Why war games are not the answer to understanding markets - Part Two

What Are the Goals

The focus of the marketer should be on the market, and especially how the market will change in the future, not on other companies. The key goal should be as deep an understanding of the market as possible, certainly a better understanding than anyone else in the market. That understanding drives a fundamental knowledge of needs in the market and how your brand can address those needs better than anything else, and potentially uniquely. Furthermore, a goal should be to understand how and why the market is likely to evolve, what you need and where you need to be positioned to be successful and how you will get there. Of course, this includes defining sources of competitive advantage in the market and may require you to consider other products in the market. However, this is not the sole aim of the work of thinking about a future market. A third goal is to define what success looks like for your organization and build a plan that is so compelling and thought through that the organization will rally around it and make it happen. All the above can be achieved without a competitor being wiped out or even focused on.

This is not Sun Tzu or Clausewitz territory. This is the domain of Michael Porter and his Sources of Competitive Advantage and Peter Schwartz and his The Art of The Long View that describe how you can deal with uncertain markets and reduce the levels of uncertainty. One should read Kotter on change and how to manage and implement it. Or, think about Lencioni and how you can improve your team. These are the people that should be consulted when you construct a process for thinking about markets and how we need to adapt as they change.

The Modern Process

If you accept the argument above, then the fundamental need of the marketer is to understand the market and how and why it is changing. One must understand ALL the influences on the market and how they come together to drive change. When thinking about the future, which clearly marketers must do, the need to “play out” possible scenarios, to challenge thinking, and reduce uncertainty which is important.

Much of this work in thinking about markets doesn’t need a workshop. It needs research, interpretation, model-building, and small team challenges. If we want to consume resources and time with a workshop, we need to think deeply about what we want in a workshop that consumes a lot of time and resources to achieve results. It may be to “pressure test” a model with different scenarios, it may be to refine scenarios, it may be to decide on tactical implementation, it may be to rally functions around common goals, it may be to define future clinical endpoints. The goals of the workshop will define who attends and how it is structured.

A skeleton process is below. Elements may be added when considering specifics such as new MoA launches, generics and biosimilars, and new indications. Nevertheless, the basic steps remain the same:

  • Define the market beyond market data
  • Define all the players and their influence
  • Define the fundamental and important drivers of change
  • “Play it out”, define what becomes important
  • Assess uncertainty about how the market will evolve and whether scenarios will help develop a more robust set of actions
  • Assess the impact on YOUR market, where you play
  • Define your strategic goals that lead to your success
  • Transition to tactical actions that deliver the success
  • Monitor your performance towards your goals and amend your approach as new information becomes available

Prediction and Uncertainty

The Danish Quantum Physicist and Nobel Prize Winner Niels Bohr said, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it is about the future”. No doubt there is some quantum humor in this quotation and his basic point holds true for healthcare marketing. In fact, marketers should not consider themselves in the prediction business where they consider there is one possible future for a market that they must prefer for. They are in the managing uncertainty business. There is always uncertainty when thinking about the future, and different levels of uncertainty when considering different aspects of the future. The role of the marketer is to reduce the uncertainty to acceptable levels or to consider different futures when uncertainty is high (scenario planning), and to plan for how the market will evolve based on changes that are highly likely to happen and to have plans in place (contingencies) for those things that are less likely and potentially important to the evolution of the market.

Considering the need to review all aspects of how a market might evolve to assess uncertainty about the future is clearly best done with involvement from multiple functions in an organisation. It is not the realm solely of the marketing function and must involve other key stakeholders that interact with the market such as regulatory, market access, clinical, medical affairs, and others depending on how the organisation is structured. This premise is often where the idea of a workshop, often rightly comes from.

What About Workshops?

Workshops, where we bring together different points of view, and different functions to look at the same issues from different angles, can be very helpful. They should be designed for a specific purpose. There is no one way to address the different mix of questions and issues that arise about markets and their future. The goals of the workshop must be very clear. This will support the detailed development of the workshop, especially what the best use of workshop time is for the group of people being brought together. The global pandemic and virtual screen time have highlighted what was always the case, that time as a cross functional group is rare, precious and must be utilized to its best extent. It should not be wasted discussing elements that can be decided or postulated prior to the workshop. This often means that prior to a workshop the drivers of the market, the likely boundaries and evolution of the market, potential uncertainties and implications can be developed, if only in a draft form, in an efficient way through small groups. A workshop correctly organized can pressure-test these proposals, use cross-functional thinking to challenge and create new ideas, and make more progress in thinking about what the organisation should do for the future.

In Conclusion

The complexities and peculiarities of healthcare and medical device markets require deep thought and insight. It is rare that a standard approach to an issue will provide the detailed market understanding that allows one to make well-thought through decisions about the future. An understanding of all aspects of change in the market is required, and as all markets are different, a specific approach is often required dependent on the market and how it might evolve. The simple approach, as exemplified by Sun Tzu, may provide some insight into how a specific competitor might act. Even then, one must think beyond this to understand the impact on the market, which is where you operate and what you must respond to.

Furthermore, as markets become more intense, with more players and entrants, with changing government and payor approaches and new dynamics appearing, the opportunity for success is short and comes around only once. The marketer has the responsibility to think about all aspects, utilize the resources of the cross-functional team wisely, understand their market better than anyone else and to critically manage the uncertainties about the future. Workshops that bring together cross-functional expertise to challenge thinking about markets, to address uncertainties and develop strategies that utilize resources effectively, may well be of great use.

Chris Stevenson, is the CEO of Cambridge Healthcare Research (CHR). CHR provides market insight services to healthcare clients through its VOX.CHR market research business and its CHR market insights and competitive intelligence business. At CHR we believe that methodologies and information are the start. Insight and constant curiosity are essential parts of our business that allow us to add significant value to our clients understanding of markets and decision making. We employ people who are not only smart, they also want to understand the deeper, fundamental drivers of markets and to make our clients decisions more effective.