Branding Goes Global
Until recently, most pharma firms handed drugs to a network of partners for marketing, or let their local divisions figure out sales strategies. These days, companies are increasingly working from headquarters to devise a single strategy they can apply across world markets. The point of global branding is leverage. Companies hope to increase sales while decreasing costs associated with marketing, and so get maximum value from drugs, throughout carefully planned life cycles. Medical marketers are studying how consumer-goods marketers craft consistent images and messages that help products become internationally desirable brands. Firms are thinking and acting earlier, with more coordination, than ever before. Some major companies have undergone fundamental restructuring to become more effective at global branding. They're meeting frequently, defining best practices, paying more attention to pre-launch efforts and to Phase IV studies that may support claims. No one knows which practices work best. Some experts say the industry should behave more like consumer marketers, others say less. It's possible that global branding can widen corporate development choices.
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Gilead plans to maximize the value of its newly-approved anti-HIV drug Viread by launching the product in all major world markets within a year-and by promoting it with the same look, messages and image everywhere. Gilead's campaign will make the point that its product helps patients' drug combinations work better, even if they're failing. By positioning the product this way, Gilead may avoid head-to-head competition with far bigger players. The company got into position to globally market Viread by acquiring NeXstar in 1999, then quickly re-organizing and filling out the very skinny marketing groups it inherited in major European markets. The relatively small company is betting that the cost efficiencies of global branding will bring it a better return on investment, and so help it grow a business that is already highly valued.
Empowered consumers are playing a more proactive role in almost all treatment decisions. For consumer-driven and lifestyle drugs, a fast-growing portion of pharma's portfolio, marketers still focus on physician detailing but must resist the temptation to rely only on physicians to interpret consumers' needs. Consumers have their own approach to evaluating the risks and rewards of a lifestyle-oriented drug. The fact that it outperforms placebo in clinical trials matters little: they expect it to be significantly better, and without unpleasant side effects. Companies must weigh these expectations early in the development process. Adjusting the paradigm where the physician is king is a major challenge. The perception that traditional detailing efforts generate the dollars, while consumer marketing only spends them, remains hard to change.