The pharmaceutical landscape is filled with products that, despite offering a distinctive customer benefit, never achieve their revenue potential. In many cases, this is because their marketers failed to create a compelling brand proposition—without which the most effective product can never hope to captivate customers.
In our experience, many pharmaceutical campaigns miss the mark when they fail to clearly articulate a drug's essential brand advantage. While this may occasionally reflect a superficial understanding of the market, accompanied by under-investment in foundational market research, more often it is a failure to apply that understanding effectively to the task of identifying their brand's core selling benefit.
Research, of course, is crucial in crafting a marketing campaign. When you use it right, foundational research grounds brand strategy in the business opportunity—and specifically, a deep understanding of how the brand's benefits satisfy important customer needs as well as what beliefs or barriers must be overcome in order to change customer behavior. Done well, research helps identify the market needs your product can address, tells you what "story" will resonate most with customers, and provides learning that helps refine your message. Ideally, your research will lead you to the sweet spot where your campaign addresses the needs of the marketplace and your business opportunity.
The trap that pharma marketers too frequently fall into is allowing research to be deterministic—using it to define the brand position. This can fail for a number of reasons: a large majority of respondents may have no intention of ever using the product, and so their preferences may not represent those of the target customer; the product may require a change in behavior or beliefs, which initially tends to elicit a negative reaction; some respondents may not understand or appreciate the product's full benefits, including the unmet emotive benefits customers are seeking but have difficulty expressing, so the positioning doesn't hit home.
A brand's position should emerge from its core benefits and a deep understanding of the customer—something that the drug's maker knows better than respondents in a research study ever could. Concept-testing can be used to refine a campaign around that position, but it can never adequately substitute for effective strategy development.
Of course, consumer-goods marketers sometimes make the same mistakes. But the best consumer marketers don't rely on concept tests to tell them what differentiates their brands. In fact, it's just the opposite. They rely on their own understanding and beliefs about what makes their brands unique. Then they do their research and use it to create simple, credible campaigns that help them see how to precisely tailor their message to the market's needs.
Pharma marketers would be well advised to take a page from the consumer marketing playbook and look inside themselves to find what they already know: their fundamental belief in the product's advantage and why it should matter to their customers.
The key to brand positioning is to identify and occupy a unique space in customers' hearts and minds. Every drug can be differentiated in the marketplace—after all, if it didn't have a unique advantage, the FDA wouldn't let you bring it to market—and most every executive behind the drug knows, at heart, what that advantage really is.
The marketer's role: cut straight to that knowledge and form it into a clear, compelling customer message. Asking your customers or convening a committee only confuses the matter. You know what differentiates your product; that is the brand proposition to be championed.
To understand the power of intuitive positioning, let's look at some consumer brands that have created powerful identities with consumers.
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Driving home the message
Back in the early 1960s, a young car-rental company was struggling to survive in a market dominated by a single large player, Hertz. The upstart had tried everything it could to emulate Hertz, but couldn't break through. As of 1962, it had achieved market-share of just 11 percent. Worse than that, it was losing money and consumer perceptions of the company were deteriorating.
Possibly because it was dominated by a single large player, the car business at that time had a reputation for being consumer-unfriendly—renting a car was expensive and inconvenient. The perception was that rental companies didn't care that much about their customers.
It's interesting to note that "We try harder" tested poorly in market research. And, Avis did not have a reputation for "trying harder" in customer service. But the marketers stuck with it because they believed strongly that the campaign so elegantly captured both a critical consumer need and a unique business opportunity for Avis.
The rest, of course, is advertising history. Avis's "We try harder" campaign helped it jump to 35 percent market share, and profitability, in just a year. By embracing its position as the number-two player (the campaign trumpeted this fact as a core part of its communications strategy), Avis carved out a position that was distinct from its much larger rival and, more importantly, was persuasive and easily comprehensible to consumers. Not only that, but the campaign resonated with Avis employees, creating a unity of purpose that the team could "champion."
Painting the picture
For 200 years, Valspar paints and coatings had been used on everything from tall-ship varnishes to John Deere tractors to Coca-Cola cans. But as of 2006, even with $3 billion in annual sales, Valspar remained almost completely unknown to the American consumer. Its American Tradition paint brands, sold in Lowe's stores, were struggling against Behr paints, sold through Home Depot.
The goal was to create a brand that could hold its own against industry leaders Behr, Sherwin-Williams, and Benjamin Moore.
Valspar believed that its strongest attribute was its history. But research quickly showed that tradition wasn't a clear differentiator. In fact, most customers were not aware of either the Valspar or American Tradition brands; creating a campaign around history would've led many to think: "If you've been around so long, why have I never heard of you?"
So what were Valspar's most compelling traits? The product had outstanding durability, a broad color palette, and delivered high-quality results (beautifully painted rooms). Holding those consumer needs up to Valspar's primary attributes, it became clear that the brand could occupy a very unique place in the market: high-performance beauty.
Research revealed that the consumer buying decisions involved both men and women who have very different motivations for purchase. Men want to do a masterful paint job and women want a beautiful room. Mapping competitors and the needs they met revealed that no company addressed these emotive needs of the consumer leaving a white space in the market.
From there a new Valspar tagline was created—"Beauty and durability only nature can rival"—that delivered on the brand proposition and meshed with the advertising campaign, playing off the beautiful, durable colors of nature: autumn red, tropical green, mountain-lake blue.
The results: Valspar sales rose 7.6 percent in the first half of 2007 despite a slump in the housing market. Lowe's paint department saw its market share grow by more than 33% that year, even as Home Depot launched a major promotion for Behr.
Seize the difference
Not that pharma marketers haven't provided a few noteworthy examples of smart, intuitive brand positioning.
Lilly's Cialis (tadalafil) arrived on the erectile-dysfunction market in 2003, facing Pfizer's Viagra (sildenafil citrate), a brand that not only dominated that market, but had essentially created it. Viagra was, and to a large degree remains, the patient's short-hand for ED treatments.
Still, Lilly's marketers were able to instantly carve out a piece of that market by brilliantly seizing on their drug's core benefit: duration. Using catchy, intuitive terms like "weekender," and provocative slogans like: "When the time is right, will you be ready?" Lilly made it easy for patients to understand Cialis's advantage over Viagra. Compare that clever positioning to GlaxoSmithKline's Levitra (vardenafil), which failed to develop an effective positioning campaign. Not surprisingly Cialis seized the number-two spot in the massive ED market ahead of Levitra.
If these brands can do it, we all can. To connect that understanding of our brands with a strong message, we suggest that every pharma branding campaign should start with three simple, direct questions:
» What is the essence of our product?
» How is it different than other products in the market?
» Why should customers value that difference?
Once you've got the answers to those questions, you know what you're trying to say. Then it's just a matter of crafting a compelling (and compliant) way to say it. And that's what our jobs are all about.
Matthew Smith is Principal of CarbonSix. He can be reached at MatthewS@c6research.com
Edmund White is a Director at Bristol-Myers Squibb, where he leads market research for brands in oncology and has led brands in cardiovascular and metabolics. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Bristol-Myers Squibb. He can be reached at Edmund.White@bms.com