Tough Times for Timid Pharmaceutical Brands

Tough Times for Timid Pharmaceutical Brands, picture of pill and capsuleConsumers demand more outwardly focused brands

Consumers, driven by mindful Millennials, are demanding that brands take a stand on social issues. It is no longer acceptable for brands to look at the messy world and say, “Not my job!” Certainly Pharma brands are more constrained by consent decrees and regulations. However, that won’t stop consumers from saying, “Not my problem,” when it comes to demanding more from their health care brands.

According to one of my favorite trend spotters, Trend Watching winning brands will start contentious, painful and necessary conversations.”  That means going beyond product claims and bland unbranded campaigns to talk about polarizing topics. Take Starbucks, which recently jumped into the fray about race relations.  One example with particular relevance to Pharma is Pantene India’s campaign that asks consumers to point out ridiculous claims made by beauty products that don’t work. How about Pharma pointing out the ridicules claims made by nutraceuticals?

Picture of Pantene India campaign

Talk is necessary, but not sufficient

But talk is not enough. Today’s consumers demand action. Describing their “Branded Government” trend, Trend Watching boldly pronounces 2015 as “the year for progressive brands to initiate, undertake or support meaningful civic transformation.”

One example of this Private-Public Partnership is the WAZE traffic app’s Connected Citizen’s partnership that exchanges data with local governments around the world with the aim of improving traffic patterns. And it is not just new school companies taking civic action. Volvo is partnering with the Swedish Government to create roads that can charge electric vehicles.

Waze Connected Citizens Campaign

Brand Activism: What’s a Pharmaceutical Brand Manager to do?

Certainly there are enough unmet health needs for Pharma to partner with government to make people healthier. What about a weight loss brand teaming up with local government to promote better eating habits? This initiative may also seem less self-serving, because if successful, the campaign would slim down the market for the prescription weight loss products.

To health care purists, branding has no role to play in the choice of a pharmaceutical product. The product should be chosen based on efficacy, safety and increasingly, price. However in practice, physicians often have 2-3 brands they feel are interchangeable. In categories such as Multiple Sclerosis, HCPs often let the patient chose. Why? Because then the patient has skin in the game.

In addition, research conducted early in the DTC era, found that patients who ask for and are given a specific brand are more likely to be adherent compared to patients not making a request. So to me (admittedly not a health care purist), branding is more likely to be beneficial than harmful to patients.

No more navel gazing for Pharma

Picture of navel caption No more navel gazing for Pharma Marketers

So it pays to do it right. And paradoxically, in today’s socially conscious environment, good branding involves talking less about the product and doing more in the world. No more navel gazing! The key to building great brands, is to talk less about them. The old axiom, “actions speak louder than words” is today’s branding rallying cry!

For ideas on how to apply this trend to your pharmaceutical brand, check in tomorrow for my next post, “4 Ways to Become an Activist Pharmaceutical Brand.”

Your branding is missing something

Sound. Do you know what your brand sounds like?

Article after article encourages marketers to get visual. But in many cases sound goes hand in hand with visuals.

Consider the following uses of sound:

▪   Sound as confirmation of functionality: Think of the camera click that occurs when you take a screenshot on an Apple computer, or the swoosh sound that confirms your e-mail has been sent

▪   Sound as a product experience: You know that satisfying crunching sound you get when you’re eating potato chips? According to my friends at CORD, a sonic branding company, 80% of a person’s perception of that crunchiness is the result of sound rather than mouth feel.

▪   Sound as a reinforcement of brand attributes: Consider the sound of an electric toothbrush. When one manufacturer redesigned the buzzing sound of its toothbrushes to more closely communicate “clean, gentle, and white,” sales jumped.

It is surprising that sound and music have been missing in the healthcare marketer’s toolkit. Consider music therapy, defined by the American Music Therapy Association as, “An established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals.” Included among music therapy’s uses are alleviating pain, counteracting depression, inducing sleep, and promoting movement for physical rehabilitation. Clearly, sound has a relevant place in healthcare.

And the need for sound may be even more critical as one of the most prevalent sounds, namely the Pharmaceutical Reps voice, is declining in the healthcare arena. According to Industry figures, the number of pharmaceutical representatives in the US has declined 40% in the last 8 years. So how can you fill the sonic void? Here are three thought-starters:

  1. Incorporate music into your relationship marketing programs. What if your e-mails came with different sound elements corresponding to the different time-points in the patient journey? For example, you could embed an encouraging 4-note tune in e-mails that are meant to buoy patients at tough points in their treatment. Or, use a song that helps convey a “You did it!” message once they’ve successfully completed treatment
  2. Use sound to brand a video series, whether it’s product- or condition-related. Video is an increasingly important venue for healthcare communication. Work towards having a consistent look, feel, and sound to your videos
  3. Think about the sounds associated with a disease state, say coughing or heartbeats: What could be a sonic signal of improvement? Can certain sounds be associated with progress?

So, when it comes to incorporating sonic branding into your branding, do any of these ideas ring your bell?