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Little Bets – Big Launch: The Top 5 Pharma Launch Accelerators

Marketers launching a life sciences product aren’t typically gamblers. The cards are stacked against them. Working within a highly-regulated framework with increasingly tight budgetary constraints, brand managers frequently tend to default to what’s been done before, perhaps taking evolutionary steps that build on previously executed ideas and concepts. What’s more, mature processes and procedures provide an additional “boxing in” of ideas.

As an industry, we invariably hedge our bets. We are risk averse.

But if we follow the approach outlined in Peter Sims’ recent book “Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries,” perhaps innovative and impactful initiatives aren’t an impossibility, even with existing constraints. Sims encourages business leaders to place little bets that help them reach their goals – small, affordable actions that people can take to discover what will make a great product. It’s an iterative mindset that marketers can use to develop breakthrough programs and ideas – one that enables affordable risks, especially during the launch phase.

Sims provides evidence supporting the Little Bets successes through real-life examples of the approach in action. From successful movie makers (Pixar) and everyone’s favorite coffee purveyor (Starbucks), to missions crafted by the US military, Sims weaves a tapestry of learns and philosophies that have real-world implications.

For brand marketers launching a new product, here are five key lessons and considerations that can be applied from the Little Bets philosophies:

Launch Accelerator 1: Prototype, prototype, prototype
World-famous architect Frank Gehry created 82 miniature prototypes of the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, a building renowned for, among other successes, its top-notch sound design. Gehry did not simply move from blueprints and computer renderings to construction. Instead, he made 82 miniature prototypes of the hall, allowing his team to continually identify and work through acoustic issues. This process allowed smaller issues to be identified and compartmentalized and addressed in a micro scale. With digital, brand managers have the ability to prototype efficiently. Take media creative for example. Testing on ad creative is easily done, with variations in visuals, copy, and calls-to-action deployed across a small group of individuals across a period of time. Response rates are measured, and the less-successful ad prototypes fall away in favor of the more highly successful creative.

Launch Accelerator 2: Go from “suck to non-suck”
When a brand launches a new campaign or enters a new marketing channel, they are starting from a point of relative ignorance: there really is no precedent for what efforts might resonate with an audience enough to drive action. Brands that have an impact are those that take the Little Bets philosophy of constant improvement. What doesn’t work initially can be improved upon and eventually have an impact. Sims cites satirist publisher The Onion – which generates some of the most socially viral content out there – as experts of going from “suck to non-suck.” For every handful of articles with spot-on headlines, Onion staffers cycle through hundreds of headline ideas. Similarly, brands should launch with multitudes of creative iterations of pieces to small groups and measure responses – and launch the full campaign against the creative that garnered the highest conversion.

Launch Accelerator 3:  Cultivate a growth mindset
Sims distinguishes between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Individuals with fixed mindsets tend to gravitate toward solutions and approaches that confirm their abilities (“Am I going to be good at this immediately?”). Conversely, someone with a growth mindset doesn’t have such constraints and has far broader horizons (“Well, can I learn to do it?”). Little bets provide a great opportunity for brands to, with low risk, dip their toes into certain marketing approaches if only to generate learnings and broaden perspectives. For example, one brand I worked with ensured that a portion of their media budget be allocated only to experimentation. Among their most successful initiatives was leveraging the Xbox 360 platform to encourage young adult males to self-assess for a specific condition. It drove engagement, sure, but the learnings also provided unique insights into its target audience. Interestingly, this project was also successful because the med/reg team had a growth mindset and wanted to generate experience in these emerging channels.

Launch Accelerator 4:  Target “extreme users” from the beginning
MIT professor Eric von Hippel found that a group of active users or lead users were responsible for developing over 75 percent of innovations. These individuals aren’t just influencers who drive broader adoption, but, according to Sims, “actively tinker to push and create new ideas on their own.” Brand marketers need to identify and actively engage their own set of “extreme users.” Researching which of the voices are shaping the perceptions and attitudes of a particular condition can be a start. Which online influencers are leading the conversations around a particular treatment approach or raising awareness of a specific condition? Once identified, opportunities exist to proactively engage these individuals and bring them into the wheelhouse. Developing a platform for ongoing connection to these individuals can help brand managers further define and refine little bets as well as unearth unique insights. Cadient continuously recommends co-creation opportunities with such audiences, whereby these lead users can play a significant role in shaping experiences that will have the maximum impact.

Launch Accelerator 5: Ask meaningful questions
Muhammad Yunus was a Bangladesh-based economics professor who ventured into the poorest regions of the country to solicit insights into the correlation between poverty and economics. By engaging directly with these poor – yet hard-working – individuals, he discovered a system whereby workers would build and create items for sale, but where the individuals were borrowing money from middlemen to pay for the raw materials under unfair terms. Yunus and his students identified 42 such individuals, and realized they only needed $27 to finance the workers’ efforts and help dig them out of their financial holes. This little bet eventually grew over the decades, compelling Yunus to create Grameen Bank, the lender primarily responsible for launching the microfinancing industry. Yunus received a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. Yunus’ impact stemmed from his close interactions with individuals he wouldn’t typically interact with, and asking questions that invariably led to meaningful answers.

Similarly, brand managers have the ability to increase the likelihood of success for their little bets. By immersing themselves into their customers’ mindsets – truly understanding their needs, wants, and desires via meaningful questions – marketers are able to ideate new solutions that could have tremendous impact. One example is understanding the dynamics that exist across the patient journey. What are the pain points and barriers? Where do they turn to for help? What are their expectations? How do they describe their problems? Truly understanding these dynamics might only occur through a more anthropological approach, seeing how diverse individuals experience their daily lives living with a condition across a period of time.

Conclusion
Ironically, while pharma marketing teams seem to do all they can to avoid taking risks, the lifeblood of most life sciences companies arises from taking little bets. The massive R&D efforts underway at most companies are focused on a countless series of molecules and philosophies being tested and optimized and evolved – and often discarded. This same spirit of discovery, innovation, testing and research needs to carry over into the commercial side of the business, fostering a growth mindset in which effort, experimentation, and taking little bets yields high levels of customer insights and brand engagement. These five high-impact, low-risk approaches will help launch teams (as well as more mature teams), achieve new levels of innovation, and accelerate growth – one small bet at a time.

1). Prototype, prototype, prototype

2). Go from suck to non-suck

3). Cultivate a growth mindset

4). Target “extreme users” from the beginning

5). Ask meaningful questions

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Mickey Lynch
Mickey has focused exclusively on digital communications programs for life sciences companies for the last 18 years. ​On Cadient’s Commercial Strategy & Innovation team, Mickey collaborates closely with brand teams and other stakeholders to embrace business objectives and to proactively develop creative and innovative recommendations for meeting these goals. ​ Mickey has an MBA in Marketing from Temple University and a BA in Communications from Loyola University Maryland.

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