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Seven Sins of Drug Marketing

If one term shall be adopted to describe the drug market in the recent decade, it must be “drug homogenization”. New drugs that have once been eagerly awaited have gradually degraded to homogenization. The time of winning brand glory and bringing generous profits with drug's own characteristics is gone forever. Therefore, the Rx also needs to develop a brand strategy that fits its own characteristics and works well, so as to break out an unusual path in a business “red sea” and finally win the consumers and market. However, after years of customized market research and brand consulting for pharmaceutical makers and medical device manufacturers, IlluminHealth, one part of the Illuminera Group, has discovered that it is common for drug brands to adopt slightly biased approaches in formulating strategies, which we call “seven sins of drug marketing”.


Cover all aspects: no emphasis

For brand managers, products are their own kids, who seem to have no defect at all, so  they want to promote  all the brand advantages when communicating to customers, which, on the contrary, will lead consumers into a complete loss and are unable to remember the key message. There once was one DA with even 20+ pages in total. The first eight pages go as below:  


The DA covered all Details, yet had little Aid for drug agents and doctors who only have about ten minutes or less to review its DA. 


Being perfunctory: no strategy

It is also a kind of hypoglycemic drugs. 


After reading the introduction, do you know the positioning of the drug? Do you know the differences between this drug and other drugs? The 60-word introduction covers four aspects of information, namely pharmacological mechanism, major functions, curative effect and safety, making it difficult to highlight the features of the drug. Judging from the display order and font size, consumers (or doctors) will naturally think that the drug is emphasizing its mechanism of “double effect” and major feature of “earlier benefits”. However, the following content are not so clear or consistent in logic. What’s worse, emphasizing two features at the same time has already weakened the intensity of emphasis. 


Both product introduction and DA are kinds of communication vehicles  brand strategy, so the above problems can be boiled down to lack of clear strategy. Considering that  there are more than 1,000 kinds of hypoglycemic drugs on the market as of end of 2016, tt is difficult to break out of the encirclement of “homogenization” if the drug has unclear positioning and logic, failing to concentrate on the crucial point in promotion, let alone standing out among various brands and attracting doctors with its unique features.


Wishful thinking: too idealistic 

At one time, the words such as “best” and “first-choice” were frequently  seen in drug marketing. Many brands were so prideful that as if you would regret for a lifetime if you do not choose their products. Just as all parents think their children are the best, marketing staffs think that their products are the best in the category. However, too much emphasis on the terms like “new epoch” or “century creation” will cover up the advantages of the drug itself and make it difficult for the consumers to rapidly understand the features of the products when making choice. Besides, it will also damage the brand image to a certain extent. The reason is that whether the drug is the best and the real “No.1” is subject to the clinical use of the physician and the actual efficacy on the patient in the course of use, rather than depending on our wishful thinking.


Though with the constant improvement of compliance requirements nowadays, “best” or “No.1” cannot be used freely, we still need to consider carefully and ensure that it is not our wishful thinking even if we can use it.


Being universally applicable: follow headquarters

There was once a diabetes drug that did well in American market (sorry, I’m constantly taking diabetes drug as our examples), which targeted on obese people with diabetes. It followed the U.S. strategy after entering the Chinese market, yet the effect was not so obvious as expected. According to statistics, first of all, there are not so many obese people with diabetes in China. For those few obese people, the drug is more on the weight-reducing aid, rather than hypoglycemic drug. As a result, many people stopped taking the drug after losing weight since they thought they had already achieved the desired objectives. Securing consumers with great efforts but losing it easily only in 1-2 months is a big loss for the brand.


Therefore, there is not a marketing mode that can be universally applicable. Marketers always need to understand doctors and patients to make appropriate strategy for the local market. 


Going with the tide: follow rivals

It is easy to go wrong if we “follow headquarters”, and it is also not so reliable if we “follow rivals”. There was once a kind of Peg-IFN for hepatitis B that featured “the first brand recommended by Guide with ‘one-year effective treatment’”. Another oral antiviral drugs followed suit and mainly popularized the concept of “finite-duration treatment” without paying attention to the point of view of the brand and whether the product can benefit from this or not. However, when doctors tried to stop the drug prescription, there was a serious bounce in the virus index, which greatly affected the confidence of doctors and patients.


The result will certainly be unsatisfactory if you blindly follow suit without seeing the situation clearly. 


Being at opposite poles: making the wrong force

The brand will be easily misdirected in marketing if the strategy is in the wrong direction. 


It is widely known that anti-hypotensive drugs can be classified into ARB and CCB. About four or five years ago, CCB was considered by Chinese doctors as having stronger protective function for angiocarpy (though it is not the fact). At that time, a company intended to obtain more market shares for a hypotensor that ranked the fourth in the category of ARB, and put forward a new slogan, “heart protection, new standards”, when developing product strategy. It wanted to emphasize that it is an ARB that provides total cardiovascular protection, so as to compete with other ARB drugs. But what did the doctor say? 


“I will use CCB directly for the purpose of cardiovascular protection instead of considering ARB.”

“It is not as good as CCB in cardiovascular protection and as good as ARB in target-organ protection. So single use will not be considered, unless be used jointly.”


The result of the story was really different. The product intended to distinguish itself from other ARB with this positioning, yet unconsciously formed competition with CCB. It was absolutely not what brand marketers wanted to see at that time. 


Being inconstant in policy: no patience 

Let’s have a look at another hypertensive drug. Its initial positioning is “authoritative evidence, strong protection”; and then it changed to “top choice for obese patients”; after a period of time, it changed to “strong-effect high-quality hypertensor drugs”; it also adopted the slogan of “top choice for patients with left ventricular hypertrophy”. 


Constantly changing positioning in a few years will not only confuse the customers, but also make the marketers feel dizzy.

 

In the years of offering marketing and brand consulting for medicine and device, we found the above “sins” are not uncommonly seen in the marketing practice. If you want to know how to crack the puzzle and define a sharp positioning and distinctive image of your own brand, please consult IlluminHealth, a part of the Illuminera Group.