‘Look at my face. Do I look like I’m bovvered!?!?’

By David Gray & Tim Brooks

There is a large Nellie in the OTC room. A challenging elephant that lurks in the corner of most healthcare categories. And, from our not very lofty position, we worry that marketers are too rarely honest with themselves about the barriers to real vs theoretical growth/penetration it creates.

In most categories – teeth sensitivity, allergy, gum care, dry mouth, skin conditions, GI etc. pretty much all of them – the world works like this…

It’s the bothereds that done it.

This is the group of sufferers (sometimes relatively small versus the total population of ‘sufferers’ outlined in the data) who have a problem that genuinely impacts on their quality of life. They seek new and better solutions at every turn. Not treating ain’t an option. They have ‘educated’ themselves as to their particular situation and use products and various coping behaviours to try and deal with it. They have what we call condition commitment.

Some of the bothered learnt their dark arts in ‘Rx-land’. In truth, some stay in Rx-land and enjoy getting their fluticasone or PPI via prescriptions. In some cases, it could be argued that their level of condition should be self-medicated and the fact that it isn’t is a barrier to switch success. But, let’s not open up that debate.

If you switch something – a PPI, a better allergy nasal spray, infected eye drops etc. in our experience (and between us we have managed several first to market switches) you will quickly race to a small, perfectly formed brand. But, probably one that lacks the scale to be attractive and sustainable. Especially if (and they always do!) the regulators enforce umbrella branding constraints that mean you can’t treat it as a fabulous, economically viable, line extension and it needs to stand and most likely stumble on its own merits.

You have found the low hanging fruit audience who are ‘bothered’ to be engaged with your marketing enough to buy a premium, new product.

These users are great and although we don’t believe much in loyalty - and these people will readily try new stuff if they see it - if your product works and nothing new comes along these are your heavier users/bedrock. Although it varies by category, this small group probably count for most of your volume.

But, for self-limiting OTCs there are rarely enough of them for brand owners to sustain or build a healthy GROWING business.

A few million sales won’t support advertising, innovation, promotional spend etc. and the upshot is that when generics arrive the switch/innovation can become increasingly marginal. So why do regulators wonder why switch hasn’t matched the hype? And this model applies beyond switch into most categories and products.

And even if you do a bit better than this and whether your brand is £2m, £5m or £20m sales… you still need to grow.

So, a new Herculean, Fellowship of the Ring, Star Wars-type quest is created.

The search for the ‘somewhat bothered’ sufferers.

Picture this…

The chart appears in the annual planning presentation.

The universe of sufferers is x [a big, mouth-wateringly attractive number…senior management briefly wake up] and the biggest part of it is usually the ‘somewhat bothered’/mild sufferers segment. If they bought, even occasionally, we would all be… promoted.

We cut the data every which way to explain why we can get them to buy into our brand/category.

And sometimes it happens and we do get them, or more of them, to buy into us. Pain has done this. Most of us just don’t feel the need to ‘cope with’ a headache; pain relievers deliver good efficacy – so we treat it. It’s ability to get the somewhat bothereds is why it’s the biggest OTC category everywhere in the world.

But, this is a whole horse of a different colour.

Low or occasionally engaged consumers are hard work. Getting them to buy something they don’t want to buy for what is often perceived as a marginal benefit and at relatively high prices is… HARD.

And people definitely do not appreciate being ‘told’ it’s what they ‘should’ do.

We have done lots of work in these categories and we have come to a conclusion.

In order to stretch into this group requires a fundamental change. Reconfiguring your problem-solution equation or unlocking an emotional angle around the rational pitch rarely cuts it.

An example. Please think laterally!

Head & Shoulders is a rather successful brand.

It went on a journey of OTC dimensions without ever actually being in the OTC world.

Once upon a time, in a land far away it was a problem solution brand that delivered against dandruff. The model followed the archetypal OTC best practice approach. And it worked.

Very severe sufferers of dandruff/scalp conditions might be using more medicated stuff, but most of us don’t visit the GP for it and these regular heavy sufferers often chose H&S. The sales data proves it. It probably even dragged people out of serious GP land through establishing its efficacy via strong communications and endorsement – the celebrities, their hair in two halves and black jumpers. Lots of black jumpers.

But, P&G clearly saw that to grow they needed to attract the ‘somewhat bothered’ sufferers.

So, they turned it into a ‘beautiful hair’ brand. Cos the somewhat bothered probably didn’t even think they ‘had dandruff’.

The benefit (over simplifying some fab marketing) is ‘Great looking/beautiful hair, with no dandruff, guaranteed’. This might seem simple or a superficial change, but… in one fell swoop the benefit has become interesting to… the somewhat bothered. They, all shampoo users probably, want great hair. They suffer from dandruff… sometimes, but rarely or only very occasionally enter the category. By giving them the benefit that meets their needs whilst ‘guaranteeing’ them no dandruff they have dramatically expanded the penetration opportunity. Why take the risk.

Oh, but it’s easy in shampoo, OTCs are soooooooooooooo hard. Yes, OTCs are hard and universal cosmetic/lifestyle benefits are less easy or sometimes impossible to access, but… that’s just an excuse. It’s about expanding the relevance.

So, stop trying to shoehorn your problem solution benefit into meeting the needs of a wider public and start to focus on reconfiguring the benefits – your meaningful difference – to meet a broader less problem solution need. Start with relevance – is it to be dandruff free or to have great hair that the target seeks?

If it’s dandruff… easy, more of the same. If your target is ‘somewhat bothered’… work out how to make great hair work in dandruff context… NOT the other way around.

We are certain this works in ALL categories.

We are certain it is hard.

It just requires us to leave our comfort zones.