Debunking the #1 Marketing Myth

In a previous BrandTip® we discussed the importance of brand differentiation through positioning as the key to gaining rapid adoption and an upward trajectory at launch.  The pushback we often receive is that the only thing that matters is being first to market.  Well, that simply ain’t so.  So, this Tip focuses on debunking the #1 Myth in Strategic Marketing: The notion that, you must be first to launch in the therapeutic class to succeed.

Let’s begin with a quiz. All of the brands below became leaders within their respective categories.  Select the brands below that were not first to launch in their drug class?  (Answers at the end of this Tip)

Brand / Manufacturer / Category

A. Copaxone / Teva Marion Partners / Relapsing-remitting MS

B. Remicade / Johnson & Johnson / Crohn’s disease

C. Seroquel / AstraZeneca / Psychiatric disorders

D. Rituxan / Genentech / Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

E. Lipitor / Warner-Lambert and Pfizer / Cholesterol reduction

No doubt, there are important top-line benefits to being a first mover.  First in-class therapies tend to make large and lasting impressions on stakeholders, earning strong brand recognition.  Often overlooked by those in our industry is the burden of being first to market.

Regardless of launch timing, unless prescribers are given a really good reason(s) to prescribe your brand, a product will own the therapeutic lead only until the next brand in class is introduced.  First movers are notorious for falling into this trap.  In the commotion of preparing for launch they overlook the opportunity to shape the market to favor their brand and create mindspace barriers for future entrants.  

This is the holy grail of opportunity for every product to follow.

We have long been advocates for preliminary brand positioning, commonly known as “brand visioning,” in Phase II.  Brand visioning helps teams map out the future strategic lifecycle of a brand and, although with different goals, is just as valuable to first movers as it is to those second or even third to market.   An added benefit of early strategic thinking is the ability to plan and implement clinical and regulatory tactics to explore the primary indication and the major claims / data required for marketing support at introduction, benchmark the competition and understand the nature of data needed to make comparative claims.  This early strategic focus on lifecycle better positions a brand to achieve its full potential during its patent life.  As all of us are aware, there is a cliff, rather than a nice Bell curve, once an Rx brand goes ‘off-patent.’

Tebby, Bergheiser and Mattick published a fascinating study that measured the success of pharmaceutical brands over a wide range of therapeutic categories.  Their article, Brand Momentum: The measure of great pharmaceutical brands, confirmed that planning and analysis with strategic intent trumps first mover advantage to sustain Rx brand success.  Once again, this study confirms the importance of maximizing value immediately upon launch and maintaining that value over the patent life of the brand through thoughtful prelaunch planning.

Brand visioning is the first step to delineate the potential for commercial success of an Rx product.  This starts with consideration of how to survive a complex and highly regulated marketing-legal-regulatory gauntlet.

A successful Rx brand in today’s pharmaceutical marketplace must navigate a complex field of barriers that differ markedly from the relatively ‘free’ markets enjoyed by consumer brands.  Below are some of the major obstacles to Rx brand success.

Gatekeepers influence choice. 

These include both healthcare providers and private insurance or public payers who dictate choice by reimbursement and formulary tiers. 

Drug discovery is increasingly expensive and high risk. 

Analysis of R&D spending by PRMA increased by 20% over a 3 year period, while the number of new chemical entities approved by the FDA declined from 36 to 18 in the same time frame.

A diminishing window for ROI. 

Rx brands have defined lifecycles dictated by patent protection and an ever-changing competitive environment.  Today, at best a typical Rx brand has 11-12 years on the market before generic encroachment.  That said, new entrants into the category may erode the meaningful life of a brand within a few brief years of launch.  

The advantages to being second (or later) to launch surround benchmarking the success of the first mover.

Was that launch a success?  What are the first mover’s vulnerabilities?  Can you make data-supported comparative claims against them? From clinical and regulatory perspectives what data do you need?  Is that data easy to obtain?  

Biotechnology products often show benefit in multiple therapeutic areas.  Evaluation of these opportunities should begin earlier in the development timeline, regardless of the launch label.  Brand visioning provides the team with an early opportunity to establish the brand’s strategic intent and consider targeted investments designed to maximize return within the allowable patent-dictated time frame.  This analysis will begin to explore options for extending patent life through new forms with differentiated benefits designed to change the current standard of therapeutic management.  

In addition to its primary focus on finding positioning opportunities earlier so that right steps can be taken to evaluate and support them, Brand visioning is an early opportunity to take a longer view of the brand.  In what directions (indications) does your drug show benefits?  Is the potential sufficient to pursue these indications?  What data will be needed to support those claims and speed market penetration? 

The goal of Brand visioning for a first mover would be to review the current market, out of class and behavioral competition plus future competition to devise a strategy that best differentiates it for long-term success even after other entrants launch.

For later entrants the goal would be to find the faults, limitations and ‘tether’ of current brand perceptions (how far previously launched competition can move away from the perceptions it has already created).  Matching up those insights, TPP, lifecycle plans, etc. would best reveal where to place the brand on the battlefield.

A brand does not have to be first to launch to win the marketing war.  Creating Brand Momentum, or sustained profitability over a relatively brief patent life, is a vital, yet often overlooked consideration for launch (and overall commercial) success.  Begin the process early.

Quiz Answers: (A) Copaxone; fourth, (C) Seroquel; fifth and (E) Lipitor; fourth*

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