Pharma product launch — critical success factors

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Rethinking pharma product launch strategy

Changing market dynamics and new customer preferences are causing savvy marketers to rethink their pharma product launch strategies. A worrying trend of launches falling well below expectations is leading many to question the traditional 'reach and frequency' approach. With just 30% meeting first-year forecasts,1 companies are now innovating new HCP engagement models that better account for healthcare professionals' (HCP) needs today.

Solving this is essential. The ability to repeatedly introduce new products successfully is fundamental  — determining not just current valuations but a company's whole future. So, what does it take to win?

This Insight collects best practices and new thinking in pharma product launches. To learn more, reach out to hear how Anthill can help you get the desired results for your next product launch — or shape your whole marketing organisation for repeated success. Contact us

HCP engaged in pharma product launch communications
Healthcare companies are now updating their HCP engagement models

Start early

Pharma product launch excellence is a fancy way of saying that you did everything right. And you have the best chance to do that — ticking every box, dotting every 'i' — if you start early.

What's now well understood in pharma is that the trajectory you achieve at launch determines the long-term success of your product. Unless you succeed quickly, it is hard to catch up. About 70 percent of products that miss expectations at launch continue doing so in subsequent years.2 Because the pharma launch window closes fast, you must do everything possible to improve your chances. You achieve this by assessing your organisation's readiness and strengthening your competencies wherever required.

For example, a company may have excellent strategy and brand competencies but need to raise their game in content production, optimise their MarTech stack, or sharpen omnichannel capabilities. No organization is perfect, and in a competitive and changing marketplace, continual improvements maintain your marketing muscle and ensure that your next pharma product launch will be as successful.

Pharma product launch preparedness diagram
Strengthen capabilities to ensure your organization is ‘launch fit’

New pharma product launch models

In the past, reps were reserved for the most likely prescribers and digital engagement provided to lower-priority targets. In this way, marketers looked at their available resources and assigned them to where they would produce a positive result. At the time, that made a lot of sense. However, changing market conditions and shifting customer preferences are causing companies to rethink — and marketers to innovate new pharma product launch models.

The market is now more complicated. Many 'high priority' customers no longer meet with reps. Some prefer to first educate themselves about your product before any face-to-face engagement. Others will only meet face-to-face at certain moments. This more complex environment makes reserving reps for 'likely prescribers' ineffective because people are being directed to HCPs who either do not want to see them or will only do so at certain moments on their journey with your product. Today's pharma product launches require more precise market segmentation.

Consequently, forward-thinking companies now start with HCP preferences and design their engagement model accordingly — considering factors such as 'digital affinity', which means the extent to which individual HCPs value digital channels. In practice, this requires recognising that some HCPs want face-to-face meetings, some will only engage digitally, and many prefer a blend of the two.

This approach is more effective because the form of engagement that HCPs receive — F2F, digital or blended — matches their preferences. If you get it wrong, your message never reaches the audience. But if you get the channel selection right for each HCP, the door is open.

Two Anthill Agency experts discuss healthcare marketing strategies in the office

Account for content preferences

New pharma product launch models don't just account for HCP channel preferences but also the kinds of content that individuals want to consume. While knowing an HCP's digital affinity is essential, this is just part of the story — they still need to receive the right content in that channel.

For example, some HCPs respond strongly to clinical data, while others react to patient quality of life case studies. Getting this wrong and sending the 'wrong' content significantly impacts its effectiveness.

HCPs also have differing content format tendencies. While video is popular with HCPs, it isn't universally preferred. Some people like to scan media and explore in their own way — making websites preferable. Others only want short videos.

By understanding actual HCP preferences in this way, you can build your pharma product launch content efficiently. And the more granular you can be in your customer understanding, the better the results you will get because everything — channels, topics, and content formats — closely matches individual needs.

Align F2F and digital channels

Pharma product launch excellence requires one seamless customer experience. Everything must be connected and designed to move HCPs up the adoption ladder quickly. For many healthcare companies, a fundamental challenge is aligning in-person meetings with digital channels — and sequencing these engagements in the most impactful way.

One way to do this is by setting 'triggers' at specific points in a planned customer journey that automatically offer an in-person engagement. For example, once an HCP has engaged in your digital channels for a certain amount of time and, therefore, understands the basics of your product's benefits, the first in-person meeting can be scheduled.

You can also identify 'turning points' in a customer journey — topics that an HCP must fully understand before they can go deeper into your product story — and then offer in-person meetings to ensure that future progress. In this way, by using your sales team strategically to enable HCPs to progress up the adoption ladder, you build momentum and improve the pharma product launch trajectory.

For most pharma companies, this approach requires new ways of working; therefore internal practices may need to change. There could be resistance. Getting everyone aligned and pulling in the same direction — rather than multiple strategies and tactics for in-person engagement and digital channels — is challenging. However, you can achieve it by ensuring all stakeholders understand that change is needed to deliver quality customer experiences that drive launch success.

Close up of an HCP engaged in pharma marketing content on an iPhone

Fix the pharma product launch supply chain

While the marketplace has changed rapidly, pharma's marketing systems haven’t kept up. Old systems and procedures don't fit the new models companies now want to implement. The main problem? Pharma's content supply chain wasn't designed for a digital world. For pharma product launches, this causes two related problems.

Firstly, you cannot create content in the necessary volume. That is a massive problem for many companies. Your ability to implement new engagement models — matching HCP preferences for channels, content topics and formats — hinges on the ability to produce content at scale. Low-volume production means it is spread too thinly to be effective. Precisely-targeted communications that enable your pharma product launch messages to break through simply require more content.

Secondly, an inefficient supply chain prevents you from responding to the market promptly and addressing issues in your product launch content. Often, marketers can see that something isn't working, but they cannot respond quickly. Even simple changes can take months — and not just due to the requirements of MLR. Outdated agency production methods equally hamper your ability to respond to data and work in a more agile way.

Forward-thinking companies recognised the issues and implemented content excellence programmes to fix the problems. These initiatives look at your whole supply chain — identifying and fixing bottlenecks. For example, one answer could be a missing technology, such as a 'content authoring tool' e.g. Anthill Activator. Content authoring tools enable companies and their agencies to create and edit content much more efficiently. Activator also simplifies internal processes too, such as MLR and content localisation.

Another solution could be introducing modular content, which speeds production and brings efficiencies throughout the supply chain — agency briefing, content creation, MLR, and localisation. Likewise, there are tremendous opportunities if you can implement generative AI safely and with full compliance.

What counts is that you have a robust content supply chain. Marketing is content. Pharma product launches demand lots of it. And therefore solving the 'content problem' must be a priority.

A banner highlighting a case study for Anthill Activator

Activate MSLs in pre-launch

There is now good evidence that prelaunch field medical education leads to a major increase in treatment adoption, according to a recent Veeva report.3 The data showed that MSL engagement with KOLs before product launches — either in-person or via video — resulted in 1.5x greater adoption in the first six months compared to healthcare organisations that were not engaged.

The report — a US-based analysis of migraine products using data from Veeva Link, Veeva OpenData, Veeva Compass, and Veeva Pulse, March 2019 to June 2023 — demonstrated for the first time what pharma product launch experts have long understood: activating MSLs and aligning their medical education work with the overall go-to-market strategy is essential.

In practice, implementing this can be challenging. Medical and Commercial have traditionally operated independently. But, with a pressing need to improve pharma product launch performance, things are changing. Pharma companies are now exploring ways to integrate medical affairs into their overall HCP engagement models— while keeping clear boundaries between Medical and Commercial activities.

From the HCP's perspective, a holistic approach makes sense. While MSL engagements are always popular, HCPs evaluate a company's overall communication. In other words, they rate a company on the total experience provided — and expect communication to be aligned so their time is respected.

A banner highlighting a pharma product launch webinar

Automate more pharma product launch engagement

While digital technology has revolutionised pharma marketing in many ways, its ability to automate HCP engagement has been a missed opportunity. However, the recent disappointing pharma launch performance is encouraging companies to take these channels seriously.

One proven solution is automating eDetailing presentations and web engagement to enable HCPs to access them on-demand and explore independently. Such channels are an excellent match for many HCPs — those with high digital affinity, those who delay seeing a rep until they have educated themselves, and even doctors who prefer not to see any reps at all but will engage digitally.

Many companies are looking to improve web content performance. Traditional pharma websites haven’t provided a great HCP experience and rarely produce deep engagement. And they don’t easily support the ‘just for you experience’ of new pharma product launch models.

Automated detailing systems provide a much better experience. This is achieved by an embedded intelligent 'chatbot' that guides HCPs through the content and assists them in finding precisely the information they need. For many HCPs, this is exactly what they want. In fact, Anthill's own experience providing such systems shows that engagement can be even higher than traditional face-to-face sales rep sessions.

Another benefit is reach and contact frequency. While pharma product launch best practices today do call for increasingly sophisticated market segmentation, rapidly building awareness for your product launch remains fundamental. Automated detailing can provide you with an edge. While your sales force cannot be everywhere, there are no limits to the number of HCPs that can be reached with automated engagements — enabling you to maximise opportunities in the crucial initial months of launch when HCP interest is greatest.

Female doctor interacting with an automated engagement solution on her mobile phone

Engage patients groups early

The golden rule of pharma product launches — start early — applies equally to patient engagement as it does to KOLs. Quickly making connections with patient advocacy groups (PAGs) pays off because their influence is rising with medical authorities who value patient input on cost sharing, pricing and access issues.

PAGs can also provide vital insights that can directly impact your planning and pharma launch success, e.g., market needs, desired treatment outcomes, and trial protocols. Instigating two-way dialogue early can, therefore, mitigate missed expectations and ensure you address genuine patient needs.

Despite their growing importance, PAG engagement is commonly left too late — often just six months before the launch date. And the result is that such programmes fail to get sufficient traction. They need to take place much earlier. In fact, best practices indicate that PAG engagement should start simultaneously with contacts to physician advisors and other experts.

Patient engagement should be at the core of every pharma product launch plan. Ensuring timely engagement requires internal education and the establishment of common procedures or 'rules of engagement'. Establishing a PAG engagement platform for all products clarifies best practices and helps those who lack experience in this area.

Graphic showing value of patient group engagement in pharma product launches
Impact of limited patient advocacy on pharma product launch success (4)

Data-driven execution

New HCP engagement models require improvements to both content production capabilities (see above) and the 'data supply chain'. While digital communication has provided pharma with abundant data, this raw information must be refined into actionable insights.

All interactions tell stories about the channels HCPs prefer, the formats they want, the messages that engage them, and the order in which everything should be provided. Knowing that takes the guesswork out of pharma product launches. And now with personalised automated engagement solutions like Anthill’s Amplify, that data can be incredibly granular — right down to individual preferences.

But how do you transform that data into actionable insights at scale?

The answer for many leading healthcare marketing organisations is to use machine learning. Artificial intelligence (AI) can simplify complex datasets and continually deliver insights. That enables you to develop better launch plans and — crucially —update those plans depending on how the market reacts. Because the pharma launch window closes fast, actionable data is essential. It enables you to 'back your winners', reinforcing successful engagements, or rethink tactics that aren't working.

Often, the answers to your marketing challenges are right there in the data. For example, AI can help you identify the fastest 'pathway to prescription' through your content for specific customer profiles. You can then apply that insight to your omnichannel customer journey planning and enable HCPs to move up the adoption ladder faster — producing the early momentum that is a great predictor of long-term pharma product launch success.

What's essential is to combine the real-time market insights of AI with an efficient content supply chain. Data, no matter how good, are useless if you cannot act on them quickly. This is why machine learning market analysis is best implemented in tandem with content excellence practices. When you have both actionable market insights and the content systems that enable you to respond, the results are exponential.

It's time for change

An old adage says: "If it isn’t broken, don't fix it." But the truth is that the traditional pharma product launch model is broken and does need fixing. Across the industry, launch results have been gloomy in recent years — though a few bright spots show the way forward.

Launch teams that succeeded possessed a deep understanding of HCPs and patients, adapted to a rapidly changing healthcare landscape, and implemented today's pharma product launch best practices.

The winners optimised their content supply chain. They started their engagements early to shape the market. They targeted communications by accounting for HCP preferences — using the channels that individual doctors prefer. And they remained agile by adapting and making changes quickly as content performance data was received. You can too.

If you're looking to improve your pharma launch results, Anthill's arsenal of services and products make it possible. Our advanced omnichannel marketing solutions meet the actual needs of HCPs today —  superior experiences made possible by content excellence programmes and supply chain technologies that streamline your operations. And our pre-launch solutions, Medical Affairs initiatives and patient engagement capabilities set the stage for success.

Discover how Anthill can equip your organisation to thrive in an increasingly dynamic pharmaceutical landscape.

Older male doctor reviewing information from a pharmaceutical company on an iPhone


1. IQVIA: Creating a framework for a successful launch, 2018
2. Deloitte Insights: Key factors to improve drug launches, March 2020
3. Veeva Pulse Field Trends Report: Pre-launch Field Medical Education Leads to a 1.5x Increase in Treatment Adoption, 2023
4. Indegene: Achieving product launch success in the biopharma industry, 2023. Interviews with experts from the top-20 biopharma companies by revenue.


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