A way to build up relative brand loyalty – Marketplace – Express Pharma Pulse

A way to build up relative brand loyalty

It is essential to select a benefit segment and work towards relative brand loyalty opines, Dr R B Smarta

THERE are strategies that identify different market segments on the basis of what doctors need or desire. Russell Haley in The Journal of Marketing laid the foundation of ‘‘benefit segmentation’’. Haley demonstrated that segmenting markets on the basis of needs was superior to segmentation on psychographic characteristics.

Haley argued, ‘‘Different people want different things from a product’’. Haley asked a large cross section of buyers to rate 50 to 100 different benefits and attributes of a toothpaste in terms of importance ranging from extremely important to not important. Haley used a statistical tool called ‘‘cluster analysis’’ to group people into ‘‘benefit segments’’ (segments looking for similar benefits and attributes in a product). The procedure was logical – discover what different segments want – and this could be applied to every type of business.

As a result, in pharmaceuticals it became easier to segment a specialty and then decide on the product-mix which benefits them. It made life easier for marketers in terms of ‘Segmentation led Positioning’, as they just need the prescription of a product to influence the targeted segment.

Behaviour of Prescribers

Unfortunately, even after doing benefit segmentation, behaviour of prescribers has been still a major problem plaguing this benefit segmentation as there are more options and the products are becoming generic.

In pharma, before patents regime the cost of entry and cost of exist is phenomenally low, which makes more competitors to jump in the band-wagon.

Assume for a moment, we have designed a product mix for oncologists (cancer specialists) and decided to use benefit segmentation. In this area, it has been observed that almost 30 to 40 per cent of doctors use available drugs for many indications depending on their clinical success pattern and not on the claims which companies espouse on their labels. So even if demand is calculated as per the disease incidence, an understanding of even well-defined customers like oncologists becomes extremely difficult.

Additionally plethora of identical products ensure that the behaviour of prescriber for a particular brand is still an ‘‘Engima’’.

On top of it when we (as an industry) start adding any new product, we often decide to offer a price advantage. The prescriber may now make a choice for a low cost brand. Here we need to back the brand by ‘positioning’, as each brand needs to be perceived as valuable by specialists separately to grow. We need to decide on the message differentiation and the use of the media. It is likely to fail unless both are correct.

Positioning and pricing will go hand in hand. In fact proper positioning will keep manufacturers to also ask for better price. The perceived value of the brand needs to be increased through marketing efforts. The brand value needs to be built-up by marketing and not R&D alone.

In order to cut clutter and establish brand-loyalty or least march towards creation of brand-loyalty, we must ensure processes. Although brand-loyalty is diminishing day by day, we need to strive for the process of building loyalty to create relative brand loyalty.

Brand loyalty

Brand loyalty amongst prescribers in pharmaceuticals comes in two flavours – attitudinal and behavioural. Attitudinal loyalty reflects how doctors/ specialists feel and think about your product or service. Behavioural loyalty, in contrast, is about what these specialists do, what share they give you in their product category of prescriptions.

Obviously as marketers, we want and need both flavours. A ‘high’ level of attitudinal and behavioural loyalty suggests a heavy and happy prescriber. The concern, however, is that ‘low’ level of loyalty are becoming more common. The contemporary marketplace is loaded with generic products, competing brands and line extensions. In this climate the big scare is that prescribers’ loyalty to established brands is going to go down drastically.

As doctors streamline their prescription habits, the brand becomes a dominating factor in their decision. Brands offer specialists/ doctors a shortcut to identify products and services with high value. Seven out of ten doctors agree with the statement: ‘‘I prescribe the same brand over and over again without thinking about it.’’ And almost three quarters of all doctors agree that: ‘‘Once I find a brand I like, it is very difficult to get me to change brands.’’

As prescriptions are usually a reflex it can be given a momentum by regular practice. There really is no ‘‘crisis’’ associated with brand loyalty except relative brand loyalty which is a patient specific phenomenon.

Relative brand loyalty

There are two reasons for the development of relative brand loyalty in pharmaceuticals.

  • Those prescribers who have a tendency to prescribe heavily and are high on behavioural loyalty but moderate on attitudinal loyalty, rationalise and prescribe two or three competitive brands and divide their prescription share. Many a times patients complain and they need alternatives. In case of Amoxycillin or NSAIDS, doctors face such dilemma due to side effects like diarrhoea and gastric irritation respectively. They need options. So, the relative brand loyalty gets established. As a result, it is essential to understand the undertones and overtones of relative brand loyalty.
  • As a brand is judged on different dimensions such as side effects, contra-indications, safety, drug interactions, sensitivity and resistance, prescribing doctors need more than one brand at their disposal to treat different types of patients. Loyalty remains fixed towards a few brands, but depending on the traffic of patients, doctors need to specify two or three brands.

Let’s take the case of a higher order antibiotic like Cepodem. It is prescribed to patients who are hyper-sensitive to the cephalosporin group of drugs. At times this can have adverse reactions like anaphylactic shocks and acute liver injury. This drug had interactions with antacids which decrease the peak level by 24-42 per cent. During the time of administration, if the patient is tested for urinary plasma glucose, the patient may show false positive results. Well, I do not want to frighten you but doctors need to be extremely careful, keeping at least two equally good brands of different or same molecules. Marketers are helping this relativity with new molecule promotions, increased advertising, spending and line extensions.

Unavailability of a prescribed brand or substitution of generic brands by another brand shakes the confidence of the prescriber. So he studies and keeps products, doctors prefer to keep substitutes like Brufen (Knoll), Voveran (Novartis), Profenid (Rhone Poulenc), Nimulid (Panacea Biotech).

Usually doctors believe that a ‘‘brand’’ means something more than a name, when the brand becomes a resume of accomplishment, performance and superiority, they go for them. Hence ‘brand loyalty’ may diminish but ‘relative brand loyalty’ is hardly dead. We need to look at non-prescribers as targets for developing new fields of brand loyalty.

It is essential to select a benefit segment and work towards relative brand loyalty. When the stage appears to be more certain about relative brand loyalty, approach potential non-prescribers to start the process from the beginning (or introduce new molecules in the same segment to retain the share of mind).

The writer is Managing Director of Interlink Marketing Consulting Pvt Ltd Email: inter1@vsnl.com