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Passion branding

Brand teams must exude loyalty and enthusiasm for their products if they wish to win the hearts of their customer base

Pharma tattoo "Dear Gordon Brown, I can save you £508m a year. Please call me on this number when it's convenient."

This message was plastered across UK billboards earlier this year in a unique bid to raise awareness of autism. The driving force behind this inspired campaign was Polly Tommey, a mother from South-West London who has a 13-year-old son with autism. Mrs Tommey, who also founded the Autism Trust, is the living embodiment of passion branding. She secured advertising to the value of £500,000 for her campaign.

"We were initially advised that we might be able to secure an appointment with the health minister, however, I believed we needed to go straight to the top man, Gordon Brown," states Mrs Tommey.

"Being passionate to the cause was hugely important [to this campaign's success]. I had listened to many stories from mothers about their children's last chance. I couldn't cope with the sheer volume of calls I was receiving, but I knew I had to do something because of everything I had seen and heard. The reality was that I was working on behalf of the 500,000 people who suffer with autism in the UK and really need help. The campaign was actually conceived with a group of other mothers, without autistic children, from a bedroom," Mrs Tommey said.

A reason to believe
Our brands are our value creators, providing differentiation, building customer trust/confidence, and ultimately delivering competitive advantage. Branding has created a true paradigm shift in the way we communicate our offerings to our target audiences. As a natural consequence, our understanding of our customers' emotive needs has evolved significantly. The pharmaceutical industry today is characterised by shorter brand lifecycles with patents now being successfully challenged much earlier. Healthcare markets are also defined by marginally different "me too" products, stunted product pipelines and increasingly challenging market access hurdles. This amplifies the need to actively embrace another dimension of our branding, making our brands work harder for us.

In Lovemarks – The Future Beyond Brands, Kevin Roberts, CEO worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi, contends that brands are running out of juice and struggling to connect with people. He believes that great brands enjoy an elevation in status and are defined as "lovemarks" that are owned by the people who love them.

So what is passion branding?
In the words of the great American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Stamp it with your own personality. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."

Passion branding is the fuel that can propel our brand communications to new and unparalleled heights; it is the seminal moment that can create and sustain real branding momentum when all other things are equal. It is about unleashing another dimension of the branding process and taking brand engagement to the next level, but ultimately, passion branding is about delivering compelling propositions through persistent enthusiasm.

Admittedly, the phrase "passion branding" has not entrenched itself in pharma marketing vernacular, retaining a stronger presence in consumer marketing. But isn't it time that it did? Passion is the final, and possibly most pivotal, piece of the branding jigsaw.

Defining passion brands
Passion brands contain the following basic attributes:
• The ability to express a positive belief and an authentic statement of intent
• The ability to inspire others to connect to the brand proposition, building significant brand loyalty and creating word-of-mouth opportunities
• The ability to create a compelling brand experience that transforms customer perceptions in the market place.

By means of example, one of my favourite passion brands is Innocent – the UK producer of fruit smoothie drinks. Innocent retains a very distinctive, compelling tone of voice that is conveyed with impact throughout its communications. It is a vibrant brand that exudes and personifies passion in a refreshingly honest and transparent manner. The tone of voice is young, fun and the brand speaks to you in much the same way that you would would speak to a friend. The passion manifesto at Innocent is best demonstrated by its highly engaged workforce. From a total of 200 employees, only 13 have moved on in eight years of trading; an outstanding testament to the devotion that passion brands can infuse and inspire. This has enabled Innocent, virtually single-handedly, to build a new market drinks category in the UK, with no previous sector experience.

Creating the magic
Passion branding must start from the inside out. As brand teams we first need to feel it and believe it before we can hope to ignite and evoke the same emotion in others. Alignment is absolutely key.

Once we have achieved the 'passion equilibrium', it is imperative that we take a barometer check of the passion levels in our key internal stakeholders. You can use another internal brand facing similar challenges as your yardstick for this. If your internal stakeholders aren't passionately engaged by your brand, then where does their passion lie and how can you embrace it? In an industry still defined by portfolio selling, this can often be the biggest challenge. Alignment also needs to extend to all external strategic partners to ensure success. This aspect of passion branding is often taken for granted and needs to be optimised to ensure a consistent tone of voice from the cross-functional brand team.

Once alignment is achieved, it needs to be expressed with the "right sound" across all dimensions of the promotional mix. Failure to achieve this may result in dissonance when the brand proposition is received and interpreted. Having several different interpretations of the right sound will invariably create mixed results. Ensure that all brand team interactions demonstrate passion branding, whether it is with internal stakeholders or external customers.

It is incumbent upon us that passion branding is embraced by sales representatives in customer discussions. This scenario can be analogous to making a film. From the outset we need to visualise the story, ensuring we have a robust understanding of the issues our customers are passionate about. Having achieved this, we need to focus attention on getting the sound right by adopting the appropriate passionate tone behind our language. This will provide the perfect platform for delivering a great performance and truly exuding what passion branding is all about.

You might think that we are blurring the boundaries somewhat with our colleagues working in sales management, however, I believe that just as it was once famously said that "marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department", selling is too important to be left to the sales teams. Better integration of our collective efforts is key to unlocking the opportunities that passion branding can deliver.

The power to sell
Can the notion of passion branding really be translated to our branding endeavours in the pharma industry? "The role of personal selling remains the most crucial part of the promotional mix for most brands. When people make a purchasing decision and they are listening to a sales person they will be influenced, sometimes negatively and sometimes positively," argues Rob Wood, managing director of the STEM Marketing Consultancy. "An example of a pharmaceutical brand which has recently exemplified the translation of insight gained by marketing into fieldforce emotive execution is Clexane from sanofi-aventis. They passionately convey what the brand stands for, which, importantly, earns them the right to pass the responsibility of releasing the benefits of the product onto the customers' shoulders – to such an extent that even when the reps do not close the sale (technically speaking) they still move brand adoption forwards. Passion can be 'blind' or informed and Clexane is a great example of informed, intelligent passion based on clear customer and patient insight," concludes Mr Wood.

The zenith of passion branding is the creation of a set of fully engaged and motivated brand ambassadors. This often requires limited effort when launching brands, an exciting time when passion branding is almost a given across the full spectrum of stakeholders. The real challenge comes with trying to evoke the same emotion for established brands in advanced stages of their product lifecycles. Creating the vision and developing a template profile for a brand ambassador is an important first step. Identifying a core set of people who best epitomise this profile will then provide a valuable opportunity to harness this passion and influence others within their peer group.

The final analysis
Ultimately, passion branding is about understanding how we can collectively harness our positive beliefs to unlock opportunities for our brands, as well as recognising the difference we can make in amplifying the impact of our brand communications. Passion branding demands a sustained commitment to communications excellence. The brand equity of the Starbucks brand, for example, is underpinned by the principle that they are not in the coffee business serving people, but in the people business serving coffee. This has been delivered through the mantra "Everything matters".

Passion branding is a critical, yet sometimes overlooked, part of a marketer's arsenal. Seizing this pivotal opportunity and re-kindling the passion may deliver and even maximise competitive advantage. Passion is necessary if our brand communications are to be translated into uplifting experiences for our customers. Believing in better acknowledges the value that impactful execution can deliver for our brands.

The final word comes from American entrepreneur, Donald Trump: "Without passion you don't have energy, without energy you have nothing." Couldn't have said it better myself!

The Author
Jag Singh is a brand manager at AstraZeneca.
To comment on this article, email

27th July 2009


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