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Case Study: This Is How Viagra Became One Of The Most Famous And Successful Brands In The World

Case Study: This Is How Viagra Became One Of The Most Famous And Successful Brands In The World
Image by Audrey disse

Simple Rules. Significant Success.

By Rooney Nelson

Rooney launched and led the Viagra team. Rooney also launched and led the Celebrex Global team. Contact at (646) 907–9911 or email klaudia@bbrandx.com.

Read his profile from the cover of Esquire magazine here.

Executive Summary:

There are only 5 brands that have truly dominated the American landscape over the last 2 decades: Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple and Viagra. This is a case study about Viagra. Written by the people who launched and led the team. But first things first.

Despite some rumors to the contrary, success in business, especially significant success, is not easy. It requires a lot of hard work, determination, seizing of opportunities and a large serving of good old-fashioned luck, a lot of which you may be able to help create for yourself.

The bottom line is that success in business requires rules. Rules that are clear and easy to understand. Rules that will help you to know when you are on the right path. Rules that, as happens to all of us more often than we would like, help to get us back on track during those moments when we are off. Simple rules that can help lead to your significant success.

This case reviews the rules that the Viagra leadership team used to drive theirglobal success which exceeded everyone’s expectations.Rules that CEOs are already calling a “must read” for anybody and everybody in business and “rules which, face-to-face, might be the best 2 hours you will ever spend on your career.” They are the rules that have already generated significant media interest, including a recent Esquire magazine cover article profiling the team and their route to success.

Background:

Everyone knows Viagra as one of the world’s most famous and successful brands. What everyone does not know, is that Viagra made history by achieving that fame in 18 months compared to the average of 27 years that it took the other world-famous brands such as Google, Nike, Mercedes Benz, Facebook, Apple, Coke and McDonald’s.

Everyone also does not know that in addition to its billions of dollars of sales, Viagra generated over $200 billion dollars in market cap growth for Pfizer. An additional record — breaking success that has not been equaled by any other single brand. For perspective, all the other world-famous brands are not only brands, but entire companies.

Driving Viagra to success was uniquely challenging. Not because the science wasn’t groundbreaking, but because making Viagra acceptable was deemed to be a fairly impossible task. The team knew going in that the church, politicians, pundits and even the media were all going to strongly object to the brand, and the allegations they were going to make were going to be brutal. They did, and they were. Based on those facts the team realized that our only chance for success was to have rules and to stick to them. We did, and they worked.

As the Viagra leadership team, we made a pact. A pact that due to our respect for the brand, the company and the industry, we would never speak publicly about the rules we used for success until Viagra went generic in all major markets. We kept that pact, which is why only now we can share these rules.

The Rules:

Simple rules. Significant success. The science of making the best even better.

Rule 1Get Rid of The Deadweight

The first thing you have to do, which the team certainly did, is get rid of the deadweight, and you must do it immediately. When you’re in business, but especially in a business that is new, challenging or has breakthrough potential, there will be people who aren’t with the program. The advice, get rid of them. You’ll be thankful later.

Rule 2Forget About Always Being Nice

This is the Viagra case study so we can use the Viagra nomenclature. Therefore, the real rule is -be prepared to be a dick, and that applies to both boys and girls. Driving success is serious business. It requires you and your team to make a lot of decisions that many people can’t wrap their heads around. When that happens, and it certainly will, you or members of your team will be called dicks. Understand it is going to happen, accept it, and keep moving on. Most people who are transforming markets or delivering record results are viewed that way. People may hate you at first, until you win. Then they will love you.

Rule 3Be Prepared to Be Laughed At

Actually, be prepared to be scorned. Every major idea that makes money, or transforms markets is always laughed at. Always. For example, everybody laughed at some weird companies called Google, Apple, Facebook, Uber, and FedEx when they first set out to transform their markets. They certainly laughed at Viagra, a lot. If you and your team understand that basic human emotion, and appreciate both why it happens, and that it will happen, it will still be very hard on you, your team and your families to get through. But this knowledge will help make those dark days a lot easier to get through and, most importantly, you will ultimately get the last laugh.

Rule 4Know Your Data

This is the one area where the team spent the most time and where they currently spend most of their time working with their clients on. To be successful you really have to both know your data and be able to demonstrate your complete mastery of it. During your journey to success you and your team are going to have to convince your key stakeholders to endorse and approve your plans. The only way that is going to happen is if they trust you. And the only way that trust is going to happen is if they believe you really know what you are talking about and you can demonstrate it. You can’t wine and dine your way through this one. You must know your data and be able to demonstrate your mastery of it.

Rule 5Learn from Experts

You can never stop learning. This is the most important rule. But it’s also the most overlooked rule. It’s also the one that truly got the team their additional $200 billion+. The team’s assessment was that they were smart enough to know that they weren’t smart enough to be able figure it all out by themselves. Therefore, they had to learn from others who had gone before and had achieved real success. The team talked to every single brand and team they thought they could learn from. And it worked.

Side note — All the teams were great, but 2 in particular stood out. The first was The IBM ThinkPad team who had truly revitalized their company with some amazing insights on how consumers process brand value. That led to the breakthrough “It’s a pill” strategy which truly propelled Viagra’s sales and made the brand iconic. The second was the Prozac team from whom they learned, by inference, that if you have a transformative brand, and manage it correctly, you can use it redefine your category, make your brand iconic and use it to drive your company’s stock price and market capitalization to unprecedented levels. In Prozac’s case, despite their phenomenal sales success, the team figured they easily left at least $30 billion on the table. The team was determined to seize on that insight. And they did, to the tune of 200 billion+, all of which was in addition to annual sales of a billion dollars plus.

Rule 6Now Be the Expert

After following rules 4 and 5 you know your data and you’ve talked to real experts. Now it’s on you and you need to be THE expert. Many of your decisions are going to defy everything you’ve been told and everything you’ve learned. But you’re going to feel confident making them because now absolutely no one knows the data, the market, the competition and the strategy better than you and your team. No one. It will get super intense and stressful because you’re playing for your future, and maybe also your companies future, and maybe the world is also watching. It’s scary but you can do it.

Rule 7Think BIG

Thinking big sounds easy, but it’s hard. When truly put to the test, most people can’t handle it because it’s outside of their comfort zone. Maybe around 8 months before Viagra’s launch it really started to occur to the team that if we did everything carefully and at the same time set no limits on what we could do, we might deliver record results and maybe also make history. In other words, the team realized that it could be BIG. Easy to say now. Not so easy then. Thinking big, done correctly, is a powerful way of rethinking what you are doing, what you can accomplish and perhaps most importantly, how to accomplish it. We used a methodology called transcendence which literally translates as “go beyond.” It’s a fun tool that just so happens to also work.

Rule 8Prepare for A CrisisIt’s Coming

Practice proactive risk management. It’s the only way to avoid a crisis and it will help you make your brand stronger. Nobody got more media than Viagra. Nobody. And it helped to make the brand very successful. But it wasn’t by luck. It was because the team practiced hyper-focused proactive crisis management. Tactically, we made owning the media, and owning our story, a focus because we knew we had to be fully prepared to defend ourselves from day 1. That focus on practicing proactive defense by actively engaging the media actually propelled positive media. We know the concept of proactive crisis management is paradoxical, but it’s critical. That’s why we spend a lot of time both explaining and implementing it for our clients, especially for our athlete and other high-profile clients. In fact, for them it’s often rule one.

Rule 9Stop Wishing for What You Don’t Have

The reality is you probably have more than what you need. You need to focus on that. Stop spending and wasting time feeling self-pity and hoping for something else, something more. When we received our label we had a black box warning. If you understand pharmaceutical marketing, you understand how serious that is. However, the team chose to look at this black box differently. In fact, the team didn’t try to minimize it but did the exact opposite. We gave it even more prominence than the regulatory bodies ever asked us to. In our experience in the industry had ever done that before. And it worked. Brilliantly. You have what you need. You Just have to learn how to find it and use it. Even if you initially think it’s bad.

Rule 10Find Your Golden Key

Whatever you think you’re doing its probably secondary to what really matters and what will really drive your success. For the Viagra team the billions and billions of dollars of sales didn’t really matter. The teams golden key was driving the stock, getting our $200 billion+, and setting the company up for success for decades to come. We suspect that for Amazon their golden key is being in every home (that was certainly the case during our days at another great American company, Procter & Gamble). For Apple, their key is controlling everything you see and do. For Uber, redefining urban transportation and as an additional bonus, reducing drunk driving, an important construct that makes it hard for any city to reject them. Find your golden key — it’s what really matters and what will drive your success.

On your journey to success you’re going to learn a lot from some really smart people who’ve done some interesting things. We certainly did. These are just 10 of the 14 key rules that helped make history. The other 4 are equally as important, but as the team learned with Viagra, some things should only be shared face to face.

When planning your next weekly staff meeting, training session/workshop, annual meeting or offsite, and ready to make you and your team of the best even better, give us a call and we will meet with you the Viagra way, face-to-face. We can’t promise you fame and billions, but hey, you never know.

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