Brand Launching in The Perfect Storm

March 3, 2009

Successful Product Manager's Handbook

In bad weather, the intuitive response is to batten down the hatches, but it also might be the worst approach when trying to float something new

In 1931, two years after the stock market crash, Alka-Seltzer became the staple brand for overindulgers who "ate the whole thing." Seventy-seven years later, Alka-Seltzer generates $90 million a year. The lesson: You can successfully launch a brand even in the worst economic times.

That's good news, and anyone launching a pharmaceutical brand needs some. After all, introducing a new drug is difficult in the best of times. Seven out of 10 drugs launched in the last five years have not recouped their R&D expenditures. So, what do you do when the times are tough?

Marketers can make choices that are grounded in results and have a higher return on their marketing investment. They can seek and eliminate inefficiencies, run lean and mean operationally, and where brands are concerned, focus on core advantages that address economic concerns.

Successful marketers choose targeted initiatives versus throwing advertising dollars at the market. And the more limited their resources, the more innovative they become. An economic downturn is not the time to fall back on the tried and true.


The brand rulebook need not be ignored, but adopting a strategic approach with select tactics produces the maximum bang for a minimized buck.

Think about need

Certain product categories are likely to experience more economic resistance than others. Products seen as necessities—those that address a core medical need, such as antibiotics—may be less affected by a recession than products that are perceived to be more elective, such as cosmetic fillers. Predicting is not a science, however. What is perceived as needed varies from patient to patient. Market research can help reveal patient mindsets, unearth hidden issues, and expose issues respondents are reluctant to openly address. Market research also can determine which messages, creative solutions, and tactical vehicles resonate best with target audiences.


Revisit product positioning and key messages, including mechanism of action or formulation advantages. This ensures that the differences between your product and its competitors are clear. If physicians don't perceive differences between your branded product and a generic, they may prescribe the generic to save patients added out-of-pocket costs.

Use research to test and verify a message's effectiveness. Consider pharmacoeconomic studies as a way to demonstrate a brand's benefits to the healthcare system and the patient. Tactical initiatives can be created that emphasize the value of your brand versus the competition. Investigate the "value-added" benefits of coupon programs and partnerships with advocacy groups.

Face the bad news

Project how the market is likely to respond to the whole sector, not just to your brand. Examine what marketing messages should be saying, and what the competition is likely to say and do. Conduct research to determine your competition's spending history. Ask these critical questions:

  • How aggressive have key competitors been in the past?

  • How aggressive are they likely to be now?

  • What will assure preference of your brand over others?

The answers provide a more discerning view of the competition, and in turn, help determine what steps to take to counter them.

Practice Profitability

Physicians are concerned with bottom-line issues. The profitability of your product can be a considerable factor when it comes to brand choices. Self-pay patients or patients with high-deductible plans are often impacted more by a recession and are less likely to visit physicians. Significant drops in patient volume can also happen in areas facing high unemployment or other economic challenges. Patient education can convey the message that maintaining health is both medically and economically responsible.

Preventive Medicine

It's not only the best policy, but it also saves large amounts of money. Medical costs due to serious illness is the leading reason for bankruptcy. Economically challenged patient populations may respond well to reminder programs or educational resource systems or materials. Research shows that reminder programs work best when they are customized for the physician's practice (e.g., offer space for the practice name and address). But the most successful programs are unbranded, simple, and uncluttered.


Financial analysts say diversifying mitigates the impact of a tough economy. The same holds true with a brand plan. If the launch strategy is to maximize brand impact with limited dollars, a tactical plan can include an array of alternative media vehicles. Eighty percent of consumers are connected to the Internet. It's where they access medical information. Effective electronic channels (beyond branded Web sites) are available to marketers. Consider online banner ads, social media communities, microsites, and blogs that are fresh, economical, and diverse in their reach. Be sure to maintain consistency in brand identity and messaging with each tactic.

Alternative Vechicles

Every visit and click-through by target audiences can be tracked by back-end databases. Use this feedback to know if key messages are getting through or if they need adjustment. Leverage this information to get a bigger and better return on every media dollar spent.


In today's cost-cutting mode, it may literally pay to talk to marketing companies that offer integrated services. Services from strategic development to interactive are available without the need for turf wars, which can erode time and resources. There is also the advantage of selecting services you need based upon objectives and your budget. If several agencies are used in a launch, analyze each agency's contribution and prune for unnecessary or duplicated costs. Use metrics to quantify results from tactics, and tweak messages or vehicles as needed to maximize their impact and return on investment.

Anshal Purohit is Vice President of Strategy and New Business for Purohit Navigation. She can be reached at

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