Opportunity Doesn’t Come Knocking

You've heard the saying "The harder I work, the luckier I get"? Opportunity spaces are the same: "The harder you look, the more opportunities you see".



Opportunity spaces when a product is new to market

When we work with clients on new products that are in development, by the time Strategic North is involved there is already a clinical program in place and trials are ongoing.  Even so, one of our first steps is to look closely at the whole experience that currently exists to treat that condition. We do this from multiple perspectives - and not just that of the physician or the person with the condition - because exploring the whole experience will uncover the opportunities that exist.

This approach goes beyond understanding the logical, linear, rational progression of treatment for a condition, for it is necessary to uncover the real drivers of treatment decisions and the cues and triggers that lead to those decisions. As an example, in the management of patients with asthma, the linear, rational progression is from short acting inhaled beta agonist for symptom control with inhaled corticosteroid as a preventer.  If this does not give satisfactory control, the physician would add on a long acting beta agonist. In reality, factors that come into play in a real interaction might include how distressed the person is, how willing they are to compromise their lifestyle, how motivated they are, their attitude to the physician, how engaged the physician is with managing the condition, the physician’s perception of severity and, of course, the physician’s perception and beliefs relating to different treatment options.

While guidelines exist and physicians are aware of them, physicians also develop their own heuristic for managing patients, i.e. they learn from their experience and develop a mental shorthand for how they evaluate patients and the treatments they associate with this evaluation. This is their system 1 thinking, their subconscious decision making. A significant element of that evaluation is based on the physician’s perception. Understanding the heuristic of physicians and what they are subconsciously looking to achieve in different situations, is critical to understanding the resulting behaviors.

Only by exploring these heuristics and how interactions shape them, can the real opportunities be uncovered.  This is important because aligning more closely with what the physician is really looking to achieve will increase the brand’s relevance. Relevance is the most important step in getting into memory and only by getting into memory will the brand be considered for treatment.

Opportunity spaces for under-performing brands

When we work with clients who have a brand in the market that is either not performing as expected or has never performed well, the first thing we do is look at opportunity spaces.  Misalignment of the brand with the customer’s opportunity space is one of the most common reasons for a brand that has genuine value for human health not performing to the level it is capable of and, in the process, people not benefiting from that treatment. We have successfully done this with clients who have brands in breast cancer, smoking cessation, prostate cancer, stroke prevention, respiratory diseases and pain management.

One of the immediate signs of misalignment between a brand and the customer is how people in the company talk about the opportunity they are trying to realize with their brand. If we hear language such as first-line monotherapy, first efficacy switch, refractory patients, step up therapy, first combination therapy etc. there is a high likelihood of misalignment because the description does not align with how the customer thinks nor does it reflect the language the customer uses.

Defining an opportunity space for your brand

An opportunity space in its simplest terms is a need that someone could choose to meet. Going beyond this simplicity, it consists of a who, a when, a where and most importantly a why. The secret to defining a great opportunity space is richness and clarity. You need to be very specific on the who, the when and the where and explore the why so you understand it deeply.

People talk about competitive advantage or about differentiation, but only by practicing the discipline of seeing the world differently, of relating with potential customers differently and understanding them differently, can we ever expect to end up in a place that is different to anyone else.

This is why it helps to develop multiple opportunity options and not initially limit these by judging them as too broad, too narrow etc. The point is to expand the horizons and consider more opportunities than we do at first. Considering more, richer and different opportunities than everyone else will unlock the opportunities for differentiation and competitive advantage.

It is so easy to critique, to challenge, to pick apart and knock down.  Ask anyone to give you 10 reasons why something is inadequate, sub-par or deficient and you will be lucky if they stop at just 10. Then ask them to give you 5 ways to make it better, to improve or enhance it and see how much longer that takes them. As humans, we critique quickly but we build slowly. When you build opportunity spaces you need to enforce the discipline of withholding criticism and practice building possibilities. The time for judgment will come and it is important to make sure it is done constructively and objectively with full sight and understanding of all the opportunities available.

What must be true?

Once multiple opportunity spaces have been captured, one way to short list and prioritize the opportunity spaces most relevant for a product is to work through an exercise called “What must be true?”  This exercise explores what must be true for the product to be successful in this opportunity space, what that success looks like and, of course commercially, what that translates into.

Working through this process for opportunity spaces allows opportunities to be quantified both financially and in terms of the challenge they represent.

As a next step for this short list of opportunity spaces, we would recommend going and exploring them with potential customers. This helps explore the assumptions that have been made and build greater alignment with those potential customers.

Through our experience of going through this process with clients, we have seen how defining the opportunity space clearly and vibrantly not only allows the building of a brand that is more relevant for healthcare professionals and their patients, it also builds momentum within the organization to make future opportunities for that brand a reality.

As we share our thinking, we hope you find it helpful.  If you’d like to know more about our approach to unlocking opportunities and building purposeful healthcare brands or have your own experiences or techniques to share, we’d love to hear from you.  Please comment below or contact us at michael.white@strategicnorth.com david.coleiro@strategicnorth.com


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