April 27, 2020

Impact of COVID-19 on Brand Planning

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Executive Summary
How do you plan for 2021 when a post-COVID-19 “new normal” has yet to be established? Annual brand planning can be one of the most harried, hectic, and highly charged times of the year – and that’s without a global crisis of the scale that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented. Collaborating across internal stakeholders and agency partners requires deft, thoughtful coordination, even in the best of times.

To plan successfully in the current environment, teams must first “plan for planning” by setting clear expectations and leveraging the right technology to enable effective collaboration; then, balance being thoughtful and exhaustive with working rapidly in a consolidated timeframe; and finally, develop multiple scenario plans for 2021 that make it possible to pivot nimbly and progress despite ever-evolving dynamics. In this POV, we provide strategic and tactical thought-starters for ways to accomplish this and strategically plan for 2021 effectively.

COVID-19 is accelerating and amplifying trends that have already been working their way into healthcare, in addition to creating entirely new ones. It’s necessary to move more quickly and decisively than ever before. Simultaneously, however, we face more uncertainty and more absolute unknowns than ever before in history.

We can’t even stop and breathe right now. We’re constantly reacting, and don’t have time to think about 2021. – INTOUCH CLIENT

As brand teams ramp up to begin strategic planning for 2021, they are doing so during an international crisis with no precedent from which to base actions. Not only are they charged with thinking ahead to what may be one of the most challenging planning seasons they have experienced; they are also trying to keep their heads above water regarding immediate needs, while keeping pace with the rapidly shifting global reaction to the pandemic.

What we do know is that senior management in marketing and sales face the following challenges today and in 2021*:

  • Continuing timely diagnosis and treatment
  • Helping patients and healthcare professionals (HCPs) remain informed and supported
  • Ensuring access through affordability, supply, etc.
  • Maintaining and improving adherence
  • Driving market share, NBRx, and market growth in a new normal

*As also noted by Decision Resources Group and TGaS Advisors.

Improvise, Adapt and Overcome
The good news is that Intouch clients are reporting that their planning seasons will begin later than normal, providing them more bandwidth in the present. However, this means that the planning season will likely be truncated and even more intense than usual. What we are certain of is that successful 2021 planning will require scenario development: data-driven scenarios that can mitigate unknowns, be acted upon quickly, and which help a brand be agile and able to pivot when needed. It will also – as ever – require a balance between acting on strategic imperatives, and adept tactical execution.

Strategic Imperatives and Actions
Hyper-focus on creating customer experiences that enrich human connections. Despite fewer – or no – visits from reps, strong relationships with HCPs need to be built and maintained across personal and non-personal channels. For example, brands can work to support and improve the point-of-care experience (often, today, via telemedicine) for both patients and HCPs. (To learn more, see the Intouch Group POVs Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Its Impact on Pharmaceutical Marketing and Sales and Impact of COVID-19 on Medical Conferences and Live Events.)

Launching products post-COVID-19 will necessitate creating a new “hockey-stick” trajectory. New products may need a ramping-up period longer than usually planned – followed by rapid growth. A mix of face-to-face and virtual engagements must drive early interest and product trials. Similarly, tactics to generate interest and excitement must be balanced between digital and traditional, in order to make efforts as targeted as possible.

Customer service and support will differentiate products. Customers can be supported with both on-demand and live interactions. Digital touch points can connect, inform, educate, and support both HCPs and patients. And financial assistance must evolve to drive product initiation and adherence while ensuring affordability and profitability. (To learn more, see the Intouch Group POV COVID-19 and Its Impact on Patient Support Programs.)

Also, remember that 2020 is an election year, which may cause policy changes in 2021.

Tactical Considerations
Consider “re-launching” your product. This may be an opportunity to simplify your brand’s value proposition, prioritize your HCP and patient targets, and orchestrate tailored communications across channels. Drive sales post-COVID-19 with an evolved marketing mix. Targets and segments need to be analyzed to determine which will produce the highest return. Brands will be asked to prioritize targets and channels. Channels need to be scrutinized to determine which will produce the highest ROI and which can scale, as well as how messaging can be orchestrated across them. Having data allows brands to make informed decisions and develop multiple scenarios. Those that use data will differentiate themselves in the marketplace in 2021. (To learn more, see the Intouch Group POV Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Its Impact on Pharmaceutical Marketing and Sales.)

Use – but don’t overuse – digital outreach. HCPs are already complaining about email overload. Investigate how to establish reach and frequency governance across brands and channels; how to establish response thresholds that indicate growing non-responses and opt-outs and adjust accordingly; and how to incorporate testing and agility to ensure optimization.

Make the most of technology solutions to provide agility efficiently and effectively. To ensure that existing tools – SalesForce, Veeva, Adobe, etc. – are being used to their fullest potential, pinpoint the tech gaps that are preventing efficient and effective omnichannel execution, and explore what innovations can drive business goals, meet customer needs, and provide competitive differentiation.

Develop 2-3 plans at varying investment levels and with varying marketing levers. Be ready to be agile in the second half of 2020, and throughout 2021, through the continuous monitoring of objective key results, leading and lagging indicators, insights, and learnings. Make decisions based on multiple data points, from market research, to marketing-mix analysis, to sources like paid-media response rates.

Plan for planning. Approach planning thoughtfully, and assume that planning will be done remotely, and not always live. Remove what complexity you can with the thoughtful use of technology, such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams for online meetings with breakout session capabilities, Mural or Trello for virtual whiteboarding, and Microsoft Teams or Google Suite to communicate and share files with specific groups both inside and outside your organization. Start early (with a timeline), stay small (with smaller-than-normal workstreams dictated by strategy), and keep everyone informed (with an online collaboration space). Consider different formats and facilitators to keep things fresh. For example, reset your mindset with short virtual workshops.

Getting comfortable with the unknowns, making data-driven decisions, and collaborating across the organization will take time and set you up for success. Remember, although brand planning timelines may have shifted, January 2021 is still happening on time. – AARON UYDESS, EVP, INTOUCH ANALYTICS


Don’t Start From Scratch
Refer to the best of last year’s work and consider how things may have shifted based on the impact of COVID-19 on your customers.

Stay Informed
Continue to monitor trends and seek outside perspectives.

Develop Scenarios
War-game back-to-business scenarios, both internally and with your partners.

Optimize and Scale Spending
Conduct a full marketing-mix analysis, including marginal ROI calculations, while understanding the halo effect to prioritize channels and segments.

Initiate a customer-experience audit of HCP and patient assets, to know what you have and how they are performing.

Understand the New Normal
Facilitate market research to test brand, customer-support, marketing, and sales approaches post-COVID-19.

Prioritize Opportunities
Review, re-evaluate, and update targeting approaches to confirm opportunities and find new ones.

Fine-Tune Orchestration
Determine the next best actions to construct customer-orchestration options.

We can’t know how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last or what a post-COVID-19 world will look like for patients, HCPs, payers, or pharma. All we know is that next year WILL be different. Data-driven planning scenarios will allow brands to be agile and can provide a competitive advantage. This approach requires thorough planning, collaboration, and coordination, which can seem challenging in these tumultuous times, but which will prove profoundly worthwhile. Brands will find their opportunities to be greater than the challenges facing them when they properly plan.

©Intouch Group 2020
Authors: Wanda Cruz, SVP, Marketing Intelligence; Joanna Derma, SVP, Account Services; Sarah Morgan, Consultant Writer; Aaron Uydess, EVP, Intouch Analytics; Stewart Young, SVP, Strategic Planning