Does great brand planning make the difference?

As the hot summer days begin to fade behind us, thoughts start to turn towards next year. Teams are ramping up their planning activities to agree the focus and investments behind pharmaceutical brands that hope to make an impact on their markets in 2019. ‘Hope to make?’ ‘Intend to?’ Or ‘Expect to?’. In my experience the difference between hope and expectation starts with a high-impact brand plan –
but what does this look like, how is one developed, and why does it matter? Let’s start by defining brand planning:

‘Brand planning is the process of allocating resources to a strategy designed to achieve a business objective that drives a brand closer to delivering on a valuable future vision.’

I like this definition because it makes clear there is a decision to be made between the money and time a brand receives and the contribution that it will make. The statement also ties the business objective to a bigger, longer-term ambition, providing context and stretch.

Following this definition, a brand plan should simply document and communicate:

1. what a team wants the brand to achieve in future, for patients, customers, the business (the vision)

2. what needs to be achieved in the short-term (objective) to move towards that vision

3. how they aim to achieve it (strategy)

4. what needs to be done to make that happen (tactics) and at what cost.

The goal of the brand plan and the brand planning process
is to align the cross-functional team and other stakeholders
(for example external agencies, partners and so on) behind the business direction and rationale (‘why’), strategy (‘how’) and tactical campaign (‘what’). This alignment is crucial to make powerful strategy execution happen.

 

Team alignment

Aligning teams is achieved by sharing the plan with them, right? In reality there are a number of factors that get in the way for colleagues to be clear on the plan (misunderstanding, mis-communication etc.), and have confidence in it (misunderstanding, limited belief in decisions made etc.). Unless this clarity and confidence is high across the
cross-functional team then the ability to execute effectively and deliver customer value is highly unlikely.

A recent study of 4012 respondents conducted across 124 companies by MIT School of Management found that even the team who were responsible for leading strategy struggled to accurately list their business’s strategic priorities:

Only 51% of Leaders of strategy could accurately state their organisation’s strategic priorities. This plummeted to 22% for extended team members (e.g. direct reports).

The key is to involve key colleagues in the process to develop the brand plan in a meaningful way, encourage honesty and healthy debate, ensure that key decisions are clearly explained, and that resultant communication of the plan is kept very simple, very clear and very consistent…repeatedly!

Question for cross-functional leaders:

What percentage of your cross-functional and extended team do you believe are fully clear and fully confident on current brand strategy?

A brand plan is presented once a year, ‘brand planning’ is continuous

Specific timings will vary by organisation, but planning tends to accompany the financial year that the organisation follows – often
Jan-Dec. This means the cycle of brand planning will build through the earlier part of the year with activity reaching a peak as the summer does too. While the development, writing and presentation of brand strategy and tactics will be concentrated over a two to three month period, the process of developing brand strategy should be a continuous effort (see Figure 2).

Points 1 to 4 set out the process. Once these have been completed and the plan moves to execution, an emphasis should focus on measuring the outputs of tactical campaign execution via regular review of KPIs.
This allows tactical adjustments to be made to close strategy-execution gaps, with any persistent gaps raised in the next cycle of
brand planning as part of the diagnosis.

  1. The team gathers relevant data and generates meaningful insight to accurately diagnose the situation of the brand, the market and possible opportunities/challenges to be tackled.
  2. This is followed by objective-setting and consideration of strategic factors that could help generate the best way to achieve the objective. Strategy, strategic priorities and key performance indicators (KPIs) are the key outputs here. Together they inform the job of tactical planning.

  3. More granular planning of tactical activities and campaigns (grouped activities) should follow with the aim of being relatively few in number but with the power to reach the KPIs, and therefore deliver on the strategy and priorities.

  4. Finally, the task shifts from writing to aligning the plan consistently and completely across the team to drive effective execution. Clarity and confidence in the brand plan are the goal.

Figure 2.  A typical brand planning cycle

1. Diagnose the situation: Understand

• Where are we winning/losing out?

• Customer behaviour trends

• External trends

• Key issues to be addressed

2. Define strategy: Establish

• Brand vision

• Annual business objective*

• Target customer(s) and value proposition(s)

• Strategic priorities and KPIs

3. Develop powerful, costed tactics: Agree

• Tactical campaigns to drive strategy and KPIs

• Aligned budget and FTE requirements

• Responsibilities

4. Align & execute: Drive

• Shared understanding of ‘why’, how’, ‘what’

• Aligned individual objectives

• Continual KPI review

• Recognition and incentives aligned

 

Question for cross-functional teams:
How does your team think about brand planning: an annual event or a continual business activity?

High-impact brand plans are developed collaboratively but with strong leadership

Key inputs within the brand planning cycle are:

  1. Great market and customer insight and extremely honest internal analysis to diagnose the situation effectively, adjust the vision and business objective accordingly, and start to define/refine strategy.
  2. Persistent ideation and validation of high-level options to achieve the objective and so develop a strategy to be confident in. 

  3. Discipline to prioritise and align focus and resources to develop powerful, costed tactics that can drive the strategy.

This all requires a careful balance of wide input from across the organisation and strong, focussed leadership from the brand team. It is critical that expert insight from cross-functional colleagues is included in the process of developing analyses, distilling/validating insight and considering options for strategy and tactics. It is just as important that this is well co-ordinated and that all decisions made are checked for their complementary effect on each other towards achieving the business objective. The brand team should maintain a broad perspective to ensure decisions are made logically in relation to each other.

 

Question for cross-functional leaders:
How do you ensure the right balance between inclusion and focussed, disciplined decision-making?

 

High-impact brand plans pursue distinctiveness

Strategy speaks to choices made that will help the team to achieve their objective so when these choices are combined it should create a distinctive position in the market for the brand.

At the high-level, brand strategy should decide on the combination
of critical choices of who to target, what the value proposition made to them is and which capabilities are needed to make this happen. These will ideally be distinct capabilities that only your organisation delivers
on and so gives a competitive advantage.

The smart question to ask is: “Where do our distinct capabilities and customer (segment) needs overlap in a way that our competitors’ offerings/capabilities don’t/can’t?”

This is the ‘strategic sweet-spot’ (illustrated in Figure 3) and requires significant thought and strong creativity, but is where competitive advantage truly lives and ensures a distinctive market position for the brand.

 

Creating distinctive strategy

Think about three things in particular:

  1. Are all customers’ needs the same? Can you serve the needs of particular segment(s) of the market better than your competitor can?

2. How does your value proposition align to target customers needs? Can this be improved?

3. Which capabilities are/could be distinct to you and how will these support your value proposition?

Hypothetical example:

Objective: Achieve 10% market share within 12 months of launch
of a new anti-diabetic drug.

Strategy: Create exclusive partnerships with the foremost digital health-tech players and be the only organisation to offer innovation-minded GPs with valued drug+service combinations for patients who need a more holistic disease management approach at a price that value-oriented payors will support.

 

High-impact brand plans answer critical questions confidently and communicate them clearly

Various templates, processes and frameworks exist to help diagnose the situation, to define strategy and tactics, and have been developed with a heavy bias towards insight-gathering and analysis. This inevitably contributes to the production of a myriad of PowerPoint slides with decision grids and templates and so on. It should be remembered however that the purpose of the process is to align and execute so the outputs should articulate choices and decisions very simply and incredibly clearly. This means that perhaps only five to 10 slides are really required to present the plan clearly and answer critical questions that leave sponsors, supporters and team members in no doubt about what needs to be done, how, and why. See Figure 4 for the key questions that high impact brand plans consistently and confidently answer, suggested presentation sections and the work-flow that precedes this.

Question for cross-functional leaders: How distinctive is your current brand strategy? Would anyone reading it be able to distinguish your approach from that of your competitors?

Question for cross-functional leaders:
How simply and clearly does your current brand plan answer these questions? Would all cross-functional team members give similar responses?

The future of brand planning: Expectation raised

We continue to wrestle with NHS value and affordability challenges, growth in health technologies encroaching on spaces traditionally ‘owned’ by pharma, and an increasingly demanding set of digitally savvy healthcare stakeholders (patients, providers and payors).
All of these challenges are accelerating pace.

Brand planning teams will need to recognise this accelerating nature of their markets and resist the temptation to throw more and more tactical activities to address a wider range of growing challenges. Instead, we need to raise expectation of clarity and confidence. In a time of growing complexity planning teams will need to work harder to distil insight and bring simplicity of focus, will need to strive for ever-more distinctive market positions and will expertly instil this clarity and confidence amongst those vying to help deliver on it.    

Nick Williams is Managing Director, OnPoint Strategy Execution.