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Pharma Brand Planning in 2021 – An essential guide for the new normal

6 steps to build your brand plan in a ‘new normal.’ As well as our tips for brand planning in a ‘new normal’ why not have a read of our Pharma Brand Planners Guide below.

We are working with global and local brand teams to build strong healthcare brand plans using our proven modular approach.

Over the past year, we have been working with teams that have been pushed to move their brand planning activities from face-to-face to a virtual setup. Due to the very challenging times across the world, we have created some practical steps to take when building your brand plan with a virtual team:

Follow the steps below to plan your brand plan in an organised and productive manner:

1 – Spend time upfront agreeing on roles for each cross-functional team member, the process, and timings – virtual planning takes more preparation

2 – Take the time to learn from the current / previous plan – the pandemic has dramatically changed plans so learn from what has worked

3 – Consider the balance of team sessions and individual or small workstream time – we all commit more when we know our time is being used wisely

4 – Discuss and agree on the technology you will use as a team to support your planning – make sure the whole team are confident using it

5 – Assumptions and scenario planning will be critical – this will allow the team to plan to flex and adapt as needed

6 – Evaluate your mix of tactics carefully in the event of continued pressures on healthcare professionals and social distancing – be prepared to flex and then flex again!

Call the Uptake team on +44 1344 636405 or email if you’d like expert help in order to build a great brand plan!


The Pharma Brand Planners’ Guide

Stephanie Hall, Uptake Strategies Managing Director, has compiled an 8 Part Pharma Brand Planners’ Guide, which has been written for global/regional marketing or commercial leaders who are looking to start working on their strategic plans in preparation for brand planning season in June of the pharmaceutical industry calendar. Stephanie is often contacted by global franchise or brand leaders, wondering how to develop the best possible brand plan. As a former European marketing manager for a neurosciences launch brand and now a brand planning consultant and facilitator, Stephanie understands the challenges and has hands-on experience, so wanted to write the Brand Planners’ guide to help break down the task.

If this sounds like you or something you may need help with, then why not have a read of our preview below. If you would like access to a PDF version of the full guide, please click here.

Alternatively, the guide is also available in a blog format on the PMLive website, by following this link





So, where do you begin? For global and regional leaders, you need to start by asking yourself a few frank questions – and give yourself some honest answers:

1 – Are you clear on what format your plan needs to take?

2 – Have you solicited quality input from your key local colleagues across marketing, medical, market access and other key support functions?

3 – Are you in tune with what your senior management are looking for? And do you have a healthy sense of innovation and independence of spirit to tackle, to make your brand or franchise successful in the coming years?

4 – Are you working flat out and daunted by the task ahead of you? If so, get some outside help in now, with a clear brief and with people you trust

5 – Have you created a plan of attack for developing a high-quality global or regional plan? Dates, actions, outputs, measures of success? If not create a plan for your plan for the coming 8 weeks NOW!



This part of my How-to guide is focused on local brand planners – leaders and cross-functional team contributors – who have an important job to do in translating global and / or regional strategic guidance and plans at a local level.

There are inherent tensions in this endeavour – on one side, the global team wants to ensure their carefully researched strategies and global programmes achieve global reach and deliver a consistent brand and customer experience. From the local team’s perspective, they have to grapple with local market / access / customer / competitor differences, a complex picture which often doesn’t closely resemble that global vision.

So how do you get started on local brand planning for a pharma or biotech brand?


Check you know your company’s brand and financial brand planning timeline, process, frameworks and expectations – some companies have a very structured process and others are less so.

Assemble your cross-functional team and plan contributors, including your trusted agency partners who can input to strategy and can therefore create better solutions for your team and brand.  Engage professional training or facilitation help for your brand planning working sessions if needed – they (we!) can provide invaluable help in tackling the big strategic challenges, gaining team alignment and support for the overall process.


This section of the How-to guide, part 3 of the series, is focused on creating bold not bland strategies to create competitive advantage. What does it take to do that? Almost certainly you’ll need to do something creative or disruptive in order to accelerate the growth of your pharma brand in the coming year.

When working with pharma brand teams, I find that the strategy sections of the brand plan vary enormously – some companies have clearly defined strategic frameworks to help work through the key strategic choices for the brand for the coming year, and others have weak or even non-existent strategy sections.



Here we will focus on the tactical part of your pharma or biotech brand plan – finally, hurray! This is often the part of the plan that the team enjoys the most – putting together exciting tactics, messages and campaigns to communicate with, engage and motivate key audiences.

Brand teams approach tactical planning in different ways – some take a very top-down, financial approach, others start with a big brainstorm, or use agency partners to recommend innovative tactics, still others take a conservative approach, repeating what has been done the previous year.

The big challenge here is to ensure that the tactics align to the strategic decisions made earlier in the plan and that resources are allocated disproportionately based on the prioritisation of the customer segments.


This area of the How-to guide is focussed on “selling” your brand plan to your internal colleagues and management in order to gain the key decisions you need on strategy, resourcing, tactics, budget, etc…

The first thing to consider is who the key audiences are that you need to engage and what you need them to know or do. There tend to be a few “usual suspects” to consider:

1 – Your business unit or company General Manager and the leadership team across medical, business operations, market access, sales

2 – The wider cross-functional brand team members who support your brand or portfolio across medical information, legal, compliance, market research, finance

3 – Field based teams: medical science liaisons, sales teams, key account teams

4 – Your key support agencies who will be responsible for developing some of the content and tactics aligned to the brand strategy

5 – Your colleagues at regional and global level and in other local teams

6 – Any partners in collaborations, alliances or joint ventures

You may want to create a mini internal communications plan for each audience, defining what you want them to know or do, key interactions and what format or content you will use with them. The presentation content, style and tone will look very different for a brand plan review with a global team vs a planning presentation to the field force.


In this section we tackle one of the most important and most frequently neglected parts of the brand plan – the metrics and KPIs that give you valuable, regular feedback on your progress towards your brand plan goals and the operational effectiveness of your tactics.

In my marketing excellence work across the industry over the years, KPIs and measurement repeatedly come up as one of the most important topics for training or support. Some marketers just run out of time when it comes to this final section of the brand plan, others shy away

from giving numbers and targets, from a lack of confidence in setting the right target or being seen to fail. But with a bit of time and practice, the measurement section of your brand plan can take on a clear shape and structure, and then be used for some quality operational brand team reviews.

There is a clear disconnect between accepted marketing measurement theory and the definition and use of KPIs and metrics in practice. In a recent audit of ten brand plans (global and local) across ten different pharma / biotech companies from 2015-2018, I found the following:

– Only one out of the ten brand plans had SMART objectives linked to their KPIs

– Only four out of the ten brand plans contained KPIs, and only one of these brand plans contained KPIs with a clear timeline and target

– Only three out of the ten brand plans included a budget for market research, measurement and tracking.

So, let’s start with a couple of definitions: what is a metric and what is a KPI? Essentially a metric is any measure that we can define to give us feedback on our brand plan’s effectiveness, while a KPI is just that; they are the few key metrics that we define as being the most important to focus on. You may have many metrics within your plan but only eight to ten KPIs that will form the basis of your research, tracking and reporting as a cross-functional brand team.


In part 7 we are going to explore the best techniques for identifying, managing and monitoring risks within your brand or franchise plan.

In our industry we often acknowledge the changing external healthcare system environment, pricing / access, competitive and corporate environments and yet build plans with only one set of assumptions and one scenario for the future articulated and quantified.

A few statistics feel useful here to support our theme:

Across all major industries, 72% of all product launches fail to meet their revenue targets.

Across the globe, 83% of companies are suffering from strong price pressure.

So what do we mean by a risk? A risk is defined as a future uncertain outcome, usually with a negative impact on the brand / organisation, that can be quantified. This should be distinguished from an uncertainty which is more difficult to quantify and can be positive or negative in its impact on the brand/organisation.

Risks can be characterised in different ways: known and unknown, internal and external – a 2×2 box could help you plot and present your risks in this way.


In this section, we’re going to look at the principles, stepwise approach, and top tips for creating a robust forecast for your brand for the year ahead.

So how good are you and your team (and even your organisation) at forecasting? It’s worth thinking about this – how accurate were your assumptions (quantified and documented of course) for last year’s forecast? How accurate and easy to use is your patient-based forecasting model?

How many times did you need to reforecast? What was the balance of top-down and bottom-up forecasting -i.e. were you empowered to create and recommend a forecast as a team or did you have a target handed down to you from ‘on high’? How well did you create alternative forecast scenarios to manage risk and uncertainty?

Over the past few years, I have written and run a number of pharma forecasting training programmes and am continually surprised at the complexity, time, and angst that is associated with forecasting. I trust I can show you that forecasting can be fun! (Or at least a manageable exercise…)


Do you like what you have read so far? If you would like access to a PDF version of the full guide, please click here to download it.