Over the last 20+ years in my career as a healthcare marketer, I’ve participated in the planning cycles of at least 15 brands across perhaps a dozen different companies—both representing the marketing agency and working as part of the brand team.
Each company tackles the process differently, and even within a single company, each brand team puts its own spin on how planning is approached. If there’s not a thoughtful and deliberate process, planning can be a chaotic mess with agencies presenting tactic after tactic, leaving the brand team to have to sift through a huge number of proposals and string together cohesive programs. Done well, however, the brand has a practical and measurable blueprint for the next year. When ideas are connected and tactics synergize seamlessly with one another, meaningful and impactful innovation can be realized.
So how can a brand enable great thinking and recommendations from their agencies? Here are five ingredients for next-level brand planning:
1). Consider involving a marketing consultant just for this cycle. Often the responsibility of coordinating and managing through the entire brand planning process falls to one of the marketing managers on the team. This on its face makes sense—after all, you want someone who knows your brand, agencies, and internal stakeholders to drive success. The issue is that to do what’s described above requires a tremendous amount of coordination and stakeholder management. Hiring a senior level marketing consultant to lead brand planning can free up all brand managers to continue to focus on the here and now. (Note: this role should not be performed by one of your existing agencies. It needs to be an “impartial” third party who is clearly empowered by senior brand management to guide the processes—he/she needs to have teeth.)
2). Effectively download your agencies. Simply put, there is no such thing as oversharing with your agencies. Over the years, I’ve seen brands provide agencies with only the bare minimum of information—perhaps only their top-level strategic imperatives for the coming year. The resulting recommendations from their agencies lack focus and clarity. However, brands that invest in equipping their agencies with deep information reap the rewards with meaningful and creative recommendations. Typically, this is done in the guise of an offsite session in which each key lead from the brand (HCP, consumer, and managed markets) delivers an in-depth presentation of critical areas. Of particular note is the opportunity to share deep insights from market research. Sometimes additional eyes can uncover insights that might have been missed.
3). Foster and nurture cross-agency ideation. I’ve seen amazing brand planning presentations from multiple agencies that are incredibly synergistic. I’ve also seen train wrecks where multi-agency collaboration clearly wasn’t done correctly—where agencies were proposing highly similar initiatives. Or the ideas were so divergent that the brand had to work incredibly hard to piece together an overarching narrative. The assumption is that your agencies will get together and share and synergize on their own. This happens less frequently than more. There are a tremendous number of reasons why—like coordination of schedules, competition, and lack of transparency among stakeholders. As such, you may need to give them more than one kick in the butt to make sure this occurs. You should also demand a final presentation that meets certain criteria demonstrative of cross-agency collaboration. For example, a single slide that shows the programmatic ecosystem of the proposed initiative can help the brand truly understand how the various programs work together. Lastly, do not be shy around providing specific ownership swim lanes for agencies. Doing so will minimize concerns your partners might have around territorial considerations.
4). Deliver specific goals around what you want to achieve. All too often, brands give vague expectations around what they want to achieve, without giving much thought to what specifically success would look like. If it’s to increase prescribing among a specific audience, how many TRx or NRx are the goal for the coming year? If it’s a shift in perception, how much of a lift is desired from the previous ATU? What’s more, specificity around KPIs should be provided, ensuring shared alignment and understanding up front, as opposed to handling this after the fact. This specificity can help ensure that agencies provide focused programs with the right scale/investment to achieve the desired outcomes.
5). Communicate what YOU think is important. One of my best clients kept what she called a “Wouldn’t It Be Nice List.” In a Word document on her computer, she would jot down points of interest expressed by her brand management—ideas that weren’t funded or that didn’t have enough manpower to pull though. Each year in brand planning, she would review this list with us. It not only gave us a great starting point around ideation, it also helped to deliver proposed solutions that resonated across the team. We suggest that brand managers consider what programs and tactics they think should be prioritized and encourage exploration of these ideas.
I’ve never had a client deliver on all of the items above. It takes a lot of effort. It’s far easier to simply email a few brand planning documents and ask for a high-level operating plan in a few weeks.
But when a brand takes the extra effort to equip their agencies with key information and knowledge, and enable meaningful collaboration across stakeholders, the results can be tremendous.
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