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Fact or fiction? – You can’t position your brand based on MOA

When we’re conducting positioning work with Clients, we often hear a blanket statement that a pharmaceutical/ biotechnology brand cannot be successfully positioned based on its mechanism of action (MOA). It’s likely that repeated comments from physicians to the effect of, “I don’t care how your drug works. I only care that it works.”, have made this way of thinking near gospel among Industry executives. While it is true that not every brand can be positioned based on MOA, it is inaccurate to say that no brand can.

When examining marketing evidence, we have found that a brand can successfully  position based on MOA if(and only if) the mechanism allows the brand to deliver a unique and clinically relevant benefit. 

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Portfolio Approach Creates Conundrum at Brand Level

As pharmaceutical manufacturers increasingly focus their corporate commitment within a limited number of therapeutic areas and disease states, their marketers face greater complexity and new commercial challenges that may ultimately limit their success.


The marketers entrusted with launching the next treatment within a therapeutic franchise are frequently not given the latitude needed to develop the brand positioning and subsequent go-to-market strategies necessary to maximize their molecule. More often, considerations for the on-market brands, which are delivering today’s revenue, serve to limit the market opportunity for tomorrow’s product. This is a real-world example of what the late Harvard Business School professor, Clayton Christensen, called ‘the innovator’s dilemma.’

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Essential to Launch the Brand, Not the Vision

Most products being launched in Oncology and Immunology these days are “pipeline in a product” assets. In fact, the average number of indications for each new product in development has increased steadily since 2014.

This shift has led to a dramatic impact on positioning development, with Brand Teams often more focused on developing “positioning” that is actually a long-term vision for the molecule instead of focusing on successfully positioning the lead indication. It’s like going on a first date and talking about marriage and names for your eventual children. It’s just too soon, and this vision-based focus may cause you to lose your chance to make the best first impression. From our experience in pharma positioning, focusing primarily on what the clinical development program might provide results in inexecutable brand positioning that is generally incompatible with the initial indication. For example, focusing on “first choice in first line” when you’re launching with a third-line indication isn’t the best approach.

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