Biotech Brand Building: Messaging Matrix

Every pharmaceutical or biotech product is unique, and marketers must construct marketing communications based on the unique circumstances of their brand. Indeed, building an effective marketing campaign begins by understanding the competitive landscape, the target audience and the prescription decision-making process. With that knowledge in hand, marketers can create a marketing communications strategy that best positions their brand for success.

Although the details of every messaging strategy are unique, deeper analysis across biotech and pharmaceutical brands suggests that nearly all messaging strategies fall into one of four archetypes:

  • Efficacy-centric: Messaging that communicates superior performance on clinical measures and disease outcomes
  • Safety-centric: Messaging that emphasizes fewer side effects and superior tolerability
  • Access-centric messaging: Messaging that focuses on lower costs or superior formulary coverage
  • Convenience-centric messaging: Messaging that conveys a mode or frequency of administration that is more convenient for patients

While these four archetypes are admittedly an over-simplification of complex brand messaging, understanding these broad archetypes can be a helpful tool in guiding messaging strategy.

Message Matrix

To better understand a brand’s messaging archetype, we recommend creating a Messaging Matrix. This matrix plots a brand’s attributes against the competitive set and determines if each attribute is an advantage, disadvantage or table-stakes:


Although the matrix itself is quite simple, the process of creating this matrix triggers important questions about the product and the competitive landscape. Ultimately, this exercise provides a simple tool for developing and executing messaging strategy.

Now, let’s take a closer look at couple of case studies and explore how this tool can be applied to a variety of brand scenarios.

Case Study 1: Safety-Centric Messaging

In this first case study, the brand has one advantage and three parity attributes:



Clearly, this matrix points to a safety-centric message. Safety-centric messages are powerful because they directly address the fundamental precept of “First, do no harm” which guides many prescription decisions. Indeed, safety messaging is especially relevant in today’s environment where physicians’ prescription decisions are increasingly influenced by their concerns about medical litigation.

However, safety-centric messages can be tricky because safety alone is rarely a reason to prescribe. As one wise physician once told me, “If I wanted to prescribe the safest possible medicine, I’d prescribe a tic-tac.” His point is that safety alone is not necessarily a benefit until it’s accompanied by other secondary benefits.

In this case study, the brand needs to clearly demonstrate parity in the other areas before it can effectively differentiate on its safety. Once the brand has established that is has efficacy, access and convenience that is comparable to competitors, its safety advantage becomes a key differentiator.

Case Study 2: Efficacy Centric Messaging

In this next case study, the brand has one advantage, two disadvantages and one parity attribute:


In this instance, this matrix points to an efficacy-centric message. However, this is a much more challenging scenario because the brand is faced with two fairly significant disadvantages in access and convenience. In this instance, it’s important to acknowledge the brand’s disadvantages, but emphasize that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

For efficacy-centric messages, this often means translating the brand’s clinical endpoints into the bigger picture of the patient’s life. Too often, messaging focuses on the technical and scientific aspects of their efficacy data, but they fall short in communicating what those clinical endpoints means for individual patients and their quality of life.

Case Study 3: Access-Centric

In this next case study, the brand has one advantage, one disadvantage and two parity attributes:


In this instance, this matrix points to an access-centric message. Obviously, payers have always been focused on costs and often take the stance that ‘won’t pay for convenience’. As such, this type of messaging matrix suggests that this brand should weight its messaging more heavily to focus on the needs of payers.

With the rise of the ACA and increased focus on healthcare costs, access is becoming increasingly important to physicians and patients. Unfortunately, access-centric messaging is often difficult to execute among physician and patients. Physicians often don’t know the price of drugs and they can’t possibly know the formulary coverage for every patient in their practice. Similarly, patients often do not understand insurance formularies and how they can affect out of pocket costs at the pharmacy.

Applying the Message Matrix

Clearly, the message matrix is a gross oversimplification of a market complexities, and it’s not a replacement for a robust messaging strategy. However, creating a messaging matrix is a valuable exercise that provides a quick roadmap for message development.

Dan Callahan is the President of Vivisum Partners and Founder of Research (R)evolutions.

See All Blog Posts By This Author