Rethinking Brand Positioning for the Modern Drug Marketplace

by Eric Kallin

Brand positioning, where a brand lives in the mind of the customer, no longer operates under the notion of unrestrained choice within a marketplace. The premise that a clearly defined customer set has access to any number of products and that they are free to choose the one that best fits their needs at any given time has evolved.

In today’s pharmaceutical market, many companies continue to take a traditional approach to brand positioning by naming the prescriber as the ultimate decision maker and painstakingly crafting benefit statements along functional, practical, and emotional planes. When the work is done, the marketing team has a north star to help guide messaging and creative development against that very specific prescriber audience. However, unrestricted choice is no longer a reality for most of our prescribing physicians, and more than ever, therapy selection is driven by other market factors that are out of the control of the prescribing physician.

In addition to our traditional prescriber definitions, other factors driving brand choice now include formularies, treatment pathways, payer access barriers, and informed patients. This environment has significantly limited HCP autonomy, forcing strategists to maneuver within a market reality defined by illusion-of-choice. Companies are meeting this head on by investing considerable amounts of time and money creating stakeholder-specific communications for C-suite level formulary and pathway decision makers, payer decision makers, pathologists, and patients, to name just a few. But these stakeholders don’t exist in bubbles, and given the democratization of information that defines today’s world, we must make sure that the messages are coordinated and built from a consistent foundation.

Do we have an opportunity to rethink the approach to pharmaceutical brand positioning and more overtly consider the breadth of decision makers that ultimately influence brand choice?

By taking a close, cross-functional approach at the earliest stages of brand building, we can coordinate deep insight generation across an expanded set of global stakeholders and drive a singular brand idea that can be more readily translated across audiences. This approach can leverage expedited, web-assisted market research to more fully understand how the benefits of the brand resonate across stakeholders. Cultivating the insights as a team facilitates a shared understanding of stakeholder-specific barriers that will ultimately serve the brand. Working together to articulate a singular brand idea creates a consistent launchpad for stakeholder-specific refinement that more conventional positioning approaches ignore.

This new approach requires early and deep engagement across functions and can pose practical challenges given conflicting priorities in earlier stage assets, in instances where functional leads have not been assigned, or where budgets constrict delivering on novel insights. Advanced planning can overcome many of these limitations, along with setting expectations upfront that the work is meant to tear down silos to drive consistency downstream.

A key driver of the approach can come in the form of choosing agency partners with a shared vision of working across functions to build strong brand foundations and this is why strategy at BGB Group is deeply integrated across our many divisions. This means that the virtual or physical walls that separate payer, brand, business, and medical strategy in more conventional agencies simply do not exist at BGB. This enables more holistic thinking across the entire stakeholder ecosystem, which can serve the brand from those earliest positioning discussions when critical decisions are shaping the work of years to come.

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