Think the old product launch playbook is still relevant? Think again.

The pharmaceutical industry is facing tremendous disruption, with a series of innovations, macroeconomic factors and other changes combining to squeeze profits and creating a challenging environment for new product launches.

Between 2000 and 2017, the average tenure for a market-leading treatment in a therapeutic area declined significantly, from 10.5 years to 5.1 years. And while more treatments are coming to market than ever before, many companies are struggling to achieve and sustain the same profit margins. Between 2012-2016, 15 New Molecular Entity launches significantly missed analyst sales forecasts for the first two years’ post-launch, forcing companies to look beyond their horizontal strategy of dripping newly acquired molecules or businesses into existing models. These challenges are compounded by shifting expectations from patients who are more digitally empowered, are taking a more active role in healthcare decisions and are demanding more personalised experiences in every aspect of their lives.

In this evolving landscape, pharmaceutical companies can no longer rely on yesterday’s product launch playbook to achieve optimal results.

To find out what patients really want when new products reach the market, Accenture surveyed 8,000 across six countries and eight therapeutic areas to determine what factors they consider when selecting new therapeutic treatments. The goal was to help pharmaceutical companies uncover what will allow them to successfully launch new treatments in today’s market.

One of the most significant discoveries that emerged from our research was that most patients aren’t motivated by brand loyalty when selecting a treatment plan. Instead, more than two-thirds said that benefits trump brand, with only one-third saying they have any strong affinity to a specific company or medication. Why does this matter? In 2016, the US pharmaceutical and healthcare industry spent more than $15 billion in marketing, much of which was aimed at building brand equity and name recognition. It’s worth considering whether some of these funds might be better allocated toward things like patient services, which more directly impact and engage patients.

The survey also showed the extent to which patients are still in the dark about new products that could help them. Only 38% of all those polled said they feel knowledgeable about different treatments for their condition. Less than half said they believe their doctors discuss the whole range of treatments available to them. And two out of five said they need to proactively bring treatment options to their doctors. This blind-spot isn’t just a potential limitation to driving revenues for companies, it can also negatively impact how we take care of patients and their health outcomes.

We also discovered that patients who consider switching to a new treatment plan will usually do so. Nearly half of the patients we surveyed said they have thought about switching their treatment plan at some stage, and 62% of those individuals did make a change. For pharmaceutical companies, it’s critical that they be able to reach patients with information about new products.

What does all this information add up to for pharmaceutical companies looking to reach patients with new treatments? Firstly, they need to start launching evidence-based solutions that appeal to the patient focus on outcomes. This means working closely with different stakeholders across the life sciences value chain to share information and data that will lead to more meaningful, targeted and verifiably effective treatments. What evidence is relevant will vary depending on different factors, including geographic location, age and disease state.

Considering that most patients seek information about new treatments from their healthcare provider, pharmaceutical companies also need to invest in new programmes and mechanisms for communicating the benefits of their solutions to healthcare professionals (HCPs). These initiatives must also provide HCPs with the tools to effectively educate their patients about the options available to them, packaged in a way that is simple and easy to understand. The opportunity to better inform patients goes beyond educating and empowering HCPs to discuss new treatment programmes with patients. There’s also an opportunity to reach patients earlier in their healthcare journey, before the pre-diagnosis and pre-treatment phase.

Given the significant intergenerational and geographical differences uncovered by the survey, it’s also critical that pharmaceutical companies move beyond today’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach and start providing personalised experiences to their patient audiences.

For example, we found that Millennials are far more likely to switch treatments than Baby Boomers and two times more likely to be influenced by social media when evaluating potential therapies. If a pharmaceutical company were to try to reach both these demographics using Twitter or Facebook, it would likely be wasting a significant amount of money. Millennials and Gen X’ers are also more knowledgeable about treatments on the market, compared to the nearly half of Baby Boomers who said lack of awareness and information significantly impacts their treatment decisions.

For pharmaceutical companies with international operations, geographical differences must also factor into the decision-making process around product launches. For instance, patients in the UK are the least knowledgeable about new or existing products coming to market for their condition. Knowing this, using the same tactics to target these different groups would likely yield poor results. Developing tailored launch strategies for these groups won’t just make new treatments more relevant, it will also lead to more informed, data-driven investments. Understanding how patient subsegments behave will fundamentally shift promotional decision-making, while helping companies identify new markets and opportunities for growth.

Our research made it abundantly clear that pharmaceutical companies must evolve beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to product launches, leveraging data to develop personalised marketing strategies that speak to the specific needs and preferences of different patient segments. Luckily, the technology needed to make this shift already exists. Companies who are willing to make this jump have a real opportunity to command greater market share and to create better outcomes for patients.