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The Value Cornerstone: Bridging the Pharma Marketing Gap


Brand positioning that targets HCPs is often irrelevant to the payer mindset. Fortunately, market access teams have an option, writes Ed Shankman.

Back in the day, payer engagement at pharma companies focused on price reporting, rebate negotiation, and rebate management. As time went by, payers felt emboldened to manage more diseases and limit more treatment options in more creative ways. To address this new reality, payer engagement morphed into payer marketing. That meant, first and foremost, communicating the ways that a product’s value (beyond rebate alone) offset costs.

Little by little, those “value” communications became more sophisticated, employing the marketing and advertising principles (including high-power creative solutions) that had previously been reserved for HCP and patient audiences. With this evolution, the market access function — which had typically been the province of numbers people — began to attract marketing and sales types who saw an opportunity to leverage their skill-sets in a new, challenging, and increasingly central arena.

Today, payers wield control over product utilization like never before — a challenge that warrants the most sophisticated and persuasive communications tools in the pharma arsenal. Yet, every day, pharma companies continue to stumble over a flaw in strategy — the gap between brand positioning (which typically targets the HCP perspective) and the payer mindset. This disconnect is an artifact from a previous era and a major obstacle to effective payer communications.

The fact is, while HCPs concern themselves with the needs of each individual patient, payers tend to think in terms of populations. And, while HCPs are laser-focused on the patient’s well-being, payers have to think economically, balancing outcomes and costs. Clearly, these are two very different audiences, with disparate interests, priorities, and pain points.

Now, positioning, by definition, is the one central idea that you want the audience to associate with your brand. And relevance to the audience’s mindset is arguably the primary criterion for selecting a positioning statement. So, here’s the harsh reality: considering the truly significant differences between the provider and payer mindsets, it is highly unlikely that a single positioning — the one, central idea you want associated with your brand — will be optimally relevant to both audiences.

So, why don’t market access teams and their agencies simply develop a separate positioning for payers? In our experience, the answer has to do with history. Positioning has always been the province of the brand team and its agency of record. (There was no need for a payer positioning because there was no real “marketing” to payers.) When brand teams hear the word, “positioning”, they automatically think of the HCP (and sometimes patient) audience, which is a natural reaction to decades of conditioning, rooted in a past when HCPs wielded unfettered control over product utilization.

Fast-forward to today, when the dramatic shift to payer influence calls for communications that are laser targeted to the payer mindset. Since the foundation of targeted communications is an equally targeted positioning statement, today’s reality demands positioning specific to the payer audience. Of course, the whole idea of having two “positionings” can create some dissonance for brand marketers who, understandably, regard, “The Positioning” as a single, sacred idea. In addition, the standard methodologies for developing HCP positioning may not fully address the multi-layered elements of the payer marketing equation.

How, then, can we address the need for a payer positioning, with a methodology that allows for the complexities of the payer marketing equation, and without undermining the HCP positioning? Enter the “Value Cornerstone.”

Like a positioning statement, the Value Cornerstone is the one idea you want the audience to associate with your brand — but, in this case, specifically the payer audience. Unlike positioning, which is typically laddered up solely from the product profile, the Value Cornerstone is derived from a broader array of payer-relevant facts. This is because the product profile (which is generally focused on efficacy, safety, and tolerability) is only part of the payer value story. The Value Cornerstone reflects factors such as pricing and contracting, resource utilization, range of indications, and size of target population, among others.

The Value Cornerstone gives market access teams what they need to succeed while addressing the concerns of brand teams in the following ways:

  • A different name (Value Cornerstone) so that there is no confusion, the brand Positioning remains the one and only “Positioning”, and it’s clear that the Cornerstone is specifically dedicated to what matters to payers (“value”).
  • A different methodology that ladders up from a broader array of relevant facts, which are generally not considered in the development of Positioning.
  • Consistency (or, at least, not inconsistency) with the brand Positioning as one of the core criteria for evaluation.

It’s also imperative that market access teams and their agencies adhere to brand guidelines during the creative development phase so that even if the payer campaign is very different from the HCP campaign (which it usually will be because it will be grounded in the Value Cornerstone), the campaigns will still be unified in terms of color, font, page architecture, and personality so that the brand is represented by a cohesive family of communications

Are payers influential enough to merit communications laser-targeted to their interests? No question. Is an HCP positioning well-suited to that challenge? Definitely not. The solution? The Value Cornerstone. Get used to it. Its day has come.

Ed Shankman is Chief Creative Officer at Cyan Health.

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