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New Product Launch Playbook: Shaking up Status Quo in Pharma Marketing


Pharmaceutical Executive

In this demanding environment, yesterday’s product launch playbook can no longer be relied upon to yield the expected patient or business outcomes, writes Boris Bogdan.

Launching new pharmaceutical products in today’s market can be challenging. A growing emphasis on specialty therapeutics is leading to higher costs and an increased focus on value and outcomes. Meanwhile, digitally-empowered patients are taking a more active role in their healthcare decisions and holding companies to a higher standard when it comes to personalization, experience, and quality of care. In this demanding environment, yesterday’s product launch playbook can no longer be relied upon to yield the expected patient or business outcomes. To address this, the next generation marketer will need to be business growth strategists and not simply execution tacticians.

Many pharmaceutical companies have not evolved their approach to match this new reality-and cracks are beginning to show. In addition to a growing gap between sales forecasts and tighter SG&A budgets in developed markets, many drugs are underperforming. Between 2012 and 2016, 15 New Molecular Entity (NME) approvals missed analyst sales forecasts for two years following launch.[1] Out of how many?

To help pharma marketers upgrade their product launch playbook, Accenture conducted a survey of 8,000 patients across the U.S., United Kingdom, Germany, and France that examined how patients learn about, evaluate, and select new treatments in eight therapeutic areas (immune system, heart, lungs, brain, cancer, hormone/metabolism, and eye disease). Our first major discovery was that brands are not a major factor when patients are considering new products. Instead, two-thirds are more interested in hearing about the benefits of a new treatment.[2] Why is this significant? In 2016, the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry spent a staggering $15.2 billion on marketing,[3] in large part to build brand share of voice and equity. Given that patients prioritize outcomes, companies might see a greater return on investment (RIO) if they were to allocate some of this budget to programs that have a more direct impact on patients.

We also uncovered a pervasive lack of understanding surrounding new pharmaceutical products and services. One-quarter of individuals who participated in our survey said they had little to no knowledge of new products coming to market.[4] The implications of poor health literacy are serious for patients and brands alike. For pharmaceutical companies, lack of awareness can directly impact the bottom-line, while patients may overlook treatments that would otherwise be more suitable and yield the best outcomes.

Finally, our research showed that most patients who consider a new treatment will end up switching. Of the 47% of respondents who said they had thought about switching, 62% ultimately made a change.[5] For pharmaceutical companies launching new treatments, understanding who is considering a change offers an opportunity for more precise targeting.

Keeping these insights in mind, what’s the recipe for successful product launches in today’s market?

  • Lead with evidence: Since patients are more concerned with outcomes than with an affinity toward a brand, pharma companies should prioritize evidence-based solutions that address the unique pain-points of target populations: life context, experience, and value. In fact, outcomes should be a key focus at every stage of the development process, from clinical trials through commercialization. For this to happen, companies must invest in advanced analytics capabilities, while facilitating data sharing between patients, providers, and payers.

  • Work to bridge understanding gaps: As noted above, knowledge is critically important for empowered patients. It would be a grave mistake to assume that all patients seek and absorb information in the same way or that they understand industry and clinical jargon. Salespeople have an important role to play in helping healthcare providers articulate care regimens in simple, digestible language, utilizing the communications channels that resonate with each population. Reinforcing the HCP to patient dialogue will not only yield better relationships, but will correlate to better health outcomes. Good for all.

  • Harness the power of data and analytics: The importance of data and analytics cannot be overstated. Without data-driven insights, pharmaceutical marketers will be unable to provide the personalized experience that today’s patients expect. Market insights across populations, disease areas, and HCP and patient experiences can unlock new levels of value for the business, while driving more informed resource allocations. For that reason, it is crucial that pharmaceutical companies assess their analytics capabilities across R&D, medical, patient services, and commercial functions-making new investments where needed.

As pharmaceutical companies start the process of updating their product launch playbook, it’s important that they take generational differences into account. Our research shows that Millennials, Gen-Xers, and Baby Boomers have very different preferences when it comes to how they access and consume information about new pharmaceutical products. For example, younger generations are nearly two times more likely than Baby Boomers to try a new product based on something a peer posted on social media.[6] They’re also more knowledgeable about new treatments that are available, whereas nearly half of Baby Boomers say that a lack of information is negatively impacting their treatment decisions.[7]

Pharmaceutical companies with a multi-national presence may also want to develop country-specific product launch strategies. For instance, outcomes-based messaging might be more effective in the United States, where 76% of patients say benefits are a major factor when considering a new product.[8] Regardless of region, it’s imperative that product launch teams invest in patient education. Only 33% of patients in the United Kingdom said they feel very knowledgeable about new or existing pharmaceutical products, compared to an average of 38% across all the countries we surveyed.[9]

These generational and geographic differences should not be taken lightly by pharmaceutical companies: they can mean the difference between meeting patient and sales expectations and falling short of projections. 

The results of our research could not be clearer. To succeed, pharmaceutical marketers must be architects of growth. That starts with abandoning the old launch playbook in favor of a more targeted, evidence-based approach specific to the individual product. At the same time, an investment in data analytics will allow companies to tailor strategies to the unique needs, preferences, and motivations of patient sub-segments. This will this be a differentiator for companies, enabling them to seize a greater market share and providing the best possible outcomes for patients.


Boris Bogdan, M.D., a managing director in Accenture’s Life Sciences practice.

[1] Accenture Research analysis of 16 pure play Pharmaceutical Companies, the $ growth of the largest product contributor to reported sales growth 2009-16 is compared to total company revenue in 2009, and an average taken across all companies. This is compared to an average across all pure play Pharmaceutical Companies, of $ growth forecast of largest product contributor to 2016-21 forecast Revenue growth compared to 2016 Total revenue. Raw data is sourced from Evaluate Pharma 2017

[2] Product Launch: The Patient Has Spoken, Accenture, 2018

[3] Source Kantar Media; eMarketer calculations, 30 March 2017

[4] Product Launch: The Patient Has Spoken, Accenture, 2018

[5] Product Launch: The Patient Has Spoken, Accenture, 2018

[6] Product Launch: The Patient Has Spoken, Accenture, 2018

[7] Product Launch: The Patient Has Spoken, Accenture, 2018

[8] Product Launch: The Patient Has Spoken, Accenture, 2018

[9] Product Launch: The Patient Has Spoken, Accenture, 2018


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