Brand Launching in The Perfect Storm

In bad weather, the intuitive response is to batten down the hatches, tighten up, and keep your head down. But it might be the worst approach when trying to float something new
Mar 03, 2009
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

In 1931, two years after the stock market crash, Alka-Seltzer became the staple brand for overindulgers who "ate the whole thing." Seventy-seven years later, Alka-Seltzer generates $90 million a year. The lesson: You can successfully launch a brand even in the worst economic times.

That's good news, and anyone launching a pharmaceutical brand needs some. After all, introducing a new drug is difficult in the best of times. Seven out of 10 drugs launched in the last five years have not recouped their R&D expenditures. So, what do you do when the times are tough?

Marketers can make choices that are grounded in results and have a higher return on their marketing investment. They can seek and eliminate inefficiencies, run lean and mean operationally, and where brands are concerned, focus on core advantages that address economic concerns.

Successful marketers choose targeted initiatives versus throwing advertising dollars at the market. And the more limited their resources, the more innovative they become. An economic downturn is not the time to fall back on the tried and true.


The brand rulebook need not be ignored, but adopting a strategic approach with select tactics produces the maximum bang for a minimized buck.

Think about need

Certain product categories are likely to experience more economic resistance than others. Products seen as necessities—those that address a core medical need, such as antibiotics—may be less affected by a recession than products that are perceived to be more elective, such as cosmetic fillers. Predicting is not a science, however. What is perceived as needed varies from patient to patient. Market research can help reveal patient mindsets, unearth hidden issues, and expose issues respondents are reluctant to openly address. Market research also can determine which messages, creative solutions, and tactical vehicles resonate best with target audiences.


Revisit product positioning and key messages, including mechanism of action or formulation advantages. This ensures that the differences between your product and its competitors are clear. If physicians don't perceive differences between your branded product and a generic, they may prescribe the generic to save patients added out-of-pocket costs.

Use research to test and verify a message's effectiveness. Consider pharmacoeconomic studies as a way to demonstrate a brand's benefits to the healthcare system and the patient. Tactical initiatives can be created that emphasize the value of your brand versus the competition. Investigate the "value-added" benefits of coupon programs and partnerships with advocacy groups.

Face the bad news

Project how the market is likely to respond to the whole sector, not just to your brand. Examine what marketing messages should be saying, and what the competition is likely to say and do. Conduct research to determine your competition's spending history. Ask these critical questions:

  • How aggressive have key competitors been in the past?
  • How aggressive are they likely to be now?
  • What will assure preference of your brand over others?

The answers provide a more discerning view of the competition, and in turn, help determine what steps to take to counter them.

Practice Profitability

Physicians are concerned with bottom-line issues. The profitability of your product can be a considerable factor when it comes to brand choices. Self-pay patients or patients with high-deductible plans are often impacted more by a recession and are less likely to visit physicians. Significant drops in patient volume can also happen in areas facing high unemployment or other economic challenges. Patient education can convey the message that maintaining health is both medically and economically responsible.

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