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Smart Thinking blog

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

Pharma Comes Out of the Branding Dark Ages

Isn't it high time that the pharma industry takes branding seriously rather than leaving it purely to their portfolio powerhouses?

Simply put, as the links between the drug and the consumer become more diversified, blurred and complex, the need for the products to connect strongly with healthcare providers (HCPs) and consumers will increase and this is precisely what brand delivers brilliantly.

We are all familiar with the different market conditions that pharma faces, but what does this mean for brands?

The rise of generics will be significant and its growth is predicted to save $90bn for insurers by 2015 in developed countries. Quite a compelling figure and this not only means that the competitive landscape will be more confusing for brands, but the competitors will be unfamiliar and this will place pressure on existing brands as they struggle to be heard amongst the crowd. 

Pharma dynamics

There is also another issue that is already emerging: the generics themselves will become brands in time. This dynamic has happened in FMCG – just look at private label brands like Sainsbury's 'Taste the difference' or Albert Heijn's 'Excellent', and taking the case of Tesco, private label now accounts for 50% of their income. Consumers understand this shift in FMCG, so why should they be any less receptive when it comes to pharma?

The end of drug patents also introduces complexity for brands by the rapid emergence of competition that can deliver the same performance but at a lower cost. Taking the product formulation out of the equation, what is left? 

The remaining key differentiators are the brand name and personality. And here, brand resonance is key in order to keep valuable connections and reasons-to-believe with the consumer.

However, this is not a future scenario, this is happening as we speak. You could also argue that for most brands the gates have already closed for them to ramp up their brand expression as a rearguard action against the new copycats.

Reaching for the brand

Finally, we will see a significant shift in the role of pharmacist, from 'RX provider' to healthcare consultant. When they become more embedded in the HCP role, what will they prescribe or advise to consumers given the way the product landscape might change? 

Brands are 'known' by HCPs and easy to identify, and so might come to mind first. They are also perhaps easier to understand so might make the most sense. But it is naive to think that lesser products and generics will not want to play the same way. Taking this further, competition will increase and become more complex, so each brand will need to work even harder to stand out.

The ones to watch

The above speaks strongly of the need for pharma products to aggressively drive connection and resonance with consumers and stand out in the increasingly crowded marketplace. The good news is that these are both aspects where great brand design excels and delivers effectively to FMCG brands everyday.

And while brand design is often dismissed by the pharma industry as irrelevant and the preserve of consumer FMCG, the need for it's skill set is clear and the early adopters in pharma will be the ones to watch, and the ones we want to watch in the near future.

Article by
James Whittaker

head of 3D branding, Design Bridge Amsterdam

5th October 2012


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