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Brand planning in a world of digital transformation and AI

Welcome to Part Two of Uptake’s new series ‘Visionary Brand Planning: Embracing 2024 and Beyond’ penned by our Pharma Brand Planning Experts.

After delivering over 200 impactful brand plans for global pharmaceutical clients, Uptake’s healthcare consultants confidently profess to knowing a thing or two about what exceptional looks like in this space. 

The landscape is now changing at an unprecedented pace, and constant digital evolutions are creating complexities, leading to both huge opportunities to harness new technologies, and inefficiencies and dilution of effectiveness in brand planning. 

In this new, multi-part guide, experts from across the consultancy have shared their evidence- and experience-based insights to tackle the most pressing considerations for those investing in brand planning in 2024 and beyond. 


Brand Planning in a world of digital transformation and AI: are you ready?

As an industry, we have been through a seemingly continuous rollercoaster ride of incomparable transformation in the last few years, driven by a range of factors such as digital technology and a rapidly evolving external environment. In stark contrast, the brand planning process has not changed drastically. It remains a resource- and time-heavy annual activity.

For the second article in our ‘Visionary Brand Planning Series’, focusing on brand planning in 2024 and beyond, Uptake’s Stephanie Hall and Alexandra Fulford share their views on the key areas pharmaceutical companies should address when it comes to assessing their readiness to successfully brand plan into the future.

Across the pharma landscape, brand planning is often cited as one of the most stressful parts of the year for our clients’ brand teams – which is one of the reasons why we are so often drafted in to support and elevate this process.

Over the last three years, the Uptake team has navigated our global clients through over 100 brand plans, and we are noticing capabilities shifting at different rates. Those who are stuck in the traditional brand planning process are struggling to achieve true customer-centricity, while those embracing new technologies are becoming more confident with their decision making and unlocking the true value of the ‘human intelligence’ in their teams.

Based on our experiences, we believe that there are three key areas that pharma companies should be mindful of if they want to ensure brand planning future readiness beyond 2024; these are insights, personas, and agility.


Insights, insights, insights: Because you wouldn’t build your house on sand

The foundations of any successful strategy and brand plan are data and insights. Back in the day, we were reliant on a limited data set, and we made the best of it because it was all we had. Gripping onto any insights we could gather from annual – sometimes quarterly if we were lucky – market research reports, we would make our semi-educated assumptions. On the occasions where budget allowed, we conducted costly primary research with stakeholders to inform our decisions, but even then, the sample size was very small.

Today, in our digitally transformed world, we have access to a huge array of data, often in real time, and the sources of data have increased dramatically. We still have market research reports, but now we also have social listening insights, live customer data from their interactions with our touchpoints, and a wide array of other digital data.

While this sounds like excellent progress, having data does not always equate to access to insights. To overcome ‘data overwhelm’ and unlock real value, brand teams need a centralised system that consolidates data from all the various sources. This then needs to be set up so that they can draw out the information they need in a way that enables them to quickly identify the right insights and make data-driven decisions.

Clunky data infrastructure is still a big issue hindering brand teams in their planning processes, meaning that despite the availability of data, many are still making decisions without all the information to hand. With AI integrations rapidly increasing and evolving, we envisage that those with disconnected data infrastructures will start to fall behind their competitors in a significant way.

Conversely, brand teams in organisations that have made investments in their data infrastructure will be able to make full use of the new AI tools being built. For example, generative AI tools can already help uncover strategic insights based on the latest data and help develop a deeper understanding of customers. They can simulate tensions or pressure-test scenarios to drive teams to be more innovative with their strategies or ideas.

So, how ready are you? Try asking yourself these questions:

  1. Do your teams have access to centralised data from all sources in real time?
  2. Are your dashboards structured in such a way that they can easily identify insights and make decisions based on these?
  3. Do your teams have the right capabilities needed for data-driven decision-making?
  4. Are you trialling AI tools to support this?


Hyper-personalisation: Who really knows your customers best?

In practically every industry, a deep understanding of customers is becoming increasingly critical. While these used to be relatively simple to define, the combination of changes in the digital landscape, a faster pace in the pharmaceutical industry, and increased competitiveness has led to many complexities.

Layer upon layer of nuance has created a need for brand teams to go beyond the traditional methods of top-level segmentation and ‘get granular’. Today, the top level is still used for strategic decisions, but the best teams can create detailed, informed micro-segments and multiple personas, leading to hyper-personalised tactical planning, communications, and customer experiences.

One of the biggest barriers in the past to brand planning and persona development has often been cited as a lack of resources and time. In the past, teams might have been restricted to working with a handful of segments and matching personas. Today, technology can transform this. With access to a solid customer data infrastructure, generative AI tools can develop far more personas – in minutes – than any brand team could ever have. These can also be adapted in real time as new data comes in.

These tools offer other useful abilities, such as enabling teams to ‘talk’ to each customer persona and ask them questions. The tool can then answer as if it were that persona. This way, teams can test hypotheses, which are another foundation for brand plans, and develop strategies and activities that will generate real impact for the business and customers.

So, how well do you know your customers… really? Conduct a self-assessment with these questions:

  1. Are your teams using more than a handful of personas?
  2. Do they have access to AI tools to support segmentation?
  3. Do they have the technology to develop and test various personas?
  4. How confident are you that your communications will resonate better than the competition’s?


The future is agile: Transform your process

Have you ever felt that brand planning feels more like a template-filling exercise than what it should be – a customer-centric process that drives innovation, impact, and value?

Even many senior leaders have flagged their brand planning process to us as being in desperate need of change and simplification, with lengthy annual processes that feel incongruous with our current reality of rapid change and evolution. So often, we find there is limited alignment across brands, even when they are targeting the same customer. The voice of the customer and patient is frequently diluted – in part due to internal restrictions and processes and in part due to timing.

It really doesn’t have to be this way! Step away from the PowerPoint templates and use technology to create digital workflows that everyone who needs to can access and edit. Generative AI can also be harnessed to pre-populate workflows and documents based on the latest data, prompt which questions need asking and answering, or trigger actions based on new insights.

Perhaps the biggest shift in the process needs to be away from the ‘one and done’ mindset that brand planning should be an annual, resource- and time-heavy chore. Using technology and automation to support the heavy lifting, brand planning can become a far more agile, ongoing activity, particularly where tactical planning is involved. Strategic planning can remain an annual activity, under the caveat that there are no seismic market changes, but by shifting tactical planning out of this process, it becomes leaner and more focused.

A transformative impact of this is that brand teams can concentrate on the ‘human’ elements such as creativity, strategic decision making and innovation. Question asking becomes an even more important skill – not only from a strategic point of view but also from a technology perspective. Generative AI is an amazing tool, but only if you ask it the right questions, so focus your team’s efforts on becoming ‘AI masters’.

This shift to a more agile, technology-enabled approach brings further benefits to brand planning, leaving more room to bring in the voice of the customer and patients. It actively encourages more creative and innovative approaches, along the fail-fast principles. Teams can pilot new ideas, based on input from customers, and terminate or build, based on live results.


Does your team have the tools to face 2024+ with agility? Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are you adapting your processes, or do you feel like you are stuck in the annual planning mud?
  2. Are you using technology to do the heavy lifting, or are your teams still updating a new version of an old PowerPoint template?
  3. Are you able to empower your teams to add real ‘human’ value?
  4. Are you being as customer- and patient-centric as you could be?


While many want to evolve their brand planning approach, fully embracing new technologies can feel like a hard step change. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. And, in our experience, those who adopt a growth mindset and challenge themselves to bring innovation into their core processes rapidly see and feel the positive impact on their business, the customer, and patients.

This is the key to delivering omnichannel experiences that meet or exceed expectations, communicating personalised messages via the channels the audiences are actively using at the right time. It is the solution to freeing up teams’ time to focus on where they really add value. Through the adoption of available technologies, we can reinvigorate the brand planning process and ensure we are ready for the next big shift in our world, whatever that may be.

There will be more change to come… Are you ready for it?


Ready to transform your brand planning?

Uptake’s digital and brand planning specialists are adept at making the complex simple, with practical, impactful consultancy.

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