Expert insight:

Test your understanding of SWOTs

By Edouard Demeire, expert-trainer of the 2-day course The Pharma Brand Planning Course.

The Strengths – Weaknesses – Opportunities – Threats analysis or simply SWOT analysis is a tool that is used across functions within pharma companies. The SWOT is the most basic, but also the most crucial part of a Pharma Brand Plan because it helps to identify a brand’s Critical Success Factors (CSFs) , which in turn need to be addressed in commercial, access & medical tactical plans.

However, a SWOT analysis is often a source of confusion and miscommunication, and consequently it is often the worst part of a Pharma Brand Plan! 

That is because SWOTs are not properly understood. Here is a question to test yourself: 

Which item of the SWOT analysis below is in the wrong section?

1 - Opportunity Section:

Having obtained approval for the first line indication is a great opportunity

2 - Strength Section:
Our company has a great strength due to its excellent HCP collaboration with physician specialty "X"
3 - Weakness Section:
Our product enjoys a poor side effect perception even though the clinical evidence shows we have superiority
4 - Threats Section:Adverse economic situation induces renewed funding challenges.


The first item should not be in the Opportunity Section because obtaining an indication is a strength, not an opportunity.   If this sentence were phrased “The first line indication has a large patient pool with high unmet need”, then it would have been an opportunity.  However, the item states that WE have obtained an indication for OUR Brand, so it is a strength.

Often, people think item 3 is in the wrong section because a mis-perception does not read as a ‘real’ weakness of the brand. However, it is correct because Brand Plans should indeed reflect the beliefs of stakeholders (as they drive prescriptions), not the ‘reality’, which stakeholders do not perceive.

TIP:  If you don’t know for sure if an item in the SWOT is either a strength/weakness or opportunity/threat, then ask yourself the following question: is it about our company or our brand ? If the answer is yes, it must be a Strength or Weakness, if no, it is an Opportunity or Threat.

The next difficulty is to create a short and clear SWOT. At that point it is very important to prioritise the SWOTs because otherwise your plan will include far too many Critical Success Factors for the limited resources your organisation can provide you for implementation. There are handy analytical tools (i.e. Impact & Probability Analysis, Differential Analysis) to help you prioritise and select which items should be in your Brand’s SWOT.

The evaluation of Opportunities & Threats should be based on:

  • The size of the IMPACT they have
  • The PROBABILITY they occur
  • The TIMING they will occur in (within or outside of your planning horizon)

The criteria for Strengths & Weaknesses should be:   

  • IMPORTANCE to the customer
  • PERCEIVED DIFFERENTIATION to the competition


Last update: August 2017