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Getting emotional about positioning

Unless we aim to understand the emotions involved in the brand choices of our customers, it is impossible to make our positioning or strategy relevant

Phil BartlettWhen we talk about positioning, we start with our brand, then move outwards to all that surrounds it: our competitors, our customers, the market, the past, the future.

In the words of Jack Trout and Al Ries (who literally wrote the book on the subject, Positioning: The Battle for your Mind, in 1981): Positioning is not what you do to a product.

Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. That is, you position (place) the product in the mind of the potential buyer. Positioning is more than just deciding who we want our brand to be used by - it's deciding what battle weíre going to fight, against whom and with what weapons. It's the battle for clear ground in the often cluttered battlefield of our customersí minds.

To make it as simple as possible for our customers to understand what we're offering, we need to understand this "potential buyer" and give them a story that is clear, coherent and cogent. We need to give them a reason why weíre the right choice. A choice theyíre confident in. A choice they can defend. A choice they might even fight for.

And while the facts and figures are essential, in an increasingly crowded, pressured and competitive market, theyíre often not enough.

In pharmaceutical marketing - whether we're talking about PR, medical education or advertising and promotion - there are a couple of considerations our brothers in the world of consumer marketing don't have to think about. Firstly, our direct customers - the healthcare professionals - are not the end users of our brands, it's their patients; and, in many cases, we have little or no direct influence on those end users. Furthermore, the relationships between HCPs and their patients can be emotionally complex.

Secondly, for all their protestations that they just need to see the data, those HCPs are still consumers. They are people who chose a BMW instead of a Mercedes not for the engine capacity or the torque (whatever that is), but because they identify with the brand on an emotional level, albeit possibly an unconscious one.

Getting emotion into your brand positioning is something that can't be done without true understanding of the market you're trying to enter and the potential customers you're trying to influence. Without knowing what our customers currently feel about the brands available to them and the patients they're charged with treating, we don't have the right to try to fit our brand into their busy lives.

So when we're thinking about who the brand is for, the HCP's speciality is important, but perhaps more important is how they feel about: treating in the disease area; their connection (or lack of it) with their patient; what success looks like. If we consider these emotive drivers then suddenly our positioning starts to live, and in turn starts to drive the tone of all communications, because the HCP we've decided to connect with is defined by their attitude more than their speciality.

Often, "positioning" is taken to mean a speciality, or a patient group at a certain point within a certain set of guidelines. But unless we aim to understand the emotions involved, it's impossible to make our positioning (or, by extension, our strategy or tactics) relevant. Get emotional, and you've got a chance to make people care as much as you do about your brand.

Phil Bartlett is group account director at Saatchi & Saatchi Healthcare
He can be contacted at or on +44 (0)20 7462 7474

Innovative Thinkers in healthcare advertising - a special supplement from PMGroup Ltd

24th July 2008


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