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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Creating a strong strategy

There's no such thing as a boring product – just the same boring old strategy. Why it pays to apply the 'disruption' theory, challenge the conventional and take calculated risks...

Albert Einstein was once credited with saying that insanity is “...doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. What, then, would he make of an industry that has a tendency to respond, from a promotional campaign development perspective, with 'more of the same' in response to constantly changing market challenges?

The first thing to say, is that there are no simple rules – or formulae – for successful campaigns. There are now too many unexpected and rapidly changing variables. Formulaic approaches, by their very nature, can't allow for the unexpected, so throw away those so-called 'rule books'.

Successful healthcare brands are, quite often, rather complex entities. Our role, as professional communicators, is to distil that complexity down so that, firstly, the brand and its relevance can be easily understood by the customer and, secondly, so that existing customer behavioural patterns can either be modified, as in the case of new brands, or further entrenched, as with existing brands.

In any case the brand images we create, in other words the perceptual entities relating to your brands that will reside in the mind of customers, often consist of complicated clusters of disparate dynamics integrated into a coherent whole. That whole, at least for successful healthcare brands, is always greater than the sum of the parts because of the powerful synergies that come into play during the course of the campaign and, indeed, throughout the lifetime of the brand.

The Biggest Risk is to Take no Risk
Although formulaic approaches offer no assistance, and are no predictors of success, you can, virtually, guarantee brand failure if your campaign doesn't measure up against a number of essential strategic and tactical criteria. Or, as Albert Einstein also said, “There are ways not to succeed, but the most certain is to never take risks.”
The most effective way to begin developing your campaign is by identifying the cultural, professional or market conventions that, in most cases, exist as potential barriers to brand success. Once these conventions are fully appreciated and understood they can be challenged with radical and unexpected thinking. Of course this all needs to be done with a focused vision of where you want to go and of the territory you ultimately intend to dominate with your brand.

At TBWA\WorldHealth we have developed a number of innovative and dedicated tools to quickly achieve these objectives. The process is called 'disruption'. In his seminal book, Disruption: Overturning Conventions and Shaking Up the Marketplace, TBWA's Chairman, JeanMarie Dru, wrote “...all brands are in transition. You can't build brands by thinking only in a linear way. You have to think of larger futures for them. And to do that, you have to use your imagination. A larger share of the future very seldom comes from an extrapolation of the present.”

Albert Einstein once defined insanity as, '...doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results

So, lesson one is to open your mind and, while noting what's happened in the past, free your mind to what you want to happen in the future.

Strategic Positioning
Okay, having challenged the conventions, the next step in creating an effective campaign is to fully understand the brand, its therapeutic category, and what differentiates it from other competing brands. Positioning research is useful in exploring customer rankings of your brand in relation to others against critical attributes within a given therapeutic category.

Despite what HCPs sometimes claim, they really do get to know your brand through the totality of your promotional campaign, whether it be via journal ads, rep visits, detail aids, mailings, websites, etc. Brand perceptions are shaped by a combination of brand promotion, (yours and your competitors), and by personal experience.

Your campaign lays the groundwork for establishing and shaping physicians' perceptions by succinctly expressing the features and benefits in a number of ways, using the most appropriate communications channels. An effective campaign must explain – and defend – your brand's core values, articulate the benefits to the patients for whom it is most appropriate, and differentiate it from its competitors.

Before developing a campaign there must be a clear understanding of what physicians view as the advantages and disadvantages of your brand versus its competitors, as well as a deep knowledge of the dynamics that exist within the therapeutic category.

This information must then be holistically distilled to establish your brand's positioning. This will, in turn, become the cornerstone of your brand's core value that the campaign, in its many forms, will convey.

Create messages that really communicate your brand's values
Once the positioning research has been completed, a set of messages can be developed to clearly communicate the positioning. In the initial stage of message development, qualitative research can be vital in exploring the meaning of the strengths and weaknesses and to translating those into compelling messages. Of course the process of message identification does not end here.

Quantitative testing identifies the impact of messages on the key factors that will drive brand success, such as impact on preference share, credibility, differentiation from other brands, alignment with your brand's desired positioning, etc. After the quantitative testing, qualitative testing can help to further optimise the messages and story flow.

The importance of emotional drivers
It is vital, when developing any campaign, to know how customers 'feel' about your brand and to understand how pertinent emotional drivers can help influence brand preference. The pharmaceutical industry, predicated as it is on measuring mainly rational values, is now becoming more and more interested in this important area. Although there are many emotional drivers, and the degree to which they operate varies from brand to brand, they commonly include:

This important emotional driver is based on the approach–avoidance instinct that is innate to all of us. The emotional need to reduce uncertainty, in everything we do, is one main explanation for the mechanism that leads customers to select certain brands, and to avoid others.

Curiosity, interest and intrigue serve to educate the customer through exploration of the brand. Learning about a brand leads to greater knowledge and a closer relationship.

Some brands allow customers to feel a sense of empowerment as a result of the degree of control they offer in taking care of particular problems. This feeling, in turn, may make customers feel closer to those brands. This type of empowerment is not the absolute power of either customer or brand but a shared power which often depends on communication for its effectiveness and continuance.

An effective campaign must explain – and defend – your brand's core values, and differentiate it from its competitors

Closeness, such as that experienced in interpersonal relationships, usually increases with time. So it is, too, in brand relationships. Time allows for experience that leads to better knowledge of, and familiarity with, your brand. Familiarity leads to better prediction of brand performance and a feeling of greater closeness. Thus, customer relationships with brands develop through communication over time. As in the case of trust, time also reduces uncertainty, and communication again leads to greater closeness.

Identification refers to the sense of shared values between the customer and the brand. In other words, the customer feels that the brand reflects an image that is consistent with his/her own values, attitudes and identity. It is widely accepted that attitudinal similarity leads to attraction in personal relationships. Again, so it is with brands.

Customers who prefer certain brands often feel pride in their relationships with those brands. Pride is an emotional driver that arises, mainly, out of the expectations of others. Customers using certain brands may experience pride in that they meet, and even exceed, the expectations of themselves and significant others.

There may be a reciprocal connection between relevance and a customer's close relationship with a brand. In other words, as the rational and emotional bases of involvement increase, the relationship becomes closer and, as the relationship becomes closer, the involvement with the brand also increases. The two would seem to be almost inseparable. An effective campaign maintains this reciprocal connection and fosters the growth of the brand relationship.

Trust is a subjective feeling that usually leads to a closer brand relationship. Trust is based on the customer's faith in the ability of a given brand to perform an expected function. That faith translates into feelings of reliability, safety and honesty. Although the trust driver may include rational calculative processes, such as consideration of the cost and rewards of the relationship, it has significant emotional underpinnings. Interestingly, the trust driver is most relevant in situations of uncertainty where the customer may feel especially vulnerable.

In circumstances where significant functional differences exist between brands in a given therapeutic category, and where there are perceptions that there could be significant risk involved in selecting the wrong brand, the trust driver has special relevance.

There are many reasons for considering these – and many other – emotional drivers in relation to campaign development. For one thing, emotion is processed more speedily, and may remain more consistently in the mind, than rational thought. Moreover, while competitors can now easily replicate rational claims, emotional appeals are much more difficult to imitate successfully. Furthermore, such emotional imitations can easily be mistaken for variations on the original brand's emotional theme, thereby unintentionally increasing the original brand's share of mind.

Explore New Categories of Strategic Presentation
It is ironic that, in healthcare communications, there appears to be an unhealthy preponderance of campaigns that, seemingly by default, fall into the 'analogy/metaphor' category in terms of how their core ideas are strategically presented. Common visual themes, such as rainbows to signify 'broad spectrum', gauntlets to indicate 'strength', and wild animals to represent 'speed' or any number of other brand attributes, have now become clichéd through repeated use. It is therefore important to use conceptual mapping to explore some of the many other strategic presentation techniques that already exist, as well as to look at creating new ones.

Creative Concept Development
Although all successful campaigns are built around an integrated understanding of rational differentiation, functional superiority, optimal strategic positioning, and emotional insights, for many people the creative concept development stage is the point when the brand is really brought to life.

Just as with Apple's Tools for Creative Minds and Heineken's Reaches the Parts Other Beers Cannot Reach, the core creative idea developed for any healthcare brand must represent the brand, support the brand, and remind customers of their own positive brand perceptions, all at the same time. It is worth noting that, because of the complexity involved, many of the standard – but unsophisticated – metrics used in primary qualitative research often fall short when it comes to testing creative concepts, especially for new products where there is often no pre-existing frame of reference.

Qualitative testing must be interpreted very carefully at this stage. Nothing kills a good idea faster than bad research

Any and all results of such qualitative testing must, therefore, be interpreted very carefully at this stage. After all, nothing kills a good idea faster than bad research.

Essential Creative Criteria
Although there is no formula for campaign success it is always worth evaluating successful campaigns to see how they measure up against a number of essential creative criteria:

Is it on strategy?
Although the strategy is usually fairly obvious, it can sometimes be difficult to determine how 'on strategy' a campaign is merely by looking at the different campaign elements. Luckily there are a number of tools you can use to reverse-engineer competitor campaign strategy.

Is it original/unique?
Cynics would argue that every creative idea has already been done several times over, but that's not entirely true. There's always something original to say about any brand. Remember there's no such thing as a boring product, just boring agencies (and, occasionally, boring clients).

Does it have unexpected relevance?
If the creative idea is truly original/unique it is often unexpected. But being unexpected merely for the sake of it is no match for relevant unexpectedness. Having said that, the old wags who used to talk about gorillas wearing jock straps (as a glib example of being 'unexpected') would obviously be at pains to explain the runaway success of the recent Cadbury's ad with the gorilla playing the drums.

Is the message immediate/impactful?
The reader needs to get the campaign idea without unnecessary delay. We're first competing for their attention, and then for their time. So don't waste the opportunity.

Is it compelling?
It's amazing how many campaigns have no 'call to action'. They don't explain – or even hint - to the reader what is expected of him/her within the brand relationship.

And memorable?
Spend time in any market research session and you'll hear HCPs, when asked which campaigns they remember, respond with the same brand names, even when some of the brands they mention have not been promoted for some time. That's the power, and value, of memorability.

Is it campaignable?
It may be stating the obvious but a campaign really should be campaignable. This doesn't just mean in terms of campaign development over time. It also means across media and communications channels.

Is it ownable?
Branding isn't about making the brand logo as big as possible. Brand images can be triggered by a word, an image, a sound or a smell. Even a colour. Understanding and using these dynamic brand elements is key to creating brand images you can uniquely own.

Does it involve the audience?
The best campaigns don't just shout their message with a foghorn but seek to involve the customer in a relevant and mutually enriching relationship. Benjamin Franklin had something of the good ad man in him when he said, “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I might remember, involve me and I will understand.”

Connecting Everything Together
Once the best concept/message has been determined it should form the basis for a multi- channel communications approach. Again, we use a sophisticated tool to knit together promotional, medical educational, PR and consumer approaches so that all disciplines are communicating messages designed to complement each other and build up understanding of the core values of your brand.

Rising to the challenge
In the past, we only had to worry about getting the story right for physicians. But today and even more so in the future, the messages that we communicate not only have to convince the prescribers but also those who hold the purse strings, which may include a myriad of other advisers and other non-medical people.

Branding is becoming ever more challenging and to ensure the best chances of success our approaches need to appreciate that large spends are no longer autonomous with success. How we present brands to the growing number of stakeholder groups, and what we say, are the issues that will demand the most attention.

And one more Benjamin Franklin quotation to finish, “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”  In other words, we all need to keep evolving our skills and not get stuck in a rut of thinking we know it all.

Article by
Mike Lane and Jeff Daniels

(formerly at Lane Earl Cox\TBWA\WorldHealth), managing and creative director at DraftFCB. Jeff can be contacted at

7th November 2011


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