Sunday, July 12, 2009

Why is pharma marketing tricky?

I GOT THE ABOVE IMAGE FROM HERE. The above is the picture of a Harley bike. It is a biker's dream buy. From where does the mystique of a Harley come from? From the engine, or from certain intangibles? Obviously from certainly intangibles. I got the Rolls Royce car image from here. It is another classic example of a legendary car. From where does its brand connect come from? From its engine, interiors ... or from something that is very much intangible about it's brand image. The same is true about Rolex watches.

There are
intangible and tangible characteristics in a brand's architecture that gives it the value.

Marketing - the value delivery process - is surely a profession that requires great tact. The main interesting point about marketing is that every body wants to see TANGIBLE, MEASURABLE AND PERCEIVABLE MARKETING OUTCOMES from the various inputs, campaigns and market spend. However, the process of marketing itself involves playing around with intangibles (to generate the tangible results!). This is why marketing is tricky!! In marketing there is a balancing act - between the intangibles and tangibles.

Intangibles of pharma marketing

Intangible refers to something that cannot be perceived with the senses, it cannot be touched, it is not easily measured, it cannot be defined easily ... eg. goodwill of a business.

There are a no. of intangibles and tangibles in pharma marketing. The tangible components of pharma marketing encounters are the samples, literatures, clinical data, patient feedbacks, and product promotional presentations at conferences and by the MR in the clinic. However, pharma sales does not depend on these elements alone. There are many more vital intangibles in pharma marketing that make the difference in sales.

The first intangible of pharma marketing is QUALITY. The word quality is used in its global sense here. It is not just the quality of the product, but the quality of the promotional input, gift, literature, clinical study, quality of discussions by MRs in the chamber ... these qualitative aspects make the vital difference between winning or losing in the Rx market.

The second intangible of pharma marketing is GOODWILL AND IMAGE. Both these are two sides of the same coin. When goodwill is high, so is the image and vice versa is also true.

Merck had a bad experience with rofecoxib. Still, the other products of Merck have not suffered. Despite the negative press for its brand Vioxx (rofecoxib), Merck is still going strong. This means there are many more intangibles that are shoring up Merck. The tangible truth is the failure of Vioxx. But there is tremendous goodwill and image that makes Merck a pharma leader. This is the power of intangibles in marketing.

How to strengthen intangibles?

Recently a seasoned pharma professional and I were talking about pharma marketing. He said something interesting:'Sunil, when an Indian company says something very technical and interesting, it is often not given much weightage by the doctor, but when a MNC MR like the Pfizer guy, talks something less technical and may be even less credible, it will still be better received by the doctor!'. He continued to add, when Glaxo came in to India, they did not have any great products. It was routine stuff. Many other companies had a better product range. But they went on to become a pharma biggie. One factor was that there was a mystique in the corporate brand name of Glaxo. This intangible has certainly played its role in Glaxo's success.

How true!! Many in the pharma marketing profession would have experienced this. Why does this happen? Well it is because there is something very powerful and very intangible at work here.

This powerful intangible thing starts with something as inane as the visiting card - its quality, presentation, the style of logo etc. It adds to the strength in marketing. It is also something as routine as the walk and talk of the MR, this makes the difference in the image imparted to the doctor. The quality of promo inputs makes a great image difference.

Cipla is an example of an early learner in the pharma marketing game who has understood the importance of good presentation and powerful intangibles that help in boosting tangible business results and market acceptance. For instance, their literatures are keenly worked on. There is an understanding in their marketing efforts that their promo inputs (literatures, gifts etc) will act as silent salesmen and have a powerful intangible bearing on improving sales results. This creates the image or credibility that a Cipla enjoys in the market.

Pfizer has historically given high importance to training and presentation by field personnel in the clinic, and this has given it a lead in creating powerful intangibles to favor good tangible results.

Intangible things start with very apparently ordinary things, but they have great influence.

This point has been well appreciated by just one Ayurvedic pharma marketer - Himalaya. And this has made the difference to them. It is due to the heavy investments in the intangibles of pharma marketing game like brand image, training, quality of GIFTS and literatures that has made its products, leaders in the Indian pharma market.

Those who have visualized the importance of playing well with intangibles have succeeded greatly in the marketing process.

Success is balancing intangibles and tangibles

To obtain sustainable success, it requires balancing left brain and right brain activities ie., logic, maths, keeping accounts, and on the other hand giving fillip to creativity, imagination, and innovation. Both these faculties are required for successful business results. The sales guys stand by tangibles but it is intangibles that help them make the sales. Integrating intangibles and tangibles in to a well formulated balanced business strategy is the key to market dominance, in the tricky pharma marketing field!

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