You won’t find palm trees if you decide to vacation in Pittsburgh. But if you are a pharmaceutical salesperson, you might indeed find the city much like Honolulu.

It turns out that of all the cities in the nation, Honolulu is the most like Pittsburgh in terms of what drove one brand’s business. Why in the world would that be the case? You would think there would be an ocean of difference between them.

In an analysis of both cities, they most resembled each other in four aspects. Both had a very similar, and poor, managed-care situation. In both, the physicians fell in the mid-range, neither high nor low, in terms of writing prescriptions for the brand. Both had a low percentage of generic drug use. Neither was “high science,” meaning they had fewer specialists for this specific disease state.

Under traditional marketing, a pharmaceutical company works with an agency to polish its message, coming up with several points to differentiate its brand. It identifies who should get that message and then educates a sales force and sets it loose nationwide.

The crux of regional marketing is to acknowledge and understand vast, nationwide variations so a company can do its best wherever it goes and wants to grow.

The one-size-fits-all approach has been the tradition since the dawn of the pharma industry. It was done for simplicity’s sake, but it no longer is the best approach due to of all the variations from region to region.

Usually, the reps are the ones looking for those variables, with a bag of tools for different types of physicians. The reps size up each doctor in their territory, identify the early adopters, the simplicity seekers, learning their prescribing habits and other characteristics. Then they reach into their bags for the “best” tools.

Using the Right Tools for the Right Region

The issue, according to Tim Cole, a regional sales director for Sanofi, with over 34 years experience in the industry, is that all the reps are pulling from the same bag. Cole believes that reps in different parts of the country need to have different tools in their bags, depending on their local situation.

The traditional game plan was to capture the heart and soul of the individual doctor by coming up with compelling differentiation. Regional marketing identifies the local drivers, understands the many variations, and reacts to them effectively.

The best sales reps understood their doctors and their practice environments. For example, they could say, “Hey, Dr. Smith, in your practice you have lots of patients who have Aetna as their healthcare insurance. Great news, my drug is covered by Aetna for only $5.” The super-reps would know that not only was it covered by Aetna, but they could also add, “Dr. Smith, you also have lots of Hispanic patients.”

In other words, they would be able to tailor their message. They would wrap it in the national messages, but they would include the local perspective.

To do this right, however, you need to look at more than just Aetna and Hispanics. Regional marketing looks at what we call the six Ps.

1. Payer: Who’s paying the bill? Is it the U.S. government? Is it the employer? Is it paid in cash? Who’s paying the bill can affect what goes on in a particular market.

2. Provider: That means, essentially, the hospital systems. There are a variety of provider system metrics that can affect how a brand is marketed in a particular area.

3. Prescriber: How many doctors are in a market, and what is their nature? Are there many specialists? Nurse practitioners? Who are the key opinion leaders? These all vary from market to market, affecting how receptive people are to the brand and message.

4. Product: What are the special qualities of the brand, and how do they compare to the brands of competitors?

5. Place: What are variables of the locality, such as policy issues and the frequency with which a sales rep meets with the doctor?

6. Population: What are the local demographics? What percentage of the population is old, young, black, white, rich, poor, etc.?

In the old days, all that great reps needed to communicate was the key message of the brand: That it was safe and effective. But now it is essential to consider the six major variables of the six Ps, each of which also has 15 to 50 metrics.

Marketers need a much more sophisticated analysis. Through regional marketing, we have a process to analyze those 150 metrics and synthesize them to figure out what is most important in a particular market and to identify similar markets so that they can be grouped and managed effectively.

The task calls for an experienced regional marketing expert who can work with the brand team to figure out which approach makes the most sense in a particular market. A rep cannot just cut and paste the sales aid to try to suit the doctor. The variations in markets are too many and too wide and there’s just way too much information for one sales professional to process.

In the not-so-distant past, that sales rep was also selling only one or two drugs in a category. Now, a rep could be responsible for multiple drugs. Not only do you now have more doctors to touch, service, and understand but you also have to deal with different disease states, therapies, and insurances.

Identifying Markets Through Sophisticated Data Analytics

How do we identify where the confetti should fall on the map? When you consider the six Ps, and the few hundred variables they entail, the task can seem daunting. The answer, in short, is to analyze a wealth of data so that the resources can best be allocated by region.

“You don’t want to cut turkey with a chainsaw,” a mentor once said. He was noting the wasted effort of the traditional, uniform approach. You need more finesse than that.

Now we can say, for example, “There you are in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and you have 17 tactics. How about focusing on these four?”

Marketers too need to move the needle for greater effectiveness, and that is hard to do with a one-size-fits-all approach. To respond efficiently and effectively, they need to pay attention to those market-by-market variations. It should be good news to any brand team to hear that it can allocate what it has and that by focusing its strategy, it can get better results.

Once a company understands the importance of regional marketing and identifies the best markets for a product, how specifically does it take action?

This is where we get down to tactical development. After the analysis uncovers something not previously addressed, the company can produce brand materials that are specific and focus on the most important elements in a particular region. For example, perhaps the earlier brand materials made no mention of the Hispanic market, but the analysis shows that it is a major player.

The new materials will highlight that fact, while sharing a core foundation with other similar regions. Whatever has already been produced for the brand will be leveraged, including the messages and graphics and storylines. However, the materials are also going to include plug-and-play areas for localized information.

Incorporate Early Stage Planning

Regional marketing needs to be incorporated in the early planning stages so that you are getting the most for your money. Most pharmaceutical companies approach the challenge piecemeal. They try to make some changes in their marketing and their analytics.

It is like turning the Titanic. Everything about the marketing machine has been set up for the traditional approach. It runs from the C-suite and the Chief Marketing Officer to the Vice President of Marketing to the marketing teams and their brand managers to the people who do the analytics for each brand. All of it is set up to find the common denominator nationwide and to roll out the marketing in the hope that an individual doctor, somewhere, will select the product.

That marketing machine was successful for a long time. People in the industry were trained to believe that success came from inventing better products based on better science and marketing them far and wide. But today’s world is different. Your products aren’t necessarily significantly better from a science perspective. To win, you must not turn a blind eye to the local factors.

Now, pharma must market to regional nuances. Disease prevalence varies greatly from city A to city B. That means local and regional marketing makes more sense for pharmaceutical brands.

In today’s world of marketing, you have to be unique and effective, but you also have to be efficient, and that can be a maddening combination. These are three competing questions: How can I be effective? How can I be compelling? How can I do more with a lower marketing budget? In the world in which marketers live, it seems you can pick any two of those but not all three. Regional marketing enables you to choose all three.

  • Scott Weintraub

    Scott Weintraub is President and Co-founder at Healthcare Regional Marketing (HRM). Prior to HRM, Scott was a Marketing Director at Pfizer on brands like Lipitor, Celebrex, and Norvasc. Scott began his marketing career at P&G on brands like Cover Girl and Secret antiperspirant.

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