As many would know, in the strategic marketing process of any product including patented and generic drugs crafty product differentiation plays a critical role.
This strategic process of creating a competitive edge with unique product differentials is necessary. It helps perceiving a product more attractive to the target audience, against its competitors. When done effectively, the product fetches a greater share of mind for usage, achieving higher levels of top of mind recall, and, of course, a price premium.
In pharma, the traditional brand differentiation revolves around delivering cutting-edge values, skimming through the intrinsic product features and benefits. In India, which is predominantly a branded generic market, the local pharma marketers almost routinely keep trying to toe this line.
As I said before, some of them often vehemently argue in favor of maintaining a status quo in this area. It could probably be due to professional discomfort in venturing out of their respective comfort zones.
In the current pharma marketing environment, especially in India, finding the right answer to a not-so-easy-to-reply question may trigger a disruptive change in the traditional, or virtually routine marketing practices. This is widely considered a prevailing normal of date, and generally includes ‘features and benefits oriented product differentiation.’
In this article, I shall dwell on this important area, picking a thread from this simple, but a difficult-to-answer question.
This question goes like this: ‘How does a pharma marketer conceptualize product features and benefits oriented differential values, when there are virtually no clinically significant differentials between the competing products?’ There would possibly be no credible answers, justifying this practice.
Are branded generic sales mostly driven by contentious factors?
This query is more relevant in a branded generic market, such as India. Yet, pharma marketers keep following routinely the traditional methods in this area. As many say, actual product sales are driven by mostly by those critical factors, which are contentious and are being fiercely debated within the country, even today.
Pharma needs more extrinsic differentiation rather than intrinsic:
In the midst of an evolving new value expectation of pharma consumers, the market access strategy of the industry marketers must also evolve, keeping at least a step ahead of the former. This would help in delighting the customers, by offering them something meaningful, well before they start expecting the same. Thus, it makes me believe, a time has come to make the extrinsic factors, such as patient experience or delight, the center piece of product differentiation, weaving around its intrinsic qualities.
Many global companies have already started acting in this area – creating a whole new experience of care and relief for the patients, with new marketing models delivering differential product values to the target groups. Similar steps can successfully be taken even where there are no clinically significant differentials between the competing products.
Greater participation of consumers in treatment choices:
The information revolution in the world, mainly empowered by the Internet-based platforms – social or otherwise, is enabling many consumers to be partners in the disease treatment choices along with the doctors. In India too, it has started happening – slowly, but surely.
Those consumers, both in urban and mostly in the rural India, who won’t have any direct access to such information, ‘word of mouth’ enlightenment received from others would have a somewhat compensatory effect. Thus, the patients and their near and dear ones will have multiple treatment choices to choose from. In my view, this situation would gain a critical mass – much faster than what the current trend suggests. There won’t be any surprises, if this change assumes a snowballing effect, with modern technology being the key catalyst.
The current attitude could be counterproductive:
In this dynamic situation, any arrogance or ignorance of pharma marketers nurturing a seemingly ‘perennial’ conviction that ‘Indian pharma market and the patients are different’, could indeed be grossly counterproductive. This group of people seems to form a majority, today.
However, it is great to notice that some young Indian pharma professionals with an agile mindset and cerebral power, are thinking differently. They are not just keenly observing the ‘dots’, but also capturing, connecting and mapping the changing needs of the patients.
Their fingers are always on the pulse – concentrating more on strategizing extrinsic differentiation of products rather than remaining in the cocoon of the intrinsic ones. This quest to create an unchallenged and difficult to match market-space, will be essential in gaining the competitive cutting edge, as we move on.
Creating a virtuous cycle:
The focus of a pharma player in creating an extrinsic product differential edge, in pursuit of delivering the value of unique consumer experience, would in turn help enhancing the company reputation. This would, consequently, add value in creating an extrinsic product differential edge – thus, completing a ‘Virtuous Cycle’. It is generally caused by ‘complex chains of events that reinforce themselves through a feedback loop.’
A study on the ‘Impact of Corporate Reputation on Brand Differentiation’, has also established the ‘influence of company reputation, or what is often referred to as corporate reputation on branding strategy and producing intangible asset for different industries…’ This study is considered a pioneering attempt to measure the impact of corporate reputation on brand differentiation strategy.
Today, especially in the marketing process of branded generic drugs, Indian marketers keep following a system that creates a sequence of reciprocal cause and effect, in which different elements of this overall activity intensify and aggravate each other, leading inexorably to a worsening of the situation. The Oxford dictionary defines this situation as a ‘Vicious Cycle.’
It’s not quite easy to come out of it, extricating the involved players from caustic remarks and allegations of indulging into contentious sales activities, if not blatant ‘marketing malpractices’. Nevertheless, breaking this mold is a ‘must do’ requirement, as many industry watchers believe.
This is because, if one wants to build a company for sustainable business excellence, it has to follow the principles of a ‘Virtuous Cycle’. Otherwise, it could threaten the very survival of the business, as we have witnessed several such instances in India, involving pharma companies. Several global pharma players are now trying hard to create a ‘Virtuous Cycle’, through well-researched strategic initiatives of patient reach and care.
To face this challenge of change squarely, Indian pharma marketers may also wish to focus on extrinsic differentiation of products, rather than intrinsic ones, as is mostly being done today, routinely. This course correction, I reckon, would play a ‘make or mar’ role in the pharma business, eventually. The passion to create a relatively unchallenged and difficult to match market space around patients, will be essential in gaining the requisite competitive advantage – giving shape to the much desired ‘Virtuous cycle’, as we move on.
By: Tapan J. Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.