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More bang for less buck

A new era in promotion management means being more effective with an ailing budget

A new era in promotion management means being more effective with an ailing budget

Many brand managers are facing a new era in promotion management - managing their brand on a flat or declining budget. With less fuel to drive success, how can marketing teams navigate their way through myriad promotional channels and deliver optimal brand performance?

It wasn't all that long ago when pharma marketers concerned themselves with two primary challenges: delivering promotional messages through the salesforce, and ensuring the messages reached as many of the intended customers as possible, as often as possible, to maximise share of voice.

Today's world is very different: marketers must overcome challenges on many fronts. Marketing teams are faced with high growth expectations, despite flat budgets, and must demonstrate the value of every pound spent.

In addition, they must communicate with customers and patients in an effective manner, while adhering to the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry's Code of Practice.

Global brand teams must contemplate optimal promotional support across product portfolios, and brand managers are asked to carve niches for new drugs that are often entering crowded markets and differ only slightly from the competition.

With declining market growth in most therapy areas, market share wars are shining the spotlight on marketing excellence. This in turn is resulting in increased scrutiny of the effectiveness of promotions.

There have never been so many options in promoting a brand; from utilising contract sales organisations (CSOs) and developing e-detailing programmes, to generating market development initiatives and creating market-shaping activities.

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Managing the Market mix

MESSAGING: Itís just not enough for brand messages to be delivered to target customers. It is also crucial to understand what impact these messages are having on prescribing behaviour to fully assess brand performance. Customer segmentation can also make a big difference by allowing tailored messages to be delivered with maximum impact to the right audience.

MIX: The decision-making process behind fund allocation among brands, or promotional channels, may not always be as robust as it should be. Historical funding levels, short-term crises or just plain ëgutí feel may be the only drivers behind allocating promotional budget to different promotional channels. However, itís critical to find the optimal promotional mix based on objective analysis. In doing so, brand teams stand a much better chance of enhancing promotional effectiveness and improving RoI without having to increase funding.

DELIVERY: How well are the brand messages being delivered and how are they received by physicians? Are the sales reps following the marketing plan? How do they compare with other sales teams? Monitoring the salesforce delivery can help to answer these questions and more. Are the sales representatives being heard and achieving share of mind? Do the sales aids and support materials have their intended effect? To establish a clear picture, an objective approach is necessary and can supplement (or validate) feedback generated by the salesforce.

In certain therapy areas, the physician is no longer the most important customer, and campaigns are expanding to include a range of healthcare professionals.

Unique added dynamics may exist in areas where over-the-counter (OTC) brands benefit from TV advertising and generate significant prescription sales.

Moving forward, pharma companies will have to find ways of driving marketing efficiencies by bringing better information and more sophisticated analytics to the table, to validate the different promotional opportunities available.

The solution is no longer one or two magic bullets, but rather a comprehensive approach that is based on hard evidence of what is working and what is not.

Promotion management is a continual process; one that requires a delicate balance between understanding the impact of what has already happened and anticipating the impact of what's to come.

Companies that get this right will achieve significant competitive advantage and enjoy better relationships with prescribers and other healthcare professionals.

The elements required to successfully maintain this balance include assessing the true influence of brand messaging on prescriber behaviour, optimising the marketing mix, and improving the salesforce's delivery and implementation of the brand strategy.

Dynamic approach
Understanding return on investment (RoI) for different promotional channels, in order to help drive optimal brand investment, no longer needs to be described as the Holy Grail in resource optimisation.

New methodologies based on hard evidence have made it possible to apply greater analytical rigour to the tactical planning process, helping to recognise that marketing should be both a science and an art.

In situations where brands are expected to grow, but the promotional budgets remain the same or decline, applying such rigour can help brand teams to re-allocate their promotional mix so that a better return is achieved from the channels that, historically, have delivered a superior RoI.

A number of benefits await brand teams that choose to conduct a robust analysis of their marketing programmes.

Establishing RoI for different promotional channels (or even total brand RoI if you are managing a portfolio) will help brand teams to either defend their current level of budget or provide a rational, evidence-based argument for greater investment.

If budget cuts are enforced then such an analysis can help identify how the promotional spend should be re-allocated across the mix, so there is less support behind the under-achieving channels and the same, or greater, support behind the channels that are delivering the best RoI.

Getting more from less, eliminating wasteful investment, and understanding the promotion-sensitive channels that drive brand sales is, after all, what all brand teams should be aspiring to.

The application of an evidence-based analysis to identify which promotional mix works best should ensure all channels are evaluated. Indeed, such methodologies allow this to be possible - both pre- and post-launch.

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Examples of promotional channels which should and can be measured

ï Salesforce (in-house and contract)
ï E-detailing
ï Direct mail
ï Journal advertising
ï Sampling
ï Conferences
ï KOL meetings
ï Public relations
ï TV advertising (for OTC brands with prescription sales)
ï Disease awareness communications and/or direct-to-patient support and educational programmes
ï Nurse audit programmes
ï Internet promotion

Once the different channels that need evaluation are identified, the RoI analysis can begin and through a process of 'econometric' modelling, brand teams can determine how effective each promotional event has been in the growth of a brand.

Sophisticated analytics can even uncover the differences in promotional effectiveness among different types of prescribers, based on their level of prescribing.

Closing stages
The final - and probably the most valuable - step in the process involves a 'dynamic' modelling exercise, where brand teams can plan for a certain scenario and fine-tune the marketing mix with greater confidence.

The development of such a valuable planning tool can only be possible through the extensive and rigorous analytical process undertaken to understand the impact that historical promotional events have had on brand sales.

Based on this kind of hard evidence, brand teams will have greater confidence to answer logically such questions as:

  • How should I allocate my promotional spend across the marketing mix?

  • What is the impact of current and future promotional strategies?

  • What is the RoI for each one of my promotional activities?

  • How can I improve the RoI?

  • What is the impact of alternate spend levels and strategies on future brand performance?

  • How does the performance of my brand compare with others in the portfolio?

A continuous process
By understanding what is working and what is not, brand teams can be given the vision to know what helps, and what needs some attention.

Promotional channels that are not delivering the expected RoI may uncover issues around the messaging.

If the messages are creating impact and brand differentiation, but are still failing to produce the required RoI, then further investigation may uncover problems with the message delivery.

All of this encourages a regular cycle of measuring, evaluating and optimising the marketing mix.

Being asked to develop brands without an increase in budget can be an unnerving task for most marketers. But it doesn't have to be. Using the right information, analytics and simulation programmes, teams can go a long way to taking the uncertainty out of critical brand decisions.

Armed with this support, marketers are in the position to know more and, therefore, do better. In the absence of a new magic bullet, new ways exist to make smarter strategic and tactical decisions that generate a higher degree of certainty of achieving sales and marketing goals.

The Author
Nish Bakhda is the launch and brand management marketing manager at IMS Health, London

2nd September 2008

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