Position, position, position - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Position, position, position
The "weekender," the "doughnut hole," and the secret art of "bathroom mapping": How pharma marketers are learning to tell new stories for every phase of a drug's lifecycle.


Pharmaceutical Executive


Positioning a Portfolio

Sometimes a pharmaceutical company markets two or more products for the same indication. If each product is positioned individually, without considering the market niche of the other(s), the total revenue value of the portfolio will suffer. To maintain an overall positioning strategy, senior managers must assume the responsibility for product positioning, which has traditionally been left up to product managers. Management may be tempted to allow each product management team to position its offering individually, so that stable mates have to duke it out. But managers generally find it best to position the portfolio of products as an integrated whole. Not only does this approach yield promotional efficiencies, it is also more responsive to the holistic viewpoint of physicians in a given treatment area.

Pfizer did an excellent job marketing Celebrex (ccelecoxib) and Bextra (valdecoxib) as a portfolio. The company presented Celebrex to treat chronic anti-inflammatory conditions, and positioned Bextra as the drug with more "punch" in acute pain. Not coincidentally, positioning Bextra this way put it in direct competition with Merck's Vioxx (rofecoxib). On the other hand, in a notorious portfolio-positioning failure, Bayer positioned Avelox (moxifloxacin) to compete with its own older stable mate, Cipro (ciprofloxacin). The overall positioning strategy confused physicians, and simply diverted business from Cipro to Avelox.

Positioning the Competition

Sometimes companies must actually position a competitor's product as a pre-emptive strike. Frequently, competitive intelligence can determine potential weaknesses in the competing product, even before it is launched. War Gaming, a dueling-details research methodology that pits two products against one another, helps marketers attack new products' soft spots. A classic example of such an approach was Lilly's pre-emptive strike against Pfizer's Geodon. Lilly successfully positioned the forthcoming competition as a drug with higher cardiovascular risk, which in turn blunted Geodon's initial marketing surge.

Companies must also remember to inoculate the market against negative perceptions of their own products that might be induced by competitive efforts. It isn't enough to persuade physicians about the benefits. If you don't address serious concerns about your product, your competitors certainly will.

Positioning a Condition

Some marketers find it effective to develop a position for the condition. Pharmacia, for example, developed OAB as a condition, because women found it hard to identify with urinary incontinence.

Understanding the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors of patients helps create white space, the redefined treatment areas that give marketers an opportunity to tell a new positioning story. Many become ethnographers, observing patients in their natural surroundings for extended periods of time. The makers of Detrol, for example, noted that some patients practiced "bathroom mapping"—in other words, they planned their daily activities in such a way as to ensure ready access to a restroom. This insight helped them develop a story for the new treatable condition known as OAB.

Pfizer succeeded in developing an ED condition where previously, there had been only impotence.

Facts vs. Feelings

For most pharma marketers, it is easiest to recount facts about efficacy, side effects, and dosage. But blending facts and feelings is one of the most challenging, creative, and rewarding aspects of product positioning.

In the ED market, a lifestyle category in which physicians and patients determine together whether to treat, Cialis' positioning needed to speak to both groups alike. In developing that dual message, the product's ability to work "up to 36 hours" was a statement of fact. That the product separated "the pill from the pillow" and helped patients feel less "rushed and medical" addressed complaints about Viagra, the incumbent ED product, which had to be carefully timed.

With pharmaceuticals, unlike shampoos, cars, cereals, and so on, feelings are not typically the primary driver of a product's positioning. In this highly regulated industry, facts form the backbone of a product's story. But feelings, as the Cialis and other cases show, often interpret and contextualize facts, and help shape a story for physicians, patients, and other stakeholders.

Richard B. Vanderveer is CEO of GfK V2, a global pharmaceutical marketing research and consulting firm. He can be reached at


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