhibition of this target has far-reaching implications because it cuts off the lifeline of prostate tumors—androgens. To differentiate the compound, add clarity to what the drug actually does and avoid being niched as simply a CYP17A inhibitor, the agent was classified as an Androgen Biosynthesis Inhibitor (ABI). Other interesting examples in oncology are the hedgehog pathway inhibitors, currently being studied in multiple tumor types. What is hedgehog? What does it do? It remains to be seen how this class of drugs matures.
The art of creating a scientific lexicon requires the coordinated expertise of bench and applied scientists married to communications and linguistics experts. Crucial to the process is defining and evaluating the existing conceptual landscape and weighing the potential of a new or underutilized lexicon to serve and suit the new entity. Working group meetings that mine the notion of what the molecule is at its core are critical to the success of this endeavor. All stakeholders must be actively engaged—different perspectives from each discipline that collectively drive a meeting of the minds to arrive at the narrative goal. These aren’t typical group meetings, this is hard-thinking work that needs to turn the minds of the participants inside-out to create something completely new, well-purposed, thought through and able to stand the test of time.
While challenging, this process can have a profound effect on those who participate. The scientific team, after an initial “I’m not interested in marketing” reaction, often relishes the opportunity to look at its compound with new eyes and give it a proper descriptor that does it justice. The communication professionals gain incredible insight into the science behind the brand. That strengthens and elevates the promotional platform for first and lasting impressions, which are more meaningful than ever before.
In one powerful case, the process of collaboration led the team to agree that the MOA of the molecule was interesting and valuable to the understanding of its importance in the medical sciences. This in turn led the scientific team to reopen the MOA research that they had abandoned, reallocating budgets so that the theory that was being encapsulated in the new naming convention could be shown beyond a doubt to be true.
Keys to a Strong Scientific Narrative
The process involves discipline and guidance, in the form of expertise in basic science, healthcare communications and linguistics. It first involves asking these ubiquitous questions: What is unique about the molecule and its MOA? What do we want our audiences to believe about our product? What channels will be used to communicate the information and how? Through a series of workshops, consensus can be achieved on the most compelling narrative about a brand.
From the foundation of a clear story, the lexicon for the brand—whether class designation, molecule name, brand name or disease-related language—can be built. The process for inventing this lexicon requires full and early engagement of all internal stakeholders at both client and agency until consensus is achieved. As with any creative exercise, it’s important to weigh each idea for the story or a component of the lexicon against certain criteria. A good scientific narrative will be judged along five axes:
1) Scientific accuracy
5) Ability to inspire
Once new language is selected, its immediate uses are nearly limitless. The options begin with internal communications and routine use among the people who work with the brand every day, such as the commercial and clinical teams and medical science liaisons. The lexicon is fully integrated into abstracts and publications—influencing how the product is discussed in the publications of independent scientists, analysts and advocates. With diligent external application, a new lexicon will become even more prevalent, appearing in the labeling, AMCP dossiers and other payer resources, mechanisms of disease (MOD)/MOA tools, claims and, ultimately, the promotional materials that reach the healthcare professionals—and patients—who will be using the product.
The Visual Strategy
The goal reaches beyond making the lexicon synonymous with the brand. With roots in the early lexicon branding, the new language must grow broader to bring about the creation of a visual counterpart for the brand. A well-crafted overall creative strategy must fuse words and visuals seamlessly from early communications to at-launch/on-market promotion. A visual story of a compound’s science, its MOA and MOD, form the basis of the brand persona that is well ingrained in branded promotion. Selection of visual tone, palette and executional style are intangibly influential—capable of carrying positive associations across the market approval line and on to trial, uptake and loyalty. Consistent application of a visual strategy offers a clear presentation of the brand and its lexicon narrative.
The current environment requires a new level of discipline in how we think and communicate. The building of a solid narrative for your brand in modern times takes exceptional planning, deep thinking, a great plot and, often underestimated and overlooked, adequate time. By taking advantage of the early scientific interest, and by creating a strong linguistic platform with which to identify the core benefits of a new molecule, we can not only make the most efficient use of our time, resources and effort, but also ultimately share the greatest benefit of the brand for those intended to benefit the most from its core capabilities.