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The push towards pure generics: Impact on pharma marketing

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Mala Raj, Senior Pharma Marketing and Medical Consultant at PMS Services contemplates the consequences of the generic push on some of the 7Ps & 7Cs of Marketing and suggests some proactive solutions to adapt in this dynamic environment

The winds of change have clearly started blowing, ruffling up endless debates in print and electronic media on the pros and cons, ifs and buts, interpretations and misinterpretations on the recent MCI dictum on prescription of medicines using GENERIC drug names in capital lettering by physicians. Yet, the clouds of confusion loom large! It will be quite a while before clarity emerges and the mechanism to enforce the dictum is put in place. While the Centre, the states, the governing bodies and the industry work out their solutions, why not we move ahead and plan to face the change?

For the purpose of this write-up, let’s assume that doctors have no choice and they have to prescribe only generic medicines, followed by a couple of company names, at the most. Let’s also assume that the issues of remembering combinations, writing of time consuming lengthy names, etc is tackled using computer software and the support required for ensuring quality of generics as bio-equivalent to the original brand is also in place. Wishful thinking, perhaps; yet there’s a lot to be gained by assuming the inevitable and gearing up for the change. It may be in place in 2025 perhaps, in letter and spirit, but surely it is here to stay. Let’s gear up for the next decade!

Pharma marketing always revolved around the central issue of, ‘What should I do to make my customer prescribe my brand over other brands available to him/ her?’ Now this would change to, ‘What can I do to make my customer choose my generic version over others available to him/ her?’ Earlier, the major focus was on physicians as customers. Now, the focus will expand to include trade partners (stockists & retailers), online partners and end-users too, besides the physicians. The impact of this change will be felt on all the components of marketing and it’s up to the Product Management Team (PMT) and marketing teams to brainstorm and contemplate on the consequences of this generic push on each of the 7Ps and 7Cs of Marketing. To trigger these discussions, here are a few points to ponder on.

1. P- PRODUCT: The buzz word for business development teams and pharma marketing, in the changed environment, would be ‘Innovation’. To overcome growth limitations of the generic portfolio, organisations could launch a complementary product portfolio with innovative product selection and novel product formulation. Organisations can shift their focus from brand to therapy/indication ownership’. For e.g. If a heamatinic brand is the best contributor for an organisation, then it is prudent to consider, anaemia as their therapy-space for the future. Every kind of anaemia, ranging from nutritional deficiency to chronic kidney dysfunction in all age groups could have a product option from this company for its management. Besides allopathic drugs, phytochemicals for treating the same condition is also an interesting option to consider as it has a good market potential, if promoted scientifically and innovatively. Needless to say, the phytochemical must be backed with evidence based proof of efficacy, safety and convenience. Other options would include the launch of nutritional supplements, complementary medicine and other supportive therapy for the chosen indication. Brand managers will have to take to reading science of the chosen therapeutic area diligently and with the passionate vision of scouting for ideas for new products.

Such a multi-pronged approach for scouting new opportunities throws open a plethora of new product ideas. For e.g. if diabetes is the chosen area of dominance, the company can consider launching new rationale allopathic combinations of existing anti-diabetic drugs to manage diabetes/ control resistant cases. The product teams can consider further research into any one of the 800 plants with phytochemicals that are known to reduce blood sugar levels. They can also explore the nutritional supplement approach to holistically manage factors that lead to diabetes such as obesity and also manage complications that arise due to diabetes, such as, neuropathy, nephropathy, retinopathy, etc. The organisation should envision anti-diabetic molecules/ combinations for even niche categories such as juvenile diabetes, gestational diabetes and so on. No doubt, it would take time, effort and resources to tread this path, but there is definitely a glimmer of silver lining down this path.

Consolidation of product range by mergers and acquisition among organisations with complementary product ranges is also a route to gain dominance in chosen areas of therapy.

Drug delivery innovations are also an option to consider. Studying the pharmacokinetic profile of existing product portfolio, will certainly yield a few products with lacunae that can be addressed using drug delivery innovations. For e.g., Poor solubility can be addressed by use of Beta-cyclodextrin complexes or by nano-particle size, etc. Poor topical penetration can be improved by inclusion of penetration enhancers or micronisation of particles or use of carriers for the drug molecules in the formulation, etc. The marketing team and Product development teams should work in close synergy to identify such opportunities. These new improved formulations can be suitably branded and launched. Even if the improved formulation continues to remain in the generic Rx medicine list, it gives the organization a chance to highlight how their generic is better designed than other generics!

Discovery of Original Research Molecules, from India for diseases widely prevalent in the country is a pressing need. Perhaps, this would be a good time for companies with a research outlook, backed with intellectual resources and deep pockets to take this task to completion, to fast track some of the new molecule search programmes. Vector-borne diseases, nutritional deficiency diseases, etc are some conditions rampant in India where the treatment options have remained almost unchanged for decades. Collaboration of the industry with research institutes will help towards identifying, isolating and studying new drug entities that could mark the dawn of a new era for the Indian pharma industry. Though PMT considers this as an area out of their domain, it is not so. Research often begins with ideas shared by the marketing team which are generated after patient feedback and customer interactions.

Regarding branding, no organisation would like to see the years of toil towards brand building come to an abrupt end with this generic Rx dictum. They will continue to convey the merits that the brand promises to multiple stake holders and decision makers in the new environment. Further, it is quite logical and likely that some may use a brand name tweaking approach. Brand name tweaking involves the use of a brand name similar to the current block-buster brand of the company for one of its new variant in the same therapeutic category, for similar condition. For eg., if a leading Diclofenac brand, has over 200 generic competitors, it would make better sense to introduce a nutritional supplement containing natural anti-inflammatory agents such as Curcuminoids, Boswellia, etc and launch the product with a brand name similar to the brand with a Suffix – N or –NT. All brand building activities on this new product with the tweaked brand name is very likely to meet good success due to the long standing association of customers with the original brand.

Packaging will also assume importance as it a well known influencer in decision making at the point of purchase. Though the scope for altering packaging is considered very limited by the marketing teams, there are multiple avenues for improvement which can set the generic poles apart from the other generics.

2. P-PRICING: Several market research studies have revealed that patients always seek, effective medicines and not necessarily, the cheapest medicine’. Price differences would continue to remain even in the new scenario too. Organisations would need to communicate the reasons for the price variation effectively to all the stake holders, viz., doctors, retailers and even end-users. While the end-users and influencers (doctors) will exert a pull effect on the generic, the retailers, physical and online trade partners will exert the push effect. Value addition strategies aimed at improving patient awareness with the doctors’ active involvement would also help.

For the innovative new product portfolio, premium pricing can be considered based on the benefits offered, the efforts and resources expended in launching the novel product and based on the competitive scenario.

3. P-PLACE: Place assumes a major significance in the new generic regime. A likely decrease in the number of brands stocked by retailers is possible, which limits the options for the patient. The conventional route of offering bonus schemes and additional price discounts is not a feasible option for ensuring availability at the counter, in the long run. Companies must look for ways and means of ensuring that the end user gets exactly the same generic medicine as recommended by the doctor. Technology can be explored to address this issue. Patients can be empowered to ‘Trace & Buy’ exactly what was recommended by specially designed apps that can locate, in a given area, where the product is stocked. If Apps can indicate where cabs are available in a locality, why not for medicines too? Except for critical conditions where urgency in purchase is critical, patients are often willing to go the extra mile to get what was recommended by his/ her physician. Particularly for the regular medicines consumed for chronic conditions, month after month, user-friendly new approaches can be envisaged, using bar codes, QR codes, etc. SMS alerts for repurchase, mail reminders for doctor appointments, etc will be the a trend to look for. With mobile handsets in every hand, online purchases are also here to stay. This too should be given due attention while framing the new distribution and sales framework, in the changed environment.

4. P-People: The fear of sudden redundancy of the ubiquitous medical representative can be safely set aside. MRs will still play their important role as communicators between the organisation and the customers. His role will undergo modifications though. Customers will include, besides the medical fraternity, the trade and end-users. He could become the one-stop solution for dissemination of all product information with integration of new technological approaches. His knowledge skills sets have to be upgraded considerably to include computer literacy beyond the basics, digital promotion, data analytics, etc. Soft skills development in communication, public speaking, tele-advising, etc can be envisaged.

PMT will also have altered roles and responsibilities. Exciting new avenues for ‘Therapy Ownership,’ calls for polishing the faculties of strategic thinking, creative problem solving abilities, research and big data handling, mastery in quantitative analysis with scientific acumen for chosen therapy. Merely studying competition at all-India level would not suffice. Study of regional competition with tailor-made local strategic guidelines will dominate. Eternal learning is here to stay for the ones who wish to stay ahead.

5. P-Promotion: The responsibility for the brand rests solely on the shoulders of the Brand Manager/ Therapy Manager. The current trend of outsourcing much of the brand communication may not work, in the changed environment, where, strategies have to be devised as per the dictates of the individual market and at speeds that we have never imagined possible, at the moment. Who would know this better than the brand manager?

The present cycle approach would seem antiquated and rusty, a decade hence. Response within minutes, reaction within seconds is where we are heading. The activities of the whole country will shrink to fit into the palm of the brand manager who sitting in her/ his cabin can enter, with due permission of course, any doctor’s chamber, any retailer’s outlet or any patient’s home through the digital way.

Surveillance, Tactical pin-pointed analysis with Personalised promotion, would be the new ‘STP’ of marketing. Print promotion would be complemented with e-promotion. Scientific communication with knowledge sharing on therapy will predominate, despite the generic regime. Patient-focus will gain increasing importance with an array of outreach activities and programmes to build awareness, influence decision making and retain customer loyalty in chosen ‘therapy areas’. Corporate image will assume far more importance mandating participation in local, regional, national and even international conferences, seminars, workshops, etc. Quality will have to be an integral component not only for the product formulation and packaging, but also for all other aspects that contribute towards making the augmented product offer. Helplines for 24 hour guaranteed response, Interactive websites will lend a support to the desired omnipresence of the brand manager. The future is exciting for Pharma promotion, indeed.

In conclusion, pro-action is better than reaction. Preparedness is the key to success. The present call for generic Rxs can be viewed as an opportunity for the industry to evolve and regain the faith of the customers and end-users by quality product offerings and professional marketing strategies. With the above inputs, though not exhaustive, acting as triggers, it is sincerely hoped that every organisation responds with brainstorming sessions and gears for change. Ultimately, be it, in the strategic game of chess or in Pharma marketing, the winner is the one who can foresee the next three to five steps of the opponent, who gears up to face all possible eventualities, perhaps at times, even taking a couple of steps backwards, only to surge ahead in due course and claim his/ her victory! Best wishes towards restoring professional Pharma marketing in the country.

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