Case Study: Science-Based Selling - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Case Study: Science-Based Selling
How GSK relaunched a mature brand in a competitive category


Pharmaceutical Executive


Animated Education
The Product Oxistat (oxiconazole), an antifungal agent, is available as a topical cream or lotion and is prescribed for the treatment of fungal skin diseases, including athlete's foot (tinea pedia), jock itch (tinea cruris) and tinea versicolor, which presents as patches on the skin.

The Problem The consumer healthcare division of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) needed to revitalize sales of a mature topical antifungal treatment before the end of its lifecycle.


Oxistat achieved its largest transaction month ever in September 2004, eight months after relaunch, when the total prescriptions year-to-date index (versus the same period in 2003) reached 128.
Background Oxistat was repatriated from a previously licensed partner in late 2002. During the initial months prior to relaunch, the company used the communications strategy, visuals, and claims developed by the previous marketing organization to promote the brand. In January 2003, Oxistat was just one of several brands being sold by GSK's sales reps. Revisiting training materials was not an immediate priority, so sales force training also used the existing materials.

About 18 months into the sales cycle, monthly prescription targets were modest. Nevertheless, Oxistat sales were beginning to regularly miss monthly forecasts. The brand team assessed the product to be underperforming relative to its market potential. An analysis suggested potential reasons for declining trends:

  • Initial sales force training had not been a priority at launch.
  • Historical positioning and product communication materials were not aligned with current unmet needs within this market sector.
  • The field sales force was not emphasizing the therapeutic benefits of the product in the context of other drugs on the market or clinical studies that supported the product claims.
  • The antifungal therapeutics category is competitive by nature.

The Solution The GSK marketing team decide to turn the business around by updating training to relaunch the product to the sales force. The goal was to enhance reps' technical knowledge of the product in the context of its competitive set. But the clock was ticking—the product was losing pace against budgeted dollars and the company's in-house training department was unavailable.

So the brand team hired an outside training partner to develop the strategy and material for the training relaunch. They selected San Diego-based ScienceMedia (whose CEO is a co-author of this case study) to face the dual challenge of helping the sales force grasp the materials' technical content and delivering it rapidly—through a computer-based distance learning program.

"Our first job was to identify the critical technical knowledge gaps within the field sales force," says Julie Gegner, PhD, the ScienceMedia project team leader. "Then we based all our efforts on driving business with science—our focus was on clinical differentiation."

The team analyzed all available clinical studies to determine what promotional claims were supported by the existing data. That analysis, combined with findings from current market research with physicians helped build the foundation of the plan. Among others, the team's research identified an under promoted benefit of the product—once-a-day application—that emerged as a key differentiator within the antifungal therapeutic category.

To help frame the brand positioning, the new training material required a clear, scientific discussion of the technology behind the once-a-day benefit. The project team used their research to create training modules that would increase the GSK sales reps' product knowledge with a clear explanation of Oxistat's MOA in comparison to the market leader, using straightforward presentations of basic science, technical vocabulary, and competitive product placement.

The Rollout Although some of the newly developed materials were required for a December 2003 sales meeting, the complete training needed to be an eduring resource for both the existing field force and future hires. The nature of the material, coupled with the relative lack of time and resources indicated that interactive, computer-based training procedures were particularly necessary.

The team delivered its final training series to sales reps in early 2004. The multimedia distance learning program included print, audio (glossary and pronunciation guide), and CD-ROM components that comprised four modules:

  • skin anatomy
  • skin diseases
  • drug mechanism of action
  • competitive market position.

Participants were tested before and after completing a one-hour tutorial that included computer animation of the drug's mechanism of action, clinical disease state photographs, and audio script with supported screen labeling.

Douglas Kress, MD, of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, provided case study photographs that proved essential in cementing visualization of disease severity to the sales force.

The Results ScienceMedia worked with the GSK marketing organization to put proficiency testing into a Web site to automate assessment delivery, tracking, and verification during the official launch of the training. Although 100 percent of the representatives were tested within 60 days of the launch, the real proof would be measured by field performance. The ultimate goal of the training was to increase technical knowledge of Oxistat, improving sales reps' confidence and credibility during their interactions with physicians.

In the two months following the training relaunch, total prescriptions began to break from historical trends. And total brand prescriptions were increasing significantly at a point in the year when total category prescriptions were in decline. The product achieved its largest transaction month ever in September 2004, eight months after re-launch, when the total prescriptions year-to-date index (versus the same period in 2003) reached 128.

Key Learnings All in all, the investment made in creating enduring and highly effective electronic-based product training material was an efficient use of marketing dollars. GSK's decision to repurpose the product animation into a product-branded Web site and other e-detailing projects created even more value.

The entire project, from planning and needs identification to launch, took about eight months. When developing timelines, consider the lengthy and inevitable delays for legal, medical, and regulatory reviews and approvals. Develop realistic timelines upfront to ensure accuracy, allow for quality control, reduce frustration, and ultimately, deliver a successful program.

D. Chauncey Smith (
) is senior brand manager for GSK's consumer health division, and Michelle A. Youngers (
) is CEO of ScienceMedia in San Diego.

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