Sunday, March 27, 2011

Brand communication

Brands are as important as products, the latter being described in textbooks as the bread and butter of firms. The core concept of brand communication is to reinforce core values of brand benefits in a creative and engaging way. This ensures constant reminder of the brand benefits, maintains brand buying or brand prescribing habits, helps the brand enter new demographic or geographic segments or new specialties (extends prescribers or buyers in to new target segments). In fact, constant creative brand messages through old and new media help in market penetration and market expansion.

Brand positioning statements versus brand positioning words

The core benefit of a pharma brand is wrapped in the product positioning statement, for eg., Inac TR is the key to improved mobility. Brand A is for pain-free injection of diclofenac ... so on. The debate now is whether to focus on the key brand positioning word or the entire statement! For, this is a world of message overload - a doctor is exposed to at least 50 brands per day through the MRs calling on him. So how to position the brand? What should the brand mean to the prescribing doctor in just one word?! Is it possible to distill the entire product message in to just one word! That is the challenge to brand marketers!!

In the complex world of pharma marketing, messages are technically complicated and aimed at the educated doctors, hence, it surely will not be easy to wrap the brand message in to a single word of product positioning. (In FMCG marketing the One Word Equity is used: Eg.: Brand America stands for freedom, Coca Cola is refreshing etc). However, it would be interesting to work out and see if it is possible to distill the pharma brand message in to just 2 or 3 words, and use these in certain brand messaging formats. Telegraphic brand messages can work as prescribing stimuli, reinforcing messages, brand recall communiques etc.

Incidal had such a memorable brand communication strategy, some years back - they would show photos of animals or birds such as deer, cheetah, eagle etc, with a single word caption ALERT! This was the core message of their brand. Their literatures and visual aids had detailed messages on their brand Incidal, however, there were other print promotional inputs that had just one word brand recall communication ie., INCIDAL ALERT!

To a doctor such one-word brand positioning and communication messages are vital for brand recall and brand prescribing stimulus. The doctor has n no. of things to remember. Hence, to help the doctor recollect, maintaining uniformity in brand representation (through standardized typos, brand positioning statements, logos and now brand positioning word(s)) will help improve brand sales.

This one word brand mantra can be very powerful to not only actuate target prescribers - it can also capture the imagination of the entire company and create excitement, it can influence business strategy and future of the business.

For eg., think Google, think search!

Such is the power of the single brand positioning word. Search is a word "owned" by Google. Their by-products like G mail also encapture the spirit of Search. For searching e-mails, G mail is the best option. This is the power of positioning in action and word(s).

Is positioning very important?

Positioning is not the be-all and end-all of business, it is not healthy to have a hyperfocus on brand positioning, the ultimate goal of business is profits and sales. Positioning is an approach to help one's journey in this direction. In fact, sharp positioning is a great help! Brand communication in line with positioning helps further!! And single brand communiques reflecting the product or brand positioning help even further!!!

To latch on to the single word and positioning statement of the brand, one has to gain customer insights of the brand. Diclofenac is a generic that powerfully owns the 'anti-inflammatory mountain'. The word Diclofenac owns the word 'swelling'. When a doctor wants to decrease inflammatory swelling, diclofenac is the drug that he will go for. Similarly, when a doctor wants a safe analgesic and antipyretic for paediatric patients, paracetamol is the generic he will go for. When a paediatrician wants an alternative to paracetamol, mefenamic acid is his or her choice.

Thus, products and brands can succeed by having sharp focus of positioning. While this can help, it can also create competitors who will take up attacking positioning statements, to divide the target audience. This is when, the long tail comes in to play!!

Long tail

Long tail is an economic concept. The idea here is that in a fragmented world and market, it is not easy to find mass markets. Hence, the other option is to have a long tail of brands, where small volumes of products are sold for profit. One has a long tail of products, with various positionings' to cater to many markets and sub-markets. This is also a product management strategy.

In a world with many pharma marketers, where offerings have little differentiation, applying the concept of a long tail is resorted to, for survival in a cluttered pharma market place!

Thus, the challenge is to work on brand communication - with sharp product positioning statements, product positioning word(s) and also in a world where the long tail of products is becoming more common. Thanks for reading this blogpost, please scroll down and read all other posts, spread the message of this blog!!

Sunday, March 20, 2011


One of the most important approaches in business strategy is BENCHMARKING. In this strategic approach we constantly scour the environment to find out the best practices. After understanding this practice, it is incorporated in to the firm, to enhance competitiveness.

For eg., if many diclofenac brands are being launched, the companies benchmarking the market activities, start launching their own brands of diclofenac to get a slice of the market. Here the benchmarking effort has helped in new product launch. Benchmarking in a way is copying the best practices. Benchmarking is elaborated as the analysis & learning the best practices, and incorporating the same either directly or adapting the practice to ensure cultural fit in to the organization for improved outcomes.

Recently the ET reported on 3.3.2011 that major MNCs are launching a slew of me-too generics (ie., branded generics) to get a share of the booming pharma market. With new product pipelines not ensuring blockbuster successes (ie., atleast 500 million USD annual global sales), the idea is to launch new brands that are copycat brands of successful molecules and improve sales results.

This means MNCs are no longer relying on their personal marketing wisdom. It indicates a new openness in the pharma marketing approach. MNCs too are learning best practices from the market that ensure market success. One of the key approaches for success in India, is launching branded generics. MNCs are betting on this game with firm resolve!

What is the moral of the story?

If MNCs too are interested in launching me-too brands, to ensure better market penetration particularly in to rural pockets, this indicates that MNCs are now learning and incorporating new market practices for improved marketing outcomes. This indicates that the concept of benchmarking has got a boost. Today, pharma MNCs and nonMNCs are eager to learn of the best practices in the marketplace, and incorporate them for bettering marketing results.

BENCHMARKING is about understanding current business practices of one's firm, and understanding the business practices of other successful or above par companies. This learning is then incorporated for enhancing performance and reducing performance gaps.

One cannot operate as a silo. It is the dawn of a new era of benchmarking and co-operative competition, for survival and mutual growth. There was a time when pharma companies would not look outward for answers to their problems. Today, looking outwards and benchmarking has become the norm for survival and growth. Benchmark or suffer degrowth seems to be the guiding principle!


The final goal of benchmarking is improving performance outcomes. Thus, any practice that can potentially improve performance ought to be benchmarked! Learning anything that does good to the business is the norm. Benchmarking need not be from the pharmaceutical industry alone; it can also be, say, from the hospitality industry, that is, if the practice can potentially improve performance.

For eg., soft skills are vital in the hospitality industry. Hence, benchmarking soft skill training from hospitality industry for MRs and other front line personnel is certainly not a bad idea. Training of soft skill concepts like time-sense, courtesies, etiquette ... will certainly improve in-clinic performance to enhance sales outcomes.

Benchmarking is about learning and incorporating processes or practices that enhance performance, from other companies in the industry or other industries.

Benchmarking cultural attitudes like a learning culture and horizontal communication was attempted by DRL by benchmarking with software companies. It has certainly helped DRL in creating a learning culture. this is the website of a pharmaceutical benchmarking group, where success practices are shared among members and improved performance outcomes are sought.

The ultimate goal of 'managements of enterprises' is to constantly improve employee productivity. For knowing how to do this, knowledge sharing of practices is vital. Benchmarking helps with this. Since benchmarking is linked to employee productivity and can enhance the same, there is an appreciation on the concept of benchmarking. This helps incorporate best-in-class practices for better productivity.

Imagine the database of a pharmaceutical marketing company that has mapped the MR reports over three years. Based on this historical data, the infotech group can provide an e-mail to each MR, suggesting to the MR on the important calls that can be made in the next three days, including the timings of the calls, and the products to focus on. This concept can help reduce planning time, ensure better call outcomes, optimize time spent on doctor visits and if the MR is new, it will provide a great helping hand for efficient planning. This is the strength of a robust database department.

Above database based marketing practice is based on practices observed in FMCG companies, which helps them enhance sales.

There are many other types of benchmarking viz., strategic, operational, financial, functional, performance, metrics, best in class etc. With the dawn of a new era of benchmarking (even MNCs are into strategic benchmarking, as they are seen to launch me-too branded generics), benchmarking is on a take-off mode. It is important to institutionalize benchmarking formally to help improve employee productivity and organizational outcomes.

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