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Make Over

Careful scientific research and creative marketing thinking can give a tired, sector-weary product a brand new look

paintingIt's difficult to get excited about older products, especially when new drug launches grab the headlines with the inevitability of an England penalty shoot-out disaster.

All too often the assumption is that older products have had their day, and it's natural that marketing departments concentrate the bulk of their resources on promoting treatments fresh out of the pipeline: the potential blockbusters on which companies pin their hopes for the future.

But that doesn't mean that marketing teams aren't hard at work out of the spotlight, meticulously analysing their existing brands, ready to reshape and inject new life into them. The results can be very profitable and with careful planning and the right creative input, a minimal outlay could transform a static, tired has-been into a margin-sustaining winner.

Brand revitalisation is a key part of product lifecycle management and is all about recognising the unmet needs your drug can fulfil within its class and in the market, says independent pharma consultant Alasdair Mackintosh. If a company feels it is maximising all it can out of its most recent launches and leading products, it may look to the next tier to see whether there's any untapped potential to exploit.

Nothing out of the ordinary
In most industries, brand revitalisation occurs as a matter of course. Successful companies have learned that to keep their products fresh in the eyes of the consumers, brands need so much more than a quick fix. They need to be nurtured, nourished, maintained and, above all, reinvented if they are to continue to survive in often cut-throat markets.

All products are burdened with the natural law of entropy that dictates they become less effective over time and, therefore, companies have to decide whether to breathe new life into these products or let them die.

While we've probably eaten less hot dinners than the number of times a washing powder has been labelled as a 'new improved formula' or a chocolate bar has suddenly become the 'best ever', the bottom line is that such messages work - if they didn't, manufacturers wouldn't use them. They know that by tweaking the brand, they can create an emotive response in the target customer, which will have a bearing on their purchasing decisions.

Yet, is pharma applying regular maintenance to its brands, ensuring they are finely tuned and in a constant state of re-introduction to the market, or is it merely applying quick fix jobs when it has the cash and the inclination?

Pharma marketers could be forgiven for claiming that their brand maintenance is an altogether more subtle and complex science. Making the same kind of `new improved' claims on pharma products isn't as easy to do. When you're in the business of developing, manufacturing and selling products that can have a tremendous impact on people's lives, a quick overhaul of the advertising may spark a bit of renewed interest and increase sales for a while, but the effect is unlikely to be prolonged.

Scientific, ethical and regulatory constraints also have to be considered. If brand revitalisation is to be successful, careful research and planning are needed, as is a strong creative streak.

Anne O'Riordan, partner, health and life sciences at Accenture, argues that the decision to embark on brand revitalisation in non-regulated industries is ultimately a much simpler one to make: In such industries, it is a lot easier to go with the whims of marketing trends - if you want to co-market with i-Pod for a while, it's entirely possible. Whereas in the pharmaceutical sector, the rationale for doing brand revitalisation or brand extensions would have to be a more considered decision rather than one done simply for the sake of marketing.

Revitalisation rationale
Product sales can erode due to a number of factors; poor patient diagnosis, poor patient compliance, competitor intervention - they all dent profits. The brand revitalisation strategy has to identify these dangers and target them effectively. O'Riordan points out that companies have to do additional trial tests to prove that a new indication is safe and gain regulatory and pricing approval, as well as consider the possibilities of cannibalisation before deciding to extend brands.


According to Mackintosh, the pharma industry is still acclimatising to the brand revitalisation environment: When I was at Cap Gemini, our research revealed that, by the industry's own self-assessment, pharma companies still have a lot of lessons to learn about product lifecycle management and brand revitalisation. We ran a seminar with the automotive industry just to learn about how these companies use lifecycle management as a continuous improvement process; they demonstrated how smart and fast they could be at each stage of development by using strong knowledge management to squeeze out that bit more benefit.

Mackintosh argues that, conversely, the typical pharma model has been to focus on the first indication of the product and its launch, in which it (rightly) invests a lot of marketing energy and effort, but all too often fail to focus on how the brand will develop over time mainly due to the long product lifecycle and, to some extent, the regulation.

It's very unusual to see a proper long term development plan for the brand which includes both what R&D and marketing are doing, he adds. I think one of the main reasons why brand revitalisation is not something that is instinctively good in every single pharma company revolves around a lack of function in their plans and insufficient knowledge management.

This doesn't mean that there haven't been any success stories - far from it. Since its inception, the Brand Revitalisation category in the Pharmaceutical Marketing Effectiveness Awards has brought recognition to those teams that have demonstrated excellence in identifying the untapped value in their existing products and unlocking it. Last year, sanofi-aventis scooped the prize for the way it managed to halt the threat of serious decline to market leading breast cancer treatment, Taxotere, boasting impressive sales returns in the process. The drug is now enjoying a new lease of life and stands to benefit from new indications.

Meanwhile, in 2001, Aventis Pharma (as it was then called) won the category for its ACE inhibitor, Tritace. A pivotal 1999 study published by the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated that the drug reduced the risk of cardiovascular deaths, myocardialinfarction and stroke in at-risk patients. Aventis managed to define how Tritace could help achieve government heart disease targets, positioned it clearly as the gold standard and saw its market share grow accordingly.

Where science meets art
The key to successes such as these is having a long term brand plan in place, according to independent pharma consultant Roger Watson. All of the opportunities for brand revitalisation can be created by an evolution and development plan for the product lifecycle. It has to be an ongoing process which will allow for new forms of the product to be developed at various stages.

So a company has decided that the time is ripe for some brand revitalisation. With a checklist seemingly as long as a marketer's arm, where exactly does it begin? According to O'Riordan, meticulous planning has to be combined with both an element of science and an element of art.

There are so many complex factors involved, such as the age of the particular product, its position in the lifecycle, the amount of market share and whether a company genuinely feels there is a new indication or a new twist on the product offering to enhance that market share, she says.

Some people will continue to review their phase IV clinical trials to see if there are any new indications for the product or ways that it could be used to target different areas. There are so many possible angles to look at; you have to trawl through it in a systematic and scientific way but all the time keep a creative person alongside you to think over how to position the product in the marketplace.

Mackintosh says that unless there happens to be a new study containing useful data, the ball has to start rolling with market analysis. It's all about looking at the market that's currently served by your product and then looking more widely at the environment in which it is competing and evaluating.

This is an important area for medical, marketing and R&D to collaborate to see how the brand franchise can be evolved. If a new indication strategy is not the way forward, then analysing the positioning of the product, how it is perceived by customers, or conducting some new research focus groups, highlighting how the brand character is compared with other drugs to tilt perception, could bear fruit, he notes.


Risky business
Of course, as with any re-launch, there are going to be inherent risks involved - the trick is to minimise them. New and exciting products will not only attract all the interest but more than likely the lion's share of the marketing budget. Brand revitalisation teams have to demonstrate that their campaign will bring in cost-effective returns for the company. This objective will not be achieved by projecting the same old messages to the prescribing community in a louder voice - instead a new convincing story has to be told.

Watson says that as long as the new message is credible, doctors will be welcoming rather than suspicious. He points to Reckitt Benckiser's alginate, Gaviscon Extra.

It's an old product, not perceived as being highly scientific, and in a market which is now dominated by PPIs, he explains. From a position of having owned the reflux market, it had gradually been losing market share to the newer scientific products like H2 antagonists and PPIs. But the company created a new position for the product with a message that was absolutely credible and rang bells with prescribers.

It said `here is an old product which we'd almost forgotten but used to value when it was around - it's a beautifully simple technology and will really help those patients who have severe reflux disease when they just need something to top up their existing therapy'.

As with all business strategies, money and resources are going to play a pivotal part. A company's best marketers will inevitably be put to work on new launches, due to a scarcity of highly-skilled resources in marketing departments, but Mackintosh maintains that it is vital for companies to come up with the necessary skilled people to look at the market data, drive insight around unmet potential and shape it into an executable plan.

Obviously, the priority is going to be new drugs, but there has to be, within the company, the will to free up whatever capacity exists, scan the portfolio, and look for those unfulfilled opportunities, he says.

Money doesn't have to be a barrier, according to Watson: Smaller products are often in more promotionally sensitive markets and therefore it's possible to invest a relatively small amount of money and still get a reasonable return.

Dermatology is a good example of an area where the promotional spends don't have to be so big and brand revitalisation can be done relatively cheaply, with tools such as medical education rather than high profile advertising.

In an ever-more competitive environment, the message is clear: ignore opportunities to resuscitate older products at your peril.

I believe there's a number of products out there that are not placed as the primary products for a salesforce to push, says O'Riordan. But, with a little bit of careful scientific research and creative marketing thinking, a lot more could be got out
of them.

The Author
Gareth Carpenter is assistant editor of Pharmaceutical Marketing

2nd September 2008


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