Why Most Product Launches Fail: A Brain Science Perspective

In the high-stakes world of medical device or drug launches, the statistics are sobering. Even prior to the pandemic, an alarming number of launches fell flat:

To make matters worse, a sluggish start often foreshadows continued underperformance: if forecasts lagged in Year 1, there's a 78% chance they'll continue to lag in Year 2 and a 70% chance in Year 3. The notion of a "slow start" is a myth.

Problems move people, not products

Surprisingly, it's not about the product's superior data or even its ability to fill an unmet clinical need. Success hinges on uniquely addressing an important or urgent problem that is critical to your customers and then persuading them to change their behavior to demand your product as the only solution. It's the problem, not the product features, that truly motivates people. Grasping what catalyzes behavior change is pivotal for market domination. To win, savvy life sciences executives know the job isn’t to out-compete the competition. It’s to make them irrelevant.

Leveraging brain science to make the competition irrelevant

Brain science is the human emotional and cognitive response to environmental triggers that can be leveraged to drive commercial growth. The discipline of brain science has taught us a few important things about how the human brain is hardwired and how to hack it to drive product adoption.

The human brain naturally craves equilibrium, so it uses shortcut methods to narrow down options and speed up decision-making. These shortcuts are known as cognitive biases and they are based on instincts—not data. When an innovation enters the market, it upsets your customer's choice-supportive bias (their justification for their product preference) and introduces uncertainty in decision-making. So, commercial growth is really determined by how fast your customer's brains can change in an uncertain world.

Because people are naturally resistant to change, it takes time and effort to overcome the inertia associated with established cognitive biases. Life sciences CEOs often underestimate the brain science barriers that exist when trying to change behavior on a large scale. There is no way to “flip the switch” at scale.

While there may clearly be a need, most potential customers either don’t consciously realize it or can’t imagine a possible solution. They are happy to accept the status quo, especially when the status quo or standard of care is recommended in medical guidelines or well-reimbursed.

Most product launches fail because companies routinely commit these brain science sins

Your 3-step behavior change framework for product launch success

1. Create a new category by leveraging actionable insights.

Most companies introduce new products into existing categories or markets where a dominant player (a “Category King”) usually reigns. In essence, Category Kings own 76% of the market valuation, the remaining category players are left vying for the market cap crumbs.

The real opportunity lies in carving out new categories or sub-categories, establishing your own niche and space in your customer’s mind, and conditioning the market to perceive the problems and solution from your perspective. To become a Category King, you must position yourself as different, not better. 

The trick for developing a compelling category is to leverage actionable audience insights. You must truly understand those unspoken pain points and what keeps them up at night. You can then expose those problems and evangelize them to create new demand for your product, allowing you to define the buying criteria for the new category which makes it difficult for existing companies to compete allowing your product to dominate.

2. Proactively prime the market for your product (vs. just getting your product ready for the market).

Successful companies don’t just market their products and their features, hoping the world will “get” why their product is a breakthrough. And they certainly don’t just let customers decide what category their product is in, how/when to use it, and the value it has. Instead they educate the market about why they should consider doing things in a new, different way (and why an old solution may be outdated, inefficient, costly, or painful). 

To increase your odds of a blockbuster product launch, you must identify a critical need your product can uniquely solve. Then expose why current options or approaches are no longer adequate through “problem marketing.” You also need to frame the criteria for the solution to this problem that will unlock their desired outcome and help place your solution in a “must have” mental space when available.

This intuitively teaches customers how to think about a problem and why they should abandon old solutions—or even the standard of care— in favor of new ones.

3. Plan for the time and effort required for behavior change and embrace something different.

Life sciences companies are laser focused on developing and manufacturing new products and navigating the regulatory process. That’s understandable but executives often underestimate how hard it is to convince people to change their behavior and adopt something new. 

Markets (which are humans—including clinicians), by their very nature, resist new ideas and products. Most clinicians think they’re doing a pretty good job with the tools they have. They’ve already found a solution they’re actively using and feel comfortable with their clinical outcomes. Why would they switch to something else?

You must educate your target audience about the problem that’s undermining their success or desired outcome—before commercial approval.  Deploying your problem marketing campaign 18 to 24 months prior to launch will activate demand and minimize adoption resistance. This is one of the most critical elements of increasing your odds of success and meeting your revenue expectations. Keep in mind that momentum requires a commitment to a process to activate behavior change. Routine “base hits” will take you farther than trying to hit a home run.

Humans—even clinicians— are wired to resist change.

If you can’t afford an anemic product launch, please contact us.

Our #1 priority is giving you a proven category-driven commercial growth strategy using brain science to create differentiation that matters to patients and providers, activates behavior change, and accelerates demand for your device, drug, or therapy.

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