In pharma, the focus is always on market share, market share, market share. Managers are measured by growth and their ability to counter new competitive entrants and offset contracting pressures by private and government payers. Because of this, product differentiation is an important role for marketing. There is widespread fear of becoming a “me-too” commodity drug.
But while the focus of pharma brand teams is on avoiding product commoditization, little attention has been paid to that same danger for the brand manager.
There’s a real danger that brand managers themselves could become commoditized.
“Commodity” is the point when a product or a service is “fungible.” In other words, it can be easily replaced by a substitute. Substitution is the biggest threat to any product or service, because when the buyer (or, in this case, the employer) doesn’t perceive any significant differences between alternatives, they buy strictly based on lowest price.
As pharma management feels the effects of margin pressure on their business, they will look for ways to consolidate or eliminate redundant positions. They will look for ways to substitute expensive talent with technology, lower cost employees, or consolidated roles. In each case, it’s the employee with little to show that’s unique and valuable whose job is suddenly at risk.