The drug manufacturers’ life blood to drive business growth has always been successful new product launch. However, this task has always remained a tough challenge to crack, since last so many years for various reasons. According to McKinsey & Company: “About two-thirds of drug launches don’t meet expectations. Improving that record requires pharmaceutical companies to recognize the world has changed and adjust their marketing accordingly.” Several research studies have been carried out by now to gain actionable insight on this issue.
Existing challenges for successful drug launch got further amplified, as Covid-19 pandemic added a novel dimension in this space. It involves disruptive changes in many facets of customers’ new product-value expectations. Similar changes are witnessed in the product value delivery process, doctor-patient engagement, content development and delivery platforms, among others. This article will explore this area from successful new product launch perspective, in the days ahead.
Dismal outcome of many new drug launches – more for primary care:
According to a recent study, published by L.E.K Consulting on December 18, 2020: ‘About half of all products launched over the past 15 years have underperformed pre-launch consensus forecasts by more than 20%.’ This is quite in line with what McKinsey & Company found in 2014, as quoted in the beginning of this article.
However, in a relative yardstick, the primary care market has been the most vulnerable, which continues even during the ongoing pandemic. For example, according to an April 2020 Evaluate Vantage analysis, ‘Covid-19 adds a new danger to drug launches.’ The study emphasized, new drug launches, especially those targeting the primary care market, are particularly vulnerable as the pandemic continues. The key reason being, besides widespread disruptions in the health care system, sales teams will be physically unable to reach frontline physicians, as much as, and also the way they could do the same in the old normal. The studies underscore that a strong launch is critical to achieving maximum commercial potential, despite odds.
Some pivotal factors demand a greater focus than ever before:
After in-depth analysis of various studies in this area, some pivotal marketing factors appeared critical to me, in order to reduce success uncertainty while launching new products.
Alongside, unbreachable and agile supply chain alternatives also assumed a never before-frontline-importance in the new normal, unlike pre-Covid days. Another recent study, titled ‘Competitiveness During Covid-19 Pandemic: New Product Development and Supply Chain Agility’, published by ResearchGate in October 2020, vindicated the point.
As the title indicates, the above study examined the effect of new product development and supply chain agility to gain competitiveness during the Covid-19 pandemic and probably beyond. Thus, while developing and launching new products in the new normal, some pivotal factors, such as the following, appeared critical to me, in order to reduce success-uncertainty while launching new products:
- Early planning for launch with a robust market access strategy, better sales forecasting with stretch goals – supported by state-of-the art forecasting tools and relevant learnings from the past.
- Gaining actionable insight on changing customer needs, market dynamics and competitive threats in the new normal – by generating credible and contemporary data and leveraging the power of analytics – to offer differentiated stakeholder value.
- Driving home patient-centric coeval product values that will delight customers – through flawless execution of stakeholder engagement strategies.
- Working out virtual, innovative, personalized and impactful alternatives to some critical launch related physical events, such as, conferences, seminars, webinars and the likes, for doctors and other customers.
- Developing creative and contemporary content and other marketing assets for significant online or omnichannel presence of new brands – supported by video clips and other tools, aiming at the target audience.
- Differentiating the launch product clearly from those of the nearest competitors, where a focus on price-value relationship of the brand – from the patients’ perspective, could play a game changing role. As McKinsey & Company also highlighted, launching an undifferentiated product in an unestablished disease area carries a greater risk of failure.
- Creating a robust and agile supply chain to navigate through unexpected market changes – as all experienced recently.
Delivering ‘patient-centric’ real value of the brand together, is critical:
Interestingly, L.E.K Consulting has also emphasized in its recent study that to drive and effectively deliver ‘patient-centric’ real value of new products, it is imperative for drug companies to execute the launch process flawlessly.
To make it happen on the ground – at the moment of truth, careful selection of a team of self-motivated people is necessary. This needs to be followed by intense training in all aspects of the specific launch, including effective use of modern digital tools and platforms – and above all – by creating a ‘can do’ team spirit to deliver the deliverables.
This requirement has been epitomized in the recent article, titled ‘Beyond the Storm: Launch excellence in the new normal,’ published by McKinsey & Company. Therein, the authors articulated, ‘Intangible though it may sound, great launches have a different feel from normal launches. There is a real sense that – we’re all in this together.’
Pharma’s current way of using digital platforms doesn’t satisfy many doctors:
Over the last one year, as the pandemic brought all human activities virtually to a grinding halt, there has been a significant shift towards digital tools and online platforms, including in the way medical practitioners interact with drug companies. As recent surveys indicate, pharma customers don’t seem to be quite satisfied with the way many pharma players are currently making use of this technology.
This is happening even with those doctors who are open to virtual engagement and in favor of remote patient consultations. The issue needs to be resolved soon, particularly for new product launch successfully – using digital platforms, as reported in recent surveys.
The survey reports retraining of ‘sales reps to become digital orchestrators’:
One such recent survey, conducted by Indegene, which was also reported by Fierce Pharma on February 01, 2021, digital dissatisfaction of doctors with pharma companies, has jumped during the pandemic. The rates of dissatisfaction with pharma digital interactions, across media channels, ranged from 23% to almost 50% of physicians. Some of the key findings of the study include:
- 49% of physicians are not happy with pharma’s social media engagements – perceived as less sophisticated when compared to expectations set by consumer companies.
- Pharma is far from providing a satisfactory digital experience, as compared to other industries. The current dissatisfaction level where a higher percentage of doctors were dissatisfied, include marketing emails – 46%, telephone sales calls with sales reps – 42% and both webinars and websites – each at 39%.
- In-person meetings dropped from 78% to 15% during the pandemic, but even now only 48% of doctors surveyed expect in-person engagements to continue in the post-COVID world.
- Attendance at medical conferences also dropped from 66% to only 16% during the shutdowns and travel restrictions, but only 50% of HCPs now expect to resume in-person congresses after it’s safe to hold them.
- The number of physicians engaged in remote sales visits increased from 11% to 47% during the pandemic, probably because there weren’t other alternatives available. Interestingly, one-third of physicians still plan to continue with virtual sales meetings even after the pandemic.
- Most stakeholders are realizing, this is going to be the new normal, with senior pharma leadership also saying, ‘it’s never going to be the same as before.’
- About 5 of the top 15 global pharma players are retraining their sales reps to become “digital orchestrators” and working to help them create clear and comprehensive digital communications for doctors.
Speedy resolution of these issues is likely making a substantial difference in improving pharma-to-physician interactions, particularly during new drug launches, in the days ahead.
Success uncertainties in new product launches have always been a cause of concern for the drug industry, especially after having invested a substantial resource towards innovation and clinical developments. Interestingly, pharma players were mostly following ‘stick to the knitting’ dogma, as it were, in their launch planning. Despite the availability of sophisticated digital tools and analytics over the last several years, particularly in generating and accurate analysis of contemporary and credible data to gain insights, not much had changed radically. Suddenly Covid pandemic disrupted most market traditions, business processes, and the general belief on decision makers’ ‘gut feelings’ on customer behavior, market dynamics. Besides, the mindset of ‘doing better that what you have been always doing’, prevailed in many cases. In India, market research for most companies remained within the ambit of syndicated retail and prescription audit, despite frequent grumbling of many marketers on some critical findings of these reports.
The last one year has created more challenges in this area, although with a silver lining. A large number of drug companies have now stepped into the area of digital marketing – in varying degree, scale and resource deployment. This shift is expected to help reduce launch success uncertainties of new drugs. It will again, depend on how effectively the technology is leveraged by the cerebral power of astute markers.
Another article on pharma product launch, published by McKinsey & Company on December 15, 2020, also vindicated this point. It underlined: ‘As pharmaceutical companies reshape their commercial model to prepare for the uncertainties ahead, personalization and digital enablement will be crucial to launch success in the new environment.’
Amid these, as some surveys highlight, many doctors are not satisfied with the way digital technology is being currently used by pharma companies – to interact with them and cater to their information needs. With these ‘teething troubles’ being properly and promptly addressed, many drug companies, I reckon, will be able to remarkably reduce success uncertainties of new drug launches in the new normal.
By: Tapan J. Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.