In many sectors, including the medical industry, it’s common for companies to first develop a product and then assign someone to manage the medical marketing and communications when it’s ready for launch.
However, this approach can make the effectiveness of going to market more limited, because they have lost so much ground by not taking a proactive approach to medical marketing and communications from the very beginning.
Develop Your Story
There is always a great story in the development of the product itself. How did your company know that there was a need? How did it co-create the product with those who would benefit? How was the research done? How did the name get chosen?
All of these aspects of the journey are worth telling. They paint a picture of drama and a hero. It’s difficult to develop an emotional attachment to a story of a solution if we don’t know or share the pain of the suffering.
This story of the process is also useful for appealing to markets other than an end-buyer, such as media and investors.
Validate Your Idea
Wireframe your product. Put a value proposition, and the key features and benefits into a website, drive some traffic using ads or social media and register interest with an email address.
Think about the ways you can communicate your product or service in market friendly terms. In other words, what problem does it solve?
People don’t like to give away their email addresses easily these days. So, if you get enough registrations, you know the market is ready. Lack of product validation is one reason why so many startups fail — because they haven’t adequately assessed product-market fit.
Start Making a Mark
It is also helpful to think about how the communications and medical marketing will be conducted well before the product is ready for market for branding purposes also.
From the lab to the shelf it takes an average $2 billion to bring a new drug to market. And it’s not just pharmaceuticals. It also takes a lot of effort and significant amount of time to bring a new healthcare app or service to market as well.
Traditionally, a pharmaceutical company may send field sales representatives to meet the prescriber (practitioner) in person, in order to educate them on the product benefits. The salespeople deliver updates on the progress of the new drug through research studies and development, even several months of years before it is ready for market. This creates a level of status around the brand and builds its reputation.
The image of the pharmaceutical company may influence the prescriber’s perceptions of competence, such as their responsiveness to questions, call centre staff, and sales staff. That then makes the patients and everyone in the patient’s inner circle informed about the product.
Understand the Power of a Strong Name
A strong name is useful to convey inherent qualities of the product. Duracell is a battery that wins the position of ‘long-lasting’ batteries. The name is embedded with the inference of durability.
If the category in which you operate is a ladder, the brand name is the hook on the ladder.
While pharmaceutical naming is a complex and highly regulated affair, a brand name in any category that is shorter and easier to remember will have an advantage.
Pharmaceuticals have a generic name (the compound e.g. sofosbuvir) and a brand name (eg Sovaldi). Practitioners are advised to use generic names and to substitute generics for brands where there is a cost differential. However, strong drug brands may win preference by practitioners or patients.
There is a huge amount of evidence from around the world of the power of a clear and strong name. This is a good example from Ries and Trout’s book The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. Think about computers. In the early days, there was IMSAI 8080, MITS, Altair 8800, TRS-80, a couple of others. And there was Apple. Which do you think landed in the mind of the consumer? The lesson here is don’t make it hard for people to remember you!
The first in a market is often the market leader and establishes a place in the mind (think Viagra and Prozac). These first-in-market brands are often synonymous with the entire category. This is another reason why the name is so important. Ideally, you may become a household term. (I’ll make a xerox of this paper; I’ll use the esky; put on your ugg boots). This brand association is extremely strong and very hard to displace, so use it to your advantage if you can.
Build a Strong Brand
In documented research studies (Kapferer 1995) of pharmaceutical products, prescribers would state that two products had identical functional benefits. However, one of the identical products was described as having more ‘status’. That product was prescribed three times more than the other.
A strong brand is a mark of trust. This may be from reputation and reliability. Many decision-makers in business-to-business brands don’t discuss brands as a factor in their choices. They often say ‘reputation’. This means the same. A good reputation reduces perceived risk.
The brand unlocks perceptions that a company has a good reputation, which of course, is based on a proven track record and effectiveness. That the product is reliable, trustworthy and proven to be effective goes without saying. Reputation is something people can put their finger on. Intangible factors like ease of ordering, confident staff and friendly people help consolidate the sense of reliability. If a brand is reliability, you can trust it.
Again, in the case of a pharmaceutical, the brand only has a matter of years before it loses legal protection of the patent and must compete with generics, probably at lower prices. In order to remain competitive, the patient or the prescriber must have a desire for the brand and request it.
If you’re not currently undertaking any medical marketing because your product or service isn’t ready yet perhaps it’s time to think again about your approach. The ideas we’ve covered don‘t necessarily need to take up a lot of time to be effective, simply dedicate a couple of hours a week and by the time you’re ready to go you’ll have a solid launchpad and plenty of insight to use to your advantage!