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Smart Thinking blog

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

Dare to be Different

As R&D struggles to deliver and generic competition soars, the opportunity to differentiate your brand has never been more crucial. But how you do it? Our author, an expert on insight-driven marketing and its applications in the challenging climate ahead, gives an informed perspective…

Randomised double blind trials are the basis of establishing clinical effectiveness – but what about brand effectiveness? Wouldn't it be powerful if we could demonstrate a clinical benefit of branding? Well as long ago as 1981, one such trial, published in the British Medical Journal, compared the effectiveness of pain relief from placebo versus branded drug versus unbranded drug. Sure, the pharmacologically active ingredients accounted for most pain relief – but branding, with all its inherent attributes, such as trust, that come with it, gave up to an extra 30 per cent pain relief!  There was even a suggestion that patients were more willing to take branded tablets because they were well known – giving an additional compliance benefit on top of the clinical benefit.

Maybe such striking facts about the power of branding have been overlooked during the last 20 years when the abundance of unmet needs and a pipeline of groundbreaking drugs made selling relatively easy with a string of blockbusters coming to market during the 1990s and early 2000s.


When you had genuine new products, first to market, for large patient populations with unmet needs, then differentiation from competitors and relative price were not so important. The role of sales and marketing was largely to present the facts. So what has changed? Nearly everything! With less genuine innovation, brand differentiation and value for money now go hand in hand and the challenge for marketing has become to create both of these in the eyes of prescribers, payers and patients.

So how can you create success for your next big launch? We need to get thinking back to the 'Big Idea' – that is, the driving, unifying force, behind a brand's marketing efforts. But what separates a truly big idea from one that is merely ordinary? Big ideas need to be disruptive, authentic, strike an emotional chord as well as have rational appeal and speak to people at a fundamental level so they transcend cultures and borders. Big ideas are best developed as channel neutral – they need to be able to come to life in any communication channel, be it by sales rep or digital.

So big ideas are now more important than ever – but they don't just fall from the sky – you must work intentionally to create them. Take an example from the consumer world. Unilever's Persil/Omo brand challenged convention by pronouncing 'Dirt is good'. At first sight this seems a little odd for a laundry brand, but it celebrates that if people are going to live life to the full then occasionally they are going to get a little bit grubby!

So there is no better time to remind prescribers and payers of the benefits to branded drugs – including better clinical efficacy and better compliance. And if R&D departments are struggling to deliver, then it's marketing's opportunity to step in and to create meaningful differentiation. There is still the question of which channels will best deliver our 'Big Idea' – but that's another story.

Fast Track

  • Scientific evidence points to a 'brand' having both a clinical and compliance benefit with patients
  • With R&D departments struggling to deliver innovation in pharma, it's time for marketing to re-discover the 'Big Idea' to drive meaningful differentiation and create strong brands
  • Big ideas need to be disruptive and speak to people via fundamental truths
  • Only once marketers have found this unifying force behind their brand's marketing efforts should they think channel optimisation and how to embrace digital – but not before…

Article by
Trevor Acreman

European Head of Healthcare at Millward Brown UK. He can be contacted at

29th October 2012


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