Keep your promises… and build a stronger brand

Often the people who go into marketing are those who love an intellectual challenge; those who can apply an extra twist of innovative thinking create the strongest brands

Written by Alex Fone

Creating a strong brand in today’s healthcare market is increasingly difficult. There are more stakeholders to engage, the ‘value’ that your brand offers is under greater scrutiny, and there are fewer opportunities for your team to sit down with your customers and ‘sell’ to them. Couple these issues with the increasing pressure for an ever-greater return on investment in the current global economic environment and it’s a wonder that anybody wants a marketing job any more! The challenge is certainly getting harder, but that just makes it more fun… doesn’t it?

A Brand is a Promise

The notion of branding originally came from outside the world of healthcare marketing and within our sector we have been slow to recognise the intrinsic value of ‘branding’. For many years it was profitable for pharmaceutical companies to have simple ‘products’ that were sold through traditional methods, on simple feature- and benefit-based messaging. As our sector has become more competitive and the selling environment more difficult, the potential value of branding our products has increased dramatically. Walter Landor, a true pioneer of branding, said: “Simply put, a brand is a promise…” In healthcare we have the opportunity to build quite amazing promises for our brands. We are, after all, in the business of improving and saving people’s lives.

Making the Promise

Most pharma companies have their own tried-and-tested systems to process the huge amounts of data that we gather about our product, market, customers and competitors. These spirals, funnels and matrices all help distil down the essence of the product’s offering. Their outputs will help you, and your agency, to define the brand promise. In order to create a brand, this promise needs to be communicated in a unique way; a way that not only gets noticed by your customers but that also provokes a strong reaction in them. The greatest reactions are generated by communications that reflect a true insight into the market. ‘Insight’ is a word that gets used frequently, but a true marketing insight is one that makes people who are familiar with the market and the brand pull up short and think, “Yes, that’s something I hadn’t thought of before. You’re on to something there…” The first time that an advertising or branding agency will really add value is when it presents an original and creative idea that generates this kind of ‘insight reaction’ in you. It will mean that they have found a way of looking at your market that is different from your own thinking and that of your colleagues. In order to close the deal, the creative idea will need to provoke the same reaction in your customers. Really effective brand-building ideas need to be unique in your market. We often hear that healthcare advertising needs to learn lessons from FMCG and other direct-to-consumer sectors. It’s my view that it is at this critical stage that agencies most need to look to other markets for creative inspiration: for the idea that will provoke that insightful reaction from you and your customers. Only when you and your agency generate a thought-provoking, creative campaign that succinctly expresses your brand’s promise can you hope to maximise the value of your brand. However, once an insightful and provocative creative campaign has been achieved, the work of brand building is only just beginning.

Always Remember the Promise

Although the visual identity of your brand – the logo, colours, typeface and creative campaign imagery – is a key part of your brand’s equity, it should not be confused for the brand itself. It is also not the only way that the brand promise can be communicated. In some instances it may be undesirable or even illegal to use even the most simple elements of a visual identity – for example for a disease awareness campaign or a piece of sponsored medical communications. But a brand is deeper than these superficial visual elements, and the brand promise must always be at the centre of any communication. For example, communications with ‘payer’ customers are often ‘unbranded’ at the customer’s request, as ‘branding’ is viewed with suspicion and mistrust. However, just because the visual cues are missing, there is no excuse to forget the brand promise. In fact, without the crutch of visual identity, expressing the promise clearly becomes even more essential. If your brand promise is, for example, ‘peace of mind’ then this can be used as a frame of reference for your communications with a payer audience, without ever needing to use the visual identity. The ‘peace of mind’ that your brand’s value proposition brings to payers is just as powerful as the ‘peace of mind’ that your brand’s efficacy and heritage bring to clinicians. Equally, for a disease awareness campaign (DAC), the idea that a patient can find the peace of mind that they have been missing by being diagnosed or treated can be a great jumping off point for the agency to generate a DAC that is entirely consistent with your brand, without ever breaking any of the rules governing this form of communication.

Deliver the Promise Consistently

It is important to remember that your customers interact with your brand in a myriad different ways – whether it’s traditional advertising, attending a symposium where your latest clinical trial is being reported, or simply a brief encounter with a representative in a corridor. At all of these interactions there is a brand communication, and the customer’s reaction (good and bad) to these communications contribute to the perception of the brand. If you are inconsistent in communicating your brand’s promise, at best you will leave your customers confused – at worst you will undermine the promise that you are trying to fulfil. Ensuring consistent delivery of the brand promise is the role of your communications strategy. Analyse the potential value of every channel of communication and every varying segment of your customer base to ensure that your communications strategy provides a cohesive plan for who you will talk to, when you will talk to them, and how you will deliver the brand promise to them.

Deliver the Promise, Not the Detail

In order to deliver your brand promise consistently you will almost certainly want a set of key messages. The ever-increasing pressure on our customer’s time can lead us to cram as much detail as possible into our precious interactions with them, but this approach is counter-productive. As humans we are only able to process a certain amount of information at any one time. If we exceed this threshold with our customers they are more likely to remember nothing about our brand, rather than everything as we intended. If you resist the urge to tell everybody everything about your brand all at once, you will almost always leave your customer with a clearer understanding of your brand promise. It can also help to be more relaxed about the way in which key messages are delivered. They do not, for example, need to be worded exactly the same for each customer group or in every medium through which you communicate.

Develop a Dialogue

For the most part the selling of a pharmaceutical brand is a complex process with several stages of acceptance and adoption. A dialogue through which the customer is led step by step to an acceptance of the brand promise and its fulfi llment of their needs is preferable to a series of monologues (such as highly structured product details and presentations), that attempt to move a customer along the whole journey in one fell swoop.

Encourage customer feedback every time you communicate with them. Without input from your customers there is no true dialogue. Without dialogue you will reach a point where you have to make assumptions about your customers’ views and beliefs. At this point you risk becoming detached from your customers’ reality and the brand promise will be lost. Customer feedback will ensure that you know where to go with your next communication, as well as assuring you that your customer understands the brand promise and responds to it as you intended.

Maximise Your Channels

Not every brand has a blockbuster budget, so there are always times when you will need to make decisions about when, where and how to deliver your brand promise. I would venture that the majority of modern brands actually make their greatest impact by using media that their competitors ignore or don’t fully understand. When you put together your brand plan make sure to explore every channel of communication. Most importantly, understand what each channel can deliver for you, and what its limitations are. One of the most exciting channels for delivering your brand promise is the digital domain. There has been much debate about what ‘digital’ is, but for me ‘digital’ is any form of promotion that utilises a computer or other electronic device as the means for delivering the brand promise. There are only two rules for digital communications that I feel are relevant:

  1. Understand the medium you are using. If you create an ‘electronic detail’, don’t just make a computer-based version of the printed detail aid. Use the inherent strength of the medium to make the presentation interactive (audience participation has been proved to increase recall) and encourage a dialogue with your customer, for example by including a feedback page that allows them to tell you about their perception of your brand
  2. Yes, you guessed it. Include the brand promise! Just like any other communication, the brand promise needs to be at the heart of your digital efforts, too.

Share the Promise

Although advertising agencies have been the traditional guardians of the brand, it is essential to share your brand promise with all of your internal stakeholders. Without doing this, it is impossible to maximise the brand’s potential. To ensure that the brand promise is at the centre of all communications, share it with your PR agency, your medical communications agency, and your media buyer. Most importantly, share it with your sales people. They are often your greatest assets, but they also represent the hardest of your channels to control. Make sure that they really understand the brand promise and are committed to delivering it.

Make it Your Mantra

Get the promise right; develop a creative expression of the brand promise that provokes a strong reaction; create communications that deliver the promise consistently… and you will build an irresistible brand.

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