Please login to the form below

Not currently logged in

Crucial components

Central positioning and the core proposition ensure brand consistency across cultures

Chip in motherboard Pan-European marketing, particularly within the pharmaceutical industry, is a complex discipline, strongly influenced by many factors including the expansion of the EU eastwards and the emergence of new markets further afield. A one-size-fits-all approach won't achieve effective results in every market, as we need to be aware and deal with very different cultures. Those marketers who regard Europe as one homogenous whole are heading for disaster.

So, how can we ensure brand consistency while adapting our approach to make it acceptable and effective in different cultures?

Local cultures
There are so many variables within each market and each will have an influence over the success of any marketing communications being undertaken within that market.

This is exactly the same as if you tried to segment a specific local market in any other way – geographically, demographically or attitudinally. In fact, all three are inextricably intertwined. Just as understanding the 'hot buttons' of a market segment are essential to tapping into them, so it is when you look on a national and/or cultural level.

More specifically for pharma marketers, the 'need-to-knows' can be broken down into four categories:
1. How patients access healthcare
2. How stakeholders deliver healthcare
3. Attitudes and behaviours of key stakeholders in the therapy or treatment area
4. How decision makers make value judgements – for example, which patients are important to treat.

Get the brand name right
If we think about the basics, such as the name of the product, we obviously need to get that right. However it's not always quite that simple.

There is an oft-told myth that General Motors' Nova car sold poorly in Spanish-speaking countries because 'no va' means 'won't go'. The story isn't true, but it illustrates the point. There are numerous other tales of marketers getting brand names terribly wrong because of humorous issues with translations or problems with pronunciation – most are false. However, they do demonstrate how much research is necessary when chosing a brand name.

Consistent positioning
Put another way, anyone can make and market carbonated water with phosphoric acid, colourings, caramel with or without sugar/caffeine/lemon etc and the purchase decision becomes one driven by price. Only one company can make and market Coca Cola. Similarly, there are many, many ibuprofen products available, but only one Nurofen.

Brand consistency is about having the umbrella that ensures all communication is directed towards a central, consistent brand positioning. How it is executed locally must take into account the many different cultures, languages, competitive sets and customer needs and drivers of choice, and messages may vary by country and over time. At the end of the day, provided the execution conveys the desired central message, how it is derived is less important.

A robust brand development process, however, is essential to determine what that central positioning needs to be.

The key is to define what the brand is going to stand for in the target customers' minds across Europe – its value proposition and positioning. It is also vital to be clear about what it will not stand for. Once defined, each market then clearly knows where it can operate and the areas into which it must not stray. Communication of these can then be specifically targeted for each country within these boundaries.

However, a European approach does not mean every country following exactly the same communication and doing exactly the same thing.

Nevertheless, there are obvious commonalities in how medical thinking develops and is put into practice. Again, it is not totally consistent across all markets, but there are common threads in most therapeutic areas. Also, the clinical database for the molecule is invariably fixed, so we cannot significantly change the supporting evidence.

It is not necessarily about the same name, logo and imagery. From a pan-European perspective, the need is to ensure all markets fully understand the key parameters and what must remain consistent.

Essential components
a) Brand positioning
This should be a logical, credible and consistent user guide for the customer covering:
• Which patient is the product intended for, where and when?
• Why should the customer use the brand, what is the USP or point of significant competitive advantage and what is the supporting evidence?
• How does the product satisfy the customer's functional needs?
• How is the brand positioned against identified competitors?
• How does the brand change current behaviour?

b) Brand personality
This expands on the brand positioning and describes the emotional relationship between brand and customer incorporating:
• How the brand satisfies the customer's emotional needs
• The style and tone of communication appropriate to the brand
• A reflection of what the customer should know and feel about the brand.

This relationship should be unique and distinctive and by being sustainable and motivating, can form the basis for ongoing brand communication at a local level.

c) Core proposition
This ties together everything you want the customer to understand and remember about your brand, including the positioning, the brand personality, and the USP. The customer should be able to:
• Relate to it
• Find it distinct and motivating
• See it as relevant to their functional needs
• Feel it is appropriate to their emotional needs.

If the components of the brand are combined well, the customer will be consistently provided with a succinct summary of what is different and compelling about the brand – where, when and for whom it could be used to greatest benefit.

Remember, the core proposition is NOT a strap-line but a central theme to which everything must adhere, even locally.

The benefits provided by the brand will be clearly relevant to that customer and to real patient situations, both functionally and emotionally.

These contrast markedly with the incremental functional benefit of one product being X per cent safer or more effective than another. Although the benefit may be statistically significant, it could well be of no interest or relevance to the customer.

Of course, the classic desire of any new product manager is to make his or her mark by changing the advertising, sales aid, everything. However, with a clearly defined brand, any changes made can be consistent with the overall brand vision and values and not cause marked changes in direction, which has often led to frustration with both sales teams and customers alike.

Effective and motivating
Remember that any communication developed outside a particular cultural frame of reference may be misunderstood, or not understood at all.

In marketing today, particularly in the pharmaceutical sector, messages and communications tend to be developed by a small group of experts, often distanced, culturally and physically, from the markets in question. Consequently, the people they are trying to sell to may not understand the message developed, resulting in little or no chance of achieving marketing objectives.

In an industry like pharmaceuticals, dominated as it is by the US, the situation is often made worse by a lack of understanding of European culture. Often, global marketers (based in the US) will see Europe as a region. They do so at their peril. Europe spans Russia and Portugal, Sweden and Cyprus and regarding the continent as a single entity is courting disaster.

Clearly, audiences in Europe will react better to a Europe-centred marketing approach than to something focused on the US. It is therefore vital that European marketers work together if they are to challenge the dominance of American-imposed approaches that are so often unsuitable. But any solution created in Europe still has to be flexible enough to take account of the wide spread of cultures and markets within Europe, otherwise European marketers will fall into the same trap as their global colleagues.

Naturally, if the whole of Europe is required to adopt the global brand, communication of the essential components of the brand vision and values, positioning and core proposition must remain consistent. However, accepting that local execution may be different because of local market forces and different competitive sets, that execution must remain consistent with the global approach. This does not mean identical necessarily, but certainly not at odds or contradictory with the global approach and reinforcing the same brand values.

The overriding thinking must be:
• The brand should be constructed around one central positioning
Whether this is developed in Europe or elsewhere, central positioning is what the brand will stand for. It will clearly position and differentiate the brand functionally and emotionally in the minds of the target customers in context with their needs and the competitive offerings. This will be a consistent factor.

• The core proposition delivers the central positioning
Having developed the central positioning, it is essential that the core proposition should always be consistent and direct the customer to the positioning.

• Then execution can be adapted to meet cultural differences
Only once the central positioning and the core proposition are established should the actual message propositions be adapted to meet the local market, differences and cultures. Even then, the messages must be validated to ensure they clearly convey the brand, the values, the positioning and the core proposition. The acid test of any activity or execution must be to answer the questions: "Does it deliver the central positioning?" and "Is it received and understood by the target customer?"  – not "Do I like it or not?"

The most frequent reason for inconsistency is when culture is allowed to shape and direct positioning. How often have we all heard the phrase,"That won't work in my country"?

Cicero so admirably summed up the ethos of marketing in his famous quotation: "To persuade me, you must use my words, think my thoughts and feel my feelings." Similarly, when trying to ensure brand consistency across Europe, the marketing challenge that we all face is that this persuasion must come from the way in which the central positioning and the core proposition are developed, validated and constructed and then executed to meet local needs, differences and cultures – and not the other way round.

The Authors
Chris Marks is client services director at The MSI Consultancy
To comment on this article, email

30th July 2009


Subscribe to our email news alerts

Featured jobs


Add my company
Porterhouse Medical Group

The Porterhouse Medical Group provides powerful, insight-driven, healthcare communication services to the pharmaceutical industry across the globe, with a focus...

Latest intelligence

Pharma’s vital role in sustainability and corporate social responsibility
Pharma is in the spotlight as tough questions about sustainability commitments continue to arise...
Infographic: Therapy Watch Hyperlipidaemia
Our latest infographic offers an introduction to the real-world insights collected by our Hyperlipidaemia study....
Article: The rise of the healthcare influencer
In our latest article for Pharmaphorum Deep Dive, we explore the opportunities and benefits for healthcare companies in the online influencer space....