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Oct 1, 2006 (Vol. 26, No. 17)

Making the Complex Simple

How to Better Communicate the Benefits of Your Bioproduct

  • Biotechnology is coming of age. There are well over 200 medicines and related products created from biotech techniques currently available, and FDA approval of biotech drugs is expected to outpace pharma approvals over the next few years.

    However, as biotech companies move from R&D-focused activity to commercialization, they will be challenged to make the transition from successful developers to successful marketers. A key factor in their success will be clearly communicating the benefits of emerging classes of biological drugs, such as Mabs and multikinase inhibitors that target causes or pathways of disease. Their stories can be more complex than the traditional pharmaceutical model of how a particular chemical addresses certain symptoms.

    Clear, consistent communication helps build a sustainable brand for a product—a brand promise that has staying power in a volatile marketplace. There are certain steps biotech firms can take to make the benefits of their products readily understood and embraced.

  • Determine the Brand Focal Point

    The brand-positioning focal point helps you write a positioning statement that pinpoints how and why your product uniquely meets customer needs. The brand focal point is the intersection of market perceptions, corporate aspirations, and organizational values—where the market thinks you are, where you want to go, and what is inherently true about your organization that will contribute to your product’s success.

    To determine your brand focal point, survey a sampling of all those affected by your offering, including customers, patients, management, and employees. Ask external audiences their perceptions of your company. Ask internal audiences how they believe your company is perceived, what its values are, and where the company wants to be in five years. Their responses will help you capture the unique value of your product and company in a way that is credible to the market.

    Once you’ve gathered this information, it’s time to write the positioning statement. As a starting point, try the standard model for product positioning: “For [target audience], the [product brand name] is the [product type] that [differentiator] and [key benefit] because it [primary reasons why].”

  • Take the Elevator Test

    A good gauge of a positioning statement’s usefulness is the elevator test: Can it clearly communicate your story in the 15 seconds it takes to ride the elevator with someone?

    For example, our firm recently supported the cancer diagnostics company Dako with an integrated campaign for the Serum HER-2/neu Assay. Serum HER-2/neu is a biomarker test for metastatic breast cancer developed by Oncogene Science/Bayer Diagnostics. Although the test had been available for several years, adoption was slow. There were over 60 clinical papers and presentations qualifying the test’s clinical utility in monitoring disease progression and therapy response, but no one clear message about why it should be used.

    After surveying oncologists, histopathologists, clinical lab managers, and Dako sales reps, we concluded that the primary reasons a clinician would want to use the test are that it is simple and direct—simple because it is the only test for the HER-2/neu biomarker that requires just a blood draw, direct because it detects serum concentrations of HER-2/neu.

    We devised the following statement: “The Serum HER-2/neu Assay is a simple blood test that allows more precise management of breast cancer, because serum concentrations of HER-2/neu are validated to reflect disease progression and therapy response in women with metastatic breast cancer.”

    Clinicians responded enthusiastically to these messages during market testing, stating that they gave them compelling reasons to order the test. An e-mail series targeting oncologists and histopathologists has achieved a click rate of 2.74%—well above the industry average of 1%.

    A colleague recalls working with a healthcare executive of whom it was said, “If you ask him the time, he’ll tell you how to make a clock.” Occasionally when working with biotech clients, we’ve observed a tendency to employ R&D language when describing a product or its benefits. R&D jargon can be exacting and useful when explaining how and why a product works. However, it can also lead to complicated explanations. Here are some tips to avoid getting bogged down in too much detail:

    • Focus on the need. Remember the famous sales anecdote about the hardware company executive who said, “Our customers aren’t buying quarter-inch drill bits. They’re buying quarter-inch holes.” What is it your customers need? A biological process or the result of that process?

    • Use simple language. “Use” instead of “utilize,” “with” instead of “accompanied by” and “after” instead of “subsequent to” are just some examples of ways to simplify phrasings. In general, don’t use a 75-cent word when a 25-cent word will do. Words with fewer syllables are easier to understand and remember.

    • Save complex concepts for detail aids. Ads, e-mails, and other awareness-building tools should focus on topline messages. Once the customer is engaged, secondary pieces such as technical sheets can be used to provide appropriate detail about mechanism of action and the finer points of the science behind your product.

    • Remember the patient. The endpoint of R&D is sometimes viewed as getting the product through clinical trials and on the market. The product’s true endpoint is better care. Let that notion serve as your compass, the “true north” that helps all other messages align.

  • A Case in Point

    Since 2002, Oxigene had positioned itself as The Vascular Targeting Company. This singular message focused on the company’s lead compounds, the vascular-disrupting agents Combretastatin A4 Prodrug (CA4P) and Oxi4503. Vascular-disrupting agents starve existing abnormal vasculature such as tumors. The company’s identity had been closely tied to CA4P in particular, which has steadily progressed to late-phase clinical trials in oncology and ophthalmology.

    In working with Oxigene, our challenge was to broaden the company’s positioning beyond vascular targeting—to leverage not only hard-won credibility and market confidence in CA4P, but also the excitement and anticipation of future compounds, mechanisms of action, and indications. The company saw itself continuing to develop therapeutics for critical unmet medical needs, but also advocating novel treatments where warranted.

    We collaborated with the client to encapsulate this story in a new positioning statement: “Oxigene is a pioneer of small molecule therapeutics that inspire, indicate, and may enable more effective therapies for clinically challenging diseases and conditions. Oxigene’s dedication to innovative science, fused with an unrelenting passion to transform current treatment modalities, make the company a leading developer of breakthrough therapies that hold the promise and the power to improve lives.”

    This positioning has begun to appear on Oxigene materials, creating awareness for the company’s broader focus. We also created a new tag line, “Inspiring Science, Innovating Care.” With this rebranding effort under way, Oxigene now has a more direct story with which to capture the attention of key opinion leaders, clinicians, investors, and patients eligible to enroll in its clinical trials.

    When it comes to biotech marketing, the simpler approach is the stronger approach. Remember the need and remember the patient. There will be plenty of opportunity to get technical with the customer once you’ve captured their attention.

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