Thursday, 20 August 2015

A Loser’s Note

I’ve read that 95% of the brands fail to take off in the market. In pharmaceutical industry, I assume its 96%. I am one among in those 96% who has a loser tag tied around my neck.We majority, ‘The losers’ hear the stories of the other 4%, often look back and wonder that they haven’t done any different than what we did. Then why do we keep on losing?

The winners whom I often forced to listen to, make mockery of my marketing capabilities and throw at me their “successful marketing secrets” with which I have been pooping my sales team out for a decade.

The problem is that ‘winners’ are the only one who talks. They talk how better their teams are, how better their training methods are, how better their products are, how better their strategies are…. “I have fought & failed in numerous battles my dear friends- This fallacy of being better will not disillusion my ‘loser’ sensibilities”. Had someone listen to we majorities (96% of us who have been tagged worst), we would have said what doesn’t work for you in marketing (Unfortunately I can’t say what works for you as I am yet to find it). I presume some of the general principle that I am made to believe is totally wrong. Let me list down a few for you.

1)      If you heard  that ‘Staying at the top is more difficult than reaching at the top’- Its utter non sense

My experience says it’s far easier to stay at the top than to get there. There is something called “principle of force” always exist in the market which makes big fish eat small fish, big brand eat small brand. Nepolian once said “God is on the side of big battalion” – the same way God often smiles on the larger sales force, heavier sales budget, bigger research department. The size always matter and in general smaller brands have to fight all odds to replace bigger brands at the top. I spent my life fighting, Meronem, Augmentin, Mesacol, Perfalgan, Voveran, Targocid,Volini etc and realize this hard truth.

2)      If customer orientation is the key to your success – be prepared to invent 7 billion keys.

Agreed; we moved  far away from Henry days who said “you can have any colour as long as it is black” but are we really prepared to understand our customer? People says it’s the era of extreme personalization. Brands like ‘Sephora’ indulge customer through its ‘Beauty insider’ loyalty program where they define each customer (Based on skin tone) and offer customized product range at their each store. Pizza hut is running 17000 campaigns online targeting every possible niche of customers. Brands like Airbnb, is giving start hotels a tough competition, through their customer oriented business model.

I have heard of Dell personalizing the computer, Adidas and Nike get customers design their shoes, BMW make customers design the car roof, Banks offer personalize cheque book and credit cards.

The concept is well poised for the future. In the future everything will be tagged, people animals and things (By 2020, 15 billion things are connected to the internet and each other).

So an elevator manufacturer can repair a lift even before it break down through a sensor which send signal to the central server regarding the critical wear & tear.  A pacemaker will send a signal to your doctor if it sense something wrong and the doctor would call you to have your check up done before you even felt the discomfort.

It’s all amazing to read, but my reality says, even my customer doesn’t know what he wants and how come my marketing research would find out a fact which is unknown to their source. (But it’s amazing that every time they come up with satisfying answers which I gulp for my own survival). Then people says technology  enabled  efficient data processing would make everything possible. But hello..... I am a part of an industry, still debating to use smart phone applications and when the whole world is thinking of individual customers (considering no two individuals are same)- I realize I will take a decade to reach there.

3)       If you think you have people edge (Better people to work for you) - May God help you.

Please tell your people how terrific they are but don’t plan on winning a marketing battle based on them. Companies believe that they can hire better people and their superior training will keep the edge ahead but in reality, it doesn’t happen. Yes, you can recruit a small cadre of superior people, but as we expand, we automatically fall prey to the low of average and end up being an average team in terms of quality. So depend yourself on superior strategy, not on superior people.

4)      Do you have better product to market- Go and convince your Mother in Low!

There is a prevailing illusion that better product will win. History says so, but this history is written by winners and they would always say they have a better product. But a loser like me testifies to prove it’s wrong. I s had better product in my kitty and I thought truth will out one day with better promotion, better ad agencies, better sales team. But it never happened.

Now I understand “Misconceptions cannot be changed by advertising & sales effort. Single most wasteful thing you can do today is to try and change the human mind. Truth is the perception that’s inside the mind of a prospect. That may not be your truth, but that is the only truth you have to work with it. So deal with it. By the way, I tried to convince my mother in low that Maxiflo is faster than Seroflo which she takes daily, then she made me realize for the first time that better product is a ‘fallacy”.
Finally one silver lining for losers, when you know everything about losing you tend to stop losing. So a pre-requisite for being a winner is- read "A Loser's Note".

Friday, 1 February 2013


All my brand management years so far have been confounded with this   easy and straight forward question whose  answers often heard given with a twisted tongue. This is the question that every brand manager frequently asks and being asked by, but every one of us managed to escape unscathed every time with least prick of conscience.

All the theories which I thought would make me judicious in fact made me f***king judgmental. The nomenclatures that marketing gurus mixed and grilled together with what they called logic and made me gulp 3 times a day should have been a fine prophylactic against my marketing confusions but in hindsight, it became the risk factor.

In my quest for unearthing an impeccable marketer in me, I slept with some marketing panacea which are supposed to be the persistent variable to pharmaceutical marketing exactly like what ‘Gandhi dynasty’ to Indian politics. But slowly I realized the infidelity of these principles when I found all of them  work fine and truthful when it comes to others but I always got it wrong when I tried to force a Lipitor out of my brands. Some of those perpetual fundamentals were

1)     You got to   find the need of the customer to be successful. You often stumble up on something called 'need gap analysis' whose gap is a little narrower than the gap in the needle.

2)   You have to be the "firstest" with the "mostest". The term pioneering advantage is sexy reminiscent of Sharmila Tagore’s bikini.

3)   Convenience-is another term I learned and used according to my convenience. ‘Facilitating the customer convenience’ is a marketing sacrosanct whose tampering would get you what Socrates got fro Athenians).

4)    Reach of the organization and finally

5)      Field force effectiveness - .

The industry where I born and brought up often ‘kick the a**’ of these principles and regularly throw my commonsense and conventional wisdom in to municipal pit. People of my prototype, very naively, consider this as a rare aberration and tend to forget this conveniently. But I must realize aberrations cease to exist when it happens 8 out of 10.


In this part of the world where we, pharmaceutical marketers live, none of our customers ever felt the need for something unless we throw a cake with toppings to taste. For eg: every doctor was happy with simvastatin until atorvastatin come with its principle of total cholesterol control. No one wanted anything other than celecoxib until Merck launched its Refecoxib. When I started my career no one needed an antifungal medicine other than fluconazole. What happened in antifungal market after that is history.

My point is “people accept not when they need to, but when they are forced to”


Seeing the brands like Becosule, Fefole, Augmentin,Meronem perform, one would never  discount the fact that pioneering advantage exist. The life long battle of Batrim to outplay Septran would give the notion that an early bird really catches the worm a plenty.

All was well that far until I checked the history to see what Ranbaxy had done to Sarabhai chemicals who were pioneer in antibiotic market. The same happened with the entry of Lupin in the Anti-tubercular market. They easily topple Pfizer and Biologic E there. Brand like Gelusil entered 4 years after Digene and captured the whole anti-flatulant market.

Ultimately “it is not who march first but who march fast would lend the immunity’.


 ‘Innovation’ is said to be associated with ‘success’ from the time of Boston tea party at Massachusetts. I've seen numerous innovative brands failed and termed as unneeded. Who in the world could think that Pfizer's inhaled ant diabetic would be a failure? But it did.

I always find ‘RENOVATION’ a safer bet than ‘INNOVATION’. Indian pharma industry more often renovates the existing ones than innovating something from the blue. This really catapults the industry in to heights last two decades.

“Renovation is a better bet than innovation”.


Convenience is another term need clarification. Question is whose convenience are u talking about? If it is, customer's then Cipla's Multihaler would have ruled Indian asthma market but it is not. Finesteride by Merck (Proscar) could have been the most widely used by doctors as it avoid a painful surgical procedure (TURP) to treat BPH, but is rejected out by them. Killing a cash cow surgical procedure was not the doctor’s convenience.

“Rather than convenience, it is whose convenience that matters”.

Overcoming Omnipresence

My wisdom went Mecca when I found the way Botox(Botulinun toxinmarketed to facilitate the least reach by promoting it to a small set of doctors and even way before it being approved. That taught me not to find solace over my huge geographical coverage.

“It is not the reach but the reach to those who matters make the difference”

Can I do without sales force?

Finally; sale force effectiveness is said to be the most important factor which decides where the CEO of an organization should sit.... ‘in the  front-cover of Forbes’ or ‘in front of exit interview panel’. Cipla is the company which was audacious enough to withdraw all its sales force from the market once and still found its way to top of the charts. The immense customer value that this organization created and genuine care and exuberance it provided was more than enough for Cipla to survive without even the most indispensable factor of the pharma industry ie sales force.

"Its not the large sales force or managers that make an organization but it is the customer value it creates"

All those experiences thought me not to take anything for granted in pharmaceutical marketing. A percentage point more dedication and half a percentage point common sense would give you a better outcome than the fundamental principles would deliver. I hope the day will come we wouldn't search a place to hide if someone asks us "what makes your brand sell"....

Monday, 4 June 2012


                                           64% board room meetings I sleep in (sit in), 32.5% of the expansion program I gone through,27% of the minutes of the meeting I forced to gulp (with a gun pointed to my Adam’s apple)  over the last 10 years, ended up talking magnanimously about exploring the most potential and largest market in the world  called Indian rural market. Yesterday a parrot of a tarot card reader said that this market has the population (If you dare calling them human, as they don’t drink Tequila) of 750 million residing around 6,00,000 villages. This parrot’s ‘brother in law’ saw a pregnant lady walk 5 K.M to reach a substandard clinic to deliver a baby and found discharged in an hour. Sophisticated delivery…ah? Even though India established itself as outsourcing partner in manufacturing and R&D, a messiah for 3rd world countries, boast of largest USFDA approved plants outside U.S, 23,000 manufactures churning out medicine which is as equal as female feticide in numbers … still 80% of its rural population has no access to essential medicine. (Bin Laden was the only one who could explain us which are ‘non-essential medicines’, fortunately he is no more). Even 1,46,244 counterfeit manufacturers (with approvals from all the authorities in the world except DCGI- It’s a foregone conclusion that DCGI doesn’t generally disapprove anything).

Look at this picture very carefully. If u think this lady in the picture as your prospective consumer and assumes her as
Ø  Illiterate with zero brand consciousness
Ø  Zero disposable income with miniscule healthcare expenditure
Ø  Cannot afford your brand
Ø  Would not understand and accept any technological innovations
Ø  Will default the payment frequently
Then you are far from exploiting one of the biggest and viable market in the world called Indian rural Market?
What makes a marketer turn his back against rural market is a combination of challenges and some myths associated with the market. Marketing here would definitely challenge a marketer’s conventional wisdom. (This wisdom is generally spoon-fed to them by Philip Kotler but Kotler has no role here as he did not have to sell medicine to my rural people). Here a marketer is forced to curve a new promotional way but unfortunately in Indian pharmaceutical Industry ‘New promotion’ is an oxymoron.  Here a brand manager’s secret promotional catalogue (spys from secret services like ISI,RAW, FBI and MCI may know this) in every year contain the items like
Ø  one surreptitious price increment,
Ø  Two margin increments,
Ø  Three webinars (two would be with a person with white skin, weird accent, and anonymous language doesn’t matter even if it is Mandarin)
Ø  Ten permutations & combinations of bonus offers
Ø  Twenty four glossy paper reminders (with the innovations like upper part look like Taj Mahal and lower Red Fort)
Ø  Thirty mailers and thirty one web flashes
Ø  50 patient education materials (In all Indian languages including Finnish),
Ø  Gifts ranging from Alphonso mango to Bullock cart

Question is does any of these help you to make this women in the picture buy your brand?

The myths associated with the rural markets are
Rural people are poor: This is a common notion which deters all sorts of marketing action. There are as many rich people in rural India as there are urban poor. Yes………. The priority of purchase could be different.  
They spend less: The fact is that rural people are spending more than their urban counterpart. C.K Prahlad called this phenomenon as ‘Poverty Penalty’. Owing to local monopolies, inadequate access, poor distribution they are made to pay 5-25% more.
They cannot afford my brand: Let me paraphrase… They cannot afford in a form which you offer to them. Given the correct form and cost restructure (Not the price reduction) we can make any world class product affordable. Reliance mobile and Indian Car industry are all significant example of what the correct product offering and price restructure can achieve.
They are not brand conscious: They are as much as brand conscious as any of your urban consumer. But the crucial factor is their switching cost much less owes to their lack of inventory and can shift from one brand to another provided they are not satisfied.
They don’t understand and accept technology: e-Choupal network of ITC demonstrated the speed at which our rural people can adapt to technology. Penetration of mobile phones even to rural house wives is another example.
                                              You have a market which is doubtlessly virgin, unruffled by any corporate mockeries, but you are waiting for this to be developed so that you can plough this land with your Marketing tractor. Yes… you contribute to the development that which you conspicuously past in your official website under the heading corporate social responsibility or corporate alms-giving. Remember 60 years of charity has made no difference to the plight of a single human here.
About our Government, Contrary to popular belief they are the chief contributor in the development of Indian Pharmaceutical industry by denying proper sanitation, promoting poor hygiene and providing poor infrastructure. Some of their healthcare programs have wonderful name like Janani Suraksha Yojna, Rogi Kalyan samiti, Navjat sisu suraksha karyakram but the implementation is ‘a big blatant zero’. No adequate healthcare staffs, Doctors, Nurses, beds and above NHRM reports says 70% of the fund allocated are used to plant trees in the premises. Can you believe it?
As a marketer what I believe is in a “Market Based Solution”.   Though there are programs like Arogya(Novartis), Sanjeewani(Pfizer), SEWA(Eli Lilli), Prayas (Aventis), the solution provided by them is not going to be holistic. If all we want is a market to sell and outcome we expect is the wellbeing of consumers why can’t we involved in partnerships. There are firms strong in manufacturing, some are strong in distribution, some have large sales reach, some have strong warehousing, There are banks who provide microfinance, there are insurance experts, There are good equipment providers, There are good hospital chains…… Why cannot we work together, Put a helping hand together, make profit together. Let our Government play a good intermediary which will strengthen the trust among the members. This kind of a partnership is not new… Bangladesh is a good example where Pfizer with their medicine, GE with their diagnostic equipments and Gramin Bank with finance is creating history. What are we waiting for……? We have a strong healthcare base, what we require is a mindset. Let’s create it…………………