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Smart Thinking blog

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

Daring to be different

If pharma needs to be more rigorous about defining its market insights, recognising opportunities and executing its ‘big idea’, what else gives our best-known consumer brands the leading edge? The traditional tenets of successful pharmaceutical brand development might still apply, but one thing is for sure… the ‘telling and selling’ approach needs updating

What makes Nike such an enduring brand? How did Motorola go from the middle of the pack to the top of the tree? They were already established brands, but they wanted to grow faster and stronger. They have successfully achieved this by becoming relentlessly efficient developers of brands. But the real question is, what are the secrets of their success and what can pharma learn from these household names?

it's good to talk, and to listen
The first tenet of success is simple. We are better at what we do when we work together. All great brand developers see themselves as a small part of a much bigger picture. They involve their colleagues across boundaries and functions in an intense conversation about where the brand can and should go. They never want or expect to solve a problem or come up with a great idea in isolation.

However, while you need to listen to key people, a great brand also needs a strong leader; someone to make decisions and move the brand forward so that opportunities and momentum are not lost.

Great brand development is also built on the philosophy that the brand needs to engage in a conversation with the customer. It's not about 'telling' or 'selling' but about talking to them and learning from them to uncover new opportunities for growth.

Digging deeper
'Insight' in any form of marketing is a misused word. What many companies think are insights are actually just observations or statements of fact. Great brand champions and insight-driven companies know the difference between information and insight. They know the power of deeper insight and they know how to find it and recognise it. But why look for deeper insights?

Great insights inspire change by identifying a truth in a market and a tension. If you can identify these two things in your market, you have identified a customer challenge or need that the brand can potentially address.

Great insights are not found only in focus groups. To discover an insight that will radically change the brand, or your understanding of the market, you need to use braver, more creative techniques.

In FMCG marketing, we generally use techniques such as disruption and deprivation to force consumers to think differently and understand what it is the brand – or product – really means to them. This is a little harder to apply in the pharma industry, but there are things we can do.

In pharma market research we generally speak to doctors in a formal market research facility or in their office, and then bemoan the fact that they are responding without emotion. Try taking them out of their work mode by talking to them in a more informal setting, away from the surgery. Then, maybe you would understand what it feels like to be a doctor prescribing your therapy area.

Stronger understanding
Great brand developers have a stronger understanding of their markets, how they work and what drives them. Most marketers assume they know their market very well. Maybe they do, but do they know it better than their competitors? How much better do they know it? How can they be sure?

To really know your market you need to understand what makes it 'tick' in much greater detail. You need to understand your customers more intimately; what drives them, both rationally and emotionally. If you understand your customer on both levels, you are more likely to say and do things that your customers will respond well to.

You also need to know your competitors almost as well as they know themselves. This isn't just about looking at their pipeline and clinical trials, it's about understanding what space they are trying to own in your therapy area and how they are communicating with customers. This level of competitor intelligence also needs to be forward looking to anticipate potential competitor moves that may threaten your brand.
clear sense of destination.

If you don't know where you are going how will you get there? Average, boring brands drift aimlessly from one annual brand plan to the next. Great brands have an ambitious sense of destination, even if they don't know exactly how they are going to get there. To use one very well-known example; Dove deliberately chose not to portray an idea of beauty that women aspired to. They turned the popular notion of beauty (as characterised by supermodels and actresses) on its head and strove to become an inspiration to real women instead.

This paradigm shift was brave and founded on powerful insight into the worldwide tension – stretching from the UK to Fiji – that this popular notion of beauty is unrealistic and unattainable for most women and simply makes them feel less beautiful. Dove's big idea is about celebrating real beauty in all its shapes and forms.

Big brand idea
Behind every brand is a great 'big' idea. Everything we do in brand development, in particular the big idea, needs to be brutally simple. All successful brands have a big idea that everyone understands, regardless of the customer type (ie, patients, prescribers, payers). Great ideas capture the hearts and minds of all of your customers in equal measure. For McDonalds it is 'family time'. For Motorola growth came from the idea of 'style over technology' while Dove's idea of 'celebrating real beauty' has helped it grow from a sub-$1bn brand to a multi-billion dollar global megabrand.

Each of these big ideas is founded on a sound, rigorous market understanding and a powerful insight about their consumers. Their big ideas drive all aspects of the brand, strategy and execution. It may be a complicated road to find the 'big idea', but brutal simplicity is crucial. Your idea should tell a simple story that plays into the hearts and minds of each of your customers and, in turn, inspires action.

Don't tell me how I feel
The continued reference to emotion is probably starting to feel tiresome; if it's not, it should be. The experts are right, you need to ensure there is emotional engagement with your brand. But remember, emotions are not created by just adding words on a communication piece or to your brand positioning.

True emotional engagement comes from the entire product experience; how your product performs, the language it uses, the service it provides, the people that work for the brand, and many other things linked intrinsically with the brand. In practice this means you need to define exactly what it is you want your customers to feel and then you need to find a way to create this feeling in everything you do.

Everyone on board?
If you enter any successful brand company you will be able to stop the first person you meet and ask them “what does your brand stand for?” and they will know. They will also know what part they play in helping to take this brand to it's destination successfully. The take out is simple – make sure everyone in your organisation (not just sales and marketing) has truly understood and engaged with the big idea behind your brand, its destination and what part they play in getting it there. After all, if they do not know where you are heading, they cannot help you to get there.

Ahead of the game
Ask yourself, for this year's marketing plan did you:
A) Just make incremental tweaks on last year's plan?
B) Pull together a dusting down of last year's off-strategy campaign?
C) Employ 10 more sales representatives?

If the answer is “yes” to any of these, you need to go back to the drawing board and start again.

Just think, if every customer in Europe receives over 500 commercial messages each day (in truth it's more than that), then yours will stand out only if it is different. If you want your brand to grow you must be the one that stands out from the crowd by doing and saying things that are truly different and new, but still relevant and credible.

This means you must be truly different in everything you do, from PR to publications detailing strategies and online activities, but different in a way that is motivating for your target customers and true to your big idea.

Obsessive with consistency
Should you let someone get away with a message that's not on strategy? No, of course not. Everything you do must be consistent with the big idea behind your brand and must help you build towards your brand vision. If you are not relentless about this one rule then your brand development will be impeded and brand consistency will not occur.

Travel anywhere in the world and you'll find Dove standing for the same big idea. Sure there are cultural differences, even different adverts, but it is still instantly recognisable as Dove. Everything the brand says and does conveys and celebrates real beauty.

In fact, there are fewer cultural and behavioural differences in the pharmaceutical world than in most other industries so there is less argument for going off in different directions. You must have relentless, ruthless, obsessive consistency, and no exceptions to this rule.

Focus on external opportunities
Great brand companies know that the market starts outside their office. They look outwards and actively avoid spending too much time on internal processes and organisation. They focus all of their energy on the outside market by looking, listening and learning from their competitors and customers everyday.

They are constantly scanning the market, looking for changes and opportunities and they instil these qualities in every employee. Again, the lesson is simple, you should spend 90 per cent of your time (at least) focused on the outside world, your customers, the competition and the performance of your brand, and 10 per cent of your time focused internally. This will ensure everyone is on track and motivated to deliver what is needed to make the brand a success.

Top tops to leave with you
Ultimately great brand development is underpinned by five key pillars that will unlock growth:
1. Deep insight: all great brands have uncovered a genuine insight about their market that they have tapped into.
2. A visionary strategy: know where you are heading and how to bring everyone with you.
3. A brutally simple brand idea: create a big idea you want your brand to own and stand for, and one that transcends the normal boundaries.
4. Practical creativity: in order to stand out from the crowd you need to be brave and do things differently, while staying grounded in your big idea.
5. Execution: relentlessly and consistently reinforce your big idea through all aspects of the brand experience.

Article by
Melvin Jay

managing director of Clear Ideas. He can be contacted at or on 020 84398286

14th September 2011


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