Blog Go-to-Market Strategy 6 Ways to Optimize Launch Messaging in Health and Life Science Go-to-Market Strategy

6 Ways to Optimize Launch Messaging in Health and Life Science Go-to-Market Strategy

Communications can change a product’s trajectory – for better or for worse. That’s especially true when managing the launch of an innovative product in health and life sciences where the environment is complex, technical, and shaped by clinical, regulatory, and economic elements. Precise, effective messaging matters. 

Stakeholder messaging makes a difference at all phases of the brand lifecycle but is especially critical in a go-to-market strategy. Weak messages can result in missed opportunities or confusion among stakeholders and hinder strategic implementation. Even worse, it could delay beneficial treatment for indicated patients. 

By taking a strategic, disciplined, and creative approach, marketing and commercial professionals can make brand messages more efficient and effective and help maximize success. For over two decades, I’ve advised health and life sciences clients with data-led strategies and insights to achieve access and commercial success. Based on that experience, here are six key lessons that help organizations adopt a testing mindset to optimize messages at launch. 

1. Testing is Better Than Guessing

It’s common to conduct tests in scientific and development situations – when a company needs to find out if a Phase III therapy is safe and effective, they test it in clinical trials. Likewise, when a physician needs to determine if a targeted therapy is right for a patient, they send specimens for testing with companion diagnostics. 

Similarly, when it comes to figuring out if launch messaging is clear, credible, and persuasive, we also run tests. To optimize execution, those tests can be micro-targeted by segment if we research the stakeholders. We test positioning and messaging to accomplish the following:

  • Understand unmet needs
  • Assess competitive differentiators
  • Learn which messages resonate and why
  • Figure out how to motivate appropriate behavior 

2. Know Your Stakeholders to Avoid A One-Size-Fits-All Approach 

In healthcare, the stakeholder set is varied and includes physicians, other providers, patients, advocacy groups, payers, policy influencers, health system executives (e.g., CEO, CFO, CIO, CTO, COO), and more. “Knowing” the stakeholders is more than figuring out a physician’s specialty and practice size or a hospital administrator’s title, function, or level. “Knowing” the audience means understanding their knowledge, attitudes, what motivates them, and their behavior. 

Market segmentation helps us test messages against various audiences. The benefit of this approach is to refine and optimize communications by market segment and avoid the same message for all audiences. The idea is to make communications more precise and effective in the same way that healthcare is made more precise and effective. 

Earlier in my career, I helped a client launch a companion diagnostic (CDx) for cancer. This type of diagnostic test reveals the likelihood a specific treatment will be effective for a specific patient. To optimize communications with oncologists, we created a market segmentation based on demographics, attitudes, and behavior and tested messages about the diagnostic. Results showed that certain messages would resonate with some segments more than with others, which enabled us to help the client develop an efficient communications strategy – in advance of launch. With this approach, we generated precision messaging for precision medicine.

3. Listen to the Audience to Speak to the Audience

It’s not enough to simply figure out what to say. Marketers must figure out how to say it. Multiple messages could say essentially the same thing but may not be equally useful across audiences. By listening to the audience, we learn how to speak to the audience. Listening can be done through customer feedback loops or social media, and stakeholder interviews and surveys can reveal unmet needs, priorities, values, how they make decisions, and more. 

The process of listening yields the raw material for message development. Marketers should develop a set of messages to consider internally, and ideally, to test externally. 

When I was testing messages for implantable cardiac devices, it became apparent certain language was more clear and clinically relevant to subspecialists than to general cardiologists. Yet the client needed to communicate about safety, efficacy, and value to both audiences. Despite having overlapping training, each audience understood the clinical need and considered value differently. One audience focused more on whether a patient could be treated; the other audience zeroed in on why and how a patient could be treated.

4. When Developing Messages, Consider the Anatomy of a Message 

A framework for the anatomy of a message helps us develop a set of messages to consider and optimize. Organize messages according to themes, messages, and proof points. Each theme can have several messages consisting of supporting proof points. 

Themes should emanate from value. Often the most powerful messages focus on benefits, not features. Who will the product help? How? Why is that better than existing alternatives?

I’m currently helping a 3D-printed medical technology company with a go-to-market strategy. Each aspect of their design responds to unmet needs that have frustrated biomedical scientists for decades. The design, manufacturing, and product performance serve as proof points that support messages. The messages ladder up to themes like Saving Time, Reducing Cost, Innovation, and Precision. In turn, the themes support the value proposition.

To focus on value when drafting messages, follow an iterative exercise by repeatedly asking: “What could make it more persuasive?” As an example, consider a novel biologic taken at home once per day rather than three times per day — or instead of a once-a-week infusion in a center. 

  1. A good message might say: This product is to be taken once per day.  Ask why that is important, then refine the message. 
  2. A better message could say: This product is more convenient because you only need to take it once per day. Go through the same process and ask, “So what?” 
  3. An even better message might focus on compliance and outcomes: This product is superior because it only needs to be taken once per day, and a once-a-day regimen is shown to be easier for patients to follow. 

Note that persuasive messaging must always be true. For messages that make claims or focus on compliance and outcomes, ensure that the data supports such statements. Build in time for review and approval of messages before they are tested.

Great message development almost always is the result of gathering perspectives from multiple disciplines, usually including marketing and commercialization. I have led workshops for large medical device or biopharma companies that include departments like medical affairs, market access, policy, communications or public affairs, along with marketing. If you are inclusive at the start of the process, be sure to check back in with the colleagues whose input you relied on and update them on message development, testing, results, and recommendations.

5. Defining and Measuring Success

To know if a message is a great message, you need a way to measure its effectiveness. You can evaluate the performance of your messages by testing them qualitatively or quantitatively. In healthcare, it’s best to test with multiple stakeholders: physicians, payers, patients, and other audiences.

To decide what metrics to use in testing, work backward from the outcome you want to achieve and establish metrics that are meaningful and practical. 

For example: 

  • If you think the science behind a cellular treatment, like CAR-T, is essential to convey but is complicated, then a good metric might be clarity
  • If the benefit of a gene therapy is a functional or actual cure, but you are concerned that it will be perceived as “too good to be true,” then credibility would be a useful metric. 
  • Often, it’s useful to test messages with metrics that cover attitudes and behavior. In my experience with novel advanced therapies, an interim measure of success may be useful, such as “likelihood to seek more information.”

Metrics provide a way to see which messages outperform with which audiences.

6. Something is Better Than Nothing

When time is short and budgets are tight, the tendency can be to rely on assumptions and reduce or forego testing.

Consider ultra-rare diseases or novel approaches to cell and gene therapy that may mitigate or even cure disease. When the size of the target population (doctors, patients, and other stakeholders) is limited, qualitative assessment of messaging may be the best and only approach. 

What if there is not enough time to test messages? Try to get some external input, even if it is a smaller set of interviews or a quick survey of representative stakeholders. With a gene therapy client who faces that scenario, we are considering a limited set of interviews with key opinion leaders. A short runway to launch may preclude more comprehensive message testing, but at least the client will not have to wait for feedback in a post-launch environment.

Recently, I tested ads about a genetic marker for a rare disease. The client faced two key limitations: time and a small physician population. We designed a test with 30 physicians from two specialties. The client gained confidence by confirming a key hypothesis. At the same time, the test revealed confusing language about the biomarker, so we were able to adjust communications. Both outcomes were useful and far better than not testing at all.

To sum up, when launching a product, take agency for developing messages that are thoughtful, effective, and efficient by following these six principles:

  1. Testing is Better Than Guessing
  2. Know Your Stakeholders to Avoid A One-Size-Fits-All Approach  
  3. Listen to the Audience to Speak to the Audience
  4. When Developing Messages, Consider the Anatomy of a Message 
  5. Define and Measure Success
  6. Something is Better Than Nothing

By following these principles, people accountable for launch and early commercialization can avoid stakeholder confusion and pave the way for success.

Meet the Author

Want to work directly with Jonathan? Contact us to learn how.

Jonathan Kay is the Founder & Managing Partner of Health Market Experts, LLC, where he helps clients enter and navigate complex medical markets. He provides data-led go-to-market strategies and insights to achieve access and commercial success. He does that through engagements on market assessment, strategy, market research, and market access. Jonathan consulted on the successful development, launch, and commercialization of dozens of diagnostics, therapies, and vaccines in rare disease, oncology, cardiology, neurology, diabetes, biosimilars, precision medicine, and digital health. Jonathan recently guest lectured at Rutgers Business School about using market research in go-to-market strategy. He is an entrepreneur who co-founded, built, and sold a venture-backed market research start-up. Jonathan is a fractional Executive-in-Residence at BioHealth Innovation, Inc., where he advises early-stage life sciences companies on their product development and commercialization strategies. He also is a mentor to CEOs at digital health and life sciences start-ups through the Maryland Tech Council. Jonathan earned a BA from Cornell and a Master in Public Policy from Harvard. He enjoys hiking and running.

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