5 Keys to Successful Positioning for Prescription Brands

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We’ve learned through the experience of over 400 Rx brand positioning initiatives that there are five keys to effectively optimizing strategic positioning for pharma brands.  In our experience brand teams who adhere to these keys see an average boost of 20% or more in prescriptions. Conversely, brand teams who don’t are often faced with disappointing performance or a steep climb to reclaim competitive position.

Let’s start with the assumption that most brand teams consider the time-tested advice of Trout & Ries to create positioning that is Simple, Singular, Focused and Relevant. This is mission-critical.  Yet, following these ideas alone is not sufficient for success.  Too often pharmaceutical marketers fall into the trap of crafting positioning which looks like a benefit statement or of ‘Frankensteining’ multiple concepts together.  Your creative, marketing and commercial teams cannot be expected to execute effectively and in-sync on a multifaceted brand story.

How do brand teams achieve successful positioning?  The answer is simple, but not easy:

1. Dive deep.  Regardless of where in the product lifecycle brand positioning or repositioning takes place, the starting point should always be a thorough review of all medical and marketing research findings (including clinical) having to do with the brand and its competitive set.  This is a vital first step because one must assess and understand the basis for the brand.  If the brand is prelaunch, this process should begin early (phase 2) to help shape the direction of clinical research and support the most desirable claims at launch. If post launch, as soon as possible after a market challenge is perceived.

A “deep dive” often reveals game-changing insights in overlooked studies, the medical literature, or in prior market research that can impact the strategy and perception of your brand.  Insights uncovered can help brands avoid major missteps or rescue them from unforeseen stumbles after launch. 

In one case, a deep dive uncovered a single insight from a major reference the brand team had overlooked.  This insight became the foundation for a refocused positioning, which ignited a sustained 35% multi-year sales increase for a brand that had flatlined.

2. Turn compelling positioning insights into positioning opportunities.  Successful Rx brand positioning opportunities are based on one or more compelling positioning insights derived from a human need and the tensions that arise from it as recognized by the prescriber and the patient.  A “positioning insight” is different from a traditional “insight” in that it revolves around a single point in time and marries the tensions of prescribers, patients, and other relevant stakeholders into a focused and actionable positioning opportunity.

If a positioning opportunity is identified that is not based on a compelling human need and tension, you don’t really have a positioning insight worth pursuing.

3. Write clear and compelling brand stories.  Positioning opportunities should always be written in story form (2-4 paragraphs) with their language refined through qualitative research to ensure they communicate clearly, effectively and positively with target audience prescribers and patients.

Traditionally, marketers expect the classic one-line Positioning Statement as the standard approach.  In our experience,  prescriber and patient audiences respond better to a brand story versus a sound bite.  In addition, a brand story enables a deeper understanding of underlying emotional connections.  A short 2-3 paragraph brand story is necessary to effectively communicate your brand with clarity and distinction.

4.Pressure test. The truth is we are not always the target audience for the products we market (and thank God for that!).  Once strong positioning opportunities have been identified, product differentiators can be communicated in a number of ways based on the benefit, user profile, use type, value, corporate profile, category, competitor, or attribute.  Cross-functional team workshops should be conducted to refine positioning insights and opportunities and to determine the strongest subset to move forward into qualitative and quantitative testing.

Pressure testing refined brand stories in qualitative research ensures each is distinct from the others to most effectively and clearly communicate with target audiences.  Qualitative analysis enables brand teams to dramatically refine the language of these opportunities. 

5. Validate to mitigate risk. At this point in the process you may have three polished and promising brand stories.  Declaring any one concept to be ‘The Positioning’ for the brand can be a fatal error because only rigorous analytical testing will reveal which of these will resonate best with prescribers, patients and caregivers and why.

If your positioning is selected by the loudest voice in the room, by the individual with the highest title, or by someone identifying one concept as clearly “the most creative” you are basing brand positioning on the team’s best ‘guesstimate.’   

Decisions have consequences: If you aren’t armed with this knowledge, your brand trajectory may be non-existent. Worse, if your brand underperforms, you will not know where the plan went wrong, or how to quickly course correct and recover.

Validating brand positioning is critical to optimizing commercial success because when done right it can be predictive of your brand’s impact in the marketplace.

It almost goes without saying that the success of your brand depends on your brand story being built on a firm foundation. Clearly and effectively communicating your brand story in terms that your target audience understands and connects with emotionally represents the next level.  Then validating everything with a rigorous positioning quantitative model enables you to truly understand the relative potential to change behaviors in your favor (aka your brand’s impact in the marketplace).

Positioning is about making the right connection at the right time and motivating behavior change.  Each of the five keys described above represents a piece of a framework within which marketers can create a vision and roadmap for the pharmaceutical brands they manage that will help maximize their commercial potential, ensuring the right product gets into the right hands at the right time.

If you are facing challenges with your brand or would just like to hear about other products which have benefitted from a similar approach, we’d love to chat.