Branded generics: Uncertainty or opportunity?

I was in the New York office of our global ad agency and sou­ght a meeting with the he­ad of the healthcare division. American ad agencies had discovered the pot of gold with the legalising of direct-to-consumer (DTC) ad­vertising of prescription medicines in the year 1985. Around the time, I visited the agency, in the early 2000s, healthcare advertising was booming.


What role did a marketing comm­unication consultant play in marketing a prescription product? Before the DTC advertising was made legal, agencies did play a key role. Co­mpanies brought agencies on board even while stage II trials of a new molecule were taking place. Agency teams worked with the medical researchers to ensure that the final journal article would contain useful quotes that could be used in the medicine’s promotion. Ad agencies had specialist arms that helped companies write white papers and articles for wider circulation. But DTC was a whole new game.


The head of the health care arm of our agency was interested in knowing what was the lay of the land in India. She had heard that India was emerging as a big generics market. She also knew that research molecules with high prices were yet to gain ground in India, thanks to pricing issues. When I told her that in India we sell generic medicines but they are all sold as “brands”, she was almost incredulous. “What? You have generics that are sold as brands? What do you call them?” I told her they were known as “branded generics”. Given the fact that pricing was low, where is the money to do marketing and where is the money to pay agencies, was the next question. I had to tell her that agency fees were modest, but there was a big potential for professional agency services in India. She was not convinced, but promised to share with us the proprietary models they used and the case studies that were in the public domain.


What I did not mention in my conversation with her was the fact that many branded generic brands were sold through what we call customer-relationship-management; the relationship of the individual medical representative with the doctor. Companies take care of the prescribers by sponsoring them for activities like seminars and they in turn prescribe the brands made by the company. That was the year 2000. A lot seems to have happened since then. Government authorities, industry bodies and medical councils have been hard at work trying to control pharma promotion practices. For example, the encouragement meted out to CME (continuing medical education) has seen hotels around the country bursting with pharma conferences.


The question is, if relationship marketing is not the way to go, is there a way to build a “branded generics” business?


Pharma marketing veteran Gauri Chaudhari’s new book The Perfect Pill: Ten Steps to Building a Strong Healthcare Brand answers some of the questions every branded ge­ne­rics marketer is asking. Disclosure: I have written the Foreword for the book.


Just imagine. Your brand is the 40th offering the same molecule. You are not allowed to give gifts and other gratuities to your favorite doctors. How do you promote your brand so that it gets a fair share of prescriptions from them?


Gauri’s book says that if you go about applying the 10-step brand planning process to your brand — be it a branded generic or a research molecule or a medical service — the chance of success is a lot higher. What are these 10 steps?


It all starts with the product: Do you know all about your product? The next step is to understand the market, which segment you want to go after. The third is a deep dive into customers and this would include doctors, HCPs (health care professionals) and patients. The next step is to try and decode the competition. The fifth and probably the most important step is the one where you device a brand value pro­position/brand positioning stateme­nt. The sixth step is to define the bra­nd personality and the seventh is to develop a brand strategy. The eighth step is communication strategy and the ninth the media strategy. The final step is putting in place a brand measurement system.


If practised well, the 10-step brand planning process will be a win-win — for the pharma company, the doctor and the patient. The pharma company will be able to gain prescription support; the doctor will learn new concepts from the marketer; the patient will benefit from better doctor advice. Remember, Indian doctors do depend on the medical representative and pharma companies to stay up-to-date.


The book argues you can find a segment where you can taste success even if you are the 40th brand with the same molecule. For example if you are the 40th brand offering a particular anti-inflammatory analgesic molecule, you can market it like all others — to all doctors, for all indications, for all types of patients, all over India — or you can dig deeper into product literature and discover that your molecule does not interfere with oral anti-diabetic drugs. Using that information, you may segment the market differently and craft a value proposition that will give your medical representative an extra 10 seconds in the doctor’s chamber. And if the doctor asks your executive a question, you are almost guaranteed that you have made a major breakthrough. And prescriptions will follow.



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