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Small Biotech Outperform Large Pharma in Launch Success


Brand Insights - Thought Leadership | Paid Program

Brand-building in healthcare is different from consumer goods brands in many ways. Most notably, the brand must win the hearts of multiple customers beyond just the end user. This dynamic of building a community of belief among diverse constituents is complex and entangled, and therefore, establishes an intricate web of engagement where every strand must hold fast. With the relatively short lifespan of branded biopharma products, marketers not only face the daunting challenge of launching a brand on an anticipated trajectory of success but also to get it right the first time. Unspinning and then re-spinning the web will come up against the realities of patent expiry, competitive aggression, and the intolerance of a market space that deals with the critical health and well-being of human lives. In other words, healthcare brands never get a second chance to make a first impression. In this context, let’s examine why smaller manufacturers are built for better launch practices.

Thinking small yields, big results

The first 13 weeks of a new drug launch determine its success. Once this trajectory is set, it tends to remain throughout the course of the product’s lifecycle. One would think that small- to mid-sized companies commercializing a product for the first time are especially challenged in this regard. The lack of in-house resources alone seemingly tips the odds against them. Interestingly, the recent history of successful drug launches demonstrates that these smaller companies’ launches outperform large pharma. There are many reasons to explain this discrepancy. Most often, small companies create a large target of opportunity, not in terms of sizeable populations eligible for the drug in question but rather the opposite. The rarer the disease, the more capable a company can be in achieving critical mass at launch and sustain it for years to come. The patient populations are more manageable. There’s no need for the cost and complexity of a large salesforce. Furthermore, since there is such an unmet medical need, both healthcare providers (HCPs) and patients are eagerly searching for solutions. Such readiness primes the market with a tailwind, accelerating prelaunch development campaigns. Also, a sizeable percentage of the patient population will likely be recruited for clinical trials, establishing both a KOL endorsement and a significant patient base.

Internal dynamics are tailored for launch
Small companies have the ability to be nimble, benefit from direct involvement of experienced senior leadership, and pursue edgier marketing that pushes the category. With no over-reaching bureaucracy, small companies are nimble by nature. This enables them to quickly pivot based on marketplace demands and also rapidly understand and incorporate FDA guidance. Take the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020: Many smaller companies were able to react to changing guidelines, re-position their products, and change their marketing mix. Often with small companies, the launching brand is their only brand, so these organizations can muster the full force of their constituents in short order. Larger pharma companies tend to be siloed and have a harder time pivoting based on changing market dynamics despite their past experience.

Small- to mid-sized biotech usually bring in experienced senior leaders to build the commercial organization. Such seasoned professionals have many product launches under their belts and usually have built out winning organizations. They know the key players in the space and can quickly build an army of agencies and consultants to help plan and execute an aggressive commercialization timeline. It is critical that these leaders are the decision-makers in the two years prior to launch. Understanding market factors, reacting quickly, and making good decisions set the brand on a path for success. And by seeking out smaller agencies, they command top-tier attention with the ability to harness a breadth of services in a cohesive way. It is also important to note that these individuals are entrepreneurial by nature and have the stomach for more disruptive ideas. Smaller companies need to take an edgier approach to marketing to stand out and take on competitors that are better resourced. We have found that the best campaign concepts and award-winning activation ideas happen with small- to mid-sized biopharma companies.

With laser-focused disease targets, senior leadership at the helm, and a high tolerance for edgier market approaches, small companies can turn nimbleness into launch success that endures.