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Amar Ujala 101 Markets: Healthcare marketing to the small townie

By Devina Joshi , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Marketing | September 20, 2010
Neeraj Garg of Abbott Healthcare presented a case study on marketing nuances and challenges in the pharmaceutical industry while addressing the small town consumer

At 101 Markets 2010, a session titled 'Marketers Panel' explored the marketers' point of view in communicating to small-town India. Presenting a case study on the subject was Neeraj Garg, COO, True Care Business, Abbott Healthcare.

He started with some statistics on rural and small town India -- the bottom of the pyramid accounts for 75 per cent of the total Indian population. Tier 2 and rural areas account for 60 per cent of middle-income households, and 50 per cent of aggregate consumption. "Is a marketer ignoring such profitable markets?" he questioned.

Coming to the pharmaceuticals sector, Garg stated that small town and rural areas account for 35 per cent of the Indian pharma market - a weak number, but one that is steadily growing. What's good is that the forces driving healthcare demand in India are multiplied in small-town and rural markets. Affordability and medical infrastructure too, is growing in small-town India.

The challenge, therefore, is how to reach rural and small towns, given their low population density and huge spread. Further, one tends to think that rural health issues are different from urban, but that may be a perception thing, Garg pointed out, as chronic diseases are beginning to grow in rural areas as well.

In True Care's case, the vision is to democratise quality premium healthcare in India. The first step in this direction is hiring efficient medical representatives --perhaps a healthcare company's only media vehicle.

"In our first year, we hired 500 medical reps after standard interviews … a process we soon realised was wrong, and we made many mistakes then," recalled Garg. But the company was quick to learn: It realised that hiring required stringent selection criteria to get better quality of people.

"Today, we recruit 500 people in a quarter, after screening 5,000," said Garg. The hired candidates go through a 23-day training programme, which includes grooming and discipline elements. Engagement initiatives are also critical for retention of good med reps, as they tend to be "immature" and "shifty".

Further, shortage of well-qualified doctors in villages and small towns implies that the focus on marketing programmes here should be quite different. Thus, Garg spoke of initiatives such as the Customer Insight Day, where a day in a month is devoted to observing a doctor's behaviour in his clinic.

Technology can be a useful aid for business processes in rural markets, he said, pointing out that the cheapest communication device for a med rep on the field could be a simple Java-enabled cell phone.

Garg also gave an interesting example of a product innovation, which stemmed from customer feedback. The company developed an antibiotic last year to counter typhoid, and gave it strawberry flavour; against the general perception that antibiotics are bitter. "We used taste as a hook to differentiate this one," said Garg. The product went on to generate Rs 17 crore in sales in the first nine months of its launch.

However, a similar strategy for a 'paan' flavoured Viagra bombed, as Viagra isn't perceived to be a bitter drug in the first place. So, questions were raised on its effectiveness, as a result of its new 'flavour'. "We keep listening to customers and as a result, land up with several new product ideas. It is important to understand what can work and what won't," Garg said - a judgment which is equally about perception and intuition.

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