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Playing hard to get: What pharma can really learn from the luxury industry

Pharma should look to premium brands for inspiration rather than FMCG

luxury holidayApplying strategic insight from consumer brands to pharmaceutical brands is an increasingly popular tactic. Such strategies could catapult prescription products into the 21st century, making them more top-of-mind with physicians and relevant to the patient. 

This is a dream for the pharma industry. In reality there is still a way to go before this is achieved; we need to cast a critical eye over the consumer insight and learnings relevant to highly focused brands in the pharma world.

Increasingly, clients are challenging consultants to draw on examples from the consumer industry to further brand strategies. General consumer examples, however, have yet to truly fit the bill for prescription brands. As such, drawing on examples from premium, luxury brands has become much more relevant and enriching. As targeted as we need to be with the development of new drugs, we need to be equally targeted in terms of where we seek out true marketing inspiration.

Drawing parallels
Although it may not be an obvious comparison, luxury and pharma have more common goals that you might think: cost, focused positioning, positive first-time brand experience, and peer endorsement are all paramount in both sectors.

Cost in pharma is increasingly defined in terms of value for payers, prescribers and patients alike. In luxury, perceived value is at the heart of each brand; it is an expression of craftsmanship, quality and price combined. For both industries, the way in which brands are perceived to be 'unique' dramatically impacts cost due to a highly-discerning customer base.

In positioning, brands in both sectors must have targeted, clearly defined campaigns that support the value proposition. It is not enough for positioning to simply relate on a scientific or product (attribute) level, it must resonate emotionally. In order to build brand loyalty an emotional connection is key.

Due to the customer profiles in each industry there is little, if any, room for error. A positive first-time brand experience is essential and this must be in line with brand expectations (set in part via clear positioning).

Such positive experience is equally important in order to build a critical mass of brand advocates. These are not any brand advocates, however, these are trusted peers and respected leaders.  As we aren't dealing with the 'masses', individuals with perceived pedigree (highly experienced clinical trial leaders in pharma or renown trend media in luxury) need to be inspired to endorse pharma brands. Cultivating their interest in a new product is no easy feat, but is one that must be addressed very early on.

Top tips for pharma/luxury success

  • Don't try to be for everyone: Highly-focused positioning is everything. Know your customer inside and out, as well as key influencers.
  • Truly differentiate: Not just in terms of what you do, but also what you don't do. What is unique or special that makes your brand desirable? An engaging brand story is critical to highlight what makes it unique and ultimately worth its price point.
  • Seamless marketing and consistent communications: Have a clear message to key customers that directly reflects expectations for the brand and one that falls in line with their brand experience.
  • Support brand ambassadors: They play an important role, but must be supported. Rather than telling consumers what they want, brands need to enable them to curate and share. Social media plays a part for both sectors, but we must not forget the importance of private events in the luxury world and invitation-only seminars in pharma.

Cultural considerations
An understanding of customs and expectations across markets is a prerequisite for brand success. The logic of luxury in emerging markets is different from developed markets. It cannot be generalised.

A good example of a luxury brand tailoring its offering for an emerging market is Shang Xia, the sub-brand Hermes created for the Chinese market. Shang Xia created the first sub-brand with a Mandarin name and branding specifically designed with Chinese cultural connotations in mind.

Cultural considerations are also imperative for pharma. Take dosing habits in Japan; these are continuously taken into consideration when launching new ophthalmic products as more frequent dosing is preferred in contrast to Western countries. Each market requires a dedicated approach.

These cultural variations must also be taken into consideration when educating customers. Communicating the brand value in a way that resonates in each market is a universal goal. Understanding the range of levers at play in terms of the buying process in each market is integral to building brand proposition knowledge in the minds of customers.

Cultivating brand persona  
Pharma companies are increasingly adopting a value proposition lens to assess their brand. Having a clear and targeted positioning is beginning to gain momentum as fewer and fewer silver bullet drugs emerge in the marketplace. In addition to this, the value of a quality, premium and focused brand is now also becoming better understood.

In pharma it is essential to remember: just because a brand is not the silver bullet, it does not mean it cannot be highly prized and desired.

It's clear that more work is required to bring prescription brands into the 21st century but applying the strategic insight used by premium consumer brands can offer a great deal of inspiration and positivity going forward. Acknowledging the clear parallels with luxury brands in particular will see pharma achieve the same level of success with patients.

Article by
Dr Pamela Walker

is Head of Health at Incite

24th September 2013

From: Sales, Marketing

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