The drug is safe and effective. Commercial projections are promising. Creative looks amazing and is sure to win a Clio. The product launches with great fanfare and lofty expectations. And then…
Physicians say they love the product, but they’re not prescribing it. Commercial performance disappoints. Fingers point in all directions. What could have gone wrong?
Perhaps the problem was brand positioning? To be more specific, perhaps the problem was the approach taken to the development of strategic brand positioning?
The traditional approach for healthcare brand marketers has long been to select an agency of record after an exhaustive review and then let them handle “everything” – creative, messaging, branded, unbranded, visual aids, digital etc. … and positioning.
However, if you put any stock in what IQVIA (formerly IMS) reports, the shocking-but-true reality is the current model has not proven successful over the long-haul as the vast majority of healthcare brand launches have failed to realize their full, global commercial potential over the last 10 years.
Changing market dynamics and the economics of the traditional agency model create intense pressure to “feed the dragon” by generating as much revenue as possible from each client. This pressure – often driven by the high cost of winning new clients – has forced many agencies to expand their offerings beyond traditional “core” services and to offer discounts to secure every possible revenue stream, while at the same time reducing headcount and streamlining operations.
To be fair, the majority of agencies have the best interests of their clients at heart and it’s not always just about dollars and cents, but the pressure to “own the brand” exists just the same. Too often, we have seen this pressure manifest itself in the form of a defensive posture when it comes to strategic brand positioning.
Today, many healthcare companies and a growing number of enlightened agencies are evolving beyond the traditional model to one that leverages the value of laser-focus and deep experience that a specialized partner can offer. This is especially true for the crucial and complex task of developing and validating strategic brand positioning.
Beyond safety and efficacy, strategic brand positioning is perhaps the most important marketing aspect of any new healthcare product launch. Well-conceived and properly validated brand positioning is the foundation that sets the course for all marketing and commercial activities to follow. Effective positioning requires specialized expertise and an approach that is completely unbiased by ancillary services.
Amazingly, brand positioning is often considered a “checkbox” exercise on the path to creative and built from insights derived from traditional market research techniques. Truly effective brand positioning lives much deeper and must be grounded not only in extensive product knowledge, but also key positioning insights connected to market tensions that activate emotional triggers in patients, prescribers and caregivers. Further, brand positioning must be validated quantitatively using a model purpose-built to test positioning. This drives discipline and ensures that what we think is right for the brand is what we know for sure is right for the brand.
For most pharmaceutical brand marketers, the integration of specialist agencies is nothing new - market research has been managed by specialist partners for decades. It is interesting then, that this model has less often been utilized for the development and validation of strategic brand positioning.
As specialists in brand positioning for the healthcare industry, we are never the agency of record (though we have worked with some of the best). However, over the course of hundreds of successful strategic engagements, we have witnessed and learned from “the good, the bad and the ugly” of both single and multi-expert assignments. Overwhelmingly, the most successful (and least painful) brand assignments have been the result of an active, multi-expert collaboration grounded in true partnership and shared goals (as well as timelines!).
In our experience, traditional agencies who embrace a more open and integrated approach find their client relationships significantly enhanced rather than diminished. We have experienced many assignments in which brand positioning developed within this model has driven tremendously successful results including deeper emotional connection, clearer and more focused messaging, turbo-charged creative, and maximized commercial performance.
Like other specialist firms, we have made this work by promoting close partnership early, establishing clear roles/responsibilities and respecting the crucial role traditional agencies play in successfully executing the brand strategy - including brand positioning.
We would strongly encourage you to consider the tremendous value of a multi-expert approach to brand positioning, one which leverages the unique skillsets and deep experience of a specialist like OBRx, to drive stronger, more effective results for your next brand challenge.
If you’d like to learn more about our experience in partnering with some of the top creative agencies and most successful brands in the world, we’d be happy to schedule a conversation.