Product Launches: The Couch and the Airline Seat - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Product Launches: The Couch and the Airline Seat
In the old days, pills were products. Today, marketers need to treat them as time-sensitive opportunities. If you don't, you'll be left at the gate.


Successful Product Manager's Handbook


Functional alignment. Decisions made in one functional area, such as marketing, can significantly affect others. So open decision making is critical, particularly during late stage development. In one instance, the marketing team for one drug manufacturer's COX-2 inhibitor decided to change the tablet's size close to launch. The team made the decision from a branding perspective. The idea was to make the name printed on the tablet more visible for target customers. To modify the size, excipients were added. These additional components affected the medication's absorption rate and altered its pharmacokinetic properties. Although the impact was realized before registration, the decision put timelines at risk. Open communication between the marketing and clinical teams could have prevented unnecessary delays in the drug's registration or launch.

Moving Forward As pharma reflects on its changing environment and the actions required for continued success, the example of the airlines may provide some welcome guidance.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the airline industry grappled with its own particular challenges by coming up with three business innovations that helped it persevere:

  • Customer loyalty programs. In a 2002 survey, 72 percent of business travelers selected loyalty programs as an important or very important criterion in their choice of airlines, even ahead of customer service reputation.
  • Yield management systems to drive time-based pricing decisions.
  • Hub-and-spoke networks that fed regional passengers to key national and international routes with greater efficiency.

As the pharmaceutical industry prepares for the challenges ahead, it may want to consider developing:

  • A franchise-based approach to managing relationships with key opinion leaders, physicians, and patients.
  • A commercialization culture focused on competing in much shorter time frames. Development time frames may still be measured in years but marketing success is determined in months.
  • Strong global strategies that integrate affiliate organizations so the global plan is executed flawlessly in local markets.

In today's increasingly complex pharma environment, timing—while not yet everything—continues to count for more. Pharma is no longer in the business of selling hard goods like couches. Its products are far more like perishable airline seats. What's more, consumers are often asking for—even demanding—more comprehensive "airline seat"-like healthcare solutions. A 57-year-old man recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's and a 12-year-old girl diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa are seeking solutions now, not promises.

Changing times provide executives with an opportunity to rethink their businesses, in particular their product launch processes. Those who do will take off. The rest will watch them fly away.

Kashif Chaudhry is a principal and Jaime Cyr is a managing consultant at Clarescent LLC, which brings insights and value around complex business issues to clients in the healthcare industry. They can be reached at
and
respectively.


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