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Rethinking strategic brand planning in pharma

Christian Wilkens Partner, Strategy& Germany
April 03, 2021

The importance of effective strategic brand planning remains top of mind for business leaders in pharma given customers’ high expectations and increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity in the market. So, as business leaders think critically about how to adapt, many are reassessing their own brand plans. We have asked them what they think.

“Brand planning is the process of allocating resources to a strategy designed to achieve a business objective that drives a brand closer to delivering on a valuable future vision.”

Nick Williams in Pharmafield

80% of European executives of pharma companies we interviewed do not think that their current approaches, processes, and outputs are “fit for purpose.” Instead, they are in need of step-change improvement and may wonder if the resource-intensive, time-consuming nature of brand planning is even worth the costs.

Brand plans

To better understand what pharma brand and marketing leaders are thinking about brand planning, we conducted a series of in-depth interviews. Our research revealed the most common challenges as well as key improvement levers. We hope that these insights will help you adapt and future-proof your own brand planning in an increasingly dynamic and customer-driven environment.

The 3 most common challenges of brand planning in pharma

When it comes to brand planning, the key challenges faced by pharma leaders can be grouped into three categories:

The 3 most common challenges of brand planning in pharma
1. Not the right insights and deliverables

“We often have data dumps and lengthy decks, but few meaningful insights,” reports one head of marketing in Germany, echoing the sentiments of many other leaders. In fact, more than
86% of the leaders we spoke with said that their current brand planning templates and processes do not enable them to address customer-centric business questions, generate strategic insights, or take effective action. In addition, nearly half of the interviewees questioned the value of their static annual brand plans. In an increasingly dynamic market environment, fast-paced developments may change customer behaviors and expectations, in turn invalidating earlier assumptions. Finally, overall, people reported limited integration with other core organizational processes, data and systems, and tools.

2. A messy process

“We can get lost in the process and forget our overall direction or insights,” admits one brand manager in the U.K. Similarly, many of the leaders we spoke with recognized the challenges and complexity of managing interdependencies. We were told that it is difficult to ensure alignment across brands, functions, and countries, all while providing enough flexibility and autonomy to key stakeholders.
More than 80% of the business leaders we interviewed would like to simplify the oftentimes lengthy and rigid annual brand planning process. And local teams often perceive a timeline disconnect across geographies that can impede effective global and local alignment and collaboration.

3. A lack of cohesive organizational culture

Many industry experts we spoke with also acknowledged that they were limited by the lack of enabling digital technologies and agile approaches that could better facilitate collaborative working and foster adaptability. And almost 90% of our interviewees said that the resource-intensive setup across involved teams presented challenges for them. Finally, 60% perceived an issue in reporting structures and centralized decision-making that slowed down their progress due to a multitude of alignment meetings. “The volume of work and the required resources to get things done can be an issue,” says one regional head of marketing.

The 3 most important improvement levers in brand planning

Clearly, there are real challenges facing brand and marketing leaders in the pharma sector. But our research also revealed three key improvement levers:

How to improve strategic brand planning
1. Focused insights for more effective planning

During our interviews, a sharper focus on customer needs was frequently quoted as a critical lever to increase the impact of brand planning. Using a customer-centric approach helps to deliver the insights needed for meaningful, tangible, and actionable strategies and tactics.

Prioritization frameworks and advanced analytics can also help to identify the key topics that will drive a brand’s trajectory. When it comes to planning, simple, short, and flexible templates and tools best support focused discussions while enabling brand teams to articulate nuanced narratives tailored to functional or local market priorities. For example, as one global commercial director says, “We reduced our brand plans to approximately 5 slides, which works very well to distil key insights.”

2. Lean, aligned, and agile processes

Once key insights are identified, it is easier to build focused processes that direct efforts and time on core value-adding aspects of brand planning. “We’ve seen improvements now that we conduct cross-functional and senior management ‘challenger’ meetings to jointly define focus areas,” explains one global commercial leader. In fact, more than 80% of the people we interviewed called for better cross-functional, cross-brand alignment at global, regional and local levels—without restricting functional and country autonomy. Agility, real-time organizational learning as well as continuous improvement and adaptability to change are key to ensure strategic brand planning remains targeted, up-to-date, and relevant across involved stakeholders and throughout brand lifecycle stages.

3. A cohesive organizational culture, combined with ownership and tech enablers

Strategic brand planning does not work well if it is siloed. In order to make your brand plan effective, the organization must define:

Clear roles and responsibilities for everyone involved, but also assign single ownership for the final cross-functional brand plan and management of cross-functional teams. It is also important to use advanced technology and digital tools in smart ways, enhancing the business acumen capabilities in brand teams for delivering focused plans. Finally, using agile methodologies and principles along with technology is the best way to support process efficiency and achieve positive outcomes in increasingly dynamic environments.

Next steps: How to maximize the impact of brand planning

Pharmaceutical companies need strategic brand planning to succeed in an increasingly complex environment like the one we are facing today. However, many business leaders do not yet seem to be fully prepared. As you consider how your brands can adapt to changing market realities in 2021 and beyond, consider these questions:

  • How are you focusing on what will drive brand performance and customer-centricity?
  • How are you aligning, streamlining, and simplifying your processes to make efficient and effective use of your resources and time?
  • Are you supporting your processes with the right organizational setup, ways of working, technology, and capabilities to respond in a constantly changing environment?

Carla-Ines Cebulla, Andrea Alari, Dr. Clemens Freytag, and Gbenga Olatunji have also contributed to this article.



Contact us

Christian Wilkens

Christian Wilkens

Partner, Strategy& Germany

Gbenga Olatunji

Gbenga Olatunji

Director, Strategy& UK

Dr. Clemens Freytag

Dr. Clemens Freytag

Director, Strategy& Switzerland

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