In the early small-molecule era of pharmaceuticals there was usually a one-to-one correlation between an FDA-approved medicine and the indication or use for the condition it treated. Then things started to change and become more complex. For example, the industry developed relatively simple cardiovascular drugs like beta blockers and then found evidence that they could also treat a variety of related conditions, from hypertension to angina to congestive heart failure. Brand X was a dessert topping and a floor wax, to reference an SNL skit from an even earlier era about Swiss-Army-knife products that seemed to do a lot of things well.
About 25 years ago, the biopharmaceutical industry began to develop even more complex drugs, such as those that act on a person’s immune system, often treating the cause of the medical condition in addition to improving the symptoms. These ‘pipelines-in-a-molecule’ included biologics like Enbrel and Humira that expanded a product’s range of approved uses from RA to PsO to AS to UC to Crohn’s. Today’s immuno-oncology therapies like Keytruda and Opdivo are no less magical, effective against a multitude of tumor types that can often dramatically benefit both patients and pharma P&Ls.
While the utility and usefulness of a brand increases through expanded indications, the ability of the brand’s marketers to deliver positioning and messages that resonate with key audiences can sometimes become exponentially more difficult.
Despite these decades of medical progress, many biopharma marketers have struggled with how best to harmonize a brand’s story across conditions, indications, treater types, patient types, payer models and different competitive sets. In the digital age, many marketers are finding that it’s difficult to personalize conditions, channels, messages, benefits, and risks while maintaining the overall integrity of a brand’s promise and inherent characteristics. The paradox is that while the utility and usefulness of a brand increases through expanded indications, the ability of the brand’s marketers to deliver positioning and messages that resonate with key audiences can sometimes become exponentially more difficult.
We’re fortunate to work with smart teams who manage brands like these every day, and have noticed some of the things they’ve found to be most effective when it comes to best communicating the unique benefits, risks and value of a biopharmaceutical product with several FDA-approved uses. Here’s what we’ve found.
Indications Are Different Characters in the Same Story
These powerful but complex products usually have a rigid clinical program mapped out over years or decades, prioritizing the intended uses that likely have the highest unmet need, largest commercial value, or both. Some indications have leading roles, and others are supporting ‘characters’ that demonstrate the product’s range, depth, or unique expertise in a specific therapy area such as shrinking solid tumors, to use one example. Using this metaphor of different characters in a larger story, it’s important to map out a lifecycle story arc that mirrors the clinical program and introduces each new indication to the right audience, in the right sequence, and with the right amount of emphasis – while showing how the indications relate to and reinforce each other.
Different Branches Share Common Roots
While a product may treat a broad range of dissimilar conditions requiring different doses or formulations, at its core it has essentially the same prescribing information (PI), properties, molecular structure and active ingredients. A product shares a common legacy across its indications, a common history of medical progress, and a common commitment to healthcare providers, patients and caregivers. From an operational standpoint, a single patient support program and information resources hub can improve access and unify the brand experience no matter which branch of the family tree is being used to treat a patient.
Beware the Temptation of Sub-brands
Every good story has conflict. Complex, multi-indication medicines are often managed by equally complex brand teams, with a person or group assigned to each indication, each with their own budget, agencies and decision power. Marketers, being who they are, often put their mark on their tenure managing their part of the brand by creating one or more sub-brands: for the patient support program, for the unbranded disease education program, for the speaker program, and even for the sharps collection program. All too often, this creates confusion and sometimes conflict in a customer’s mind.
In most situations, sub-brands are a mistake, and don’t serve the larger needs of the product or company brand.
Sorting out the company brand, the product brand, and all of the clever program brands that compete for attention and adoption is more work than one might imagine for a customer. Now multiply that by, let’s say, eight biologics treating the same conditions, and you have sub-brands multiplying faster than rabbits. In most situations, these sub-brands are a mistake, and don’t serve the larger needs of the product brand or the company that owns it.
Our advice is almost always to stick with the master product brand (the ‘family name’) when naming programs across indications and teams, lest you risk watering down the name of the medicine that doctors and patients know and trust. Senior marketing leaders (and those aspiring to those lofty career heights) need to be especially mindful of this threat, as their less-senior marketers and agencies are likely to suggest them in ways that sound attractive, but are seldom the best long-term decision.
Managing a brand with multiple indications can be a difficult marketing and communications challenge.
Managing a brand with multiple indications can be a difficult marketing and communications challenge, but it’s one that will be with us for a long time, and for an increasingly larger part of the overall biopharma market. Our suggestions here are meant to help you simplify your overall approach to this situation, but take care not to ‘dumb down’ the incredibly complex science underlying these important medicines, and don’t insult your customers’ intelligence by being overly simplistic in communicating the subtle yet important differences across conditions and patient types.
If you’re struggling with how to best manage this situation, or any other marketing, communications, strategy or messaging opportunity, please give us a call or send us an email. We specialize in helping biopharma and healthcare companies engage with their most important audiences, including key opinion leaders, investors, and even your own employees. If you think we might be of help to you, we’d love to have a no-pressure, no-obligation conversation at your earliest convenience.
You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 484-291-1243.