The word “strategy” is one of the more overused terms in pharma today. The only thing more worn-out was the hype that surrounded Kim Kardashian’s wedding. (I guess my invitation got lost in the mail.) How many times, in your dealings with agencies, have you thought that they were not thinking strategically? I think all advertising/marketing agencies have been there at least a few times, and no one wants to be labeled in that way. I believe it stems, in part, from a poor understanding of the term. Therefore, as a public service, let us take a deeper look into both its connotation and denotation.

Merriam-Webster has three main definitions for strategy. I will include the only one that does not involve a reference to warfare:

  • Strat-e-gy (noun)
    • A careful plan or method
    • The art of devising or employing plans toward a goal

By definition, strategies are definable, actionable and measurable — but too often, they are none of these. They are the thinking and planning behind the tactics that help us get from where we are to where we want to be. Strategies are not objectives, they are not key success factors, and they are certainly not tactics.

Part of the problem is that too many agencies try to develop strategies in a vacuum. This should never happen. Instead, the process should be seen as a progression toward a final goal or outcome. Strategy can be seen as one of the “stations” along a predefined route to a final destination. Here are the stations the “thought train” should always move through: Objectives, Key Success Factors, Strategies, Tactics, and Outcomes. Like a train, our thoughts should always move through one station at a time to prevent a derailment. If your strategy is not defined, how can you possibly plan tactics that will achieve good outcomes?

Here is a simple example.

Objective: I want to drive a new car.

Key success factor: More money each month to cover a high car payment.

Strategy: Cut expenses and/or raise income (see, these are definable, actionable, and certainly, measurable).

Tactics: Reduce dining out by 50% and spend $200 less each month on clothes.

Outcomes: $450 more cash each month to put toward a new car.

It is easy to see that if the key success factor were different, maybe, “Need to learn how to drive,” then everything following would also change.

Now, let us put this into pharma-speak for an imaginary 432nd-to-market antidepressant, Brand X.

Objective: Patients currently on SSRI monotherapy switch to Brand X.

Key success factor: Prescribers and patients recognize that Brand X has comparable efficacy but superior tolerability to SSRIs with respect to insomnia.

Strategy: Refocus sales force activities on HCPs who are high-decile prescribers of SSRIs associated with high rates of insomnia.

Tactics: Update digital and printed sales pieces emphasizing low rates of insomnia.

Outcomes: Increased sales and satisfied patients.

Again, a change in any one of the previous steps could have a profound effect on what the strategy looks like.

Objectives are too often intertwined with strategy and implementation in a way that makes it difficult for an agency to decide where to start. We at The Core Nation have found success with setting objectives and then developing strategies to achieve them. Others often look for a winning strategy and then carve out objectives from their understanding of what is achievable. Such confusion about where to begin causes planning paralysis.

What has been your experience with strategy development? Do you agree with our approach or does something else work for you? Share your thoughts with us.