Second Immutable Law in Branding ~ 2nd of the 13 Immutable Laws in Branding

Forgotten the basics of brand management? Do not even think of building a mega-brand!

  • Law 2 – Never forget the basics of pharma branding.

“All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender. For it is all give and no take.” This quote is generally attributed to Mahatma Gandhi.

The basic skills that you have learnt in the formative years of pharma brand management are meant to be nurtured, not discarded or stashed away. These valuable skills will help you navigate your new challenges and only enrich your experience.

If I were a Catholic priest, I would say: “Forgetting the basics of brand management is a cardinal sin!”

What are those basics that must never be forgotten during the growth and maturation of pharma brand manager are discussed here.


I] The first basic starts with the truth – you cannot build a brand without the active assistance from the medical representatives and the first-line leaders. The brand manager, on his own, cannot build a pharma brand.

Have you seen the classic movie BenHur and the chariot race? Brand building in pharma is akin to chariot with two horses, where both the horses have to run at the same pace to win. If one horse falters, the chariot can totter.

Brand building has two major activities – strategy & tactics – the domain of brand managers – and strategy execution, which is the accountability of first-line leaders. Its only when these two work in tandem, a brand can be built.

II] The second basic is writing a long-term brand plan.

A well-written brand plan starts with a vision. Think big for your brand. Paint a future picture of your brand. You may not reach that, but nonetheless, it shows how passionate you are about your brand. It energizes your medical representatives and first-line leaders. It can even inspire your doctors. Knowing and owning your brand vision can have a great impact on your brand.

After creating an inspiring vision statement, ask yourself two questions:

  1. Where is my brand today?
  2. Why is my brand here?

Addressing the ‘why’ question is very important. Do a deep dive analysis and ask these questions to yourself.

Is it because brand communication is a problem? Have I been able to develop the USPs and Value Propositions to build a mega-brand? Or is it that my brand positioning has low credibility? Or is it that I do not have a robust strategy? Or is it that the strategy execution is questionable? Keep on asking more questions and it will lead you to the answer: “Why is my brand here today?”

Next in the brand plans are goals, things you want the brand to achieve, followed by strategies that provide a road map on how to get there? A successful brand plan must identify the target doctors, and the demographics a business needs to support its brand. To entice these doctors to prescribe your product, your brand must have a main message, which explains why your brand can do things that others cannot.

A brand plan should include strategies for promotion that gets its targeted doctors to take action, i.e. prescribe.

Branding is about emotions and how doctors feel about you and your brands. Marketing is about numbers. Both are important, but how you make people feel can make or break your brand.

What should be your strategy? Try to find a blue ocean. This is a critical shift in marketing strategy! Find a niche for your brand where there is no competition or very less competition. Be the leader in that niche. If you aren’t able to find that niche, you may be stuck in a commoditized, highly competitive market where the only way to win is by taking market share from competitors.

Avoid market share mentality. Create a new market and flourish in that niche.

Once you have strategy in place, strategy execution matters a lot.

What is strategy execution? Most managers will respond saying, “It’s the successful implementation of a strategy” or “It’s getting your strategy done.”

These view points are certainly valid. However, they are not very helpful in terms of understanding what needs to be done to actually drive your brand.

Let us hear from Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, the authors of the book that created waves: Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done (2)

The key to successful execution is linking people, strategy, and operations together. They explain that “the heart of execution lies in three core processes”:

  1. People
  2. Strategy
  3. Operations

The People Process

“The people process is the most important of the three processes. After all, it’s the people of an organization who make judgments about how markets are changing, create strategies based on those judgments, and translate the strategies into operational realities. To put it simply and starkly: If you don’t get the people process right, you will never fulfill the potential of your business.”(2)

The Strategy Process

“Strategy is directly related to the people process, because strategy comes from the minds of people. If a company has the right people, in all likelihood its strategies will be in sync with the realities of the marketplace, the economy, and the competition.

The basic goal of any strategy is simple enough: to win the customer’s preference and create a sustainable competitive advantage.”(2)

The Operations Process

“The strategy process defines where a business wants to go, and the people process defines who’s going to get it there. The operations process provides the path for those people. It breaks long-term output into short-term targets.

In the operating plan, the leader is primarily responsible for overseeing the seamless transition from strategy to operations.”(2)

Competitive plans

Would you know how competition would react to your strategy and strategy execution? You do not operate in a vacuum. Your knowledge of competition and competitors activities should be of a very high order. Know competition like the back of your palm. Have Plan B in place.


Once you have done this – set goals. Think big when setting goals. Your goals have to align with your vision for the brand. Goals will include how many doctors would you shift to Quadrant B in Vivek’s Window. Monitor prescription frequency from doctors in this quadrant. Convert these into numbers in units and value. Without the keen engagement of First-line Leaders, it would be a big challenge to set goals using the Vivek’s Window.

III] The third basic never to be forgotten is writing the Unique Selling Proposition.

A unique selling proposition or the USP defines the brands’ unique position. It is also referred as ‘Single-Minded Idea’. It is “the most important one thing” or “Key Takeaway for a pharma brand. A USP could also be thought of as “what you have that competitors don’t.” A strong USP clearly articulates a specific benefit – one that other competitors don’t offer – that makes you stand out. Ultimately, the brand manager has to answer the doctor’s question, “Why should I Rx your brand?”

IV] Next is the Value Proposition.

Ask a question to yourself: Are doctors really worried about the prices of pharma products? Some are but a majority is not. But of course when the price difference is very big, as between an innovator and a branded generic, price will play a factor.

But the challenge is to make a doctor prescribe your brand when the price is perceived as high. This can be done by weaving a value around it. This is what Lyrica and Cardace have done. When you do this, it is your value proposition. You have to enhance its perceived value. Perceived value is the worth of the product in the doctor’s mind. You have to make your brand attractive to your customer.

Value Proposition, is a statement used by a brand to tell doctors why they should prescribe your brand and not of their competitors. The best definition of Value Proposition I have heard so far is “A believable collection of the most persuasive reasons people should notice you and take the action you’re asking for.”(Anon)

Case Study – Value Proposition

Migraine is a debilitating condition and sometimes lasts for 72 hours.

Migraine is often accompanied with vomiting and the patient.

The mainstay in acute migraine conditions is one of the triptans. However, even a rapid disintegrating tablet of sumatriptan or zolmitriptan gets thrown out.

A client of mine has introduced zolmitriptan to treat acute migraine but in a different kind of formulation. They have used PharmFilm technology.

PharmFilm was developed to provide meaningful clinical and therapeutic differentiation to better meet the needs of patients, caregivers, and physicians.

Zolmitriptan PharmFilm is similar in size and thickness to a postal stamp. Zolmitriptan PharmFilm is placed on the tongue. It provides potentially faster onset of action, improved dosing accuracy, and can be administered without water – attributes that can significantly improve compliance and adherence.

Failure to take medication as prescribed takes a tremendous toll, especially in patients with migraine.

Zolmitriptan PharmFilm has a mucosa-adhesive action and sticks to the mouth and is not thrown away during vomiting. Zolmitriptan PharmFilm can be taken without water. Moreover, accuracy of dose is assured

This is a tremendous Value Proposition. It can be marketed even at 2 to 2.5 times the cost of Zolmitriptan rapidly disintegrating tablets.

V] The next important topic in basics is brand positioning. There are six important criteria for positioning.

It has to be a single minded idea

It should be relevant

It has to be unique

It should be credible

It has to be durable and sustainable

It should be actionable

Good positioning is all about sacrifice. It puts across a focused, single-minded idea. Identifying a single idea compels brand managers to decide what not to communicate – tougher than deciding what to communicate.

Case Study – Ordent (DRL)

When Ordent (DRL) was introduced it was amongst the laggards to introduce a combination of Ornidazole + Ofloxacin. As the 15th or 16th brand would it succeed?

DRL designed the entire promotional strategy for dentists and only dentists. They decided to sacrifice the huge peri-operative, post-operative segment for such combinations. They ignored the huge GP segment. Instead they decided to focus only on dentists.

The positioning was decided.

All communication was designed only for dentists. Even the strip was in the shape of a tooth.

Ordent swept this segment to become the dominant player in the dental segment.

A classic case of sacrifice of a potentially huge peri-operative and post-operative segment.

Positioning starts with writing the three steps.

  1. Differentiation
  2. Positioning Statement
  3. Message – The actual communication


In building a strong brand the undisputed key to success is robust differentiation. Differentiation is an absolute must to build a powerful and compelling brand. You have to set your brand apart from the competition.

You can do this by associating a superior aspect of your brand with the patients or the doctor’s benefits. Differentiate on the basis of something that your doctor actually cares about. Test what exactly differentiates you from you competitors.

Differentiation can relate to the physical characteristics of your brand, or even to the emotional response your brand triggers.

Emphasis: Appealing to emotion can be a huge differentiator.

Aspects of its presentation, its price point such as very high or very low, your brand story, and even the customer experience of your brand as a whole are differentiators.

Positioning Statement

A positioning statement is an expression of how brand fills a particular need of a doctor in a way that its competitors don’t.

How do you write one?

Here is a simple 5-step template.

[Brand Name] provides ___(1)___ with ___(2)___ than any other [Your Brand Segment]. We do this by (3) and (4). There is solid evidence to back it (5).

The first slot should tell you the types of patients you want your brand to reach. Prescription audit can help you find out who or what can influence them and why? Examples: It could men between 50-65 years; or they could be young upwardly mobile executives; or upper-middle class expectant mothers.

The second slot is the point of differentiation. Write how your brand benefits patients (or doctors) in ways that set you apart from your competitors.

For instance my zolmitriptan with PharmFilm technology ensures that the drug is not thrown out and the precise dose reaches the gut unlike any other zolmitriptan (please refer the case study).

In slots 3 and 4 write down the features and benefits of your brand. Example: Zolmifilm is an instant mouth-melting strip with mucosa-adhesive properties and can be administered without water. In migraine with vomiting, Zolmifilm the patient gets the precise dose of zolmitriptan. Thus the patient is assured of predictable and fast relief from migraine distress and is back to work fast.

In slot 5, back up the benefits of your brands with scientific evidence. For instance, we say here that the Zolmifilm is bioequivalent to the originator brand Zomig.

So a good positioning statement for Zolmifilm can be something as under:

[Zolmifilm] provides (patients with migraine who have vomiting) with (unique PharmaFilm technology) [unlike other triptans]. We do this by (offering instant mouth-melting strips with mucosa-adhesive properties which can be administered without water), (in migraine with vomiting, the patient gets the precise dose of zolmitriptan), and (the patient is assured of predictable and fast relief from migraine distress and is back to work fast). Importantly, the bioequivalence of Zolmifilm is identical to the originator brand, Zomig.

A very important point to note! Positioning statement is only for internal use of the brand manager and the team. POSITIONING STATEMENT IS NOT TO BE EXPOSED TO DOCTORS OR EXTERNAL CUSTOMERS AND SHOULD NEVER BE DISCUSSED WITH THEM.

The actual message

A small thin film makes a big difference in migraine relief – instantly!

The actual message is what is to be communicated to doctors.

Revisiting the Basics

How often do you revisit the basics? It is so important to revisit the basics of brand management. It will brush up on the foundation. It’ll make you think as a beginner again, but with all your current knowledge available at hand. If you have forgotten the basics of brand management, do not even think of building a mega-brand!

Vivek Hattangadi

Vivek Hattangadi

Chief Mentor at ‘The Enablers’



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