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Pharma Marketing is Unique!

by Dr. Cedric Nazareth

In general, marketing aims at satisfying the customers' needs. Basically, pharmaceutical marketing is no different. However, look closely and you will realise that it is indeed unique.

Being difficult-to-make doesn’t matter

Pharmaceutical products may be difficult to manufacture, requiring sophisticated machinery and processes to meet the exacting standards laid down by regulatory authorities. However, the customer will not buy the product for this reason alone. As with any other product, the purchase is effected only when the customer believes the product will be of some use to him. Thus, as is the case with marketing in general, pharmaceutical marketing is aimed at fulfilling the customers’ needs.

You don't need a prescription for a necktie!

Yes, day-to-day purchases do not need prescriptions! We don’t need a prescription to select clothing or to buy groceries. However, managing disease is another matter altogether. Everyone knows that the average patient is unable to select a treatment for his ailment because he may not know enough to make the right choice. Medical science is obviously very vast. Thus, the doctor being an expert, is involved in the process. The doctor decides upon the appropriate treatment. The patient may be the purchaser of the pharmaceutical product, but the doctor as the decision maker, is the main customer for the pharmaceutical marketeer.

The customer is special!

Of course, every customer is “king”. But this customer - the doctor - is particularly special. Generally speaking, it is the best students at school or college that get enrolled for the medical course. So you can count on your customer being intelligent. Since it is after only many years of study that the doctor gets his medical degree, you can bet on him being learned and knowledgeable too. Doctors enjoy a high standing in society and are generally in the top socio-economic group. Such is the confidence that doctors enjoy, that patients puts their lives in their hands. A good doctor sees many patients each day and can be very busy indeed. Now, with the customer having a profile such as this, surely the marketeer needs to have something special too!

Scientifically speaking...

Medicine has many branches, each of which being extensive enough to justify specialisation and super-specialisation among doctors. Documentation on subjects ranging from anatomy to pathology and pharmacology is spread over numerous books and journals, and is being constantly updated. Terminology is specific and evaluation of drug efficacy is governed by well-defined criteria. Thus, the key to getting on the right wavelength with your customer is to talk the doctor’s language. A good medical knowledge and the use of the right terminology will be your starting point. Substantiating your claims with proof from medical literature will help to keep you a step ahead.

Mr “High-Brow” vs Mr “Amiable”

If pharmaceutical marketing requires a good deal of medical knowledge, wouldn’t medical graduates make the best pharmaceutical marketeers? Perhaps. But not if they feel they know more than the customer... and show it! Every marketeer or salesperson should be an expert on his product, but a salesperson cannot afford to be a Mr “High-Brow”.


Marketing of prescription pharmaceuticals through mass media is not permissable, and in any case, would be inappropriate for many products. One-to-one communication to doctors is the norm. For this, a pharmaceutical company needs many field staff to regularly meet prospective and existing customers and promote the company’s products. In this, the principles of salesmanship remain largely the same as elsewhere. Thus the company’s field representative becomes the chief link between the company and the doctor, often being described as the company’s “ambassador” in the field.


With about 60,000 pharmaceutical formulations available in India compared to less than 4,000 in some developed countries, pharmaceutical marketing in India is a highly competitive business. An important doctor may meet fifteen medical representatives, each discussing four or more products, in a single day. In this scenario, getting the doctor to remember - let alone prescribe - your product, can be difficult.

The Future

Much has been said about the effects of patent protection on the Indian pharmaceutical industry. The imposition of patent laws will obviously place an emphasis on drug research and will spell the end of the present flood of me-too products. Indian companies must work with increased R&D budgets, look for collaborations or simply build strong off-patent brands.

August 1999, Pharma Marketing Page.
This article appeared in
Pharma Business 21sth July 2000.
All rights reserved

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