Tools Necessary to Manage the Three Phases of Uncertainty

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted healthcare delivery—accelerating change and underscoring the importance of preparing for evolution—and revolution—in the marketplace. Too often, even pre-COVID-19, pharmaceutical brand teams employ planning processes that simply react to address challenges rather than proactively identifying and managing critical uncertainties.

As teams continue to face unexpected events in the market that impact brand and franchise performance, it’s critical to consider a different approach in the planning process—one that seeks not only to manage potential pitfalls, but also, identify and seize opportunities that come with change.

When planning for uncertainty, teams should consider short-, mid-, and long-term timeframes.

Short-Term Uncertainties

Though market changes occurring in the short-term, meaning the next one to three years, may seem more manageable, they can have a significant impact on performance. These types of uncertainties relate to day-to-day operations, including evolving customer needs that impact market dynamics or a new competitor entering the market. In the pharmaceutical industry, short-term uncertainties are generally one of two types:

  • Event-based uncertainties are either single outcome, such as clinical trial outcomes, or depend on multiple factors, including competitor launch timings and changes to a product profile.
  • Environment-based uncertainties pertain to specific market dynamics, changes in the access landscape.

Near-term scenario-planning exercises enable us to craft proactive and reactive response strategies, tactics, and message concepts for each uncertainty type. The goal of such exercises is to gain a deeper understanding of the implications of the evolving competitor or stakeholder environment, and to create an action-plan to seize the opportunities and mitigate the risks. Conducting these exercises with a cross-functional team ensures alignment.

Mid-Term Uncertainties

Mid-term uncertainties occur three to five years in the future. Although their occurrence may seem less likely than short-term uncertainties, they may have a higher impact on your brand or franchise. These uncertainties, associated risks, and opportunities are not normally addressed by specific tactics, objection handlers, or messages within a typical brand plan, nor are they typically considered when creating a long-term plan.

What these events include are significant shifts in the future pricing and access environments, such as the launch of a deeply discounted treatment option in a traditionally premium-priced segment, or unforeseen changes in internal resource or pipeline priorities. The key to managing these uncertainties is not only to deal with short-term events, but also, continually focus on evolving your strategy over time, monitoring the market, and using insight to identify new opportunities (rather than reacting in hindsight).

Teams who take the time to create a prioritization process will strengthen their ability to analyze the situation of their brand or franchise and develop market-shaping innovations and monitoring capabilities to support planning amid multiple unknowns.

Long-Term Uncertainties

Long-term uncertainties are those that impact a business’ vision five to 10 years in the future and beyond. Though difficult to predict, these include the introduction of revolutionary therapies or drug delivery methods that affect your franchise as well as significant changes to stakeholder dynamics, such as shifts in decision-making power as the market evolves.

How will brand teams know what the key indicators of these events are over time? Planning for potential disruption requires long-term scenario planning, franchise strategy development, and early lifecycle management (LCM) planning to ensure your long-term plans are successful. While no one knows how long-term uncertainties will play out, these planning exercises help teams face any challenge.

In Summary

The future is a Pandora’s box of market shifts and revolutions. However, identifying and managing uncertainty is a hallmark of all successful brands. Failure to plan for short-, mid-, and long-term uncertainty forces businesses to react—rather than lead. Even though we certainly don’t have all the answers, planning is the key to navigating change.

  • Ania Freiha, MPH

    Ania Freiha, MPH is a Director at Align Strategy. Leveraging a decade of experience consulting in the healthcare industry, Ania supports clients with the design and facilitation of a range of strategic planning and lifecycle management engagements.


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