Challenging the Frontiers

Volume 2 Letter 7

The job of marketing is to challenge new frontiers by understanding the needs of the customers. This is not something that is done with gut feel but rather through observation, interviews (formal and informal) and with tools like perceptual mapping and conjoint analysis. Sometimes doing the obvious can have a dramatic impact on profitability. Pfizer, the giant pharmaceutical ran into such a situation.

Doctors always complain about it. In surveys it consistently comes up as one of the highest needs a doctor has – patient compliance. This is especially true in the antibiotic market. Typically, a patient walks into a doctor’s office with an infection; the doctor prescribes the appropriate antibiotic to treat the infection and tells the patient to take a certain number of pills a day for a certain number of days.

For older patients and busy patients alike, remembering to take their medicine or remembering if they’ve taken their medicine at all is a major problem. Additionally, after two or three days, the infection seems to be gone so the motivation to continue to take the antibiotics diminishes. This wide spread problem has resulted in the development of “super bugs” which require increasingly potent drugs to combat.

Different companies have tried to help doctors with their patient compliance problems but until recently no one has seriously addressed the issue. Pfizer saw this as an opportunity when they introduced the antibiotic Zithromax. Rather than putting the pills in the traditional bottle they introduced the product in a blister pack. The blister pack clearly reminds patients if they’ve taken their medicine or not. Zithromax has other attributes that make it a great product but by making the product easier for patients to take, patient compliance is higher. Because they promote higher compliance blister packs are also favoured by doctors. Pfizer incorporated consumer compliance right into the product itself.

Pfizer has spent millions of dollars developing Zithromax. They’ve also spent millions developing and testing the concept of a blister pack rather than introducing the product in a bottle. Too often companies do great R&D and develop wonderful new products and then forget that how that product is presented, packaged, advertised and priced can affect the results as profoundly as the quality of the product or service itself. R&D doesn’t end when the product is completed and tested. R&D is only completed when the product has been fully accepted by the target customer group(s) and the product extensions and additions have been fully exhausted.

It is imperative to examine the needs of your customers otherwise you can never understand what they value. In Pfizer’s case the blister pack was as brilliant as the drug it contained. It addressed the needs of both markets – the doctors who got higher patient compliance and the patients for whom it was more convenient. Who would have thought a blister pack would be a major innovation in the highly sophisticated pharmaceutical market?

‘In every industry there exists limitless opportunities. Where there is an open mind there will always be a frontier.’ – Challenge the frontiers!

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