In a crowded, hyper-competitive marketplace such as branded generics in India, differentiation is not something nice-to-have, it is rather mandatory. You cannot make a direct frontal attack on the brand leaders, who are firmly entrenched.
If you wanted to introduce an antacid brand in the 1980s or early 1990s, you could not venture to compete head-on with Digene or Gelusil. That would be setting on a collision course. You could, however take a different position, but that would mean creating a much-needed differentiation in your brand and make it stand out distinctly. The differentiation, of course, should be relevant, meaningful and perceived.
The Case of pH4
Biological E. Limited, in 1987 introduced a new antacid that jostled for space among a crowd of 151 brands in a ₹ 450 million-large antacid, anti-flatulent market. the company knew beforehand that it could not fight brand leaders: Digene of Boots (now part of Abbott), which had a market share of 19.9 per cent and Gelusil of Warner Hindustan (now part of Pfizer), which had a market share of 13.1 per cent, head-on. Therefore the company chose to create a perceptible product differentiation. It created differentiation in a number of ways – brand name, formulation, flavor, packaging, promotion, etc.
- The differentiation strategy started with the brand name itself. It christened its product with a highly suggestive, distinct name pH4, which suggests that it normalizes gastric pH, which is the treatment goal in hyperacidity as the normal gastric pH is 4. You cannot come up with a better and more appropriate name for an antacid.
- The company formulated the product differently with different active ingredients megaldrate and methylpolysiloxane while the rest of the antacids contained aluminium hydroxide gel and magnesium trisilicate and methyl polysiloxane.
- The promotional theme too was different. They called it the sodium-free antacid and created enough dissonance among the prescribers of other antacids as it was common knowledge that sodium intake is rather restricted in hypertensive patients. Furthermore, it is highly likely that middle-aged patients with sedentary life styles, who are more likely susceptible for hypertension are also likely patients of hyperacidity.
- The differentiation did not stop there. Even the packaging was different. pH4 tablets were punched exactly like chocolate bars in a square shape while the rest of the antacids are conventional round shaped tablets. To top it, it was not only the shape of the tablet that was similar to chocolate, but also the flavor. pH4 was the only chocolate-flavored antacid tablet in the market place.
- The samples of pH4 tablets were also presented in a distinctly different manner to induce trial. The samples were packed exactly like chocolates in the market and caught the attention of many a prescribing physician.
The company launched the product enthusiastically training its sales force adequately on the product and gave a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) with answers to make its team combat-ready. The company thus created differentiation and delivered it in a persuasive manner. The net result was that the product got a ‘niche’ for itself and gained a ‘foothold,’ which no other antacid introduced during the previous six years was able to. While the new brand pH4 did not take away share from the brand leaders, it took away a major share of new prescriptions and share from other antacids, as the brand leaders had considerable OTC (over-the-counter) profile because of self medication of antacids by patients. The company by achieving a distant third position in the category, certainly shook the sleeping giants from their slumber, who stepped up their promotion of their respective antacid brands to defend their market shares. The brand leader, Digene had even introduced additional flavors.
It’s a different story that the brand did not sustain its presence in later years and the total antacid, anti-flatulent market has undergone a sea change with the arrival of H2 receptor blockers, proton pump inhibitors creating and expanding anti-ulcerant market, where low dose versions of these newer anti-ulcerants have been positioned as antacids for non-ulcer dyspepsias.
Differentiation can be done across different elements of the marketing mix. What is needed an in-depth analysis of the current situation, SWOT analysis of the brand, market, competition and a gap analysis to unearth the opportunities.
The key differentiation, however is in execution. In the competence and capabilities of your sales force, who are face-to-face with the physicians. The way they gain and sustain the attention and the impact they create in the minds of physicians are crucial determinators of success.