Sunday, January 24, 2010

Emerging dimensions in pharma marketing

Pharma marketing is not inured to changes in society. Major technological, cultural and other social forces have considerable impact on pharma marketing. Traditional pharma marketers believe that the major marketing strategy is to recruit MRs and focus on monitoring their call activities, call related behavior, and POB (personal order booking). So each MR is supposed to make 10 doctor calls, 5 chemist calls and weekly stockist calls. This is believed to be enough to get the business rolling in. And if sales results are not satisfactory, marketers tinker with the above processes. Either increase the no. of doctor calls, increase no. of MRs, or collaterals, gifts, incentive schemes of MRs, and so on. Marketing forces in society have however, changed and the above simple MR based strategy will not suffice to lend the competitive marketing edge!

I got the above image from here.


Traditional pharma marketing in India has been focused on 10 doctor calls, 5 chemist calls, and weekly stockist calls. Traditional pharma strategies are samples, visual aid, leave behind literatures, gifts (big and small) and personalized sponsorships. Another basic feature of pharma marketing has always been that it is technically heavy. To engage informed doctors, pharma marketers present marketing information that is science based. The trained MR talks about pharmacodynamics, pharmacokinetics, volume of distribution of a drug, about drugs crossing the BBB (blood brain barrier), half-lives of drugs, and hydrophylic or lipophilic nature of molecules. So in a way, it is quite staid and technically heavy traditional pharma marketing.

Forced to look beyond 10 doctor calls and 5 chemists...

When everyone in pharma marketing starts doing this 10/5 stuff and other me-too collaterals, it gets a tad too crowded in the marketplace. This has led to marketing straetgy and promotional clutter! So how can pharma marketers engage with customer and prospect doctor audiences in a more effective manner?

Enter now, in to a new era of pharma marketing...

It is now the era of database marketing, event marketing, special campaigns, programs and other activities. The main strategy of 10 doctor calls and 5 chemist calls (per MR) remains the sheet anchor of pharma marketing basics. But marketing strategy clutter (everyone is doing the same thing!) is forcing marketers to look beyond traditional ways of engaging the target doctors and chemists, marketers are keenly looking to focus on event marketing, special campaigns, and other activities to augment regular call activity of MRs.

In database marketing, a proper and scientifically managed database of doctors and chemists is built through investments in infrastructure, staff, computers, and other necessities. The data is then harvested through computerized methods for mailer based, e-mail, sms and other communication and marketing activities. Database marketing gives the advantage of ensuring surety in message or item (eg., samples and reminder gifts) transfer to addressee, a robust call list of doctors/chemists even if MR changes, and personalization of the content that is being provided to addressee. Database marketing, which is a form of direct marketing, is regularly done in consumer marketing. Cipla is the pioneer user of database marketing, as an important supplement to MR activity, thus ensuring best value delivery to customers. With cloud computing and increased software penetration, it is inevitable that database marketing in pharma will gain a fillip in months and years to come.

Special campaigns are meant to create a buzz among the field force and target customer segments. Campaigns help invigorate a field force burdened with the monotony of usual calls. Campaigns raise enthusiasm and energy levels among field members. Campaigns create a vibration in target market audiences. Ranbaxy, as per the market grapevine, is said to conduct two campaigns per week (that is a really huge investment, because companies of this stature invest hugely in campaigns).

Campaigns are co-ordinated set of activities. For eg., in this international campaign, Shire has used a phone ADHD support twitter account. Back home, in India, marketers have experimented with call center based phone support (CRM) on pharma products. Companies use various days like the WHO declared health days (for eg., Feb 4th, International Cancer Day) for performing specific marketing campaigns. Campaigns help field force perform better, with conviction, focus and objectives. Campaigns also help in bonding with target doctors.

Events are the in-thing

Events involving gatherings of doctors, and are great places for pharma marketers to engage prospect and customer doctors. These events may be big conferences like ASICON, PEDICON and AICOG, or they may the regional and local conferences.

OTX is India's reality!

The Indian pharma market is a combination of OTX (over-the-counter plus Rx ie., prescription). The prescriptions are an important force that creates consumption. However, Rx also triggers off auto purchase of products from pharmacies. Yet it is a delicate balance! Remove, the Rx prop, and the auto purchase of products also dries up. Rx is a very important demand creating force for pharma and healthcare product consumption. If one overplays the auto purchase (ie., OTC component) doctors may stop prescribing as the prescriber starts feeling that the product is OTC! So influencing OTC sell and purchase needs to be done subtly without miffing doctors!

Let us imagine, a foreigner comes to the Indian pharma market and wants to market his pharma wares! So to study the market, he looks up the ORG IMS reports and decides to launch a good OTX brand. So interesting surprises await him! The best product of the great Indian pharma bazaar is COREX (!) a schedule X product containing codeine phosphate. Positioned for dry cough, Corex (with a MAT value of Rs. 172 crores!!) is the addict's delight and the Indian pharma market's #1 product! Oh! Wow Pharma India!! Corex and Phensedyl (Phensedyl is a Rs. 149 crores MAT value brand) (both are codeine phosphate based products) are the no. 1 and no. 3 pharma brands of India. Voveran is no. 2. pharma brand in India; and Liv 52 the evergreen Ayurvedic brand is no. 4 (and growing steadily thanks to its OTX profile).

The production of Corex like products is highly regulated. So if a small, say, Mandya based propaganda cum distributor wants to market his brand of codeine phosphate antitussive, it will be very difficult. So the best thing for market controllers to do is help all interested people market codeine phosphate based products. For this it is essential to provide the bulk drugs liberally and in good quantities, so that more and more manufacturers can jump on to the codeine phosphate cough syrup bandwagon. Such markets need to be developed, why should only two brands dominate the codeine phosphate anticough market? If nimesulide can have 100 brands, codeine phosphate market can certainly have a thousand brands. So market controllers should permit and make manufacture of codeine phosphate products easier, in the national interest, and it is not fair to allow only two brands to dominate this market piece.

We can also prepare a collective vision statement for the codeine phosphate market, like say, let us grow it to a Rs. 1000 crore market in 3 years. Today, the two brands, Corex and Phensedyl are together Rs. 321 crores. Mind you, Corex is a star brand and original research product of Pfizer, which has a mission statement of applying SCIENCE TO LIFE. It is ironic that Pfizer markets this important research brand (COREX this link provides Corex link to wikipedia) only in India and a few Asian countries. Why do we allow products that are not US FDA approved in India? After all, the grouse against nimesulide is that it is not US FDA approved drug right?!

The central idea of all marketing activities ( MR working, events, programs, ads and campaigns) is to ultimately ensure that brands STAND-OUT from the clutter. The idea is to get improved mind share, and consequently Rx share and market share. This can be done through marketing processes that involve events, ads (in medical journals), programs and campaigns.

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