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Monday, October 27, 2014





If you have ever worked as a pharmaceutical marketer, then you’ll recognize an often-expressed statement that goes something like this: “Building a brand in Pharma is different (and harder) than it is in consumer goods: the condensed patent life of a drug severely curtails the development of an established positioning; and the strait-jacket-like restrictions imposed by the FDA constrain implementation of any positioning at every turn.” That drug lifecycles are short, that drug product claims are tightly tied to their labeling, and that the FDA heavily regulates promotion actions by drug marketers are all facts. They are inescapable “boundaries” of the pharmaceutical drug marketplace—not just here in the U.S., but throughout the world.


But, also as a point of fact, all product categories have their distinctive, inescapable “boundaries” and constraints. For example, in most countries around the world, consumer brands cannot promote their products with comparative claims against their competition; in the U.S., while many comparative claims can be made, they can only be communicated if backed up by provable, hard data. Then, too, virtually all of the “strategic ingredients” (that is, those compounds with patent protection for a single brand, such as stannous fluoride in the original Crest toothpaste) that consumer R&D experts engineer into their products face an exclusivity-limited lifecycle similar to drug patents themselves.  


So, “Pharma brand-building is different”--really? Well, “different” in the sense that all product categories have their unique traits and various regulations. But “different” in the implied sense of being “harder” to position a brand in Pharma than in most other categories…don't think so. Looking back over all the Rx classes we have worked in and among all the pharmaceutical marketers we’ve been privileged to work with, we have another take on what makes positioning drug brands so challenging. Perhaps the best way to express our take is to say that the most restricting positioning “boundaries” Rx marketers face are not those set by the U.S. patent office or the FDA—they’re self-imposed.   To be more specific, we’ve found that there are a number of self-imposed positioning “misses” that constrain a good many Rx brand marketers (some of them constrain marketers everywhere, by the way). So for this week’s Boats & Helicopters we thought we would spotlight them…in an effort to increase awareness of them and thereby decrease their occurrence.


BOATS & HELICOPTERS—The Top 5 Self-Imposed Rx Brand Positioning Constraints


1.  Limiting the positioning target definition to “high-volume prescribers.” Of course, every drug in class wants to win over as many high-volume  prescribers as possible; without some percentage of them in your brand’s camp, there’s no way to get the ROI the Company demands from your brand. But, come on, do you really think all high-volume prescribers are equally interested in prescribing your brand? It is so much smarter (and much more effective) to laser your brand’s positioning against those prescribers who really want and appreciate what your brand offers…who “believe as your brand believes.” To do this means including much more detail in the positioning target definition: physician psychographics, driving attitudes, and “telling” treatment behaviors.


2.  Failing to include the patient type & condition in the positioning target. Say what? Isn’t the positioning target for most Rx brands a physician target? And if the brand is engaging in direct-to-patient marketing, shouldn’t the patient description be confined to the patient positioning strategy? For sure it’s true that the first and most important positioning target for a drug brand is the physician target. But a key element of that target definition--in addition to those mentioned above in #1--is the ideal or “bulls-eye” patient (demographics & psychographics) and that patient’s condition (such as, “mild to moderate cognitive disorder”). And the reason that including this detail is so important is obvious: just as not all high-prescribers are equally likely to become loyal to our brand, so it is that not all patients within a target physician’s practice are equally ideal prospects for only our brand. It's to our positioning advantage if we can identify and specify the “absolute right patients” for our brand within a given practice…to better win over a high portion of that doctor’s prescriptions for our brand.


3.  Confining the positioning to “product benefits” only. And by product benefits we mean those functional things that the drug offers, typically in terms of specific efficacy, tolerability/compliance, or safety. When a pharmaceutical brand positioning remains at the product benefit level only, we say that it represents a product positioning, not a brand positioning. We say this for a couple of reasons: first, most drugs in class offer the same or about the same kind of product performance, so they are all pretty much positioned as similar products; second, the move from product to brand requires translating those fundamental product offerings into some meaningful outcome for the target…you know, the old “WIFIM” or “What’s In It For Me” need that customers and consumers always have.


4.  Settling for a tepid “usual suspect” emotional benefit. Unearthing or determining a winning emotional benefit—for any brand in any category—takes a lot of work: mainly work aimed at unraveling the target’s complex emotions about their patients, their current treatment option shortcomings, their desires for their own achievements and success. Such work also takes time…and this, in turn, often leads pharma brand marketers (who have decided to go beyond product benefits in their brand positioning) to take a shortcut and glom on to a readily available emotional benefit, such as “feel a sense of accomplishment,” or “feel I’m in control of the treatment regimen.” As you can appreciate, because these kinds of physician emotional benefits are so readily available, they are also over-used, from one drug class to another. They therefore rarely mean much; even worse, they rarely “stick” to one brand. Better to delay the choice of emotional benefit for the brand positioning until sufficient target motivations and desires are explored.


5.  Missing the creative opportunity to develop a differentiating extrinsic reason why. Pharmaceutical marketers rely exclusively on their R&D colleagues to engineer differentiating features and attributes into their products (innovative compounds, modes-of-action, design aspects), and to co-lead the clinical trial sequencing that will support the brand’s ultimate differentiating benefit claims. Such features and clinical data then become the brand’s intrinsic reasons why for the positioning. But what is so often overlooked is the development of a compelling extrinsic reason why for the positioning—something along the lines of professional body endorsement, the creation of a freestanding “resource center” dedicated to patient education, or better yet, some kind of value-added program that enables physicians to better train their staffs.   These kinds of “extra” reason why support come straight from the clever creativity of the brand marketing team (and their marketing support partners).   Think of these extrinsic extras as a kind of insurance—for when competitors match your brand’s intrinsic features and attributes.


We think that eliminating these five constraints can go a long way towards overcoming the “different-ness” of positioning a pharma brand.

Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney


Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

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