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
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