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The BUILD Checklist: A Framework for Building Brands


Taking a lead from the construction industry, Susan Abedi offers a five-step checklist for building pharma brands.

Dr. Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto argues for the adoption of the deceptively simple checklist across industries. The author devotes a section of the book to describing how even the incredibly complex process of building a skyscraper is effectively guided by checklists. Building a skyscraper requires coordination of large teams, weighing input from a range of people and balancing multiple environmental constraints. Building a pharmaceutical brand in today’s complex market, working to meet patient needs while balancing physician interests, cross-functional teams, clinical trial constraints, and payer nuances, is not too dissimilar.    The construction industry’s checklists resemble the multiple spreadsheets of tasks and responsibilities that make up a brand launch plan. While at times tedious, this approach has generally been effective in meeting launch milestones. Where the “brand skyscraper” fails, or rather falls, is on meeting commercial expectations.    It is an established fact that nearly two-thirds of drug launches fail to meet sales expectations. This is often not a function of steps missed in the launch plan, misappropriated field force efforts or substandard medical communications. Launches frequently fail when there is a misalignment between market and mission.  Pharma knows how to launch a brand, but the question is, how do we build a brand. How do we generate market excitement, gain patient acceptance and secure physician and payer adoption?    Can checklists be applied here? Yes - not laundry lists, but checklists that are focused on the key levers that will drive commercial potential. BU.I.L.D is a five-step checklist for building brands:   

BU.I.L.D: A brand-building checklist 

• BU is for Buyer: Know your buyers 

  Brands live and die by how well they know their customers. Pharma is no different. It is critical to understand all “buyers” and the factors that will drive buying decisions. There is no “one” clinical journey. We must build in depth, data-driven profiles of the clinical journeys for all patients that capture the treatments, specialties, payers, health systems, and practices involved in the ultimate decision to adopt products.    We must understand the multiple paths patients can take so we can meet them where they are. How do patients flow through the system from diagnosis to treatment? How do patients move through treatment options? Which HCPs are currently managing patients and what drives hand-off between HCPs? How do different specialties manage patients differently in terms of treatment choice, number of treatments, escalation of treatment etc? Comprehensive analysis to address these questions allows pharma companies to know their “buyers” and understand their clinical journeys.   

• I is for Impact: Identify high-impact HCPs 

  Impact is multi-faceted. There are clinicians that drive treatment practice through medical conference presentations. Other clinicians impact the decision-making of others in the health care community through their networks. There are clinicians whose span of influence sits primarily in their institution, and others whose breadth of influence goes far beyond their health system. Can we identify these clinicians? Yes.  The good news is that there are established approaches to understanding existing relationships among health care professionals and identifying the greatest opportunities to leverage clinician relationships. The bad news is that brands continue to waste money by not employing these strategies to efficiently move the market.   

• L is for Lead: Determine where you will lead

  If you do not lead, no one will follow. Every brand needs to define their leadership in a space. How do you tell the story of your brand in a way that moves the market to value its clinical value proposition? It is critical to define where your brand will lead. This is more than just a bland “value proposition” or generic “reasons to believe.” This is about a clear approach to leadership. Where will we lead? In what area? In which attribute? How do we evolve as the market evolves?   

D is for Data: Develop a comprehensive data analytics strategy

  Data analytics is the foundation on which effective strategy is built. While pharma has made leaps and bounds in terms of accumulation and aggregation of various data sources, we are still catching up when it comes to proactively defining a data analytics strategy. Today, data is generally leveraged for retrospective assessments vs. proactive decision-making. We recommend that companies develop a long-term data strategy that leverages machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) platforms to offer high-value, cost-effective solutions that drive decision-making instead of just tracking performance. Analytics can help accelerate the process of getting the right therapies to the right patients by revealing patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions.   

Case example: BUILDing a brand in a new space 

Situation: Company was new to a space and had no established footprint. Acquired agent with objective to launch the first novel Rx treatment for disease in >10 years.  

  • BU. Conducted claims data analytics to map clinical journeys and understand treatment patterns. Developed practice profiles.

  • I. Identified academic leaders and clinical leaders and their networks to develop detailed physician profiling to supported targeted engagement two years pre-launch.

  • L. Leveraged Clinical Leader assessment to identify speakers for disease-awareness initiatives.

  • D. Based on claims analytics, optimized target list to identify highest opportunity practices.

Impact: 20% of the disease market was captured within first six months, and a 2.5-fold increase in HCPs who were both aware and able to link company with brand.

  Gawande references a 1970’s essay by Samuel Gorovitz and Alasdair MacIntyre that posits two core reason for human failure: “The first is ignorance – we may err because science has given us only a partial understanding of the world and how it works. There are skyscrapers we do not yet know how to build…. The second type of failure the philosophers call ineptitude – because in these instances the knowledge exists, yet we fail to apply it correctly. This is the skyscraper that is built wrong and collapses.”    In today’s pharma landscape, ignorance is rarely the cause of a failed launch; we can generally chalk up these misses to ineptitude. The BU.I.L.D. checklist is structured to avoid both errors – leveraging data analytics and in-depth understanding of buyers to fill in any knowledge gaps, coupled with impact-driven marketing approaches to ensure we lead the market.   

Susan Abedi is EVP Commercial Solutions at 81qd.

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