It’s an old expression that I was taught in sales training and it’s still as relevant today as it’s always been. To give you some context, when I was a pharmaceutical sales representative, gaining access to “detail” my customers was always the biggest challenge. You always had to have “new news” to get access to the clinician but you sold using the “old news.” I define the old news as how the brand is positioned and the reasons to believe in its Brand Promise. The old news had to be relevant and believable and consistently delivered over time.
The old news that I thought of then as my consistent detail, I now call the Brand Story. I was taught to “walk the patient across the doctor’s desk.” In doing so, I was not only describing an ideal or typical patient who could benefit from my product, but I was setting up a clinical challenge or problem that my brand could address. When I set up the clinical challenge in the right way, I could see I had their interest. If they leaned in, even better, but they listened.
Once I knew that we were aligned on the clinical challenge, I had to be clear and consistent in describing how my product or brand could help address that challenge. I call this the “Truth” about your brand. The Truth is a sentence or two with a single thought and its intent is to appropriately position your brand in the minds of your target audiences. It had to be believable and differentiating from the competition. Sometimes there were very minor differences in my product versus the competition, but I had to establish the difference with the Truth and be consistent over time.
A sales pitch or detail should be conversational and can take you in a number of directions in a very short period of time. However, I had to be able to deliver 1-3 very important Proof points or “Reasons to Believe” for the Truth to be believed.
Like every good Brand Story, there was a clear take-away or lasting impression that I wanted to create. I call that the Outcome. The outcome should be the short story of the Brand Story
I’ve taken you back in history because the same principles apply in successful sales and marketing today, no matter the vehicle or medium. How you message the Brand Story will be slightly different to your various customer segments but you need to create the right Brand Story and tell it consistently throughout your marketing mix. Campaigns can change and new news should change but the Brand Story is the old news that sells!
Storytelling is the currency of human communications. Stories are what we remember and how we describe past events. But why is storytelling relevant in healthcare sales and marketing and what is it?
Let’s start with why storytelling? What is its purpose? As Simon Sinek might say, “why does storytelling get out of bed every day?” To answer this question, let’s look at some of the things that the right story told consistently over time can do for an organization. Not in any priority, it can;
- Set up the right challenge that your brand can uniquely address
- Make your brand relevant to your target customers
- Differentiate your brand
- Be the foundation for campaign development
- Help establish the desired brand positioning in the minds of your target customers
- Make your customer engagements more meaningful
- Align Sales and Marketing around a unified message
The Brand Storytellers Group was formed for sharing and learning from each other, diving into much more detail about the benefits of storytelling, and honing our craft so that we reach our goals through good storytelling.
The essence of early brand engagement
In its most basic form, early brand positioning is a glimpse into where you want to be in the future. It’s the vision of how you want your product to be perceived after it is launched. Years ago when we were pharmaceutical sales representatives, we learned there are two truisms to being successful. First, you have to know the Package Insert inside and out because it is the playing field for your product and you have to know the ins and outs of every possible positive and negative aspect. Second, you have to “walk the patient across the doctor’s desk,” in order for a physician to consider your product in a particular type of patient. Once the physician understands the type of patient you’re describing and the key selling points, the question they ask themselves is “why should I use your product over my current choices?” A good sales representative has to understand what a customer likes about his current choice, why his product would be a better choice, and how to make that value evident.
During development, press fast-forward to observe a day in the life of a sales representative. If you were that sales rep, what would you want to be able to say about your product? Through that lens, you have to know what space you want to own in your customers’ minds and be able to support that positioning with a compelling story backed by data and reasons to believe.
Working backwards from the space you want to own and the story you need to tell to support the desired positioning then directs your development efforts to prove that story with the right data. The value of early brand positioning is the vision it helps create that puts you in charge of the course you chart. If you know where you want to go, it’s much easier to get there.
Bringing marketing into the discussion after Phase III trials are underway can have negative ramifications to the eventual brand revenue. It takes time for marketers and advertising agencies to gather the right information to understand the market. A brief snapshot of what marketers need to thoroughly understand the brand includes how the disease or condition is treated, how treatment guidelines relate to actual clinical practice, what the competitive set includes, what the unmet customer needs are, which customer insights can be leveraged for the benefit of the brand, and how the brand story will resonate with customers. In addition to all of this knowledge that must be gained, marketers typically work in a top-down approach, starting with key opinion leaders, professional organizations and sometimes advocacy groups. This relationship building takes time and must not be rushed.
In today’s market where roughly 90% of prescribed medications are filled with generics, the value proposition must be very compelling. Managed markets continue to be wary of the costs and impact on their budgets for newly marketed products—and, in many cases, for good reason. If you do not have the data to support a differentiated product and are viewed by managed markets as another “me too” offering that is more expensive, you are doomed to disappoint your shareholders. Managed markets always put up hurdles to curb prescribing of newly launched products until the product’s role is known in treatment pathways. In order to reach parity or a preferred position relative to competition in the shortest time possible, you must have the data to support minimizing those hurdles.
One of the most important findings in any brand positioning work is the understanding you gain in how to frame a clinical problem in the most compelling way that your brand can uniquely solve. This framing of the problem is the introductory paragraph of your brand story. Once you frame the problem correctly, the story begins to flow in the direction of what the brand can provide that will address or solve the problem, followed by the reasons to believe. It is a major misstep to envision a powerful story but lack the ability to tell that story because of missing data. With early engagement key elements of that story could be proven by clinical data if the Phase III trials were staged in a way that could support desired positioning.
A competitive assessment of current and anticipated products is one of the first and most essential steps in the brand positioning process. It’s a vital step because it reveals the current or desired positions for the competitive set, and you can learn a great deal from this assessment. When competitive assessment is coupled with unmet needs in the marketplace, the findings become a huge piece of the puzzle of where you should aim to position your product. If you embark upon early brand positioning, you will know the space you want to own in the marketplace after product launch and can design the Phase III trials accordingly. Unfortunately, in far too many cases, the Phase III data do not support the desired brand positioning because the brand positioning process is started too late to help drive the desired data.
Sadly, and all too often, when marketing and advertising agency teams receive Phase III trial data, it supports a “me too” product. Yes, minor differences can usually be found around the pharmacokinetic profile, but the data often do not support a meaningful clinical difference over currently available products. It is understandable that most Phase III trials are designed to show equal efficacy to the standard of care, or efficacy versus placebo, but data can be compiled in addition to the efficacy data that could provide compelling reasons for product differentiation.
However big or small it is, positioning a product, diagnostic, or device early in its development process is smart marketing. A “begin with the end in mind” approach makes all the difference in the world in terms of a brand’s eventual success—or its failure. In the biopharma world, the best time to start positioning is after Phase II data clearly show the strongest product attributes but early enough to influence the design of Phase III trials. Early brand positioning is the foundation of the brand because it influences the entire development process as well as the impression or perception you eventually create for customers.
Imagine that your product’s purpose is a compass for telling its story. Without that crucial navigational tool—the reason for your product’s existence—there can be no clear direction. Positioning without purpose gets you nowhere. No matter how big or small your product, diagnostic, or device may be, positioning it using a purposeful approach makes all the difference in terms of its eventual success (or failure).