Brand Planning During a Pandemic
Annual brand planning is a challenging and exhaustive process even in the best of times. So how do you plan for 2021 during a global crisis with little knowledge of what the future holds?

While business is not as usual anymore, pharmaceutical marketing is mostly staying the course for now. According to an article by FiercePharma, a survey of ad agencies and medical communications firms that handle pharmaceutical clients found both slowdowns and bright spots, but mostly unknowns as the situation continues to unfold.

Moving forward, plans need to be developed based on different scenarios driving different brand plans that will mitigate the unknowns. The strategy will need to be agile with the ability to pivot to a different scenario when needed.

Additionally, the execution will need to be simplified based on these different scenarios that have been mapped out for 2021.

So for you brand leaders, where do you begin? Here are some key questions you need to ask:

  1. What are your short-term versus long-term brand objectives as supported by senior management and other internal brand team members (i.e., marketing, medical, market access… etc.)?
  2. What are the different scenarios that need to be mapped out?
  3. What are the simple and actionable plans for each scenario? As strategic partners for your brand, your agency is there to support you. They can help you map out these scenarios and brainstorm simple and actionable items to achieve your brand and sub-brand objectives.
  4. What are key dates to map out scenarios against?
  5. What are the requirements and measurements of success and what are the assessment timelines?
  6. Do you have an action plan and key dates identified to hit the key steps in developing quality plan? Dates, requirements, measures of success? If not create a plan for your plan for the next 2-3 months.


Remote planning
Approach planning methodically, and assume that planning will be done remotely, and not always live. Remove what complexity you can with the use of technology, such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams for online meetings. If you plan to include breakout sessions, try 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 soon and develop a realistic timeline, ideally work with a small group and keep to your timeline with everyone regularly informed. Consider running some virtual workshops and use an external facilitator if appropriate.
Optimize technology globally
Identify any tech gaps with existing tools – SalesForce, Veeva, Adobe, etc. to ensure they are being used to their fullest potential. Reach out to global partners (both internal and external) to research and investigate what innovations can be adopted from other markets to help reach your goals, meet customer needs, and provide competitive differentiation.
Develop agile plans
The second half of 2020, and throughout 2021, will require significant agility through the continuous monitoring of the impact of the pandemic, results of marketing activities, related insights, and key learnings. Make decisions based on various inputs, from market research, to marketing-mix analysis, to sources like paid-media response rates. Compare and contrast your learnings with other internal teams and with other global brand teams as well.
Segment Targets
You will need to identify your key targets, related segments and prioritize where you will get the greatest return. This may be an opportunity to revisit your brand’s value proposition and assess how it delivers against your priority segments. Channels need to be scrutinized to determine which will most effectively reach your key targets and will produce the greatest impact.
Customer Relationships
Despite fewer or no rep visits, strong relationships with HCPs will need to be built and maintained across various channels. Brands can work to support and improve the point-of-care experience (often, today, via telemedicine or video conference) for both patients and HCPs.
Brand Differentiation
There will need to be an increased focus on creating customer experiences that improve and strengthen relationships. Customers can be supported with both on-demand and live interactions. Digital touch points can connect, inform, educate, and support both HCPs and patients.
Respectfully communicate with HCPs
HCPs are being impacted by email overload as virtually all pharma companies have reverted to using email to reach HCPs. Monitor your HCPs feedback about email overload on a brand by brand basis to ensure you’re providing value not irritation. Create an easy means for HCPs to reach you such as posting “speak to a rep” and “speak to a medical liaison” on your website. Speak to HCPs when/where possible to get their feedback. For those you can’t directly contact monitor responses, non-responses, and opt-outs and adjust accordingly.
How patient-centric is your plan? Is your target patient front and centre in your plan? Do you have objectives and measures about how many patients you will diagnose, treat, and/or improve their quality of life? Great plans will have a patient/customer scorecard to show the great contribution we make as an industry.


We don’t know how COVID-19 pandemic will affect us in the second half of 2020 and in 2021 and what impact it will have on how we communicate with patients, HCPs, payers, or pharma. What we need to assume is that the new normal will be with us for an indefinite period of time. In order to be agile, brands that plan based on insightful data will gain a competitive advantage. This will require thorough planning, collaboration, and coordination, which will be challenging but will prove to be worthwhile. Brands that properly plan and remain agile will win the day regardless of what the future holds.

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