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Need to adjust

Global strategies can be adapted to suit the local customer

A wrench tightening a nutPharma is a globalised business, and therefore standardised, globalised brand strategies are a fact of life. Even though marketing is a complex discipline, influenced by all sorts of factors including culture and the local business environment, sometimes a global approach makes sound strategic sense, even when that decision is made with the knowledge that it may not always be best for a brand's local competitiveness.

No one likes being told what to do, especially when they regard themselves as experts in their own market, which is why local marketing teams are sometimes resistant to global strategies. This is one area, however, where it is important to be objective and not let emotional considerations or feelings of dented professional pride get in the way.

As in so many areas, we can learn from the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector. There was a realisation long ago that a 'one size fits all' approach doesn't always work, and that a 'glo-cal' approach, where the core brand values are expressed in an appropriate way for local markets, often works better. Consistency in every market is desirable but sometimes it is simply wrong to impose it on all markets.

Pharma is not the same as FMCG. Given that pharma brands are based on evidence and there is one common evidence base, it is not hard to see why a global branding strategy is so attractive to international marketers. In pharma there are clear financial and commercial benefits in developing global brands that make efficient use of time and cost and enable control to be maintained - something which is very attractive to corporate entities operating in a multinational environment.

The 'new' Europe
The accession to the EU in 2004 of 10 new and very different countries brought with it unrealistic expectations that the 'European' market - which extends well beyond the boundaries of even an expanded EU - would become more homogenous, making the implementation of brand consistency, and beyond that a centrally determined brand strategy, considerably easier.

The emergence of new markets does not alter the fact that the European environment has always been disparate. So just how realistic is it to take a global brand and impose it on such a varied marketplace?

This new European environment is not an amorphous mass of 450 million people opened up to the delights of free trade. As we should all be aware by now, it is in fact a collection of unequal markets, some with low-wage, low-cost and, in some cases, low-regulation economies. This brings about a series of challenges to pharma marketers who are trying to implement a global brand. Issues such as pricing, regulation and attitudes to generics seem to present an insurmountable barrier to achieving consistency across different markets.

Four years on from the new accessions we can see that some of the initial fears about parallel importing and lack of harmonisation were overstated. Membership has already had a beneficial effect on these countries. As they grow steadily richer, their populations are coming to expect better levels of healthcare and their health systems are slowly being given more resources to deliver it - all of which is good news for the industry.

There are also implications for brand consistency across different local markets. The unprecedented free movement of people across the continent - predominantly from east to west - is opening up the opportunity for pan-European initiatives to find receptive audiences. Only by this breaking down of national emotional barriers, as well as physical borders, will pharma businesses be able to create truly pan-European brand campaigns that benefit from the cross-fertilisation of people and processes.

The global brand
So far, so good. Does this mean that the European market is ready to adopt and implement the so-called global brand - and what exactly do we mean by this? Too often the perception is that if we have the logo and imagery in every country we will have a global brand. Not true. There are, however, well-documented, right-thinking examples of where a global brand strategy did not mean an inflexibility when it came to the execution of marketing communications in different markets.

Responsiveness to the market context determines the treatment. Pfizer's Celebrex was launched in many markets with a 'power' positioning, taking advantage of its first-to-market status in most places. It wasn't first-to-market in the UK, where Vioxx had already made this territory its own, and so Celebrex had to adopt a completely different positioning message in this market. However, the rest of the brand, its vision, values and overall benefits remained the same.

Building benefits
Brands are about benefits - both functional and emotional, values and relationships. These need to be built country by country, according to the needs and values of the target customers and their perceptions of the competition.

Essentially, there are four potential scenarios, based on the extent to which brand values and brand identification are globally consistent or inconsistent. Where a particular local market sits will determine the extent to which it is appropriate for the global brand to be implemented there.
1. The 'purely local' - where both brand identification and brand values are globally inconsistent: this scenario is relevant where you have a purely local brand or where the local situation means that a global approach is inappropriate. It allows the strongest appeal to local customer and market needs. With no tie-in to 'larger thinking' there is, however, the danger of cost inefficiencies.

2. The 'label' - where brand identification is globally consistent, but where brand values are globally inconsistent. This scenario has the illusion of a brand, but can lead to the use of inappropriate materials at local level, with the temptation to adopt global executions where other elements of branding are not consistent.

3. The 'value set' - where the brand values are globally consistent, but where brand identification is globally inconsistent. This still represents a global brand, with the same core thinking but different executions. This scenario is appropriate where local customs or history dictate the need for differences, or where there are problems locally with the global brand identity - perhaps for legal or cultural reasons. The danger here is overstretched or lazy marketing.

4. The 'complete brand' - where both brand values and brand identification are globally consistent. This is the ideal, provided it is real. This scenario delivers the full customer and company benefits of a global brand, and offers the highest level of potential marketing efficiency.

The complete brand
In practice, there is rarely a black and white answer as to where any brand sits. The pharma marketer needs to assess all sorts of brand and market drivers to gain a better picture of whether the approach in any given instance veers towards the local or the global.

There are six elements which make up a complete strategic pharma brand.

  • Brand vision and core values - the aspirations and personality for the brand, derived from the brand's objectives and insights about the market
  • Brand value equation - the balance of functional, emotional and/or value for money benefits, derived from our understanding of customers, their personas, needs and drivers
  • Product positioning - the 'who,' 'what,' 'where' and 'when,' which also requires an insight into competitors, and their brands and messages, to ensure the brand is competitive and differentiated
  • USP - the 'why,' derived from our product's unique characteristics
  • Brand positioning - what we want the customer to 'know,' 'believe',' 'do' and 'feel,' which follows from the product attributes, consequences and the emotional benefits
  • Core proposition - the single, consistent, over-arching proposition: that which makes our brand meaningful, credible, differentiated, motivating and sustainable.
  • Understanding these is useful when you are considering the extent to which such a brand can be implemented locally. All six elements come together to form the complete strategic brand, and the international marketing team will have put this together. They need to decide how much of each element needs to be globally consistent - perhaps the USP may be global, but the way it is expressed in local markets may differ.

    Local understanding
    Ideally, the understanding that local teams have of their markets will be tapped into during the development of the strategic brand, ensuring that local needs are taken into consideration. A global brand should be something which develops from within every market it will interact with, rather than simply being imposed from above by the international marketing team who may be based miles away in the US.

    Audiences in Europe will always react better to a Europe-centric marketing approach than to a US-centric one - or at least a global approach in which the importance of the European market is recognised.

    Rather than just accepting what comes from 'on high,' European marketers must constantly question whether there is a better way of doing things at a local level that fits within the global strategy. Pharma is strong as an industry because it is global, but to survive and thrive we must not be scared of standing up for a European point of view while the global strategy is being developed.

    In the end, if the global brand is consistent with local needs and you have the same competition, then the global strategy should be adopted locally - this should be the default position. If this is not the case, then a local execution may be appropriate. Either way, any local execution must not conflict with the global strategy and must fit under a global umbrella with the same brand values. In this sense it is the global which should inform the local, more than the local ploughing its own furrow.

    European markets are generally important enough globally to have some input into the creation of the global brand. The understanding of the local market can only come from local marketing teams, and in major markets this can be used to influence the global brand strategy. With well-structured input that adds value we can create better global brands, rather than have poor ones imposed on us.

    Local advertising
    The important thing for European and global marketers to recognise is that a global brand does not always mean global advertising execution. The FMCG market has shown us the value of allowing or even providing for local advertising by creating a series of advertisments from which countries can choose. In many cases the global brand should be relevant to the local market. Marketers often focus on the advertisment, potentially missing the point and getting into unnecessary arguments.

    Implementing a global brand will often be the appropriate approach, but adjusting the local execution may be necessary. It needs an objective not an emotional assessment.

    The Author
    Dr Paul Stuart-Kregor is a director at the MSI Consultancy, www.msi.co.uk

    29th May 2008

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