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Branding and the pharmaceutical industry

Pharmaceutical Executive (November 1) has an article called “Step it up: Branding Roundtable” that talks about branding in the pharmaceutical industry.

I'm not sure what benefit branding ultimately is to the pharmaceutical industry, since generics are required by the Food and Drug Administration to be every bit as good as brands and are widely available.

I guess the scam is for the pharmaceutical industry to convince people that branded drugs are somehow better than generics...which is absolutely not the case.

To that end, here are some quotable quotes:

  • The fundamentals of branding: “If somebody is not willing to pay a little bit more for your brand, you did not have a brand in the first place.”--Jeff Conklin, VP, marketing practices and innovation, Wyeth
  • Being customer-centric: “Branding is going to be driven by the complexity of consumers rather than the complexity of brands.”--Conklin
  • Branding as an experience: “A brand has to create an experience, a situation where people see a reflection of themselves and their values. So the whole act of putting a nurse educator into a physician’s office is imparting a value to that brand. The brand becomes helpful, nurturing.”--Vince Parry, president, Y Brand
  • The importance of salespeople: “Probably the main brand experience for doctors is still the sales forces. Yet there is no training whatsoever on how sales reps should represent the brand they sell. They are not representing a nurturing, helpful, caring brand if they are coming into the office and saying, “Doc, I need your next 10 patients.” “--Vince Parry, president, Y Brand
  • Content as brand strategy: “As we become more commoditized, every market becomes more crowded. You’ll to need more depth to differentiate yourself....That may mean mobile media reaching out to patients at mealtime and saying, for example, ‘Crestor is reminding you to take your medication,’ and then recommending a heart-healthy diner nearby.”--Mark Nolan, senior VP, group creative director, Digitas Health
  • The importance of the corporate brand: “The role of the corporate brand is going to—has to—change drastically over the next 10 years. Patients are going to know who makes their drugs, and it will drive preference because these big issues, like trust, can be handled only at the corporate level. It’s the most underleveraged business asset of pharma companies.”--Wes Wilkes, managing director, Interbrand Wood Healthcare

Brands are people too - 5 lessons

The October 2007 issue of Fast Company has an interview with Alex Bogusky, the chief creative officer of Crispin Porter + Bogusky, an ad agency well known for its campaigns for Volkswagen and Burger King. Bogusky contributes an important element to the discussion about brands -- talking about personifying it and making it real. Asked how you make a brand famous, he responds: "You start to think about the brand as a person and do some things to personify it a little bit."

Bogusky notes that "personifying a brand" helps the creative process because "It allows you to think about the story of the brand and the narrative of the brand in more of a long-term way."

Bogusky also notes that it is important for brand narratives to evolve: "Madonna is a genius in branding....Madonna was always able to evolve to keep people interested. Brands need to be that way too. They can't lose the essence of what they represent but they've got to continue to surprise and delight you."

Here are five key takeaways for branders:

1. Go beyond a simple message -- be multifaceted with the brand personality. People are complex and so are genuine brands. Microsoft has a great potential to do this if only they would try.

2. Instill feelings, values, beliefs, and long-term goals in your brand as if it were a person. Think: If my brand were human, what would it say/do/think/believe? Then communicate based on that.

3. Give your brand an interesting story. Dull people have no friends. Neither do dull brands.

4. Make your brand story evolve over time. This is difficult to do well, but IBM has achieved it.

5. Make sure the brand story evolves consistently. Jeep is an example of a company whose brand story has evolved, but not consistently--it has gone from "survival" to "fun"--and therefore the brand has lost credibility.

Buzz-based brand building

In "Brands Infiltrate Social Circles to Create Buzz," Adweek talks about recent efforts being made by brands to facilitate buzz about themselves. The idea is to get people talking "without incurring backlash."

The attempt to generate buzz, says the article, is supported by research showing that consumers believe their friends rather than marketing messages.

A recent example of the new buzz-based brand building: At TV Guide's "suggestion," "agents" whose job it is to "give feedback and talk up products to others" hosted 10,000 TV Guide parties across America before it launched its $20 million (estimated) ad campaign to "reintroduce its 54-year-old brand as a multiplatform provider and celebrator of TV culture, rather than a weekly listing of shows." The agents were honest about their affiliation.

Marketers need to be careful about using social media, says the article. Burson-Marsteller, the PR firm, recently found in a study that influential consumers "have a heightened wariness of commercial interests weighing in on blogs, message boards and review sites."

NBC, says the article, initially tried to plant positive comments on its shows on message boards, triggering consumer skepticism. So in a change in tactics, it previewed most of its shows to bloggers, and let them write about it. Sci-Fi went a step further, inviting 35 bloggers to Canada to visit the set of Battlestar Galactica and meet the cast.

As the article notes, there are two key problems with buzz-based brand building:

1. Predictability. "The challenge is how do you turn the social media space into something that can scale, that you can manage and can deliver predictable results." (Bant Breen, president of Interpublic Group's Futures Marketing Group)

Even more important is

2. Authenticity. "It's a tough equation because the consumer is stubborn and has a voracious appetite for the truth." (Pete Blackshaw, CMO of Nielsen BuzzMetrics.)

It takes a lot of sophistication to build a buzz-based brand...marketers, tread carefully.

Searching for brand answers

The results of a new study, published in “Online Search Can Be Powerful for CPG Branding,” ( show that online search can help build consumer packaged goods brands.

Here are the notable findings of the survey (a difference of ten percentage points is usually considered significant):
  1. Nearly half (47%) of the 93.7 million unique site visitors to food product sites were generated by search. Search was responsible for 60% of baby product sites' total unique visitors, 27% of personal care visitors, and 23% of household product visitors.
  2. Searchers were somewhat, but not terribly much, more motivated by wanting product information or help than non-searchers (73% vs. 58%). Searchers were also more motivated by wanting help with a purchase decision than non-searchers (64% vs. 44%). (It appears that there is some overlap between these two motivations in the "help" area, but this is not explained by the article.)
  3. Non-searchers were more likely than searchers to visit sites for the purpose of obtaining special offers/promotions (59% vs. 47%)
Al Ries, the brand expert, is quoted in the article saying that search “is not a strategy, it's a tactic….In general, a company needs to create awareness of a new category by other means--generally PR--before consumers are going to search for that particular category.”

I am not sure why Ries emphasizes PR to the exclusion of advertising and marketing tactics, but think he has a point when he says that marketers should not think “that the Internet is the answer to (all) their branding problems.” He reminds us that Anheuser-Busch spent millions of dollars to build Bud.TV when “the typical Bud drinker is down at the tavern watching the World Series.”

I also think Procter & Gamble Search Innovation Manager Randy Peterson, also quoted in the article, has a point when he says that the research shows search is more valuable than just to serve as a tool for direct response marketing. Searchers are motivated consumers, and it makes sense to cater to them with more targeted branding initiatives that inform, educate, and assist in their making wise product decisions.

Branding and the coming recession

As the housing market goes, so goes the economy...and things aren't looking good. As notes,
A whopping 65% of Americans now believe that a recession is coming in the next year and 51% believe the economy is doing poorly, according to a Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times survey. Wall Street executives predicted a 37% chance of a recession, according to a Financial Services Forum survey released last week by the Financial Services Forum.
Which kinds of brands will survive the down economy? Not clear, but The Charlotte Observer has some advice about building any brand to survive in a downturn--essentially "going beyond the basics" to "delight your customers," not "just meet their expectations." Even when people don't have money to spend, they have money to spend, and they will spend on brands that offer superior service and a delightful experience.

For brand managers, the question arises, Do you stop spending on the brand in a recession or go full steam ahead?, in a 2001 article that still resonates asks this question and has the following response:
Branding is not just a patina to be applied during times of growth. It's a constant maintenance job. Nurture it and you'll always be safe; dismiss it and you'll start to see the immediate effects of decay and neglect.
The article goes on to say that most brand consultants recommend that money be spent more wisely, not necessarily more freely. I agree but caution brands to look carefully at the industry and sector they live in; if people don't want to spend more for brands in that particular area, they should either create intelligent generics or fold up their tents and find a more brand-friendly business.