Over the course of my career in strategic planning, I have been fortunate enough to run nearly 100 brand-positioning workshops for a variety of pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers. Almost without exception, there’s one positioning territory that winds up getting proposed in the workshop, and it’s one that always makes me cringe: “Efficacy Without Compromise” (EWC, henceforth). Yes, that perfect, magical combination of both efficacy and safety. EWC is certainly one of the most commonly used brand positionings across our industry. Here’s why that is, and why you should avoid it.

One of the main reasons why this positioning is all too common is because it’s increasingly rare for new products to deliver a level of groundbreaking efficacy that will set them apart from currently available treatments. More often than not, new products offer parity or incremental gains in efficacy with decided advantages in safety and/or tolerability. But no self-respecting pharmaceutical marketing team would position their product on safety/tolerability, right? I mean, all FDA-approved products are “safe,” aren’t they? Positioning the product this way just makes it seem weak. We have to work efficacy in there somewhere! This is ripe territory for the EWC trap. 

Now, to understand why EWC is so bad, we first need to understand what good looks like. Here are the six principles of good brand positioning:

  • Single-minded
  • Focused on a clear core audience
  • Derived from a leverageable customer insight or an unmet need
  • Differentiated from the competition
  • Aspirational 
  • Sustainable

EWC often performs well on three of these principles: clear core audience, insight/unmet need, and differentiation. The market research team has identified key customers who are dissatisfied with the safety/tolerability profile of existing agents, which signals a clear unmet need. Fortunately, your brand’s profile appears to be differentiated from the competition. So far, so good.

However, this positioning fails to satisfy the other three criteria: single-minded, aspirational, and sustainable. While the latter two are important (and a topic of a future article), the most critical of these three is single-mindedness. Several recent studies have shown that the average human being has an attention span shorter than that of a goldfish (less than 8 seconds). In an overcommunicating world full of distractions, your brand can only stand for one thing. So, does your brand stand for efficacy or safety? Which of these do you want your creative agency to execute against? Because the EWC positioning demands that you must communicate both. As a result, you often get flawed, unfocused creative that tries to communicate too many messages, and winds up communicating none. This is why EWC must go. Because it isn’t one position, it’s two. 

So, should you find your brand in the EWC trap, I recommend you do the following: 

  • First, consider clearly positioning on safety/tolerability. If it is the true unmet need, that is where you should position yourself. This doesn’t mean you can’t talk about how effective your product is in your messaging, it just means efficacy is not the core focus of the brand’s story or creative expression 
  • Second, consider selecting a single-minded, functional or metaphoric expression of EWC, such as highly selective, targeted, balanced, well-rounded, complete, or flawless
  • Finally, consider a single-minded emotional or aspirational expression of EWC, such as no hassle, worry-free, fearless, easy, or transformational

My hope is that pharmaceutical marketers and their agency partners, armed with this information, will avoid the EWC trap, and instead push their brand’s positioning into a more defensible place, a place where they can take ownership and execute a focused and successful campaign.

Looking to build a strong strategic foundation for your brand? Contact Nick Rhodin (nick.rhodin@sound-hc.com), Managing Partner, Director of Strategic Planning to put your positioning on SOUND footing.

Written by Nick Rhodin

Managing Partner,
Executive Director of Strategic Planning

Nick is devoted to discovering and leveraging core customer insights to drive brand strategy development.

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