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Smart Thinking blog

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

Second time round – successful brand revitalisation

With the list of patent-expired products lengthening, marketers need to evolve strategies that produce healthy returns for mature products. We asked the sponsors of the 2008 Pharmaceutical Marketing Effectiveness Award for Brand Revitalisation how you bring them back to life

Successful brand revitalisation of a mature or ailing pharmaceutical brand is one of the biggest marketing challenges. It takes a great deal of commitment, hard work, time, planning, historical understanding and above all a clear foresight to develop a compelling new offer for a mature product.

In 2008, when Pfizer won a Pharmaceutical Marketing Effectiveness Award (PMEA) for its excellent work on Zyvox, we were witness to a campaign that had truly transformed a brand that was not just mature; it was in trouble. And yet Pfizer had successfully devised and implemented a strategy that has given the brand a whole new breathe of life.

Presenting this Award in 2008 started me thinking again about some of the key issues that should be considered and addressed so as to have a chance of successfully revitalising an in-line brand. Importantly, I believe brand revitalisation will become increasingly vital in many companies in the coming years. We are witnessing more and more brands that are, or have been, key to their manufacturer's success, now losing their exclusivity (patent expiry). Many brands have recently lost their exclusivity already.

In addition, there are fewer 'mass market blockbusters' being launched now to deliver a company's short-term or medium-term sales targets and to replace sales so quickly lost when a patent expires. All this points to the need to get more out of existing in-line brands and this may mean looking for brand revitalisation opportunities to reverse a declining sales curve.

Each brand needs to deliver as much as possible and many brands that 'could do better' may well be important candidates for a second chance. Pharma has now entered a period when it cannot be just left to fall from grace and be starved of resource and attention while all eyes are on the next launch opportunity.

So, where to start? What are the key questions we should we be asking ourselves, when planning the revitalisation of an in-line brand? Importantly, it is about challenging what has been done in the past and what has gone before – and learning from previous mistakes. Was the original strategy misguided, or has the market just moved on – perhaps through a new competitor product being launched or an old competitor losing its exclusivity, resulting in the arrival of much cheaper generic competition and leaving our brand high and dry?

Now a word of caution. Not all brands are capable of successful revitalisation, so be realistic when planning to revitalise one of the brands in your portfolio or, at least, be honest about accepting that you should just be managing a declining and fading brand.

Based on our experiences of being involved in many brand revitalisation strategies over the last 30 years, I have listed below what I feel are the most important areas to be mindful of and to consider when developing strategies to recapture lost sources of brand equity or ways to identify and then establish new sources of equity for your brand.

Don't wait until it's too late
Once a brand is really on the slide, in terms of sales and/or perception, it will become much harder to dramatically change its fortune in the future. We all know that every prescription product has a life cycle from launch through to its demise (patent expiry included) and this may be shortened for all sorts of reasons; for instance, the marketing successes of new and better competitors, as previously mentioned.

Having said this, of course, patent expiry is not always fatal. Take a product like Canesten, which really has successfully become a brand in the consumer sense by moving POM to P and continuing to grow long after clotrimazole's patent expiry. Of course, this is never going to be an option for all Rx brands, but it will certainly be an option for many more in the future.

Effective marketing of a mature product means planning ahead and starting to think about the scope for brand revitalisation early on, perhaps even when a brand is still in the ascendancy, especially if this is prior to a new and important competitor entering the marketplace. It may not be a good idea to wait until the job is twice as difficult. It might even be too late to breathe new life into a brand when it has fallen too far.

Is it just a communications issue?
Or is it an issue with the brand itself? This is the million-dollar question and probably a good starting point when assessing the viability of revitalising a brand. You must thoroughly understand your brand and its market to be able to fully answer this one.

If there are fundamental issues with the brand, and hence the viability of revitalising it, beware. A new proposition and new messages won't necessarily be the answer if there is a more fundamental issue with the product or the business sector. So, this needs to be a question asked and answered at the earliest opportunity.

Insightful market research is vital
Of course, it will be necessary to understand fully why your brand is where it is today and how the customer's attitudes and perceptions of your brand may have changed over time. It is about understanding where the brand is now and matching that up with where you want the brand to sit in the customer's mind in the future. Then ask yourself, is that going to be a realistic leap?

It is, therefore, really important to understand the history of the brand to be able to move it on to a better place. Appropriate, timely and insightful market research is vital. Find the answers to questions such as:

  • How do customers view the brand, its heritage, its values and its ability to meet their needs?
  • What can it do for them in the future?
  • What USP do customers see for the brand (if any)?
  • What negatives do they raise about the brand?
  • How relevant is the brand now in its marketplace ?
  • Just how much equity is there really in the brand currently?

Hopefully, the answers to such questions will help you build a picture of where the brand is and what can be done. Equally important will be a clear understanding of how customers view your competitors and how entrants to the market are likely to impact on the marketplace, as you plan your revitalisation strategy.Test out the new strategy to make sure it is robust and viable against your new expectations for the brand – to make sure it is worth spending all the time and effort that it will clearly require.

Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater
You've decided big changes are necessary to save (or at least improve) your brand's future, but make sure any existing positives in the brand, and in its profile and image, are recognised and used going forward as you develop the new approach. Build on your assets, assuming there are any.

Similarly, it will still be important to keep the brand meaningful, relevant and attractive to existing customers, as well as to the new ones we are setting out to attract. Again, clearly thought through market research will be important here.

Stick to your guns
Once a new direction and a commitment to change have been agreed, stick with it. It is no good confusing the new approach by trying to shoehorn in what may only have been relevant in the past.

Stay focused once you have decided to change, because a brand offer needs to be straightforward, single-minded and simple. You are trying to change the perceptions of your brand after all. So be brave with the new approach; it's time to have bottle.

Get the appropriate level of support

It is important to resource to achieve your plans properly. Inappropriate funding may have been an issue in the past and it is important not to fail twice on this parameter. Equally, buy-in at the appropriate senior level to sponsor the project will also be key.

The importance of brand advocates
Even a brand in decline will have some advocates – hopefully! They will be an important group to understand, nurture and use when revitalising for the future of your brand. Understand why they are so positive and why they have bought into your brand, and use them to help you move the brand forward in the right direction.

Similarly, find new advocates who will support the new strategy you are moving towards and use them to help spearhead the new strategy and messages. It might even be that a key audience has been ignored in the past and could be a great ally in revitalising the brand.

Get the internal audience onside too
So very often our marketing communications' focus is on the external audience without taking much heed of the needs of our internal audiences. In changing the direction of a brand, it will be paramount to have key internal individuals and departments behind the move. Most important here is usually the salesforce and their sales management.  They will need to thoroughly understand and be briefed as to why things are changing.

Your colleagues in sales will need to understand the new expectations for the brand and how they are going to help get it to where it needs to be. They need to be convinced that this brand can be sold again. I would suggest, too, that the medical department and the market research group are also thoroughly briefed and should be part of 'the team'.

Leave yourself enough time
Not doing so will mean that with all the best of intentions and best-laid plans, their execution will be compromised. Coming from the service side of the business where time can so easily and unnecessarily be squeezed at the end of a project, I guess I'm bound to say this. But it is, of course, very important for the sake of the brand to get the right balance between thinking/planning and actually executing the plan. 

Each and every brand strategy needs to be executed well (brilliantly even) to allow the communication of the strategic intent to connect with the audience. The best strategy in the world is wasted if it doesn't resonate with our chosen audience and get them to act accordingly.

Some of the oldest are the best
Given the importance that fmcg companies have always placed on their brands, I checked out the Marketing Society's Global Jubilee awards to see what had won their award for brand revitalisation.

The consumer world has many hundreds of examples of brands being successfully revitalised and in some examples this has been done on more than one occasion, so I was pleased to see that it had gone to a brand that was 120 years old! 

Clearly, fmcg brands do not face the sort of loss of exclusivity we see in pharmaceuticals, but they do face the ever increasing threat of own-label, so it's not all plain sailing for them either.

The 120-year-old brand I am referring to is that great British icon, Hovis, which had begun 2008 with sharply falling sales, largely at the hands of Warburton, Britain's largest bread producer. It looked like Hovis was in trouble.

So the brand embarked upon a major revitalisation programme 12 months ago, which included new packaging (nearly always less important in our Rx sector admittedly, but so often vital in revitalising a consumer brand), some product improvements, a new PR offensive and a brilliant new TV campaign based on its rich and unique heritage. 
The outcome was a marked up-turn in sales and a significant increase in market share, not to mention a dramatically improved brand perception, and all at a time when the consumer is becoming increasingly unwilling to pay more for branded grocery products.

While there are clear and obvious differences in the marketing of Hovis and an Rx brand, there are also similarities and I am sure the process of market and brand interrogation was every bit as thorough for Zyvox as it was for Hovis.

Article by
Michael Paling

is CEO and chairman of TBWA\Paling Walters and chairman TBWA\WorldHealth Europe.
He can be contacted at or on 020 7840 7444

14th September 2011


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