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Storm of challenges

Marketers must adopt media neutral ideas that span today's multi-channel, interactive approaches

A tornadoOnce, the power and influence of the salesforce used to mean that all other forms of promotion were largely incidental and the most common request for a new campaign was typically: 'One detail aid, two leavepieces and some mailings please. Oh, and an exhibition stand design that features the three key messages and the global image prominently.'

Now, because so many aspects of the job have changed, a fundamental reappraisal is needed to ensure that a brand's message is not lost in the current environment.

In order to confirm the extent of the change and examine the approaches of companies large and small, sister company Strata Healthcare Research surveyed a representative sample of senior marketing professionals from diverse firms, including over half of the top 10 global pharmaceutical companies and several successful biotech companies.

Not only did the survey confirm the degree of change, but also found that the solutions varied enormously from company to company and even within some organisations.

Most of the respondents claimed that the pharma marketer was facing a storm of challenges, namely: falling budgets; increased regulation; growing numbers of stakeholders to address, including specialist nurses, pharmacists, patients, payers, as well as an increasing number of new media opportunities.

Respondents were seeking advice on how others in the industry were changing to reach these extra audiences without neglecting their core targets. They also wanted to know how they should coordinate and use the many media options against their marketing objectives to ensure good ROI and guarantee meeting those objectives.

"I think that the key thing is to see the results from trying these new activities. I think we are trying lots of these things but which actually work and what about the cost effectiveness of these new approaches? We're all rushing headlong into these areas and spending money, but we need some data to show differences between these outcomes and the established ones really," said one brand manager from a top 10 pharma company.

The consumer answer
Fortunately a model already exists in a tried and tested format in the consumer marketing world that can be adapted to this marketplace. The consumer multi-media crisis started 10 years ago when TV advertising, which had been that sector's mainstay medium, started to become too expensive, while at the same time there was an explosion in other media options like sponsorship, magazines and of course the internet which was reducing TV's coverage and penetration.

To solve this problem, consumer marketing evolved 'brand experience' marketing, which used a creative idea designed to work across a multitude of media (a 'media neutral idea'), together with a multi-media planning process ('media neutral planning'). This new system offered the audience a fully interactive brand experience that was more engaging, presented across a wide range of media, accessible at a time that suited the audience and designed to reinforce the brand's claims in interesting and relevant ways.

Consider the success of Red Bull, which could have been just another one of many energy drinks, but has instead become a worldwide success. It interacts with its customers in many different ways, all of which remind them of the core promise, epitomised in the advertising line 'Red Bull gives you wings'. Yet, importantly, it has been decided that not all communications have to state this overtly.

Most major consumer brands now employ brand experience marketing to create the relationship with their customer base through a multiple media channel approach. An important part of this new kind of relationship is that it is two-way and not static.

Disney does it through Disney World and its TV channels, particular TV programmes also have websites and behind-the-scenes programmes, while other brands use 'fan club' websites and memorabilia.

Customers interact with the brand and the company behind it and expect to receive responses from the company too. In the new multi-media era a brand can no longer command the share of voice to tell consumers what to think and do; the more cynical and demanding customer these days wants the brand to give something back and to respect the relationship or he or she will move on.

So how does this approach translate to the pharmaceutical industry? A senior marketing manager of a top-10 pharma company stated: "You have to be smarter in your communication to the doctors. To deal with these changes, we have to remember to provide something of value to the doctors, rather than the 'shotgun' approach where you advertise a lot."

Insufficient approach
Over the last few years, pharmaceutical companies have been trying to achieve a uniform brand image by ensuring the same visuals are used all around the world, but in truth, many of the newer media that are being added are not visually driven, so this approach is not sufficient. It is also extremely limiting. A media neutral idea is not a headline or a brand essence or a single visual of happy elderly people on a beach. In fact, it is none of the current global pharma ideas of brand building.

A media neutral idea is like 'Red Bull gives you wings'. It is rooted in the core benefit of the product, but it is expressed in a customer-orientated way to inspire a multitude of creative ideas.

It is far better to convince an audience of a brand's appeal by running engaging and interesting communications, than by trying to force people to like it. More importantly, pharma no longer has the time and budget to manage this.

Plan implementation
The other side of the equation is to build a plan to carry the idea through to the audience. The key to success here is to design a media plan which puts the customer and his or her behaviour at its centre and then use a media neutral planning system to design the best mix of media to make the budget work as hard as possible.

This means so much more than changing a detail aid into an e-detail and hoping this attracts more doctors to the message. Media neutral planning analyses the brand's needs versus the market and designs a multi-media plan which reflects the way the brand wants to portray itself, carrying the right messages to the right audiences and engaging them in the process.

Further, such a system allows a more scientific approach to the choice of media and the allocation of budget that gives brand teams a better way to evaluate the options the agencies offer them.

We use this system ourselves and have found that it brings a win-win situation for clients and agencies. For example, when we used it for our client CareFusion, we realised that although its product, ChloraPrep, had excellent data to prove its worth in cleaning a patient's skin for medical procedures, the audience did not believe that cleaning the patient's skin was a major problem.

Therefore we created a media neutral idea for the campaign of 'patient's skin as the source', which was designed to educate as well as sell. This idea has worked well in every medium and uses literature, websites and an educational video on YouTube. Proof of the campaign's effectiveness is that ChloraPrep is now used in over 90 per cent of UK hospitals and in the majority of line insertions, after only four years.

With a media neutral idea, clients gain control of the direction of the work, not just its execution. This means that they receive interesting ideas which build the brand positioning in a customer-centred way, making its relationship with customers stronger and in turn its effect on them. It also means that agencies find it easier to work together as they are all creating from the same blueprint. This means it is not surprising that their work is complementary, not conflicting.

Media neutrality, in both ideas and planning, builds a stronger brand experience, which in turn helps rebuild those important relationships that would wane otherwise.

Adopting this new approach may mean that both the pace of change and the resulting move to a different approach could end up being the best things that have happened to pharma marketing in a long time.

The Author
Dominic Owens
is planning director at Seven Stones

To comment on this article, email

10th January 2011


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