Narrow to grow
Narrowing a positioning can accelerate growth even once a product is on the market. This repositioning technique can breath
new life into struggling products.
One company we've worked with had recently entered the hypertension market with great promise. The category is huge; it's
the largest office-based condition treated by physicians with nearly $14 billion in 2011 sales. The new drug attained the
coveted regulatory approvals with clear, clinical superiority versus its two branded rivals.
Despite these advantages, the new product struggled in the market. It faced intense rivalry from a host of branded and generic
competitors that were already meeting most every apparent need. Adding to the challenge, there was little motivation on the
part of physicians to try something new, and intense pressure from payers for them to prescribe generics.
After the new product failed to meet expectation at launch, further research and analysis indicated that a niche positioning
could reinvigorate the brand. The marketing team concluded that the best way to gain traction would be to narrow the focus
in two ways. First, it would focus on its one main product attribute—strength—where the brand had clinical superiority. Second,
it would focus the target audience on those patients for whom strength mattered most—physicians who treat patients whose blood
pressure was not being effectively controlled by other medications.
With a clearer positioning focus, the company is now able to intensify the efforts of its sales force against a physician
audience that has a more compelling reason to consider the new drug.
Why does it work?
Niche positioning might imply going after a small market. Rather, it means going after a select market that has intense needs.
If a niche positioning is executed well, resources will be more focused where they will achieve the biggest result. The benefits
of taking an enterprise-wide approach to delivering a niche positioning are significant:
» Better targeting of physicians, e.g., more visits to the highest priority doctors, better visibility in their professional
associations and publications
» Better targeting of patients, which is especially important if consumer pull is an important part of the marketing plan
» Reduced concern from payers/MCOs of inappropriate prescribing and risk to budgets
» Clinical data and claim support resources focused where they are most important
» Easier to carve out and defend marketing position from rivals
» Improved financial ROI
Where to begin
To build an effective niche positioning, marketers must focus on doing four things exceptionally well.
Start by understanding all the key players. What are the needs, motivations, and constraints of your targeted audiences, e.g., physician segments, patients, or managed
Involve your team in developing options. Cross-functional perspectives from all groups are critical to a successful niche positioning. It can be a time-consuming process,
but insights and consensus should be obtained from all the key players: legal, regulatory, medical, manufacturing, and finance.
This helps to avoid bigger problems that can result from having an un-vetted positioning later.
Conduct rigorous strategic analysis and market research. Your positioning options must be put through a strategic filter. Our framework includes evaluations of three core areas:
» How strong is the value proposition—in particular, how valued, unique, and credible is it with your target audience?
» What is financial opportunity balanced against the risk?
» Is the positioning feasible—can your sales force execute it and will it get legal/regulatory support?
Develop a marketing plan that delivers the positioning. Think through the implications of your positioning options on your marketing strategies and tactics. What levers should you
pull? These differ based on the audience you need to reach and the message you must convey. Consider all four key stakeholder
groups—patients, physicians, providers, and payers. How will each perceive your value proposition? With which group will you
obtain the greatest leverage in gaining awareness and credibility for your new positioning?
The positioning development process takes times and requires thorough use of market research, analysis, and involvement from
senior management and cross-functional peers. But if it's done well, your more focused positioning can drive significant sales
growth and enhance careers.
Roland Jacobs is CEO of marketing strategy firm AspireUp. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
. Tim Calkins Calkins is a clinical professor of marketing, including biomedical marketing, at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern.
He can be reached at email@example.com