If you're planning a switch in OTC, then read this FIRST!


Written by David Gray and Tim Brooks

As various European markets start to consider stepping up their switch agenda, we wanted to share some of our many years of switch experience, to help brands maximise chances of success. To hear the full story just connect with Creative Leap @David Gray.

The reality is that despite switch being heralded as a major growth opportunity for OTC companies, it has proved to be of mixed commercial value [reference:HBW Insight analysis of German switches].  It’s vital that before you embark on a switch journey, you are clear of both your commercial and strategic ambition. 

Here at Creative Leap we believe there are 7 steps to make switch a success and build a MEANINGFULLY DIFFERENT, growable switch brand. For the full 7 steps get in touch, meanwhile we’ll share our five top tips:

1.     Gear all your consumer communications towards consumers currently satisfied

·      Brutal truths. In most cases people are either broadly satisfied or, more often, muddling through with current solutions. Low engagement is a key challenge for healthcare brands and switch is no different. We focus, almost exclusively, on establishing a relevance platform – and rarely will it be just the simple, usually small, efficacy improvement the NPD offers. 

·      Channel/Shopper barriers. Create a granular view on the shopper barriers/experience and the pharmacy interaction/environment. Here, small details are critical in losing or gaining the sale.  If you have a category where the consumer REALLY wants the solution, such as the morning after pill, these barriers are reduced but for most categories, this is a key success factor.

·      Start with Wave 2 consumers! Our hands-on experience is that most switches start well – ‘the first million sales were easy’ – then they stall. The data repeatedly reveals that there is an easy segment to convert who a] are more severe sufferers; b] most have used the product.  For big success you need to reach the consumers (what we call Wave 2) who are getting by with what’s available on the market already and therefore a harder group to change behaviour.

·      For this group the convenience of buying a superior product when they need it makes the value equation work. The problem is that this prize is often too small to justify the effort and investment. Often, we see that the marketing spend and messaging that converts the first WAVE, is not right for this 2nd WAVE, and it is the second wave that drives sustainable success. Creating a relevant strategy that meets WAVE 1 and WAVE 2 needs is critical for sales beyond £1 Million.

2.     Engage the right channels and the right professionals to help

·      The evidence is that pharmacy has not optimised Switch and products are used as the last resort in a stepwise approach – this is always a barrier to success. 

·      HCP’s can be crucial for success yet are trained to adopt a stepwise approach. This means price points and perceived value by the HCPs is usually a challenge and in-pharmacy decisions are made, that might not necessarily reflect the reality of the consumer satisfaction. A great example is Pirinase, which is arguably the best product in the allergy category; data says that nearly all users are highly satisfied and see it as good value – despite the price vs cheaper tablets; they report better outcomes. Yet, we’ve been involved in research where pharmacy assistants have not sold it because ‘the tablets are cheaper’! 

·      This is more about engagement than training and POS. We need to help pharmacists make meaningful connections with their patients and see experiential and patient reported outcomes beyond efficacy and price. This in the end will drive recommendation and overcomes the stepwise barrier.

3.     If the regulators create deal breakers, consider switch carefully.

·      Regulators can create issues that are hard to overcome.  Always start by checking for deal breakers that could question if your switch is worth doing. Many switches, driven by speed, accept compromises and reduce their ability to succeed. 

·      Questionnaires and treatment protocols are major barriers. They put pharmacists/assistants and consumers off. Clearly safety is key but resist them wherever possible. 

·      Umbrella branding. There are occasionally benefits in keeping the Rx name but the economies of scale and the ability to engage consumers via an established consumer brand usually outweighs them.  In the medium term, the industry must persuade Regulators to reconsider their approach if they want switch to work. Whatever your specific situation you MUST create a solution that can be interpreted by consumers as umbrella branding, even if it isn’t! One of our favourite switches is Optrex Infected Eye [Chloramphenicol]. If this had been a one product switch without umbrella branding the sales look small and unsustainable… as an Optrex sku it looks like a fabulous piece of P innovation. 

4.     Have a consistent investment plan for launch

·      Many big switches have launched aggressively with big TV campaigns and then investment has tailed off. The more we have explored the barriers to penetration and the reality of customer user journeys the more we see that switch is unlikely to benefit from this typical consumer launch approach. 

·      Embrace the brutal truth – switch will nearly always be a long-term payback. This requires a sophisticated approach to priorities and a blend of mass marketing; in-store/pharmacy impact; environmental management and increasingly, influencer uptake. This prompts uncomfortable choices; to spend less and move more slowly; manage internal and trade expectations for a big bang and play the long game. 

5.     Right message, right portfolio

·      Don’t under estimate the need to invest time and effort into this. Superiority is great, but it must be expressed in terms of relevance/needs. Sounds obvious but we consistently see the complacency of newness in launches by saying it’s better and assuming consumers will come. This makes a dangerous assumption that consumer behaviour is rational – it is not! 

·      We believe strongly that consumer based real world experiences are key to driving powerful claims to convince Wave 2 to try.  Traditional clinical data often provides small efficacy differences and not enough relevance or end benefit! 

·      Innovation. An innovation pipeline of products, formats and claims is a day 1 requirement, especially in the absence of an umbrella branding solution 

We believe that with well over 30 years of combined switching experience (managing more switches than probably anyone in Europe), we have some of the answers to building a meaningfully different switch brand and have created a short presentation entitled: Meaningful Difference: The 7 golden rules of switching success in Europe.  We’d love to come and show you the full deck, please connect with @David Gray at Creative Leap to arrange to see the full presentation.