The power of prelaunch. Are you preparing properly?

How time is used prior to product launch often has enduring ramifications. Beyond the essential activities to prepare for market entry, opportunities abound for critical learning, relationship-building, focused education and establishing ownership. Each of these factors can bolster a brand’s chances for success and contribute to its durability. These initiatives provide navigational intelligence, which can then be harnessed to shape strategy, guide brand development and direct communication.

Critical Learning

If you want to affect the market, you must understand it intimately. Its history, current status, trends, influencers must all be understood in order to know where and how your brand can best fit. Inadequate budget is often the perceived limiting factor to gaining market knowledge. The truth is, however, there are many ways to engage the market and conduct research.

Assumptions and ambiguity are not solid steps to rest strategy upon. Once your target audiences have been identified and prioritized, the next step is interaction. Whether it be through literature reviews, online surveys, one-on-one interviews, advisory boards, or focus groups, a temperature check of the market to build a baseline understanding is critical. It is how you build knowledge. Current perceptions toward competition and unmet needs, awareness of disease states and clinical accuracy will inform where there are information deficits, misperceptions and opportunities to differentiate and gain leverage.

Relationship Building

Connecting with practitioners, patients and other influencer and decision-maker audiences provides insight, and also the opportunity to cultivate lasting relationships. Generally, people value being informed and find sharing their experience and expertise to be fulfilling. Thought leaders are usually high on the priority list, as they should be, but it is important to recognize that your practitioner audience may not be completely represented by this knowledgeable group. Although thought leaders carry influence, and must be included in relationship building initiatives, it can be useful to identify rising stars. These practitioners often share practical knowledge that can facilitate peer adoption.

Patient advocacy groups are another essential audience. They are often the gateway to accessing patients directly and provide a credible voice when addressing their constituents. Many times patient perspectives differ significantly from those held by practitioners. Understanding these discrepancies and committing to understanding the patient journey helps ensure that your brand will be rooted in reality and ultimately be relevant.

Focused Education

Research and relationship building highlight where there are information gaps and potential misperceptions tied to disease states and treatments. Once these knowledge deficits are identified, they can help shape how your brand can best be positioned to address true need. Ahead of launch, the market can be seeded with information that course corrects misperceptions and is grounded with data. This should not be confused with product pre-approval promotion. The prelaunch communication platform should build the case for the product solution. The goals are to build awareness of unmet need, clarify any clinical confusion and identify what optimal approaches.

Market education, which is not tied specifically to product promotion, represents a tremendous opportunity for peer-to-peer communication. Whether through the voices of practitioners or patients, clear and consistent messages can be delivered with unrivaled credibility and receptivity.

Establishing Ownership

There are two brands that you will want your customers to know and support. Your product brand (once it is on the market) and your corporate brand. The corporate brand often gets overshadowed in the product brand development process, but it offers the chance to associate market education and relationship building back to the company. This is especially important when the product brand is not yet available. How companies are perceived can influence how their products are perceived. Is the company compassionate or arrogant? Is the company genuine and can it be trusted? Is the company just in it for the money, or do they care about the customer and the brand experience?

The corporate brand provides a critical pathway to building support and loyalty. It should be cultivated for human resources, investor relations, public relations, medical information, clinical trial awareness, disease awareness and communication regarding proprietary technologies. The corporate brand often outlives product brands, and can be a powerful tool to build and manage market expectations.

Prelaunch time dwindles quickly. You can never start too soon. Every step taken prelaunch is one in the forward direction. You will learn from engagement. You’ll learn from successes and failures. It is a time when you can afford a higher degree of risk taking and when you cannot afford to insulate brand planning with assumptions. Maximize this time. Learn from your audiences. Build bridges. Share knowledge. Put your corporate brand to work. Make the time ahead of product launch meaningful.

by Jonathan D. Katz