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Smart Thinking blog

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

The voice of society and brand positioning

Is your brand development strategy based on individual brand values and patient needs? In this web-savvy era, your company’s corporate values may be more pivotal than ever in how your product is perceived

The relationship between a company's values and the values it attaches to its brands has always been important. Important but often overlooked. With the rapid development of social media and the proliferation of peer-to-peer reviews, forums and bulletin boards, the way people make choices and how they exchange information has changed and is no longer under the control of companies or traditional influencers such as the medical professional

The new voice of social influence lies in the World Wide Web. This mutation reviews company reputations, scrutinises claims and broadcasts hypocrisies.  The importance of having corresponding internal and external values with strong synergy between corporate message, brand claims and product delivery is critical.

Many companies have strong, ethical and unique corporate values. Pharmaceutical companies in particular generally benefit from well-articulated credos, visions and missions due to their position as championing worldwide healthcare and wellbeing. Yet, and this is especially true in the pharmaceutical sector where the drug is being marketed around a condition 'need', these values can often feel remote from the specific drugs or product categories marketed. In truth, the closer one gets to the product, the less voice these corporate values tend to have.

This is now an issue worth considering. As consumers increasingly self-medicate online or at very least self-diagnose online, the distance between corporate reputation and product positioning – and performance – is only a click away.

The impact and corporate damage that a lack of product performance, unrecognised side effects or even worse, a recall, can have is well documented. But what if a company's corporate message or actions do not correlate to its products' marketing? Not only will this affect the performance of the drug/product, but the reputation of the corporate brand can be equally at risk, with potential impact on sister brands and parent share price. This lack of synergy has a special impact on the OTC market as information on these products is now freely available online – and thereby beyond the control of the company.

People are now able to research drugs online, reading both product details and public responses in blogs, and make their choices based upon this information.  It is in this online space where the reputation of a company can be built or lost. It is said that nature abhors a vacuum. Similarly, consumers on the web seem to have an insatiable desire for peer approval in their search for any given cure to any given condition.

Anonymous requests and answers for product information or shared experiences now fill a very real anxiety gap left by the silence of the corporate voice. Would it be trusted if it was more outwardly present? I believe so, as long as it is not the corporation talking but people from it. Herein lies the dilemma between the anonymous corporate voice, the voice of society and the voice of the individual.

Could it be that the pharmaceutical sector has grown too accustomed to the shroud of secrecy that the medical profession still embraces? What would be the price to pay if it was to engage in a direct, honest and personal dialogue with its customers and end-users? In reality, the battle for secrecy has already been fought and lost online. As Scott McNealy, past CEO of Sun MicroSystems, famously said over 10 years' ago, “Privacy is dead, get over it”.

Add a certain cynicism about the sector and customer concern about global trading integrity, and you have a real need for change in the way pharmaceutical companies talk about themselves and their brands to their customers.

Filling this void of 'personal voice' messaging and addressing the new voice of society is the challenge for pharmaceutical companies. Alignment of internal and external marketing methods is a first step. Alignment of corporate messaging with product or portfolio marketing is another. Ensuring that the voice of society, our new web-savvy society, is addressed to achieve an effective transfer of values from both the corporate and the very individual external spheres is a further key developmental step.

Creation of shared value platforms across internal and external frameworks and communications is essential for employees and employers. For example, investment in employee wellness programmes at Johnson and Johnson (a key tenet of the company's values) saved $250m on healthcare costs and ongoing help in stopping smoking complements Nicorette (a key J&J brand) and demonstrates a strong connection between the company values and the product brand.

This is the challenge: pharmaceutical companies must align the product portfolio and marketing mission closely to corporate values. And they must come out from behind the wall of corporate missives and speak frankly and directly to their stakeholders. From business, research and development, and marketing strategies and tactics to sales practices, all need to be firmly guided by the ethical values of the corporation.

The voice (and conscience) of society is never far away and is ever ready to uncover any dissonance. This new voice of society is here to stay. So now is a good time to align the values of your company with those of your brands in order to gain support and commitment.

Article by
Nicolas Mamier

managing director at Appetite and can be reached at

14th November 2011


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