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by Dr Cedric Nazareth

Pharmaceutical companies keep bombarding doctors with thousands of pharma product messages. An important doctor could meet 5 to 15 Medical Representatives (MRs) daily, and if each MR discusses 5 to 8 products in a visit, the doctor would be receiving up to one hundred pharma product messages in a single day. Surely, the doctor’s mind will not retain all such information provided to it, and most of these messages will be quickly forgotten. Under the circumstances, it would be worthwhile to plan the communication so that the company and its brands occupy a meaningful position vis-a-vis the competitors in the doctors’ minds.

The place that a brand occupies in the customer’s mind is referred to as its positioning, and this is related to the perceived image of the brand rather than its actual physical characteristics. Positioning is largely achieved through the brand’s marketing communications, and involves a decision to stress only certain aspects of the brand to distinguish it from its competitors. Thus two brands may have identical ingredients, but they may be promoted for different indications, and would have different brand names, dosage forms, packaging and advertising. Some of the issues that are involved in developing a positioning strategy are discussed here.

Where do we stand?

A pharma product may be perceived in several ways, e.g., broad spectrum, for particular indications, of superior quality, etc. Positioning could therefore be by attribute/benefit (e.g., long-acting; single dose convenience), by indication (e.g., first line antihypertensive), by user/prescriber (e.g., a haematinic prescribed in pregnancy by gynaecologists), by competitor (i.e., comparison with another brand), by product category (e.g., third generation cephalosporin) and by price/quality (e.g., better bioavailability, hence greater reliability and cost effectiveness).

A starting point is to know where you presently stand. Check out what position you own in the doctor’s mind. A little research can help. Prescription audit reports could provide some clues.

What position do we want to own?

Decide on what is the best position to own from a long term point of view. Some imagination and creative thinking could help in selecting ways in which the brand can be distinguished from its competitors. The company can actually introduce “differences” to distinguish the brand from its competitors. These differences should be perceived to be of value by the customer. Ideally, the differences should not be offered by other brands and should not be easy for competitors to copy. And of course, the field staff must be able to effectively communicate the differences to the doctors.

What’s the plan?

Implementing a positioning strategy would involve money. Make a complete plan and budget. Work as per the plan, review progress regularly and make corrections as necessary. To start with, identify the competitors and their positions. However, it may not be a good idea to confront the market leader, or for a small company to compete with a big one for the same position. Try to select a position that no one else has got a hold on. Once decided upon, it is important to stick to the positioning concept. Consistency in the communication, rather than varied messages, will help establish a distinct position for the brand in the customer’s mind.

How many differences to promote?

If several features are promoted at the same time, the brand is unlikely to occupy a distinct position in the doctor’s mind. Instead, there may be a fuzzy, confused image of the brand. It would be wiser to lay stress on only certain aspects of the brand. Ideally, an unique selling proposition (USP) should be developed for each brand, and if the USP is constantly hammered, the brand will probably be best remembered for this strength. A strategy of concentration may be developed as well, with promotion to selected doctor groups rather than to all categories of doctors. The emphasis can be on frequency rather than on reach, with repeated promotion to selected doctors.

In summary, the positioning decision will involve an evaluation of the potential target segments and the company’s strengths in those segments. Positioning involves sticking to these segments, and also to a strategy that is working. Needless to say, the positioning strategy should be appropriate for the product. Creating a symbol that can be associated with the brand will also contribute to its image. Lastly, the brand’s position must be monitored regularly.

12 february 2001.
Pharma Marketing Page.
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