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A new perspective for brand positioning

Pharma's traditional approach to building a brand position after the phase III trial leaves it too late to make a meaningful difference in delivering value to customers

A lightbulb with the element representing a brainIn the current pharmaceutical environment we all know that delivering a medicine seen as 'a bit better' than its competitors simply won't cut it anymore. While there is much talk about the need for change, very few companies seem to have found a clear path forward on how to do this effectively and efficiently.

Much of the focus has fallen on the pressing requirement to 'improve' scientific design, (highlighting R&D pipeline droughts and recent late stage collapses), but there has been little recognition of the fact that the industry has the potential to deliver greater value to market with the current commercial tools and products already at its disposal.

The industry remains reliant on a brand development process that was acceptable in the era of the much-mourned blockbuster, but is now seriously struggling to deliver new medicines which are reimbursed, prescribed and used. This is because it continues to separate product design from the process of building the brand, i.e. defining the space it wants to occupy in the market and the role it wants to play within that. By utilising core brand strategy and positioning principles earlier in the lifecycle, pharmaceutical companies can better adapt their products pre-phase III to meet the opportunity and deliver greater benefit and impact.

You need to have a clear vision of the role you're going to play in the market and how your branded medicine is going to deliver real benefit to all customers

While it's a big picture, and a complicated one at that, there are two simple principles which will underpin the success of any company trying to create a difference:

1. You need to have a clear vision of the role you're going to play in the market and how your branded medicine is going to deliver real benefit to all customers. This needs to be designed into the product; it isn't an appendage that you can 'add-on' when you're nearing the finish line.

Brand positioning is often dismissed by many in our evidence-based world as simply the emotive wrapping that is placed around the scientific product. However in our increasingly hyper-connected and discerning environment pioneering consumer brands (such as T-Mobile, NIKE+ and LEGO) have shown that there is huge commercial potential in using brand thinking, at the product design phase, to deliver greater intrinsic value. 

One of the closest expressions of this in the healthcare arena is "Health is HELP Remedies" who understood that most consumers were baffled by the choice of over-the-counter (OTC) medications and didn't understand the difference between them. Recognising that there was intrinsic value in helping customers cut through the noise, they identified that their brand value, emotionally as well as rationally, was in making medicine simple and understandable. This has informed every HELP touchpoint, from simple white packaging "HELP I have a headache", to the active ingredients used in the products.

If the pharmaceutical industry remains focused on defining a brand's position in the market after phase III has been locked down, it is merely gift wrapping a product that hasn't maximised its potential worth. 

2. New branded medicines need to deliver connected-value: a clear story that resonates with every customer and is embedded in the fabric of the product. This requires true change which can't be created by any one discipline alone – no one can win here with a siloed approach.

Achieving a connected-value proposition requires a much deeper, and qualitatively different, understanding of the market as only high-levels of customer-closeness will deliver something that resonates with patients, gatekeepers, prescribers and influencers alike. At the heart of this the clinical, commercial, R&D, outcomes, insight, access, pricing and marketing teams need to come together earlier, to iteratively define how they will design this for each branded medicine of the future.

Brand and product are inseparable; you form an embryonic brand when you design the product, so trying to define the proposition when the evidence creation is already in motion will not deliver what the market wants to see. Thinking differently about brand positioning provides an opportunity to create appeal at the intersection of marketing, product and business strategy. Embracing this approach earlier in the development process will ultimately help deliver impact through better patient outcomes. 

A holistic approach to building brands, grounded in evidence and enough customer closeness to deliver connected-value, is the future for the success of the pharmaceutical industry. If we want to compete effectively then collaboratively creating these branded medicines earlier, has to be at the heart of everything we do.

The Author
Zoe Zambakides is senior strategist at Adelphi Fusion. She can be contacted by email at:

6th June 2011


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