You are on page 1of 3

Metabical: Positioning and Communications Strategy for a New Weight Loss Drug

Metabical is a revolutionary weight loss drug, which Cambridge Sciences Pharmaceuticals expects to
be finally approved soon. Upon FDA approval, Metabical will be the only weight loss drug that is
clinically proven to be effective for moderately obese individuals. Barbara Printup, the Senior
Marketing Director for Cambridge Sciences Pharmaceuticals, is responsible for creating the
positioning strategy and marketing communications plan in preparation for the introduction of
Metabical. It is her task to carefully consider the decision-making process of consumers as well as
the interaction between the health care provider who prescribes Metabical and the consumer who
purchases Metabical. There is a high risk of spelling disaster, if Metabical is - despite promising
medical studies and extensive research, poorly positioned in the highly competitive drug market for
weight-loss solutions.
Citation:
Quelch, John A. and Heather Beckham. "Metabical: Positioning and Communications Strategy for a
New Weight Loss Drug. HBS Brief Cases 4240, Jul 22, 2010.
Addressed questions in case study solution:
1.

What are the key consumer characteristics of Metabicals target market?

2.

Which end consumer segment(s) do you suggest the Metabical campaign should focus on as
a target market? Why?

3.

Given the target market selected by you, how would you position Metabical against its
competitors?

4.

Which communication channel strategies (i.e., push and pull approaches) to promote
Metabical seem appropriate to you?

5.

Which communication program do you propose, that is, how would you deploy promotional
mix elements to advocate Metabical in the prelaunch, launch, and post-launch phases?

Metabical - Case study analysis


Positioning and Communications Strategy for a New Weight Loss Drug Executive Summary
Cambridge Sciences Pharmaceuticals (CSP) is preparing the upcoming US-launch for its newest
prescription drug. Metabical is a weight loss drug that has been proven to be safe and effective for
moderately overweight individuals in clinical trials. FDA approval is expected for January 2009,
which gives the Marketing team around Barbara Printup a little less than a year to develop an
effective positioning strategy for Metabical, as well as a full marketing communications plan to be
ready for the launch. It is clear that the product will have to amortize extensive R&D costs and
secure excess profits in order to be a success for CSP, all that in a market environment
characterized by diverse competition and low consumer trust. Based on previous experiences and
extensive research by Barbara Printup and her team, the following actuality for target group,
competitive situation and the product itself is evident.
Target group
Two target groups have been identified to market Metabical to: consumers and medical
professionals. Due to the nature and limits of its medical effects, Metabical is targeted specifically
at overweight individuals (BMI of 25 to 30) as end users of the drug. By the year 2000 34% of US
adults (ca. 71 million) had been considered to be overweight according to research. While the
percentage of overweights increases with age, it prevails an equal phenomenon across all income-,
and to a lesser extend, education-levels.
To find out more about end consumers as a target group, CSP has commissioned a survey amongst
overweight individuals as well as a study to analyze psychographic segmentation. According to the
survey 70% of respondents are dissatisfied with their current weight, while only 15%....
of those actively trying to lose weight are comfortable with using drugs to do so. Women are
considerably more active in weight loss activities than men, more willing to change behaviors to live

healthier, and disproportionately unsatisfied with current weight loss options. On a similar note the
study about psychographic segmentation found women to be the most distinct segment, while a
focus group expressed demand for a proven and safe way to lose weight. A decision on the targeted
segments, promotional mix and messaging based on these findings is however still pending. Health
care providers, the second target group that has to be addressed, are enthusiastic about Metabical
according to interviews conducted. Since excess weight is considered a public health crisis in the
U.S., the new drug is qualified to prevent direct effects like heart disease or diabetes by a far extent.
Health care providers remain concerned about the likelihood of a short longevity of weight losses
once the treatment has stopped. Medical professionals will be targeted with a dedicated advertising
campaign and CSPs sales force. Proposals for a messaging strategy have been developed but not
yet decided upon.
Competitive situation
The market for weight loss products and treatments in an extended sense is diverse and
characterized by a manifold of market participants. Although no prescription drug specifically
targeted at the weight-loss segment exists, many over the counter (OTC) weight-loss drugs are
available for purchase. Most OTC solutions are being categorized as herbal or dietary
supplements by the FDA and are therefore unregulated. With the drug Alli only one OTC drug is FDA
approved, but is under investigation for causing hefty side effects as serious as liver damage.
Similar health risk issues with weight loss drugs (in one incident a unregulated dietary supplement
had been connected to cardiac death) and accusations of deceptive marketing tactics hurt the
credibility of the product category.
CSP has monopoly rights secured through a utility patent for its own prescription drug and has a
time window of at least 10 years before generics are likely to enter the market.
The product
CSP believes Metabical to be far superior to any weight-loss solution currently on the market. The
drug is close to its FDA approval and has other advantages compared to competitive offerings. It is
combining an appetite-suppressant compound with a fat-blocking and calorie-absorption agent and
manages to produce dramatic weight loss results. In trials a majority of patients reached their
weight loss goals within 12 weeks (losing in average between 26 and 15 pounds). For the treatment
to work, only one pill per day has to be taken, although it will only show effect for individuals with a
BMI of 25-30 (obese) and not above.
Metabical has fewer negative side effects than current weight loss drugs. Most side effects are
associated with intake of excess fat and calories, which facilitates the adoption of healthier eating
habits. Additional effectiveness and longer lasting results are expected to be achieved by a
complementing support program, consisting of various educational content, like reference materials,
community forums, meal and exercise plans, as well as a number of weight-control tools. The
program would amount to $2.2 million fix costs in year one (just under 10% of the US-Marketing
budget for Metabical). It is intended to be available to customers for a duration of 24 months. The
drugs pricing is however not finalized yet. Between $3 and $5 retail price per day (avg. treatment 12
weeks) will most likely have to be paid out of pocket by consumers, with only a few description
drug plans expected to cover the drugs cost. Depending on the final retail price, the total lifetime
value of an average customer will be between $252 and $420. CSP is considering a campaign to
persuade health care providers to include Metabical in their programs (decision after first 6-month
sales review).
Marketing communication strategy
The marketing communication strategy for Metabical is aimed to focus on both end consumers and
medical professionals. Roughly 65% percent of the dedicated marketing budget of 23.1 mio. USD is
assigned to direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing measures. The budget is set based on CSPs recent
drug launch budget, but is intended to be fine-tuned after actual campaign data is available.
Direct-to-consumer marketing is a relatively new phenomenon in the industry and will be utilized via
TV, online, radio and print media. Reaching a high product and brand awareness is the number one
priority for the launch. Metabical would be marketed via social media, on blogs and through a
contest with viral elements in addition to more traditional channels. No internal experience exists
about the optimal utilization of these measures. The marketing agency had already prepared three
initial concepts for the DTC advertisements, which should serve as a basis for further activities.
Furthermore Printup is considering to get a female celebrity who has struggled with her weight in
the past as a prominent spokeswomen for the product. This tactic is not recognized in the current

marketing budget, but it had been very effective for similar campaigns. One best practice suggests
a positive effect to counteract customer price sensitivity to some extent. To target healthcare
professionals CSP would rely on proven tactics from its past launch campaigns. Direct mailings and
extensive PR efforts, like press releases, medical education events and a symposium would support
the launch, as well as a dedicated CSP sales team of 32 agents, responsible for the companys
gastrointestinal drugs. Their task would be to visit doctors directly in their offices to discuss the drug
and provide samples. One sales representative is responsible for 100 medical offices. In addition to
usual sales materials they would work with promotional Lunch & Learn seminars that were proven to
work well in the past.
The team around Barbara Printup will have to work out its strategy in the coming year to ensure a
successful product launch of Metabical. The launch will have to recoup R&D costs, ensure the
longevity of the drug and shape Metabical into a brand and product offering that resonates with the
target group.
Key Challenges for Positioning and Communications Strategy
For a successful launch and long-term return CSP faces multiple challenges that would have to be
addressed. Most of the projects key challenges have already been considered by the marketing
team, while some other challenges can be derived from the given facts.

Selecting segments to target Identifying ideal customer segments amongst


consumers and/or health care professionals cant be easily achieved with high precision in a
target group that is so diverse (34% of US Americans).

Choosing the right messaging Positioning Metabical appropriately to the segmented target
groups will be equally complex and characterized by uncertainty. Additional challenges arise by
the need to communicate the drugs lack of effects on obese patients (BMI 30+) and a certain
consumer distrust for weight loss drugs in general.

Targeting efficiently through the right channels Selection and fine-tuning of the campaigns
promotional mix will be crucial. Especially when using new and untested methods like social
media. The underlying problem here is to where and how to reach the target audience.

Timing the different measures An optimal roll-out schedule is depending on multiple factors
and assumptions. For instance the issue of when to start targeting health care professionals
(before, after or at the same time as consumers) has to be solved. While one of the bigger
challenges will constitute the timing of social media activity. Moreover, it should be decided
when to carry out the research on support programs impact.

Pricing and marketing budget The price for Metabical will affect its demand and is a function
of the targeted end consumers combined utility. Pricing can either render the best marketing
campaign ineffective (when too high) or have a negative but lasting effect on the companys
profitability.

Adjusting the organizational structure How to utilize the allocated sales team effectively will
be vital to success amongst health care providers and affect budget allocatable to DTC
measures. In addition will the slight shift from pharmaceuticals to service and content demand
organizational adjustments.

External expertise - The lack of internal experience could be a big obstacle on the way to a
successful implementation. A cost-benefit analysis for using external agencies
for implementing a social media strategy might be adequate.
Challenges that do not influence the launch directly (e.g. due to their exclusively long
term relevance), but are still to be considered, are decisions about an internationalization
strategy and a plan to secure returns of Metabical after its monopoly rights expire.