Pharma Marketing - But How?
by Percy Asundaria

Any student of marketing as a subject is exposed to Marketing Management by Philip Kotler. The book is considered to be the bible of marketing management. Kotler states : Marketing is all about creating a need in the mind of the customer and then satisfying that need.

However, one cannot help but let out a gasp at the thought of looking at a "customer's mind". It is like a saturated sponge that holds no capacity to absorb anything further. How will you then go about getting your brand name registered in the customer's mind?

If you look at consumer products, in yesteryears you had, say, amongst toothpastes, a Colgate brand, a Forhan's and a Binaca toothpaste. Today, Colgate itself has many varieties - Colgate plain, Colgate gel, Colgate Total, etc. Then you also have Close Up (Red), Close Up (Blue), Close Up Whitening Gel, Close Up Oxy Fresh, etc., etc. Among soaps and shampoos too, there are several brands.

The same is true with pharma selling. How many companies and how many me-too products! People talk about the AIDA formula and special selling techniques. But let's take a closer look at what's happening in the market place. Take amlodipine. Pfizer launches amlodipine as Amlogard 5mg and 10 mg. Then Dr. Reddy's and Lyka introduce Stamlo and Amlopin respectively, in 2.5mg, 5mg anf 10 mg strengths. Many other companies also introduce amlodipine. To name a few - Cipla, Cadila, Alidac, Searle, Sun Pharma, Wockhardt, etc. And by the time you read this article, how many more would have been introduced!

And is that all? No way! We have at least ten different companies providing amlodipine with atenolol and another lot having amlodipine with some other ingredient. Then don't forget that there are various other products with similar cardiovascular uses, e.g., labetolol, felodipine, enalapril, lisinopril, ramipril, oxprenolol, pindolol and good old propranolol. The list is long.

Now let's look at the customer. An "A - class" doctor gets around 15 pharma sales persons with similar products bombarding him with their messages every day. In the few minutes that the pharma salesperson gets with a busy doctor, can you really get his attention and interest? How effectively can you apply the AIDA formula or other selling techniques for a "me-too" product? To what extent does Kotler's definition of marketing - creating a need in the mind of the customer and then satisfying that need - hold true?

Today, pharma marketing seems to be more about finding out what your competitors are doing and figuring out how you can do something differently to make an impact on the customer's mind. And that's not all. Your competitors are also watching what you are doing! You would be in a fool's paradise to think that you are operating in isolation. There's so much of overcommunication going on, that product positioning is becoming much more difficult. Because of course, positioning is not what you do to your product. It is how you reach out to and what you do to your customer's mind.

The customer's mind is getting increasingly difficult to reach. Ethical pharmaceutical marketing is done through a field force and one wonders how fifteen blokes in any clinic on any single day are each going to find that small little ledge, to climb into that tiny space, if available, in the customer's mind - and that too, in just a few minutes!

This article is not about proving Kotler wrong or showing various selling techniques in a bad light. On the other hand, it is to emphasise that the going is getting tougher and tougher every day. Personally, after having spent twenty five years in pharma marketing, I wonder today, more than ever before, how I am to continuously keep finding that tiny little spot in my customer's mind to absorb and accept my product message, so that I get the prescriptions that any pharma marketeer so earnestly works for. How do I get my product to stand out above the rest? The more I think about it, the more I know that there is no formula for success. Kotler's wisdom and recommended selling techniques only provide the direction, but my competitors will probably be using these too. I can make a mark only if I am different. Thus, it is my innovation in marketing that can get me there.

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