Advancing in the market amidst intensifying competition: How pharma can plan for success

Sales & Marketing
intensifying competition

As markets become increasingly competitive, pharmaceutical companies must find new ways to differentiate their offerings from others in a therapeutic space. Gerard Doherty, vice president, commercial consulting at Lumanity, explains that success requires both a thorough understanding of the competition and an agile approach to the evolving landscape. 

It’s not as simple as it once was for pharmaceutical companies to find a niche within the market. Where organisations could once identify less crowded therapeutic areas in which to build a competitive advantage, today’s pharma market is full of established and emerging manufacturers working to bring novel products to patients. As a result, many companies have piled into previously unpopulated segments, and few – if any – quiet corners of the industry exist today. 

“Organisations used to deliberately search for areas that were less competitive to launch products in,” Doherty says. “For example, three or four years ago you saw a lot of people going into orphan and rare disease with the idea that there was less competition, which may make it easier to both develop relationships with customers and remain profitable, even if the opportunity in absolute terms is smaller. But when everybody else does the same thing, even areas that were previously quieter become challenging.” 

To adapt to the new era of increased competition, pharmaceutical companies must pay constant attention to their competitive context, rapidly addressing competitive deficits and seizing short-term opportunities to get ahead while remaining aligned with their long-term strategy. 

With traditional market research taking months and data generation years, Doherty explains, utilising techniques such as social media listening (SML) and real-world evidence (RWE) generation can help them move faster in addressing competitive deficits and support a more competitive positioning.  

Contributors to a changing landscape

A number of factors have combined over time to change the competitive dynamics of today’s pharma market – with the COVID-19 pandemic having notable impact. “One silver lining of the pandemic is that it made a compelling case to a number of pharma companies that the current way of developing strategies needs to change,” Doherty explains. 

For example, Doherty begins, phase 3 trial programmes experienced marked delays in recruitment, meaning pharma companies needed to revisit assumptions of how long their and their competitors’ assets would take to reach the market. 

The pandemic also forced pharma to pivot more rapidly from face-to-face meetings to virtual and omnichannel formats. “The adoption of new communication methods evolved by several years in the space of a few months,” Doherty says. 

Doherty describes how one customer prepared for a product launch before COVID-19, then understood that there was a need – and, indeed, an opportunity – to reassess their strategy to meet stakeholders’ changing needs post-COVID. “They looked at how they would have planned for a launch based on historical projections of salesforce size and contact rates and realised that their models would be obsolete in the current climate,” he says. 

Together, they started from scratch to build an integrated, omnichannel plan to support sales force activities, which provided a competitive advantage. “It was a fascinating period to work with them as we assessed the ways their communication needed to change,” Doherty says.

The rapidly changing market brings new opportunities across therapeutic areas. 

The changing market presents new opportunities for pharma to approach customers and gain advantages in the market.

“If we accept that the environment in which we are competing is changing more rapidly, we need to go beyond understanding the competitor’s intent and develop a model of the future environment in which competitive battles will play out,” Doherty says. “This will require us to develop future market scenarios hypothesising future market value drivers, understanding which stakeholders will drive treatment choice and what will drive their needs.”

These changes may look different in different therapeutic areas. In the diabetes market, Doherty offers, there are many trends that will impact future market drivers. For example, the increasing publicity around the dramatic weight loss achieved from new GLP-1 treatments raises patients’ expectations of weight loss as part of their diabetes treatment. This could open doors for newer classes of even more life-changing drugs, as well. 

In addition, the rise of digital technologies like continuous glucose monitoring devices have increased patients’ and providers’ potential to track glucose levels more efficiently. “The level of control expected by both payers and clinicians could increase markedly,” Doherty says. 

Planning for success amidst an evolving market  

Doherty shares a number of steps pharma can take – leveraging both tried-and-true strategies and new methodologies – to identify new opportunities in a faster-paced, more competitive market. 

As markets become more fragmented, Doherty explains, techniques like SML can help pharma understand what stakeholders are saying, giving rapid insight into where potential issues lie, as well as understanding strengths, weaknesses, and where to enhance their value proposition. RWE can also play a significant role in addressing data gaps from randomised controlled trials. Including RWE and SML analysis in a highly competitive landscape will build a more robust case to pursue new opportunities with new stakeholders. Doherty goes on to say that the first step to building a compelling strategy is studying the themes that drive changes in the market to develop a hypothesis of what the future will look like, including potential new stakeholders or drivers of business. 

It’s also useful to identify commonalities and differences across these scenarios. “This will help us understand what we definitely need to plan for, what may happen, and what future events may be indicative of other specific scenarios,” Doherty says. 

The second step is to develop a detailed understanding of how competitors will adapt their business in a future market scenario. Using primary and secondary research, Doherty says, pharma can understand answers to key questions: “Where will they seek to play? How will they win? What will be their positioning, and what evidence will they generate to strengthen their position?” 

After following these two steps, Doherty says, pharma companies are set up for success. “Having developed a view of the future market and how competitors will seek to win, it will be possible to evolve a competitive strategy in an agile manner.” 

Preparing for a future of intensified competition 

Doherty predicts that the pharma market will become increasingly competitive and complicated in the years to come, especially as new biotechnology firms continue to emerge with highly specialised products. In addition, novel analytic or artificial intelligence technologies may change the data landscape. With more changes and challenges on the horizon, pharma must hone their strategies with up-to-date knowledge of their perception in the market.  

“Looking at what's happened in the past as a way of moving forward won’t work very well,” Doherty says. “We need to be able to hear what the customers are saying to know what’s most important.”

While adapting to a new paradigm can be daunting, Doherty is optimistic for the future, and for companies’ willingness to try new things.

The key, Doherty shares, is to dedicate time to competitive analyses: “Don’t underestimate what you can achieve by focusing on the competitive landscape,” he says. “It’s baked into brand planning, but not focused on enough.” 

“There’s value in taking time out to have a consistent perspective across the team of how your strategy will play out,” Doherty says. “Challenge assumptions, learn things you didn’t know before, and connect different approaches to develop a comprehensive strategy.” 

About the interviewee

Gerard DohertyWith over 30 years industry experience, with 20 in consultancy, Gerard Doherty, MBA, has expertise in critical thinking and in creating innovative workshops with a particular focus on segmentation, future market scenarios, competitor planning, and marketing excellence. Although having a broad range of therapy area experience, Gerard has a particular understanding of cardiology, neurology, and diabetes. 
About Lumanity

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