The fundamentals of marketing-plan success haven’t changed: Systematic execution, timely development, and sticking to the basics. Here’s an outline for making that happen.

When writing an article about critical success factors for marketing plans, the temptation is to try to come up with something earth shattering and profound. The truth is, however, that the fundamentals of success (for an implementable marketing plan that optimizes brand success—and for much else in life) haven’t changed since the beginning of time. Good timing and sticking to basics are the foundations. The keys that make the fundamentals work are dogged discipline and attention. This doesn’t mean that plans have to be dull…sticking to the fundamentals actually allows more freedom to think creatively.

If we’re honest, we can all admit that there has never been a marketing and launch plan done in an ideal timeframe: Teams usually don’t have enough time to leisurely work through the issues that come up during plan development. Unfortunately, this often means that basics get neglected or circumvented. For example:

  • Most teams spend too little time on strategy development and too much time on tactical development and implementation (which are more fun, let’s face it).
  • Too often, clear metrics of success are not applied to tactics.
  • Most times, tactical implementation can be done for less money if there is time to compare and assess. It’s amazing what can be done when there simply is not enough budget to do what your advertising agency tells you is “ideal promotion” (no offense to agencies).
  • Most teams do not systematically review the marketing plan to challenge tactical decisions.

Those are some cautions. Here’s a definite do:


The single most important determinant of pharmaceutical marketing success is to start with a good product—and a label that backs it up. To make sure that your product is optimized at launch, it is essential to have a preliminary marketing plan in place at the beginning of phase 2. When referring to “The Marketing Plan,” many marketers really mean “The Launch Plan + 2 years.” However, Phase 2 is the new Phase 3 and is the time and place to test not only clinical issues, but also clinical trial design for phase 3 to make sure that messages that are critical to success can be supported at launch. If a message cannot be supported by data from a clinical trial, it should be reevaluated (doesn’t have to be a primary endpoint, but should be secondary or, at least, tertiary). Having an initial marketing plan in phase 2 makes it much easier to prepare for the ultimate marketing plan, one that will both support launch and the lifecycle of the brand.

It may not be sexy, but the fundamentals for a successful marketing plan have never changed: You must have a strategy to serve as the foundation for your marketing plan. Everything in the marketing plan must tie back to and support the strategy. This is the only way to stay on track and to develop a succinct and effective plan.


If one were to visualize a plan, it might look like this one, for Product X—a therapeutic that is essentially the same as its competitor, but with a unique dose and lower price:

  • Overall Objective. This is usually the revenue goal for the product—that’s easy (but not always something the team is happy with).
  • Strategic Directive (or strategy). This is, generally, the way to achieve that revenue goal.
  • Product Promise. This should apply, and appeal, to all customers, but especially to the customers who are going to drive your business. The Product Promise should encompass the strategic directive.
  • Objective. The how, the specifics of how strategy will be implemented, both generally and for each customer segment.
  • Tactics. What you will do to achieve the objectives.

Far too often, teams start by discussing tactics and can’t figure out why they get lost in what to do —it’s much easier to talk about appropriate tactics when someone can say, “How does this tactic support the objectives and, therefore, the strategy?” This approach saves countless amounts of budget and makes it easier to apply metrics for success to each tactic. Metrics are the only way to know how effective a tactic is.

Marketing Plans, especially their tactics, need to be revisited 3 and 6 months after implementation, and again after one year, if effective changes are to be made. The thought of this can be daunt- ing, especially if the brand is in launch mode. There is no way, however, to understand whether or not the plan is working unless metrics are attached to tactics and dogged attention is paid to those metrics.


Of course, lest we think that marketing is simple, within all these fundamentals are tenets that help to move a plan, and brand, to success:

  • There is not a single drug for which the key drivers of success are not physician adoption and patient acceptance.
  • Understand your market and, most important, the key drivers of success in your market. This will allow you to focus on what will make a difference.
  • Know the answers to “What problem does my product solve?” and “Who owns the problem?” This will help you identify critical customers and develop effective messaging.
  • In a crowded market, it’s vital to walk the patient across the physician’s desk in order for him or her to know when to use your product. Don’t make patients have to figure it out; if you do, odds are they will abandon you.
  • Payers do not have to like your product; you just want them to stay out of your way:
  • You may be financially better off in Tier 3 with a patient- assistance program, assuming your patients are cost sensitive.
  • Prior Authorizations are not the kiss of death, as long as they are clinically appropriate
    and also apply to your competition.
  • All payers are not the same—make sure you spend time segmenting them by behavior in your therapeutic class.
  • For some (many?) products, sales representatives are not a cost-effective tactic for achieving success, yet most companies are afraid to limit their use.
  • Eliminate a bad tactic as soon as you’re sure it’s ineffective, regardless of the investment and who decided to implement it.
  • When in doubt, ask yourself, “Is this decision the best one for the optimal profitability of my company?” If you can answer yes, you are on the side of the angels.


Perhaps most important of all, make team members accountable for the success of whatever part of the marketing plan they are responsible for, no matter how small. This will produce better decision-making as long as team members are supportive of each other. To this end, make sure you take the time to care for the team, especially during a launch when things are crazy. Do this even if you are not the team leader. Systematic execution, timely development, and sticking to the basics of a marketing plan—putting them together will give you time for the team and allow the successful management of a brand. And that, in the end, will optimize profitability for your company.


You May Also Like

Innovators 2015: Divisions

PM360’s Innovations Issue, established four years ago, serves as a comprehensive guide to our readers, providing ...

The 2015 PM360 Elite

We are proud to present the winners of our first annual PM360 ELITE Awards. ...

The Online Reputations of Chantix and Novolog FlexPen

Our series on the online reputations of the top 10 DTC-spending brands in Q1 ...