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Transformation techniques for brand planning impact

Welcome to Part One 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.

Let’s get started!


Innovative transformation techniques for brand planning impact: Where are your blind spots?

The internal and external environment is constantly challenging pharma leaders to think innovatively to drive business performance and enable patients to gain rapid access to lifesaving medicines, but many admit to having blind spots or to having difficulty knowing how to adopt an innovative mindset.

In this article, Uptake’s Stephanie Hall, Chelsea Foxwell, and Rachel Moran share their top five transformation techniques for pharmaceutical companies to adopt when innovating during brand planning in 2024 and beyond.

The introduction of new digital solutions, hybrid working, and regulatory environments are a few of the key changes that leaders are currently trying to navigate their teams through. Two of the most common strategic questions we hear are, ‘What can we do differently to continue to differentiate ourselves from the competition?’ and, ‘How do we keep up with the evolving landscape we are now operating in?‘

We have seen teams develop bold ideas, transformation strategies and even new change programmes to innovate how they work in the future, but while this sounds wonderful, in truth, it is only going to win half the battle. Driving impactful results and sustainable changes to the way you work requires embedded and sustained changes to mindsets, capabilities, processes, systems, and technology.

Over the past three years alone, Uptake has partnered with clients to deliver circa 100 brand planning projects. Our recommended ‘top five transformation techniques’ have been directly influenced by this work.


1 – The high performer’s blind spot: Complacency

Are you an overachiever? This technique is for you.

Complacency can occur when a brand is performing well, meeting or exceeding targets. Persuading teams to start thinking about ‘What’s next?’ or ‘How can we continue this growth and success?’ can be challenging when things are going well.

We understand that there is always a burning platform or a challenge somewhere else, which is a higher priority, BUT a delay in innovating will usually cost you in the long term as others are busy innovatively planning to disrupt your market share. Often, our competitors are not always who we expect them to be, so making time to challenge assumptions and think differently rather than being complacent can help the creative longevity of growth and success.

So, how do you overcome a cultural mindset of ‘don’t fix what isn’t broken’?

You can start by sharing an example of where this has happened to make a perceived possible risk more of a reality.

A great example is the rise and fall of Kodak. As an industry leader, the Kodachrome was the iPhone of its time, capturing 90% of the US film industry’s market share. Kodachrome’s stability and consistency meant that it was hard to believe that anything could derail the company’s success. However, as technology evolved, Kodak was faced with a decision: to continue to be a leader in the film industry or release the first digital camera.

Now, you may ask why they couldn’t do both. There was a risk that their innovation would destroy their current market, so they made the decision to put their innovation aside to maintain their position as film market leaders. Ultimately, this complacency led to their downfall, as not long after this decision, companies such as Sony and Canon began to release digital cameras, so when Kodak finally joined in, it was too late. Since then, Kodak has filed for bankruptcy and is now attempting to rebuild its brand.

If Kodak really understood the customer insights and what the competitors were doing, would they have taken the same decision?

Growth is rarely achieved in the comfort zone, so push outside of this and adopt a growth mindset where you are constantly asking yourself and your team, ‘What’s next?’ and thinking, ‘I can’.


2 – The cultural blind spot: Fear of change

It’s time to get honest about your culture. How confident does your team really feel to think differently and try new ways of doing things?

Creating a safe environment for your team to explore and learn will not only promote new thinking but will also encourage openness to your ideas. To build this environment, it is critical that you reward not only the successes but also the journey.

How do you inspire and build a curious culture?

PayPal has developed a culture that actively promotes and rewards curiosity, which is achieved through the application of gamification. Each year, PayPal has an ‘innovation tournament’, a companywide event that gives everyone the opportunity to pitch an idea based on a set of problem statements. Employees are given currency to allow them to vote for different submissions, and the ideas with the most votes get to pitch to leadership.

This approach of ‘innovation crowdsourcing’ has changed the organisation’s openness to thinking differently and tangibly affected company-wide engagement, leading to measurable business impact.


3 – The busy leader’s blind spot: Allocation of time

In the ever-changing healthcare landscape, companies are experiencing organisational restructures, challenges in how they work with HCPs, and more. This is leading to more pressure on existing employees and a lack of time to prioritise innovative thinking and problem-solving.

It’s sometimes quicker and easier to apply what’s worked in the past rather than thinking about and trying something new, but actively allowing space and designating protected time to explore new approaches to problem-solving and create competitive differentiation is crucial.

How do you overcome the issue of a lack of time?

It’s not easy to decide when and where to innovate; however, if you are time-poor, consider leveraging the agile methodology for your brand planning process.

Agile uses short, focused, collaborative sessions to maximise output. It encourages you to let go of perfect and focus on the big stuff. This can be an effective way to deliver an efficient process while still encouraging innovation, as it can allow for iterative development, frequent testing, and cross-functional collaboration.


4 – The innovative planner’s blind spot: Implementation

So, you’ve built a wonderfully innovative strategy or brand plan. Congratulations! Don’t fall at the final hurdle…

The right people, in the right place, motivated to deliver an innovative brand plan is a key factor in achieving full potential. Invest time and energy thinking about how you create a team with the right understanding, capabilities, and confidence to execute your plan.

How can you innovate from start to end?

Think about the evolution of the mobile/cell phone from a practical tool to a ‘lifestyle device’. This required the telecommunications industry to drive a significant mindset change regarding the role of portable phones in the future. It evolved from a device used to speak to someone else in another location to a device used for music, connection, work, and financial transactions.

Suddenly, being an engineer or technology genius in telecoms wasn’t enough; you needed to be a lifestyle coach, a music mogul, a financial services specialist… AND figure out how this device can disrupt other industries while convincing people to use their mobile phones for all these new purposes.

Take influence from those great telecom innovators; thanks in part to them, we are living in a digital era; capability development and engagement can be achieved in so many innovative ways. Think about how you can give your teams a differentiated experience, aligned to how you are thinking about your brand plan. Identify the 2-3 killer capabilities that will be your game-changers, then focus on ways you can motivate your teams to excel in them.


5 – The engagement blind spot: Emotion

Ultimately, impact relies on a shared vision, so your job is to make sure people believe in your plan. It’s common to get bogged down in the details and forget to lift your head up to bring the right people along the journey with you.

For decades, behavioural scientists such as Daniel Kahneman (author of ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’) have demonstrated the power of storytelling to drive engagement. By creating a captivating narrative, you are triggering the emotional parts of the listener’s brain. This allows the listener to emotionally connect to the story, thus driving commitment.

Despite this phenomenon, emotional connection is often missed in brand planning presentations. With so much focus placed on what is going to be shared, don’t forget to be innovative in how it is shared.

Taking a step back and remembering the bigger picture can help you identify your story, consider why you are doing this, how you came to your conclusions, and ultimately, how it is going to benefit the patient.

As Maya Angelou famously said, ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’.


Ready to transform your brand planning?

Uptake uniquely combines expertise in planning, innovation, and transformational change management to drive practical, impactful, and sustainable results.

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