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Metabical Marketing Positioning Strategy

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In 2008, a marketing and positioning strategy was needed for Cambridge Sciences Pharmaceutical’s (CSP) new weight loss drug called Metabical. Metabical was touted as being a revolutionary weight loss drug with fewer negative side effects than the usual medicinal weight loss remedies.

Metabical has many levels of decision-makers – both internal and external. CSP’s senior director of marketing, Barbara Printup likely reports to the company’s board of directors for her ultimate authority. Printup receives her directions for the Board and then delegates them amongst her subordinates in marketing and sales. During the development phase of the product, Printup was likely constantly in touch with the research and development (R&D) department at CSP so that she could gather information and controlled study results about the product. The information she would gather from R&D would then be used in order to promote the product.

Among external groups that the director of marketing likely had consistent contact with, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was likely at the front of her Rolodex. Printup likely had at least one high-level point of contact with the FDA who could have kept her up to date on recent internal agency updates about the status of Metabical and its clinical trials. Although R&D likely had the most consistent contact with the FDA, the director of marketing would need to be in touch with the FDA for various statistical and informational purposes.

Without the massive amount of product and market research, the decision-making process for Printup would have been nearly impossible. Metabical was to be the first weight loss drug approved by the FDA for overweight individuals (defined as those with a BMI of 25-30). The research indicated that, unlike other weight loss drugs out at the time, there would be fewer side effects to deal with that other products typically induced including: loose stools, increased defecation, incontinence and abdominal pain[1]. Marketing and R&D departments revealed that two other weight-loss products, Alli and Xenical, had similar products being reviewed by the FDA because they were causing sudden cardiac death and liver failure in their patients[2]. Metabical was different from these two products because it worked in a low dosage formula that would require only one slow-release pill per day, effectively reducing the strain on the heart and liver that other drugs tend to induce. The results for Metabical were outstanding: those with a BMI of 26-30 lost an average of 26 pounds, compared to an average loss of only six pounds within another trial group that took a placebo.

Metabical itself is not a perfect drug: a common side effect of Metabical occurred when consumers took the drug in conjunction with a high-calorie or high-fat diet. Realistically, people who take weight-loss drugs are likely taking the drugs because they have a high-calorie or high-fat diet, CSP spun around this information to turn it into a positive: they claimed that studies indicated that these side effects assisted in behavior modification and healthier eating habits[3]. Research also found out that the pill was no effective on the extremely over-weight and obese study groups (BMIs of 30 or greater)

In terms of segmenting their target market and positioning themselves as the safest weight-loss drug of choice, the CSP would be wise to focus their efforts on women with a BMI of 25-30 who want to live a healthier life in order to live longer. According to the company’s marketing research, the average age of this segment of women is 35-65, college educated and has a household income of $80,000 or more. A healthy marketing campaign aimed towards men would be a good idea as well: a 2007 CSP marketing survey indicated that 65 percent of men were not happy with their weight, 40 percent of men said they wanted to change their lifestyles in order to live a healthier life and 15 percent (of men and women) were willing to take medicine in order to lose weight.

CSP should also focus its marketing efforts at the medical community itself. If the company were to send sales representatives to doctors offices around the country, they could mention that their drug is one of the few FDA-approved weight loss drugs with clinical results to back up weight-loss claims[4]. The sales people could also mention that unlike other weight-loss pills, some prescription drug plans would cover the cost of prescribing the pill to patients (with hopefully more to come after a 6-month sales evaluation). According to the 2007 research study by CSP, many men and women alike had failed to reach or maintain their weight-loss goals. Metabical had an answer for that: a support program that complemented the pill. The goal of the program was to give better results than what the pill alone could give. The support program gives CSP a significant advantage of their competitors in the market place because it would significantly enhance Metabicals’ users abilities to reach and maintain their weight-loss goals. Metabical users would have access to online weight-control tools (calorie counters, etc), meal plans and exercise plans. There would even be a community forum where members could get personal support from other members. Physicians agree that many patients need help losing weight.

One healthcare provider said, “I am impressed with the tools and customized action plans provided in the proposed support program[5].” In order to position the product properly, it might be best to not emphasize the pill aspect of Metabical, but to emphasize the support program and the lifestyle changes that will follow the use of the product. Taking weight-loss pills has a certain connotation to it that might cause potential customers to have an aversion to the product. In advertisements, the medicine needs to be mentioned so the brand doesn’t get confused with weight-loss programs such as Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers, but the focus should be on the fact that the customer won’t be alone throughout the process. I wouldn’t be comfortable solely segmenting my product to women in the 35-65 year old range because a huge slice of the market – men in the same age range – would immediately be discounted by the company. My positioning statement might read something like this: “For the overweight person with a BMI of 25-30, between the ages 35-65, who is looking to make a permanent lifestyle change with the help of the effective and safe weight-loss program and pill – Metabical.”

In terms of the company’s initial advertising initiative, I believe they are on the right track. The money has already been spent on the R&D, now the consumer public needs to be made aware of the product itself. Spending about half the budget on television advertising during segment-appropriate morning shows and afternoon talk shows might grab the right audience. I might even look into the potential for an infomercial hosted by someone (non-celebrity) who was part of the clinical trials who can attest to the life change Metabical had on them. Additionally, I agree that it is a bad idea to kickoff the product by hiring a celebrity endorser to tout the product because people might believe that the celebrity is just doing the endorsement for a paycheck. The consumer might think to himself, “The product came out last week! How can this person tell me they did a 12-week program in 7 days?” Maybe after the initial 6-12 months of sales I would think about my potential for spending hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of dollars on an endorser. The timeline for my communications plan would begin at the physician level.

The doctors have ultimate the power to prescribe the product after FDA approval. Doctors’ offices would need to be visited and then followed-up on in order to properly educate them and convince them that Metabical is everything that the CSP believes it to be. The product could be easily compared and contrasted with other weight-loss pills on the market; we could then mention that it’s out-of-pocket expenses are only three to five dollars a day for 12 weeks. Based on the typical household income of our target market (more than $80,000), that kind of investment in one’s heath might seem rather small considering the long-term benefits of the product. As the physicians are being informed, the insurance companies need to be wined and dined. Although the pill is relatively cheap, having major insurance carriers help consumers with the cost of the pill would open up an entirely new potential market segment for the company – those with household incomes under $80,000. If one major carrier can be convinced to pick up the product, then other major carriers will begin to pick up the product so they don’t lose their customers to their competition. Before the beginning of the television advertising campaign, I would have magazine ads placed in various health and trade magazines.

The ads would focus on the benefits of the support program, the lack of side effects that the pill has and the long-term good feeling that the product will have on people long after they finish using it. A magazine such as Runner’s World would not be a good place to put the ad because people who read that magazine are likely already healthy; a magazine like Oprah’s O magazine might be a better fit. As the magazine ads roll out, the social networking phase would begin as well: Facebook page, Twitter account and Metabical’s interactive website – my marketing program would offer the opportunity to sign up for a two week trial period with the support program – would be up and ready to view. Finally, a few weeks before the release of the product, the TV ads would begin. If properly implemented, CSP’s Metabical marketing program, positioning and segmentation strategies would be extremely successful because of the aspects of the product, the negatives about the competition, and because of an excellent marketing team with a massive launch budget.


[1] Quelch, John A. et al. pg 2 Metabical: Positioning and Communications Strategy for new Weight-Loss Drug. Harvard Business School © 2010. [2] Quelch, John A. et al. pg 2 Metabical: Positioning and Communications Strategy for new Weight-Loss Drug. Harvard Business School © 2010. [3] Quelch, John A. et al. pg 3 Metabical: Positioning and Communications Strategy for new Weight-Loss Drug. Harvard Business School © 2010. [4] Quelch, John A. et al. pg 5 Metabical: Positioning and Communications Strategy for new Weight-Loss Drug. Harvard Business School © 2010. [5] Quelch, John A. et al. pg 4 Metabical: Positioning and Communications Strategy for new Weight-Loss Drug. Harvard Business School © 2010.

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