Upscaling your brand strategy: New ways of planning

Sales & Marketing
brand planning workshop

Traditionally, brand teams have stored plans and important data in static documents like PowerPoint decks or spreadsheets, leading to a variety of version control issues once plans cascaded from global to local teams.

But this approach is outdated considering the technology and systems now available. Indeed, today the right strategic brand planning process can streamline all brand planning data and functionalities into a continuous cloud-based system.

In a recent pharmaphorum webinar sponsored by Enavia, editor-in-chief Jonah Comstock was joined by Daniel Kohlstaedt, managing director of PurpleLeaf Strategy, and Carina Kaiser, senior director of global commercial strategy and operations at Sanofi, to discuss how brand planning is changing, why it’s more important than ever, and how to stay ahead of these trends.

The importance of brand planning

A brand plan has multiple purposes, but the three main ones are: (1) building the story of the brand, including the market, environment, product, and patient journey; (2) convincing senior management of the strategy and tactics necessary, as well as resources in terms of people and budgets; and (3) ensuring that a sales force understands the decisions made and fully comprehends the strategy.

Kohlstaedt has been at the helm of PurpleLeaf Strategy for some time now, maintaining and honing its focus on pharma commercial excellence, including brand planning and brand strategy, most recently with the launch of Enavia. He has 20 years in the industry, working at Roche and Abbott within that time. Kaiser, meanwhile, has spent some 10 years in the industry, working in different functions, at different levels, locally, regionally, and globally.

Kaiser says the traditional PowerPoint way of doing things just doesn’t make sense.

“PowerPoint is a great tool for presentations, but it's not a data container, it's not a database,” explained Kohlstaedt. “The problem is you're getting either a very short, 30-slide presentation, which is a great presentation, but then where do you store the rest of the information? Or the other extreme is you have a 400-slide deck with all the information, all the clinical data, everything in there, but then nobody will present 400 slides, so how do you do the balancing here?”

In other words, it’s about finding the balance between an in-depth plan and a plan that will actually be read and referred to and used: the balance between readability and comprehension. And yet, there are different needs, only adding to the complexity.
“Every stakeholder within a company has a different need,” explained Kohlstaedt. “The senior director may want to have the five-slide executive summary, whereas the medical hat wants to get way more scientific.”

The interplay between the tools, technology, and time

One way brand planning is changing, Kaiser believes, is that the industry needs to shift its mindset from an annual cycle to a more dynamic approach.

Additionally, brand planners are grappling with new technology like AI and what it can do.

“The problem with these buzzwords of omnichannel, AI, closed-loop marketing … is what everybody thinks is the Holy Grail and everybody needs to jump on that train right now, but I think it's very important to first analyse, ‘What is the need?’, ‘What do you really want to get done?” Kohlstaedt said.

AI can’t be applied blindly to highly specialised fields, he explained, because training AI algorithms requires lots of data. That data is often locked in competitive data sets that companies prefer not to share, making it difficult to use AI effectively in those circumstances.

“I'm not saying it's impossible, but first let's think what needs to be solved, and then let's think whether AI is the right vehicle to do that and then you can create something,” he concluded.

The first requirement, however, is that data sits in an accessible structure – which takes us back to the insufficiency of PowerPoint.

“Omnichannel is not only digital,” added Kaiser. “It's really a much broader topic. First, we need to assess where the company stands in terms of digital maturity, and learn how to get to at least the fundamental stage of implementing these kinds of things. It doesn't need to be made phase by phase. We don't need to first implement omnichannel properly and then start GenAI.”

“In the [traditional] PowerPoint slide deck, the problem is you have probably one global brand plan per year, plus, let’s say 80 affiliates,” explained Kohlstaedt. “You have already 80 copies of a brand plan in your organisation for one brand for one year. If you store this in a PowerPoint, you can't have any AI project. Very simple. You need to take the data out and put it into an accessible data container, structured [to] allow you to interrogate the data, aggregate the data, do some analysis around it, to even think about an AI project.”

“The first question is, what are you trying to solve with AI?” repeated Kaiser. “Then, also, how do we make the data of our brand plan into actually being able to get this information? And that's not PowerPoint.”

Integrating data, integrating AI: Localisation and transparency

The first step to upscaling brand planning is to have the right data in a format that permits integration of artificial intelligence. For Kaiser, it’s about streamlining and simplifying processes, then automating them.

“There is a lot of change management that needs to happen,” admitted Kaiser. “There are a lot of stakeholders involved. Brand planning itself involves a lot of stakeholders. Then, you have a lot of other company stakeholders like maybe digital, or your senior management, finance […] It’s a journey, but it is a journey with a vision, with something where you can really see, okay, we're moving closer to the future, we're moving to a more dynamic approach that connects our strategic thinking with our tactical execution.”

That includes transparency from global to local contexts, with fewer deviations.

“I was working in commercial excellence in Abbott EPD,” said Kohlstaedt. “I was also working on establishing the brand planning process back then in PowerPoint. My chief commercial officer came to me one day and said to me, ‘Daniel, I need to go to Southeast Asia and to do my review meetings in 15 countries. Can you please give me the latest brand plans for our first brands in those countries?’ I said, ‘Okay, I can do that. I can print out 80 brand plans for you. Then you put them side by side. How do you want to do this? How do you want to analyse and get an overview of what's going on in this region?’.”

“That was the moment where I said, ‘Why the hell are we doing this in PowerPoint?’,” admitted Kohlstaedt. “It made no sense to me. We should have this all in a database. Now, with the tool that we have today, which is only 12 years later, we can really have a review dashboard where you can see what's going on with every country. How far are they with the process? Where do they spend their money? Then, you can compare things together.”

The webinar included a demo on Enavia, which offers a structured cloud-based system, empowering teams with tools to navigate the brand strategy development process seamlessly. Using data analytics, strategic decisions are automatically saved, creating a centralised database accessible in a single dashboard for both senior and commercial managers. This builds a foundation for future AI projects and machine-learning methodologies, enabling identification of success drivers in decision-making. A modular offering, it can be adapted to suit bespoke needs of companies.

The future of brand planning

The panellists said changes in brand planning are being driven by a number of needs and technological trends. If the COVID-19 pandemic played a role, it was a relatively minor one.

“I'm not sure if the pandemic really had an impact on bringing everything to cloud,” considered Kaiser. “I would say probably it's just that, the speed of how things are changing, it's more the openness from people moving to more digital versions. Because we can't sit together in a room and have our strategy or documents printed out, do some brainstorming. That just wasn't possible. I think what changed was the openness to accept cloud-based platforms or solutions, rather than it really changed the way we think about brand planning, per se. I think it's really just the change in mindset of being more open-minded.”

At the end of the day, a brand plan is a living database document that requires a dynamic platform which efficiently and effectively utilises that data from which to strategise, and the increasing prominence of AI just makes that platform more important. Enavia, which offers data connectivity via APIs, allowing smooth information transfer between the platform and other systems, is a strong purpose-built solution. But anything is better than PowerPoint.

About Purple Leaf Strategy


At PurpleLeaf Strategy we strive to help Pharma and Biotech businesses achieve their commercial goals through our cloud-based platform, Enavia. Through structured cloud-based systems, Enavia guides teams through brand strategy development and execution on many fronts. Automated data collection and sharing, analytics through modular tools, and planning & execution through interrogative exercises help business in their go-to-market strategies and commercial excellence. Tools like Relative Competitive Analysis, Patient Flow and Journey, Timeline Dynamics, and many more help in pulling actionable levers for commercial success.

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