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Early bird

With branding being such a powerful marketing tool, pharmaceutical clients should be thinking about building a brand as early as possible.

BirdsWith branding being such a powerful marketing tool, pharmaceutical clients should be thinking about building a brand as early as possible - the branding life-cycle mirroring rather than shadowing the product life-cycle.

Furthermore, marketers should be thinking about using branding to proactively help shape a market, rather than adopting a reactive approach post-launch with a brand identity defined solely by the audience.

After launch, it can take some time for a drug to build up sales and achieve sizeable market share. Once the drug has become established, it will enter a period of maturity - a lucrative period for its manufacturer. However, this phase is becoming more and more short-lived, with patent loss and the advent of competition now occurring all too soon. For example, while Inderal had the luxury of a 10-year exclusivity period in the beta-blocker market before the launch of Lopressor back in 1978, Viagra had to make the most of a four-year lead before the launch of its direct competitors in 2003.

Therefore, during a drug's infancy, it is more critical than ever that the doctors are already attached to the brand and the parent company persuades as many doctors as possible to prescribe the product.

Building blocks
Without having actually prescribed a new drug, branding can help build a virtual prescriber-product relationship in the consumer's mind. In the absence of any personal experience with the drug, perceptions are the most important driving force and branding is key to influencing these. And the sort of branding which is going to prove most effective is that based on the identification and understanding of the `needs' of those involved in the therapy area - successful branding is much more than just the manifestation of the molecule and its attributes into a product with a personality.

According to Janice MacLennan, author of the book Brand Planning for the Pharmaceutical Industry, the challenge here is understanding something about your customer (physician and/or patient) that is relevant and profound enough to make a direct and observable contribution to the brand's success.

The critical time to be investing in branding is during the initial brand building research when there is greater scope to have control over the direction the brand is going to take. The return on investment is far greater than conducting a branding study later in a brand's life, where there is then the possibility of developing communications that only end up reflecting back what your audience already knows and feels about your product. And a product has all the manoeuvrability of a super-tanker when faced with the task of having to re-brand itself as its current positioning is failing to resonate.

The trap that can easily be fallen into when first to market is to rush to own a very rational territory and assume that that's what prescribers will be attracted to. Certainly efficacy is always going to be important, but it doesn't mean that ultimately it's going to sell your product to its maximum potential.

Taking the time initially to understand motivations within a therapy area, and the emotional hook which makes efficacy relevant to the target market, together with branding your product in a corresponding way at launch, is going to reap rewards later on. Doctors are an increasingly marketing savvy bunch and sea-changes in a product's positioning or branding later in life can be greeted cynically denting its credibility.

Clinical trial importance
Because of this, marketers should be thinking about the pre-launch gestation period of a drug as not just a time for testing the clinical parameters, but also a time for optimising branding opportunities. Conducting the appropriate exploratory research into the therapy area and physicians' accompanying needs at a suitable time provides guidance on `softer markers' to be incorporated into clinical trial design. If it is going to be important for a drug to make a particular claim in order to succeed in its market, or to attach itself to certain associations, then there will need to be study data to back up these proclamations.

A simple example is with quality of life - rather than using the standard efficacy data and relying on physicians to make the link to the end-benefit, if brand building research identifies `a sense of normality' as a key driver, then phase III trials provide an opportunity to carefully select and include the most appropriate quality of life study to address this.

Due to the failure rate of pipeline products, it makes little commercial sense to invest heavily in branding work prior to the phase II trials. However, pharmaceutical companies could undoubtedly benefit from having a strategic framework in place, which includes branding elements, prior to the product entering into phase III.

Crucial to this will be having the whole `brand team' (both internal and external in the form of both communications and market research agencies) in place at an early stage. This conveys the advantages of not only providing strategic guidance on a suitable brand identity, but helps to create `buy-in' from all concerned.

A whole family of companies nurturing the fledgling brand helps create a truly motivated team who become attached to the brand and have more than just a vested interest in its success.

The Author
Anna Williams is an account manager at Hall & Partners Healthcare

2nd September 2008

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