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Smart Thinking blog

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

How to future-proof your brand

Step up your branding expertise to ward off untimely competition and negate the passing of the years

If world events of the last few years have taught us anything, it's that nobody has any idea how things will look in even five years' time. Yet 'Adapt or Die' has become a mantra in every sphere of industry.

As a result, brands are advised to focus on agility, responsiveness and 'rapid idea realisation'. Fine, if you are a car or a chocolate bar. But in a sector where new products routinely take up to 15 years to come to market, and global regulation is like wading through treacle, being fast on your feet is not a realistic answer. 

So what can you do to keep your Rx or OTC brand relevant and resilient in a world that's changing by the day? You can leverage the fact that a true 'brand' always has a strong and unique emotional relationship with the people who use it. Yes, even doctors.

This complex mixture of experience, trust, affection, knowledge and engagement is largely independent of functionality (or new product development). Like any key relationship, to survive it needs regular attention and investment. Approach your consumer with the same attitude and care as you approach your partner, and the chances are he won't run off with alluring new molecules or smooth-talking generics.

1. Stay attractive
Are you still using the same imagery you launched with? Have you refreshed your detail aids recently? Have you done anything new that keeps your brand fresh and engaging? Is your website well designed? Is your OTC packaging ugly, old-fashioned and confusing?  

2. Keep up
Technology moves so fast you'll never outrun it. (How long has it taken for iPad detail aids to become ho-hum?) But, used creatively, it can give you unique opportunities to connect with your audience. For example, a cold and flu brand linked up with Love Film to let you send flu-ey friends a feel-good film to watch online – an unforgettable gesture at just the right moment – made possible by the internet. 

3. Listen
Do you honestly know what your users think of your brand? There's no insight without information, so commission research that digs deeper. Better understanding gives you a competitive advantage, and don't forget – if you don't ask, they'll vote with their feet.  

4. Behave well
In today's fully networked world, good and bad news travels fast, and corporate social responsibility is becoming critical to the longevity of any brand. What if you have bad publicity? Plan ahead. Behave incompetently, like Toyota did over its recalls and you destroy consumer trust. Act responsibly, like J&J did with Tylenol and you can use a potentially damaging event to actually increase market share.  

Above all else, remember that emotion has been proven to be by far the most powerful driver of choice. Make sure you sustain your emotional pull by continually strengthening your relationship with the consumer and you'll have the single most effective way to proof your brand against whatever the future brings.

Quick checklist




Have you briefed your creative agency to regularly present ideas to refresh the marketing materials and website?

Are you using new technology to surprise and engage your consumer and to give him what he really wants?

Do you just do ad or detail aid research, or are you talking in depth to your audience on an ongoing basis?

Do you have any disaster planning in place? Are you doing anything to benefit the wider community?


Article by
Pam Mason

creative and strategy consultant, specialising in healthcare. She can be contacted at

21st January 2013

From: Marketing



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