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Pharma Strategist’s Blog: How and When Should We Innovate Our Strategies to Deliver Competitive Advantage?

Understanding the five mistakes to avoid in order to ensure brand success

Authored by Maxine Smith, Managing Director, Uptake Strategies for the PME Pharma Strategists’ Blog

In this article for Pharma Market Europe, Maxine shares her five ‘deadly sins’ to avoid when considering the competitive landscape. She explores in detail how our view of competitive threat – whether taken too seriously, or not seriously enough – can impact upon the effectiveness of our strategy.

Maxine warns pharma brands not to get complacent by relying on the strength of early data and the clear differentiated positioning carved out at launch stage. She encourages constant exploration and evaluation to reinforce the strength of positioning, and how this can be woven into the fabric of disease management.

Read below or click to access the published version

Developing a competitive strategy is a fundamental part of any decent brand strategy. We may look at competitors in different ways during different parts of the brand life cycle.

But fundamentally, we are asking the same questions, to identify the competitive threat, to look to understand what approach the competition may take, to explore the environment or perform a stakeholder analysis to find areas of leverage and then define our defence.

There are several ‘deadly sins’ that we can try to avoid, particularly when we have reached a leadership position. My top five ‘deadly sins’ are:

  1. Not fully appreciating who our competitors are. Increasingly, this could be in technology rather than medicine, and we fail to cast the net widely enough
  2. Not learning from mistakes, and by that, I mean the mistakes of other brands and companies as well as those of our competitors. We should always be looking for the implications of what we observe
  3. Taking a competitor threat too seriously or not taking it seriously enough; both will have an impact on the effectiveness of our strategy by giving our competition either too much or not enough airtime
  4. The need to run our own race. It can be very tempting to see the apparent success a competitor is generating and try to emulate this, but often with limited success
  5. Not using a mix of data sources and time points. A narrow data focus could bias the results and therefore damage the strategy.

It is ‘deadly sin number 3’ that I wanted to explore in more detail. We can all recite examples from the consumer world, of companies that took their eye off the ball and lost out to newer, hungrier competitors; companies like Blockbuster, Yahoo, Nokia – to name just a few. These examples are well documented, and while there are several different contributing factors in each case that led to their downfall, I would argue that we are frequently ‘guilty’ of similar mistakes with our brands as they mature. We don’t explore in enough depth the impact of innovation connected with our brand, the changing needs of the customer base and our willingness to embrace different types of innovation.

Innovating within the space we ‘own’

Many brands have a differentiated positioning at launch. They have the fastest onset, a cleaner safety profile, or a more efficacious impact on disease x. When we build out strategies and plans, we create life cycle management plans to continue to solidify the profile of the treatment. This stronger profile invariably builds greater confidence and helps to confirm that using brand y for disease x is a good decision. We can become too reliant on the strength of our data and forget to explore what else will help to reinforce our positioning and what else will weave the strength of our positioning into the fabric of disease management.

Innovation and change

We do not exist in a vacuum. Although we spend every working day focused on our brands and the relevant disease, this is very rarely the case for customers and patients also connected to the same disease area.

If we take the average patent-protected time span of a brand once it is available on the market – about ten to 12 years – it is fair to say a lot will change over this duration. Ten years ago, the Apple Watch, smart home speakers and supermarket home deliveries did not exist. Expectations on customer service, technology, societal values and norms have all changed and will continue to evolve. This impacts expectations from companies and brands, and pharma brands are no exception.

Customers and patients expect treatments to continue to be made easier to administer, store and replenish. There is an expectation around the training, advice, support and encouragement that will be provided, not to mention the platforms that will be used for these. We ignore these changes at our peril, as our competition is hungrier and keener to listen and respect frustrations articulated by customers and patients.

We may not be able to fundamentally change our brands, but we can ensure that everything else connected to the brand continues to meet changing customer expectations and that we seek to remove frustrations before they become a competitor stepping stone.

Timing is the last essential element. These competitive innovation strategies and discussions need to happen as the brand is growing, harnessing ongoing momentum before sales start to plateau. We would encourage every mid-life cycle brand to undergo a rigorous ‘innovation health check’ to explore the current frustrations and future expectations of the customer and patient, to reflect on which societal changes and inventions will impact how we, as patients, view the pharmacological interventions that we take and will continue to take. This type of assessment will help to stoke the internal competitive hunger and banish complacency from our strategies before it is too late.

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