How to nail pre-launch positioning in pharma

Matt Bolton | 22nd July 2015

Marketing strategy is core to what we do at Blue Latitude Health, and we’ve been increasingly involved in launching pharma products across various therapy areas. Recently, we’ve worked across multiple brands in oncology on launch and pre-launch strategy, which raises a unique set of challenges in a competitive and highly regulated market. A recent project focussed on early stages pre-launch strategy, which means looking at positioning rather than messaging. At this stage, it’s important to understand the disease area and unmet patient needs in the wider market. Our client was facing some key issues that were particularly challenging in a highly competitive market (before final clinical data is available) –  demonstrating value without using cost or medical claims as primary differentiator, and establishing the relevance of lower level clinical end points. Matt Bolton, Head of Commercial, takes us through the three key points to keep in mind when facing a similar situation.

Positioning isn’t only about data

A common misconception in pharma marketing is that positioning is all about data, and while data is important, it doesn’t paint the whole picture alone. In order to position your product successfully, you need to first understand customer needs and their view of the therapy area; specifically around how they help patients and what their objectives are as a physician in treating patients. What’s important to them? Is their primary concern around palliative care and quality of life, or are they most interested in aggressive treatments that will prolong life? In order to get this fuller picture of customer needs, it’s critical that you talk to actual customers. Our client had mountains of data about their product, the disease, and the costs associated with both. What they didn’t have was qualitative insight about actual customer needs and emotions. We conducted interviews with oncology specialists to gain insight about the market for positioning.

Correlate lower level clinical end points with validated endpoints

Most oncology treatments are developed with a clear clinical endpoint: survival. Those treatments are designed to extend life, which is the focus of the data around them. However, not all treatments fit that mould; for example, palliative treatments to improve quality of life for terminal patients. As progression-free survival is difficult to quantify, it creates an issue when positioning this type of treatment. With cases like these, it’s important to get backup data to substantiate any medical claims while bearing in mind that these claims should not be the focus of the positioning. There will always be competitors out there with similar data, which means it’s down to how you represent the data with positioning – what story is the data telling?

Get past the data to talk to the customer’s emotions

In order to extract the story from your data, you need to identify the emotional trigger points for your customers (physicians and healthcare professionals in our case). The emotional aspect to customer behaviour in pharma is often overlooked, but it can have a large impact on how successful your positioning is. We’ve done research in oncology across multiple tumour types, and we’ve found that HCPs tend to be drawn to patient emotional benefits when reading about products and treatments. Despite their need and drive for good data, there is also a need and a drive to deliver good news. For example, an oncology specialist may have a patient who wants to attend their child’s graduation from university and fears that their illness will prevent them from doing so. The specialist cannot cure the disease at this stage, but your product could help them help their patient make it to graduation. This is the kind of good news specialists want to be able to give their patients, and if the medical data support it, this position will let you tap into this emotional trigger.


Good positioning is a balance of clinical and emotional claims represented in an emotive way. Look above the competition to align your treatment with the physician’s view of the overall disease and position your treatment in the wider market.


If you’d like to talk in more depth about how we can help you position your product, get in touch with us at

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