Saturday, January 31, 2009

GOODBYE HUBRIS! Hello jugaad!!


The human quest to overcome adverse circumstances is eternal. Every person wants favorable circumstances in his or her life. The quest to avoid and overcome unfavorable circumstances is very challenging. No amount of knowledge, skill and native intelligence seems to be enough to avoid unfavorable circumstances. Einstein, a genius in our living memory, faced unfavorable circumstances in his domestic life.

Today, even the most intelligent business person perhaps did not anticipate the knotty economic mess that plagues nations. Today, the world is united by the global recession! THE ONE INTERESTING THING ABOUT FACING ADVERSE CIRCUMSTANCES - it teaches humility, and one says goodbye to HUBRIS!!

Pharmaceutical and healthcare businesses in India are yet to face the heat of an economic slowdown in the domestic market. Perhaps pharma companies may never face recession since the domestic pharma business never saw a sudden boom. However, it is justifiable to expect that the double digit growth of the pharma industry may now turn to single digit growth.

Patients are certainly going to ask the chemist or doctor for economical alternatives and will invest only on the very necessary drugs. However, the cost of drugs in India is not prohibitively high, so people may not cut down on drug and healthcare expenditure significantly. They may postpone it, but not indefinitely. Patients will also invest more time on yoga and other non drug therapies to try and control the course of disease and maintain wellness. This would definitely be economical to the patient.

Pfizer strategizes boldly to avoid an adverse circumstance in 2011 - but sweeps people and cultural issues under the carpet

The top management is always keyed on to defining the future of the organization. It is said the future belongs to those who can invent it. And in this vein, Pfizer has made a bold strategic move to acquire Wyeth, for 68 billion dollars. Wyeth has a promising biopharmaceutical portfolio and pipeline. So this acquisition makes financial sense as Pfizer is bulletproofing its position #1 - 2011 onwards - when the Lipitor patent expires.

However, a mere financial purchase does not make an acquisition successful. There are numerous cultural and people integration issues. A merger or acquisition poses a lot of systemic challenges. Although Pfizer has not addressed this issue publicly - they need to do so. THERE ARE TALKS THAT THERE WILL BE MASSIVE JOB CUTS ALMOST 19500 (EQUIVALENT TO 40% OF WYETH'S WORKFORCE) IN THE USA. This may not happen in India, at least at the MR level, as the market dynamics are different, market coverage will suffer if MRs are asked to quit and that will further affect revenues.

When Tatas took over Corus it was not the financial matters alone that mattered, the people and cultural issues were equally vital. What was important to the Tatas was that there was a cultural fit in the takeover of Corus. Do pharma companies ever think of such issues? Pharmaceutical acquisitions seem to be singularly insensitive to these matters. To pharmaceutical companies, mergers and acquisitions are mere business therapies, and side effects like job cuts seem to be taken in the stride. However, the moot question is - is this insensitivity to people and cultural issues healthy for the pharma industry?

It reminds one of the Wild West stories of cowboys fighting to take control of green pastures and valuable cattle. Why is the pharma industry as compared to IT and engineering fields insensitive to people and cultural issues?

The business model is changing

Industry pundits (CLICK HERE) say that the largest drug market in the world ie., the US of A which is a 286 billion dollar market is maturing and gaining a competitive stage. This sets the stage for further consolidation in the industry. This is compounding the adverse situation. One can expect pressure on product margins. The stage will lead to commoditization of the industry in USA.

In India, this has already happened. We never had product patent protection, hence, very big margins to pharma companies was not possible. Product patent protection is only a recent introduction, post 2005. Indian Pharmaceutical market has always had a lot of commoditization.

So how to survive in a severely competitive market?

The Indian answer is jugaad (or native inventiveness). The answer lies in being novel or innovative with respect to BRAND NAME, DOCTOR RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT, DISTRIBUTOR RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT, AND OFFERING VALUE-FOR-MONEY PRODUCTS/MARKETING PREPOSITIONS.

The above language is very odd for pharma marketers who are used to marketing PATENTED PRODUCTS. Pharma marketers of patented products are used to monopoly markets, virgin markets, high margins, tight control over doctors and distribution, and commanding huge premiums on the price of the product (justification - I invented the drug with lots of toil, sweat, blood and tears). There are no competitors to bite at the innovator brand. Hence, there is a lot of hubris (a kind of technological hubris) in the pharma marketer of patented products. In a competitive and commoditized market one can say goodbye to all such attitudes.

Not just commoditization of drugs - but also of drug classes and therapies

The unique global pharma market feature is not just commoditization of drugs but also of drug classes and therapies. The market is very crowded with so many new and latest drug types that the doctor too in a way is bewildered with the pros and cons of so many options.

When such is the situation, there is a lot to learn from Indian pharma marketers. And one thing Indian pharma marketers do not have and cannot afford to have - ie., HUBRIS. When you drop hubris, jugaad begins. This word means 'working around' it comes from the name of a vehicle. The quintessential feature of jugaad is making best of the circumstance. Perhaps one of the best example of jugaad in Pharma is the FPO (fruit process order) based aseptic product - electrolyte energy drinks in natural fruit juice base with Tetra Pak technology for prescriptions. ( let us drop the hubris, and solutions will open up through JUGAAD!!

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Monday, January 26, 2009



The market is a pot pourii of various dynamic forces. Different needs, wants and desires and various product prepositions drive the Indian pharmaceutical market. Accurately understanding these market requirements and servicing them has created mega fortunes for pharma companies.

During the 1960s, 1970s and up to early 1980s the major growth driver of pharma companies was the antibiotic wave. There was a huge need for such products. Wyeth was a leader of the penicillin wave; Sarabhai, Alembic, Ranbaxy and other 'old' pharma companies of India rode on this wave to become pharma biggies of India. Free India at that time was in its early growth phase. The socio-economic conditions demanded that a huge volume of antibiotics be produced and marketed. Diseases like diabetes and even cancer were still niche market areas. The antibiotic wave was the first wave in pharma India.

The second wave was the lifestyle drug wave. It was all along a niche market but sometime during mid 1980s and the decade thereafter (ie., 1990s) the lifestyle disease wave trend gathered steam. Companies like Sun Pharma, and Torrent rode well on this wave to become pharma heavy weights.

2000AD onwards India will be known for not only the antibiotic (and associated anti-inflammatory drugs market), and the lifestyle drugs market - India will be famous for its new wave - THE WELLNESS WAVE - a huge and growing market for wellness products and services. This in fact, is the THIRD WAVE IN PHARMA INDIA, which has come of age and is at the cusp of exciting growth.

Success through wellness

Increasing health consciousness, improving purchasing power, increased average life span, and the higher literacy rates have all combined to create a new wellness wave. People are investing on preventive and proactive healthcare products and services. This has contributed to the growth of direct selling products like Herbalife, and Amway too.

Wellness products come in different marketing formats. The oldest of wellness products belong to the Ayurvedic market stream. This was a niche market all along, however, due to various social forces like Swami Ramdev, Sri Sri Ravishankar, and other individuals, the healthcare attitude is leaning towards wellness Ayurvedic products.

Wellness products are not only marketed under drug licence - the fomulations may be presented similar to drugs (eg, in capsules), however, they are not necessarily marketed under the provisions of the Drug and Cosmetic Act. Such wellness products are marketed under food licence. A PFA (Prevention of Food Adulteration Act) no. is given to such products and a local state health authority provides the licence for manufacturing the product.

Marketing products manufactured under the food licence: Products manufactured as foods or food supplements or nutritional supplements can be promoted to patients directly. However, in the Indian context it makes more marketing sense to market them for prescriptions. This is because doctors are very trusted for recommending health care products. It is also more economical compared to costly media advertising for which measurable increases in sales are difficult to achieve. Furthermore, it is easier to establish the product in the market, make it available to the patient or consumer at medical stores, and ensure ever increasing market penetration through marketing in the prescription route. Doctors are great facilitators of marketing of such healthcare products.

Certain other wellness products including those that are manufactured under the food licence, are marketed by the OTX route (mix of prescription and direct to consumer) . While medical or sales representatives promote the product to doctors, who are important opinion builders, there are also media advertisements directly addressing the patients. This method is particularly followed by Ayurvedic marketers.

The Patanjali Chikitsalaya model of marketing: This organization is founded by the Yoga evangelist Swami Ramdev. During his television shows, and other demos on Yoga the Baba directly informs about the benefits of his Ayurvedic products. There are media advertisements too. Furthermore, there are dedicated doctors in his clinics who recommend and sell his wellness products. There are no sales reps of his organization that fan out to other doctors asking them to recommend products of Patanjali Chikitsalaya. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi had started an Ayurvedic firm Maharishi Ayurvedics and they had a sales force that would promote products to doctors.

Marketing products under FPO licence: This format is used by the pioneer of electrolyte energy drinks in Tetra Pak in India viz., Juggat Pharma, Bangalore ( They also contract manufacture these products for other pharma marketers like Merck (Electrobion Apple Sip and Lemon Sip), Mankind (Electrokind L) and Piramal Healthcare (Elect-RTD). For more details: This range of products are marketed for prescriptions - although legally they can be sold without any doctor prescriptions. The main reason for this route of marketing is the fact that doctors see patient value for these products, and hence prescribe these products. Eventually, they may gain OTX status in years to come.

Wellness through vaccines: The recent edition of Pedicon (Annual meet of Paediatricians of India) ie., Pedicon 2009, Bangalore was an eye opener. There is a lot of action in the vaccine space in India. GSK has brought out Cervarix, & MSD has its celebrated Gardasil. Wyeth is heavily promoting its pneumococcal vaccine Prevenar.

The magic no. is 609: There are 609 districts in India, with a population of 1.1 billion, and this includes some 300 million of the middle class. Every marketer is excited by these nos. People want to go to each and every district of this set of 609 districts. In fact, IAP (Indian Academy of Paediatrics) a body with 17100 members too wants to go to each and every district of India. And that is the reason, the big MNCs GSK, MSD, and Wyeth are closely linking their marketing programs particularly their CME funding in co-ordination with IAP.

The clear distinction between marketing spends of Indian pharma companies and MNCs is the emphasis on brand communication. While Indian pharma companies excel on CRM aspects particularly in events like PEDICON 2009, MNCs are powerful builders of their brands in these venues.

Wyeth's close association with IAP seems to be paying off: Today, due to the fact, that regular (clinical) pneumonia is not (and Prevenar may increase risk of asthma too) protected by Prevenar, the brand is being positioned cleverly for protection from SERIOUS PNEUMONIA (invasive pneumonia). This refers to the rare radiological pneumonia. As per the IAP annual report, 2008 the pneumococcal vaccine will be a part of the IAP National Immunization Schedule after 2010. In the meantime, Wyeth is heavily investing on Pneumococal Disease Conventions and other formats of CMEs in league with IAP.

There was a time when MNC pharmas would not participate in such conventions, as they were supposed to be 'ethical' and in contrast, Indian pharma companies were alleged to be 'unethical' - since Indian pharma companies were heavily in to such sponsorships of events and stall activities. However, today, the rules of the game seem to have changed and thereby philosophies too - as the need of the hour is different!! Even conservative Wyeth had a huge stall at Pedicon 2009, Bangalore!! GSK and MSD had a very dominant presence too. THE STANDOUT FEATURE OF THESE MNCs IS THAT THEY WERE DOMINEERING IN THIER BRAND COMMUNICATION ACTIVITY TOO ALONG WITH MARKET SPEND ON DOCTORS. This is not seen with Indian pharma companies even though their market spend was as much.

All this participation is due to a new wellness trend in the Indian healthcare market. Vaccines are a part of this wellness trend. Besides vaccines, various drug and non-drug formulations for wellness are marketed for prescription support (eg., electrolyte energy drinks, Now, by the way, if we were a poor country with low purchasing power, would these global pharma majors have launched Gardasil, Prevenar (Rs. 3300 per vial), and Cervarix?!! WELCOME - THE THIRD WAVE IN PHARMA INDIA (ie., the wellness wave) HAS COME OF AGE IN INDIA!!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Whither, sense of ownership?

Shocking! The Indian society is shocked with the SATYAM EPISODE of 'true lies'. Imagine funneling out Rs. 7000 crores towards real estate investments from cash cow company Satyam!! That is what the highest authority or 'owner' of Satyam computers, Mr. Ramalinga Raju has done. Mr. Ramalinga Raju's heist raises an important question not relating to corporate governance alone, but of something even more fundamental:

Imagine you start a IT company, take it to great heights, and all the time you pilfer monies from the corporate treasury and buy land with it. Now what does this indicate? Basically you are a crook?! Well, something even more basic - all the time you never had a sense of ownership of the company even though you were the 'owner' of the firm. That is what Raju did - he never had a sense of ownership towards his company!!

If Mr. Raju had a sense of ownership, he would never have stolen money from his own company!! Will any family member forgive if the father or master of the house stole money from the house!! And remember, Raju was the founder of Satyam and his family were the promoters of the company.

It is truly an oddball behavior!! Contrast this with Mr. Narayanmurthy, Mentor of Infosys, who was invited to join the board of Satyam after the heist was discovered. Mr. Narayanmurthy declined fundamentally because he had a sense of ownership with Infosys and taking up a role with Satyam would cause conflict of interest - this is what is meant by a sense of ownership.

Well, this can rarely happen in Pharma India

An episode of the type of Satyam can rarely happen in Pharma India. The main reason is that most of Indian Pharma top management leadership is with people who have marketing experience. When a person goes to the field to sell his products, he has to have a deep sense of ownership. In the marketplace battlefield, every marketer is the owner of the brands he is trying to sell. That is the sentiment of every salesman and marketer. The sense of ownership develops in to a habit. In fact, a sense of ownership is also reinforced by stockists, doctors and others with whom the MR interacts.

Raju of Satyam was a non-marketing kind of a guy. Not a person with field sales experience. So probably that is why he never developed a sense of ownership with his own company!! And that is the strange thing - this absolute lack of sense of ownership. Imagine Henry Ford stealing money from Ford Motors and buying ranches and properties in USA with that money!!

Pharma India is full of heroes at the top

It takes a lot of warrior-like attitude to be at the top in Pharma India. You have to have a deep sense of ownership or you can't steer a company at the top. That is the stuff of the INDIA'S BEST CEOs. As per Businessworld special issue dated 29, Dec. 2008, India's most 'value'able CEO is MR. DILIP SHANGVI 'owner' of Sun Pharmaceuticals. The second most
'value'able CEO of corporate India is again - not somebody from IT or ITES, it is MR. GLENN SALDANHA of Glenmark Pharmaceuticals. KUDOS TO INDIAN PHARMA FOR THIS GREAT PERFORMANCE. We should remember Businessworld is a very respected business journal of India. And this rating gives a thumbs up to Indian Pharma.

Mr. Dilip Shangvi - the ultimate authority of Sun Pharma - he leads the company with an iron fist. His sense of ownership with Sun Pharma is intense. He is the face of Sun Pharma. Mr. Dilip, son of a pharmaceutical distributor of Kolkatta, started Sun Pharma. He founded Sun Pharma. He has field experience too.

Mr. Glenn Saldanha is a toast of the pharma profession because he has a great corporate record and is a graduate pharmacist (alumnus of Bombay College of Pharmacy). This gentleman along with Mr. Mark his brother, handles the business started essentially by his father Mr. Gracias - this elderly gentleman too started as a pharmaceutical wholeseller of Mumbai. Mr. Glenn's sense of ownership is understandably high for Glenmark, as it is a sort of family based concern (95% of Indian businesses are family businesses, Sun Pharma too is a 'family based company'.). Mr. Glenn is involved closely with the marketing operations of Glenmark.

So the point is, the first funda for a company to become great is that its promoters' should have a sense of ownership - unlike Raju of Satyam. Even though Mr. Raju started Satyam he lacked a sense of ownership. He seemed to have a greater sense of ownership towards Maytas and other companies that lived off monies sucked out of Satyam. This lack of a sense of ownership is the real reason for the Satyam tragedy. I HOPE SATYAM BOUNCES BACK BECAUSE IT HAS GREAT PEOPLE - some 50000 odd highly qualified employees. And I also hope it shifts out of Hyderabad, because AP is a state where politics is too intertwined with business. Satyam - welcome to Bangalore!!

I got the above images from here, here, and here.

Regarding integrity and marketing wisdom HERE IS A GREAT LINK please do read it.

The fall in integrity often starts with small things. Like bribing!! Today the dept. of pharmaceuticals of Govt. of India is focusing on the gifting practices of pharma companies to doctors. In fact, this marketing practice is making front-page headlines in India!! The dept. believes that this excessive gifting practice is leading to a situation where doctors are prescribing excessively to meet the targets given to them by the pharma marketer.

Well, to be frank, this situation is not so easy to deal with.

I remember when I started my field work career way back in the 1990s, I made an excellent call to Dr. Arun Vadavi, MD, Bangalore. This doctor is a great guy. A dynamic doctor with a fairly good practice. He was impressed with my presentation, and while committing to prescribe Hepatogard, at the end of the call, he asked a question: 'Hey, why should I prescribe your product?' May be he was testing me and my nerves. I ignored his question and went on with my call, he never asked that question again. But his voice still rings in my ears. HEY, WHY SHOULD I PRESCRIBE YOUR PRODUCT?

Most doctors give a fundamental support because of quality, safety, efficacy, and availability of the brand. Of course, quality of representation is a key factor also. For a doctor, ultimately, the patient value of a product is the most important factor. However, after some time, the doctor also expects something for all the business he gives to a pharma company. This is where gifting, and sponsoring practices of the pharma marketer comes in to play.

This concept of gifting and sponsoring to doctors is a universal phenomenon. It is done in different ways. MNCs call them clinical services, medical grants and scientific services. It is like organizing a conference in Washington DC and sponsoring leading oncologists of India to this event, they will also throw in complimentary sight seeing tours and gifts etc to doctors. In fact, the gifting and sponsoring practices in India is kidstuff compared to what happens in USA. I have a relative who is a cardiologist in USA, and man the kind of sponsorships and gift offers he gets from pharma companies out there!! In fact, in USA it is a big big practice of gifting or sponsoring to CMEs etc to doctors. However, it is well camouflaged under scientific grants, CMEs etc. Indian companies are not so sophisticated - that is all.

So how to tackle this problem if it has damaging consequences to patients and healthcare?

The answer is patient empowerment. Legalize and encourage direct-to-patient advertising. Of course, products should be sold only on prescriptions. However, advertising to patients should be allowed. This will ensure that you have informed patients. It is not easy for the doctor to take such patients for a ride!

However, for pharma marketers, gifting works only up to a point. Ultimately there is the ROI (or return on investment thing, which controls gifting). Personally I feel gifting and sponsoring is a legitimate expense akin to advertising. Gifting to doctors is not a bribery. It is a marketing necessity. Because, Dr. Vadavi's straightforward question still rings in my ears: 'Hey, why should I prescribe your product?' And mind you, this doctor is a thorough gentleman, and a great guy, who has prescribed a lot during my field days, and helped my career. But his question is very pertinent, isn't it? I recollect another doctor who had commented: 'Sunil, remember there are no free lunches!! '

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Saturday, January 10, 2009



Pharmacology and marketing are very interesting subjects. In pharma marketing, pharmacology is the bedrock. Pharmacology is the science of drug action. Pharmacology studies drug behavior in the body. Marketing is the science of 'product action' - marketing is the study of product behavior in the market.

BOTH ARE VERY INTERESTING TOPICS OF STUDY, BECAUSE NEW KNOWLEDGE IS CONSTANTLY CREATED. THE BASICS NEVER CHANGE, HOWEVER, KNOWLEDGE FLUXES ARE VERY DYNAMIC. For example in 2008, the American Marketing Association revisited the definition of marketing and has redefined it:

Marketing is the activities, set of institutions, and processes (science) of creating, communicating, delivering and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners and society at large. Now this is a new dimension - marketing is not seen merely as an organizational process and CRM process, as in the earlier definition. It goes beyond and emphasizes the exchange process (hence, consumption), which is the core of marketing.

Medical pharmacology is the science of using drugs or medicinal substances to deliver health value to the patient and the marketing dimension in pharmacology is managing drug pharmacology to meet the commercial needs along with patient value.

It is important that the pharmacology of a drug matches the needs of the marketer: for commercial success

For instance, aspirin is a NSAID (pain killer), however, the pharma marketer finds the pharmacology of aspirin as a blood thinning agent (ie., helps prevent clots inside blood vessels) very interesting to market. The activities of the marketer reflects the market needs, wants and desires. Thus, pharmacology is a beautiful science, however, the marketing dimension of pharmacology is the application of pharmacoprofile for commercial benefits and patient value.

Particularly in Ayurvedic pharmacology, marketing faces a unique challenge. The pharmacological profile of Ayurvedic drugs is that they are very versatile. For eg., Shuddhaguggulu has benefits on the skeletal system, however, it also helps lower blood cholesterol levels. While a pure pharmacologist will find every dimension of shuddhaguggulu very fascinating, the marketer who uses pharmacology, is most likely to position shuddaguggulu as a blood lipid lowering agent - since the market for such drugs is large and there could be other better pharmacological Ayurvedic interventions to manage diseases of the skeletal system.
Pharmacology has two main branches:

PHARMACODYNAMICS - study of what the drug does to the body. Pharmacodynamics deals with mechanism of action of the drug and dose - response relationship. In pharmacodynamics, the scientist studies the exact mode of action like the receptors or target sites for drug action. The scientist also studies the dose administered and the response obtained.

The most common pharmacodynamic aspect is the drug-receptor model. Pharmacologically it is proven that most drugs combines with unique receptors (specific three dimensional sites normally on the exterior surface of the cell membrane) to elicit drug activity. It is like a lock and key, the key is the drug and the lock is the receptor. Only the right key can open the lock!

Some drugs are agonists - they bind with the receptor to produce stimulation. For instance, beta receptors in the airways are stimulated by drugs like salbutamol to produce airway dilation, and this helps provide relief in case of asthmatics and other cough with airway constriction.

Some drugs are antagonists - they bind with the receptors to block them. They prevent other stimulant chemicals from binding with the receptor. Ranitidine is a H2 receptor blocker. It prevents histamine from binding with the H2 receptor. Thus, ranitidine helps reduce acid production in the stomach.

Some drugs are partial agonists - they block the receptor, but also mildly stimulate the receptor.

In marketing too with some doctors, MRs will find themselves - agonists! The doctors can be stimulated to produce prescriptions in their favor. With some doctors, MRs will be partial agonists - the doctors are mildly stimulated to produce prescriptions in favor of their brands!! Some MRs are antagonists to certain doctors, prescription flow is not there, but they block physician time!!

PHARMACOKINETICS - study of what the body does to the drug. In pharmacokinetic studies, the ADME of drugs is studied (ADME stands for absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion).

The pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic factors are very vital to the pharma marketer. For instance, the thumb-rule is that hydrophilic drugs (the drugs that are water soluble) stay in the body for a longer time, they are metabolized slowly as compared to lipophilic drugs (fat soluble). Hence, the frequency of dosing is reduced for hydrophilic drugs. Propranolol is lipophilic and atenolol is hydrophilic - both these are antihypertensives. Since, atenolol is hydrophilic, it has a once-a-day dosing schedule, hence, patient compliance is better. Atenolol has greater marketability or patient-value features.

In case of drugs that have to act on the brain, they have to cross a band of cells called BLOOD BRAIN BARRIER. Such drugs have to be lipophilic or they cannot cross the blood brain barrier. May be that is why, propranolol is useful in the prophylaxis (or prevention) of migraine.

As a thumb-rule liphophilic drugs are metabolized significantly in the liver, and need to be given twice or thrice a day.

These pharmacological considerations matter for the product positioning aspects to a pharma marketer.

Disruptions in the market

Business plans and business models are always at the mercy of disruptive forces in the market. For eg., insulin market is dogged by the limitation that it has to be injected. Biocon has launched a project to develop oral insulin. They are using a peptide technology from a US company to help coat the insulin molecule so that it is not degraded by the enzymes in the stomach and intestines, the peptide coating protects the insulin molecule until it reaches the liver (after absorption from the small intestines). And then the insulin (a peptide hormone that helps lower blood sugar) is released in to the bloodstream. The marketing of such a product will revolutionize the insulin market.

Today, treatment of an important wide spread endocrinological disease - THYROID DISEASE - is not a 'difficult to treat disease' because thyroxine hormone can be administered as oral tablets. Diabetes mellitus is painful to manage mainly because insulin has to be injected. The day oral insulin is available, the misery associated with disease management will decrease dramatically. People will start popping insulin capsules as easily as thyroxine tablets.

Another force gaining steam in the Indian society, which is not recognized by mainstream media is the DEVELOPMENT OF YOGA-PRANAYAMA-AYURVEDA market. The fillip to this market has come through a science based promotion of Yoga by Yogrishi Ramdev Baba. It is not mapped or documented by the English mainstream media or market research agencies as it ought to be. And one day, it will sock the established business models like a bolt from the blue.

So pharmacological aspects and marketing are very intimately linked in the marketing of pharmaceuticals.

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Unputdownable, Chetan Bhagat & Ravinder Singh


One good thing about business tours besides learnings, is that you catch up with reading, TV, and lots of Pranayama-Yoga. During my recent tour, I found the novels by Chetan Bhagat and the autobiographical novel by Ravinder Singh - I TOO HAD A LOVE STORY, simply unputdownable. Both these authors are young, highly educated, smart, and great at story telling (this is the key feature of successful marketing!). And we pharma and healthcare marketers have a lot to learn from them. Chetan Bhagat is an investment banker with the dream qualifications (from) - IIT and IIM, Ravinder Singh is an Infoscian (ie., works with Infosys) and is an engineer. Let us see what we marketing guys can learn from them.

Lesson # 1: The narrative of the marketing campaign has to be gripping.

Chetan Bhagat in his best novel, Five point someone, ensures you are hooked on to his story. Each page is attention grabbing, and you get absorbed in to the novel. You wait to go through the page fast so that you can get to the next page and learn what is on.

So if we launch a communication campaign to doctors - say GPs - on a me-too brand, it is best to apply some thinking to generate a theme and deliver it with gripping narrative. This helps take the doctor successfully through the AIDA sequence ie., attention - interest - desire - action.

Sometime during the 1990s we had a simple, interesting, and effective detailing story on isolated systolic borderline hypertension in young patients. Our brand of atenolol particularly the 25 mg strength was positioned for this indication. I detailed this page to a doctor (in fact, Dr. Krishnamurthy of Haleguddadahally, Bangalore) and after the call, while talking to the chemist, imagine my surprise when a young woman of around 35 years walking to the pharmacy with a prescription for my brand of atenolol ! Probably, the detailing story worked here.

Lesson # 2: Give some surprise twists and turns in the marketing campaign

Chetan Bhagat in his other novel - ONE NIGHT AT A CALL CENTER - gives some great twists and turns. For eg., in this novel Vroom a character acts as a radio jockey to deliver a surprise to Radhika's husband Anuj. When playing the gag on Anuj, Vroom offers to have flowers delivered to anybody of Anuj's choice - Anuj recommends Vroom to deliver the roses to a girl Payal with whom Anuj is having an extramarital affair! And this conversation takes place on phone with Radhika listening on another line!! Well, let us take a leaf from this story - the point is not about extramarital affairs, it is about delivering surprise twists to the marketing campaign and thus making it memorable.

I recollect a Valentine day campaign of a company, where the pharma company sponsored roses delivery in the doctor's name to his wife - it was called BRAND X VALENTINE DAY ROSE CAMPAIGN. The campaign was a GREAT hit and, in fact, there were complaints from many doctors who were not part of the campaign to the pharma company - for having ignored them!! Needless to add the campaign boosted the brand sales significantly.

Lesson # 3: Stick to the basic mission and value system

Every marketing campaign is guided by the corporate mission and value system.

In fact, if one reads the novels by Chetan Bhagat and Ravinder Singh, there is a fundamental value system they do not deviate from. The novels reflect the inherent respect for women in Indian culture, and the typical Indian LOVE attitude which can be adventurous but there is a lot of modesty in the Indian sexual attitude. This is the reason why even though the novels by these two writers have their share of love sequences - they do not deviate from the Indian reader's value system, and hence there is nothing blasphemous about the writings. Truly, Chetan and Ravinder have done a great job in handling the love-life of characters in the novel very sensitively and sensibly. The authors have paid great respect to the Indian reader's sensibilities and sensitivities.

If any marketer sticks to the basic value system of the target audience, the message will be received well. Pharma and healthcare marketers can render the messaging process more effective when there is respect for the target segment's values and principles in the marketing and communication activities.

Traditionally, in India, there is great respect, awe and social power towards the doctor. Hence, marketing communication activities, while not being servile, are always respectful to the status of the doctor. When this aspect is kept in mind, the message is well received by target doctors.

Lesson # 4: Play on the cultural themes in the marketing campaign

Each society has its very own clear cultural themes. For eg., basketball and baseball are very important cultural strands of American culture. In India, cricket casts a mesmerizing spell on the masses. Similarly, films, religion and politics are very important passions of Indians.

Chetan Bhagat has very intelligently played on these cultural themes in his novel THE THREE MISTAKES OF MY LIFE. In fact, Chetan calls this book as a story about business, cricket, and religion. Indians are intrinsically entrepreneurial in nature. And these cultural themes are used successfully by Chetan in his novel - THE 3 MISTAKES OF MY LIFE.

Pharma and healthcare marketers are well known to play on these popular cultural themes to strengthen brand communication to doctors. Pharma marketers give out CDs of popular film music as gifts to increase brand recall. Literatures are often designed with cricket as a theme.

Lesson # 5: Sincere emotion wins everytime

Ravinder's novel I TOO HAD A LOVE STORY is very moving - the book is - as Mr. Narayanmurthy, Chief Mentor of Infosys describes: SIMPLE, HONEST, AND TOUCHING. When marketing campaigns are SIMPLE, HONEST, AND TOUCHING they will surely win. Making brand prescribing decisions is not a cold-blooded, calculated and emotionless decision. There are certain emotive appeals of the brand communication and promotional strategies that have worked and has favored the brand. This is why, the doctor picks up a brand. The communication, has to be SIMPLE, HONEST, AND TOUCHING to succeed. The strategic inputs have to be honest. This develops trust between the brand and the doctor. Strategic material inputs like clinical literatures, marketing communication material, samples, sponsorships, and gifts have to strengthen the bond of trust on a brand. PEOPLE DO BUSINESS WITH PEOPLE! This is the nub of the matter!!

Thanks for reading this blogpost, please scroll down, click on older posts wherever required and read all the blogposts. HAPPY NEW YEAR 2009.