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Mastering pharma brand planning in 2024+

Welcome to Part Three 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. 


Mastering pharma brand planning in 2024+

How do you stack up?

Before you throw yourself into developing your next brand plan, how can you be sure that you are setting yourself up for success? In this article, Uptake’s Stephanie Hall and Roz Lawson share their advice for mastering the art of the brand plan.

Based on their combined experience and our organisational benchmarking analysis of the 100 most recent brand planning processes Uptake has supported, Stephanie and Roz identify the common pitfalls that must be avoided by pharma brand teams at all costs, along with the factors that directly affect the likely impact of a brand plan, using Uptake’s brand-new framework for impact evaluation.

Navigate the brand planning minefield

When we set out to write this article, we were expecting to brainstorm a short list of pitfalls that our healthcare consulting team noticed pharmaceutical brand teams succumbing to time after time. In fact, we landed on a whopping ten of them, which demonstrates just how easy it is for a brand plan to take a nosedive!

Interestingly, many of the pitfalls we identified are connected to ‘how’ a brand plan is created, deployed, and (under)utilised, rather than ‘what’ goes into it.

The likely reason for this is that, in our experience, there’s always a lot of focus on the ‘what’ but comparatively little on the ‘how’. Most of our clients, no matter their geographic location, brand, or lifecycle stage, use a fairly standard structure for their brand plan: overall goals or vision, situational analysis, SWOT, strategic imperatives, objectives, and tactics. These are all important components – but getting them right doesn’t ensure your brand plan will thrive.

In the spirit of improving the ‘how’, we’ve personified our pitfalls. Can you identify yourself in any of these?

The joy sponge

Your brand planning process has become a templated or process-driven exercise, driven by global support teams looking for consistency, sucking all the inspiration and joy out of the plans, and leaving you with ‘bland plans’.

The lost voice

You assemble a team so big that it is impossible to keep everyone engaged and contributing. 

The reinventor

You find yourself starting from scratch each year, rather than reviewing last year’s plan, asking what’s changed in the market and for your brand, what’s working (and what’s not) to drive uptake. 

The tactician

You get stuck into the tactics before the strategic imperatives are defined, or you move too quickly into solution mode before defining the problem. 

The introvert

You make it hard for cross-functional team members to contribute effectively, mainly by not making them part of the brand planning team (silos still exist) and not making good use of their time and expertise. 

The dictator

You deploy a global to local ‘push’ without creating room for local market input, adaptation and ownership. 

The accountant

Your planning focuses on how to hit budget numbers from senior management, stifling innovation and missing opportunities for growth. 

The victim of success

You are the market leader, and you find yourself losing touch with the changing competitive, patient, HCP and payer needs and dynamics and not putting the work in to generate new learnings and insights. 

The renegade

You proceed without leadership buy-in at each step of the process, or you wait until the final draft to engage leadership.  

The one-hit wonder

You put a huge amount of effort into brand plans that then sit on a (digital) shelf for the rest of the year, not creating a ‘living plan’ that guides decision-making throughout the year. 


Of course, teams don’t set out on their brand planning expecting to experience or succumb to these pitfalls. Doing so is usually the result of good intentions.

For example, having an agreed template and a defined process for brand planning is clearly a good thing – the pitfall comes when the template or process takes over. Marketing usually ‘owns’ the brand plan and knows that their Medical or Access colleagues are busy and often working across several brands, so they want to respect their colleagues’ time and don’t invite them to every session – and suddenly, the cross-functional collaboration falls apart. Similarly, global brand teams must provide guidance and direction to local teams, but the pitfall is making it ‘one size fits all’ – too rigid or limiting.

So, the reality is that avoiding these pitfalls and navigating the ‘how’ successfully often comes down to creating a balance. If you can master this, you’ll be a brand planning ‘master’.

Driving Uptake

Let’s fast forward: you’ve created your brand plan, avoiding all the above potential pitfalls – well done! Now, how can you go further, fully optimising it to drive uptake?

Uptake’s proprietary brand planning impact evaluation framework gives brand teams the ability to forecast likely success and focus efforts on the improvements required for maximum impact:

Assessment Questions

1 Patient-centric analysis and insights 

Does the situation analysis contain qualitative insights and quantified analysis supported by a patient-centric journey considering all relevant stakeholders and leading to a prioritised set of sources of growth?  

2 Compelling differentiation strategy 

Are the brand and company’s strengths and weaknesses clearly articulated from the customers’ perspective (without internal rose-tinted glasses) with a compelling differentiation strategy? 

3 Engaging with the right people 

Are the priority patient, payer and prescriber segments clearly defined with measurable desired changes in attitude and behaviour? 



4 Innovative thinking and delivery 

How innovative is the brand plan in terms of evidence generation, use of patient/prescriber-centric technology, disruptive strategies, and digital engagement? Are the leading indicators of this innovation defined and tracked? 

5 Access delivering competitive advantage 

How well does the pricing/access/value strategy hold water in the current competitive environment? Have the risks and uncertainties of access been clearly mapped and managed? 

6 Clear set of priorities with measurable outcomes 

Are the strategic priorities or objectives defined in detail with measurable KPIs across the year to enable proactive and data-driven decisions? 

7 Strong organisational belief 

Does the entire team (senior management, different functions, core brand team) believe in the plan authentically, and is the entire team committed to making it a success? Has the company resourced the plan in line with this belief and commitment? 

8 Getting things done 

Has the plan been defined in operational detail at a customer and account level to ensure operational excellence in implementation? Have you created a living plan? 


Starting at the top, it is no surprise that we first want to ensure that the plan is patient centric. In practice, though, it takes discipline to work through the analysis and insights of the patient-centric journey to identify where to focus, rather than jumping to a brand-centric view of the world.

Similarly, it takes honesty and resilience to develop a meaningful differentiation strategy. You do need to remove those rose-tinted spectacles and be open to exploring the weaknesses of your brand as well as its strengths. Competitor ‘wargaming’ involving the cross-functional brand team can be a valuable way to strengthen your differentiation strategy.

Any brand plan must be clear about target customers, and a brilliant brand plan will articulate the customer engagement strategy: how you will engage in the right way with the right people at the right time to drive the changes in behaviour that will increase the uptake of your brand.

An earlier article in this series talked about how brand teams can and should take advantage of the opportunities that new technologies and AI enable to transform their brand planning processes. This is just one of the areas where you can bring innovative thinking and delivery into your plans.

We know that access is so fundamental and critical to a brand’s success, and this question is about the pricing, access and value strategy part of the cross-functionally aligned plan – not to be confused with the action plan for the Access function.

Strategy is as much about choosing what not to do as what to do. The question here is about how well you have made choices and prioritised them. There should be just a small number of strategic imperatives, which are then broken down into behavioural objectives that can be measured: x% patients are diagnosed, y% of formularies include therapy, z% of HCPs use therapy, etc. Every tactic should then link back to a behavioural objective and, in turn, to a strategic imperative.

It’s so important that everyone truly believes in the plan – all functions, at all levels. It can be helpful to create a ‘plan on a page’ that everyone signs off on, which then serves as a ‘north star’ to guide future decisions, activities and investments.

And finally, implementation. There’s a sense of excitement when operational detail is defined exceptionally well: the plan almost comes alive and flies off the page – it carries momentum through the organisation.

So, when it comes to mastering the brand plan in 2024 and beyond, how do you stack up?


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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