2021 Marketing Planning Guide for Pharmaceutical and Med-Tech Companies

Learn how to plan for the flexibility you’ll need to succeed in the year ahead.

In 2020, marketers at pharmaceutical and med-tech firms were forced to deal with extraordinary changes because of unprecedented events like the pandemic and economic crisis. Next year promises to be as dynamic, or even more so.

What can you do to prepare now so you’ll have a more proactive and less reactive year in 2021?

Use these four proven steps to build a flexible marketing plan and planning process that will set you up for anything you may need to deal with next year including:

  • budget cuts or increases in spending
  • eliminating programs, restoring them, or creating new ones
  • worsening of the coronavirus pandemic or finally gaining control over the disease.

1. Speed up your planning cycle.

Because of all the changes happening in the pharmaceutical and med-tech industries right now and in the foreseeable future, it’s clear that a set-it-and-forget-it annual plan is NOT going to cut it. Of course, it’s still necessary to plan for the future. It’s the only way to do marketing right. What’s critical is to speed up your planning cycle and find ways to be more responsive to current events. The faster you’re able to analyze the success of your marketing efforts and make changes based on the analysis, the more likely you’ll be able to successfully take advantage of opportunities and cut your losses.

Here’s how to make your planning process more nimble.

  • Create an annual plan, but don’t set it in stone. Do what you would normally do when it comes to developing your plan, including setting goals, determining how to allocate your budget, and creating tactical and media plans. This provides a good foundation for your marketing efforts in 2021 and gives you something solid to refer to as things change. It’ll be easier to figure out what’s still valid and which things need to evolve when you’re presented with new opportunities and challenges.
  • Set up monthly (or more frequent) planning reviews. As you build your plan, figure out what metrics you’ll need to analyze regularly, and review with your team to determine whether you’re on track to achieving your goals. Meet with key stakeholders at least once a month to discuss how things are going. This level of frequency allows you to quickly identify what’s working and what’s not. Frequent review sessions make it possible for your organization to be nimble when it comes to taking advantage of opportunities and limiting risks. You’ll also be better prepared to respond to changes in the marketplace as they happen.
  • Reduce time to market. During rapidly changing times like these, large campaigns that take months to produce may not be smart. It probably makes more sense to focus on smaller initiatives that you can develop and get to market quickly in response to what’s happening in the industry and world overall. You can get a quick read on target audience reaction and, if something isn’t working, you haven’t lost the chance to try something else. You still have time and money to invest in other executions.

2. Focus on the return on your investment in marketing.

For years, many chief marketing officers and other executives have been focused on the return they get on the money they spend on marketing. In 2021, marketing return on investment (ROI) will be more critical than ever. Programs that can’t prove their value should probably be cut and the money put into more effective efforts. 

In order to maximize your ROI, you must invest in analytics, including tools to measure the effectiveness of your marketing programs and talent to monitor and interpret the numbers. Tracking marketing spend to results is complex in many organizations, especially if they use legacy systems that don’t “talk” to each other. Start by investing in a sales enablement system like Mobile Locker. It provides the information you need to figure out if your marketing campaigns and sales support materials are working. It can also be used as the lynchpin that connects your data systems together.

Once you have a data dashboard and the right experts to help you interpret the numbers, the people on your marketing team will have what they need to figure out which initiatives drive the highest return for every dollar spent on marketing.

3. Pick your battles.

If 2021 is anything like 2020, you will be changing your marketing plan on the fly. That’s why it’s critical for you to be able to quickly figure out which of your planned marketing activities are essential versus those that could be cut back or eliminated. Here’s how to decide:

  • Start by figuring out what makes some marketing tactics more important than others. ROI is a critical consideration, however, it’s not the only one. You should also evaluate whether an initiative is a growth possibility or something that could help limit risk, such as a patient education campaign.
  • Leverage forced ranking. Every now and then, do a forced ranking exercise with your marketing efforts. Set different “cut” targets. Then make yourself — or the people on your team — select which programs you’d eliminate or reduce spending on. It will prepare you for worst-case scenarios should they happen.
  • Come up with contingency budgets. Similar to forced ranking, hypothetical back-up budgets will help you understand exactly how you would change things if you have less (or more) to spend at any time.

4. Maintain a long term view of your brand.

When things are changing as quickly as they are now, it’s easy to focus on what’s happening today and forget that there will be a time when things will return to a new version of normal, whatever that will be. That kind of short term thinking could be a recipe for disaster for the long term health of a brand.

As you make adjustments to your marketing programs during these challenging times, make sure you:

  • Stay focused on organic. Increase your brand presence by leveraging free or low-cost marketing opportunities including ratings and reviews, social media, and SEO. Client relationships you build organically are stronger than those you pay for. People choose you. You don’t buy their business.
  • Carefully consider media spending cuts. When money is tight, it’s logical to reduce the amount you spend on media. If you end up in this position and have to make tough decisions, make them carefully. It’s probably smarter to continue your paid social and search programs when compared when other forms of advertising. Organic search and social media tend to be more effective when they’re supported by paid campaigns. And if someone is looking for you online, they’re probably interested in doing business with you or buying your products.
  • Don’t say anything you could regret. It can be tempting for businesses to position themselves around price, urgency, or immediacy during challenging times. Low cost, act now, and don’t wait are terms often used in advertising during times like we’re living through right now. Positioning your products around these concepts may get people to talk to their medical provider now or get them to make a purchase. But, is it how you want your brand and its offerings to be thought about over the long term? Probably not. When things are more steady and stable, you likely want to be the best at what you do, not anything less.
  • Pay attention to your top customers. The medical professionals and patients who are your best customers are the foundation for building your business in the future. You can’t afford to lose any of them to your competitors. That’s why it’s important to reward them for their loyalty. Consider using some of your marketing budget for programs that encourage people to continue doing business with you and discourage them from checking out your competitors.
  • Don’t cut off new opportunities. Do you have a product offering that could be a hot growth possibility in the year ahead and beyond? Don’t automatically shut it down when cash is tight. Work with your team to understand the value of a future opportunity when compared with your current offerings. It may turn out that it could be worth it to focus less on the bottom line of your business today for far higher returns on your investment in marketing in the future. 

In the end, flexibility will be key to the success of your business in 2021 and beyond. You owe it to yourself to contact a knowledgeable Mobile Locker representative to find out how our sales enablement system could provide you with the data and connectivity you need to become the most responsive organization in your space. It could make all the difference when it comes to winning in the year ahead and building a solid foundation for a post-pandemic future.

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