Differentiating A Pharmaceutical Commodity

Branding Strategy Insider helps marketing oriented leaders and professionals like you build strong brands. BSI readers know, we regularly answer questions from marketers everywhere. Today we hear from Anna, a Product Manager in Stockholm, Sweden who writes…

“I have recently become the product manager of a pharmaceutical product. This product is 1 out of 8 in the Nordic market. All products but one are original. The biosimilar product markets itself on price, however due to very aggressive marketing they have been taking the market by storm. The product category is old, tried and tested and all substances are pretty much exactly the same. The differentiation is in the administration device. Two products have clear product advantages (in the administration device) that are of real value for the patient. Mine doesn’t. In fact there is nothing of value that my product has that no one else hasn’t. Our price is OK but my team is struggling to convince the doctors to use it when better alternatives are available. We currently have about 5% of the market and I am failing to reach my year-end target. I have 5 months left to change strategy, inspire my sales team and turn this around. If I do, I will be the first one to ever bring us above 5% market share.

To add to the challenge the previous PM had somewhat of a cluttered style. I have cleaned up the messaging to focus on the only thing that I can see sets us apart, our product was the first of its kind on the market (however we are marketing it under a license from the company that invented it). Furthermore, we have been ordered from HQ to have a short term approach in our marketing and my budget is small. At the moment the bulk of the budget is spent on conferences and educational events for the doctors. A price only strategy is not an option since we could never compete on price in the long term.”

Thanks for your question, Anna. Many brands share your brand’s dilemma. The product itself is a commodity. That is, it is undifferentiated from competitive alternatives. First, I would direct you to our blog posts on branding commodities. They list a number of general approaches for differentiating commodities.

In your case, I would recommend brainstorming as many ways as possible to differentiate your offering. Be crazy. Think “out of the box.” Push the envelope. Remember, in brainstorming, no idea is a bad idea. Next, I would select six to twelve of the top ideas from the brainstorming session and translate them into brief concept statements that include descriptions of the points of difference together with an articulation of the potential customer benefits. If there is room, I would add a couple proof points for each concept. Then I would conduct customer research to gain customer reactions to each of the concepts. In particular, I would ask them these questions about each of the concepts that you show them: a) Is this something in which you would be interested? b) Given current competitive alternatives, if this were offered at a comparable price, would you purchase this product or a competitive product? c) How unique is this? d) How compelling is this to you? e) What do you like about it? e) What concerns you about it? f) How could it be improved?

For your brainstorming, I would start with our list of general ways to differentiate commodities. You will find it useful to revise, combine, and further develop these concepts as you review them with additional customers. At some point, you will arrive at a solid concept that is unique and compelling to its target customer. Then, you will need to build the promise implied in the concept into the brand and, at least as importantly, deliver on that promise in all that you do with the product and everything that surrounds the customer’s experience of that product.

Take a look at our brand strategy co-creation workshop, it is uniquely designed for challenges like yours and complimentary to the approach above.

I wish you great success in this endeavor Anna.

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