Many years ago, when we first started working with emerging life sciences companies to provide a roadmap for the commercialization of their technologies, we began with a list of essential activities and the corresponding budget that would be required. Our approach has always been to ensure those activities are synchronized with the product’s regulatory and development timeline and are organized cross-functionally so that the comprehensive plan, including critical interdependencies, guides efforts and facilitates internal alignment.

As our commercialization mapping process evolved, it became clear that the brand vision and strategy were also critical inputs of the commercialization plan. Often, however, our earlier-stage clients had not yet developed these elements.

This is a critical gap. What really differentiates one commercialization plan from another is how the brand vision links into the unique company strategy and how the brand’s strategic imperatives then define the path for that product.

Therefore, an essential step in our commercialization planning process is to create a working strategic framework for a new asset in development that will help to inform the priorities, along with the foundational elements and basic “blocking and tackling” that need to be in place for commercialization.

As we guide clients through the commercialization planning process, we leverage several tools and frameworks that serve different purposes. In making the best use of these components, it’s important to be clear on several critical questions addressed below.

#1. Why isn’t a TPP enough to guide brand planning, given that it reflects the desired label?

Often, a version of the TPP (Target Product Profile) exists when we begin commercialization planning with a client. Early on, we clarify with the client team whether the TPP is a realistic (base) or aspirational (best) case and question and validate critical assumptions.

As we move into strategy development, we consider the base case TPP as the product’s market entry position and use the aspirational TPP to inform its future potential. We work with the client team to create horizons for the brand for the near-, mid-, and long-term so that we can map out how the offering, through the emergence of new data, formulations, etc., will evolve.

While the TPP is a critical component of the brand strategy process, it is the foundation on which to build, not the strategy itself. Said another way, it’s the launchpad, not the trajectory.

#2. What is the difference between a brand vision and strategic imperatives?

Once an aspirational TPP and planning horizons are developed, the team has the initial elements of the brand vision. In brand vision development, we encourage our clients to use an external lens — considering the impact the product will have on patients and how it will deliver value across the continuum of care — rather than one that is internally focused.

The time horizon for the brand vision is eight to ten years, so the brand vision statements that we develop with our clients transcend the current limitations of the label. The key to crafting a compelling vision statement is to ensure that it is differentiated and inspiring while also being credible, specific, and actionable. Ultimately, the vision statement will guide priorities within the organization, from data generation through commercialization tactics, such as disease education and patient access programs.

The strategic imperatives, by contrast, summarize how the company will successfully realize the vision. Strategic imperatives are built cross-functionally, taking into account the key drivers and barriers to the product’s success. We use a three-year horizon for the strategic imperatives so that they can be adapted based upon key milestones in the product’s journey.

#3. How do strategic imperatives help differentiate a product in the market?

Well-formulated strategic imperatives are designed to achieve the brand vision, leverage the drivers of success, and overcome market barriers through a clear, focused approach. If the strategic imperatives are too generic, however, and do not build upon deep market insights, internal introspection, and future orientation, they will be undifferentiated from any other product or industry.

We often tell our clients that there is as much value in the process of developing strategic imperatives as in the words themselves (and we all know how much fun wordsmithing in a group can be!). Creative thinking and alignment evolve naturally over the course of the collaboration.

#4. How are high-level tactics linked to strategic imperatives?

With differentiated strategic imperatives clearly defined, there is a framework for prioritizing tactical plans to ensure they link to broader strategic goals. We typically recommend that teams develop high-level tactical buckets first,before building out the implementation details.

For example, for a rare disease therapy, a high-level tactic may be to launch a robust patient identification program. But the detailed steps for achieving that would be outlined in the sub-plan. This approach limits the tactical “laundry list” method and ensures that focused resource and investment planning occur and are organized around critical areas.

A frequent topic with clients is how to handle the foundational activities, such as systems and process development, within this strategic framework. In cases where an entity is launching the company and product at the same time, we often include the infrastructure build as a core strategic imperative. When a company has an established presence, we ensure that the foundational elements are reflected in the launch plan but focus the tactical priorities on the critical market-facing imperatives.

#5. Who is the audience for the brand planning effort?

This will vary depending on the size and stage of the company.

In all cases, the audience includes the internal cross-functional team, as well as the Board and executive team. These groups make prioritization and resource allocation decisions for the brand and company based on a clear definition of the brand vision, strategic imperatives, and high-level tactics.

In some cases, the audience for brand planning will also include those outside the walls of the company, such as investors and potential partners. While the aspirational elements of brand planning (vision, strategic imperatives) will not be shared explicitly with these stakeholders, it’s critical that external communications are consistent with internal brand plans as a way of laying the foundation for the product’s future direction.

Final Thoughts

Strategic imperatives should be specific and unique to the product, balance credibility and aspiration, and ultimately guide tactical plans and the associated budgets.

In practice, however, given the need to move quickly and with limited resources, the strategic planning process within biopharma companies may fall by the wayside in favor of tactical execution.

We understand, there is a need to “get things done.” But we feel strongly that taking the time to come together as a cross-functional commercialization team — to develop a shared vision and definition of success — will, in the long run, benefit the company, the product, and its customers.