What can OTC communication learn from FMCG?

Dirk Ziems

Opening up emotional worlds

The OTC market is in transformation. Buyers of OTC drugs and health products see themselves increasingly as consumers rather than patients. They also get information on such products much more often than they used to when people relied on a doctor’s or pharmacist’s advice (or perhaps a family member). And the competitive environment of OTC products continues to expand. Where it was enough earlier to confront competition in the dispensing pharmacy, today both pharmacies and food retailing are offering health products. The manufacturer (and their service providers, such as the market researchers queried by “pharma relations” and OTC experts at communications agencies) need to respond to this. Must the OTC industry take its course more from FMCG marketing and communication?

For Rochus Winkler, Co-Founder and Shareholder of concept m research + consulting, the change in self-image from patients to consumers implies that OTC buyers no longer “blindly accept what they are told”, but are increasingly informed, demanding and critical, as information on all aspects of OTC products is easily accessible, particularly through digital channels. However, this also makes positioning of OTC products more complex, which also leads to more opportunities for market research. “Psychological seen, disease is not only an undeserved ‘fate’, but in the eyes of the consumer often the result of an unhealthy lifestyle: people haven’t ‘looked after themselves properly’,” says Winkler.
To succeed as an OTC brand in this situation, the required information and benefits associated with drugs must not only be transparent, understandable and convincing, but also open up emotional worlds – for example, the emotional communication of forgiveness and reassurance (for the conscience) in the communication, on the packaging and in the overall marketing and distribution context. Depth psychological market research in particular can develop its full potential in deciphering the underlying desires and deriving recommendations for marketing.

However, Winkler also recommended the industry not to lose sight of the pharmacists, despite all their work with consumers. He argued that, while patients are becoming autonomous consumers, a parallel problem is emerging in the dispensing pharmacies. Well-informed consumers might dismiss pharmacists, without the pharmacist being able to make their pharmacological expertise felt in the counselling.

The “brand” is becoming increasingly important

At the same time, the self-image of OTC buyers as consumers leads to a situation where the issue of “brand” is becoming increasingly important for manufacturers, Baus says. He notes that the consumer will use “brands” as a guide in the OTC market as well, and will look out for them. However, he also points to a serious difference to the FMCG area. Where a brand like e.g. Coca-Cola is positively positioned and stands for enjoyment of life and intensive pleasure, the brands of many OTC products are associated with the idea of “illness/disease”. “OTC buyers look for their brand if they’re not feeling so well, or if they notice the first signs of a disease. Only a few brands in the OTC market have so far managed to get rid of this negative characteristic of ‘illness’.”

Anna Waasem, Psychological Project Manager Pharma at concept m also talks about a “categorial difference". “FMCG brands often address desirable lifestyles and values which give us a feeling that we can be more independent and free with these brands and products, so I can achieve more self-fulfilment. This is a wonderful feeling, and evokes curiosity and desire, so that you can even talk about a market in self-fulfilment.” By contrast, she argues that OTC stands subliminally for a symptom or defect that has to be made good for you to be functional and fit for daily life. Here, we’re talking about making up for weaknesses which are burdensome. One term for this in market research is a “compensatory market”. Consumers are also only brought into contact with OTC brands in specific situations or at specific seasons – less often than with FCMG. “Given this background, it is easy to see that we prefer to deal with self-fulfilment brands, and can ultimately remember these or evaluate them more prominently.” She points out that this is supported by a further factor, that the FMCG market invests much more in advertising than the OTC market.

Customer journey

Lebok argues that it is more difficult to overcome this experience than formerly, as the later target groups are following different channels. The question is always whether a brand can deliver its promised benefit, or be so emotionally charged that it can use a striking claim and clear benefits to establish a presence at the key points in the customer journey, so that it is more likely that the consumer will go for product or brand A faster than for B or C.

Identifying the points of contact on this customer journey is essential, and even more important because products and brands from the pharmacy are increasingly competing with corresponding products from the pharmacy and food retailing. “OTC manufacturers should continue to identify and regularly update the products which represent the competition, and where buyers actually come into contact with their own brands and competitor brands,” Winkler argues. “It’s up to market research to define the relevant frame of reference for each product. What does the customer journey look like? And what does the ethical competition and broader competition look like?”

Winkler speaks of a “new complexity” which OTC manufacturers and market researchers need to adjust to, arguing that we are dealing with a “hybrid buyer” who collects information online and offline, decides, buys and gets advice. The distinction between offline and online is no longer so sharp, the virtual and real world has become one. The situation is particularly relevant for researching the customer journey.

You can read the full article in the November issue of Pharma-Relations.

If you have any questions, contact Thomas.ebenfeld@test.local, rochus.winkler@test.local or anna.waaseem@test.local


Dirk Ziems
Dirk Ziems ist Experte für tiefenpsychologisches Marketing und berät auf Basis von Markt-, Medien- und Kulturforschung weltweit Unternehmen und Konzerne in zahlreichen Branchen und Ländern. Als Mitbegründer der Global Research Boutique Concept M und der Marketingberatung Flying Elephant begleitet er Themen wie die Adaption von Erfolgsprodukten in neuen kulturellen Kontexten, das tiefe Verständnis neuer Konsumgenerationen in China und USA, die Transformation der Werbekommunikation in der neuen digitalen Medienwelt oder die Neuorientierung der Brands in Post-Corona-Zeiten. Dirk Ziems ist auch als Gastdozent an verschiedenen Universitäten tätig.

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