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Spreading the word

The world of pharmaceutical marketing - once known for being geographically fragmented - has evolved into a global industry

Can you export consistent marketing strategy around Europe, solely from a US base?

The world of pharmaceutical marketing - once known for being geographically fragmented - has evolved into a global industry. Leading pharma brands that may previously have had as many as 15 different advertising campaigns running in 15 different countries are now taking a more unified approach to marketing.

The factors driving the globalisation trend are numerous. Communications now transcend borders, as physicians and patients increasingly obtain healthcare information from the internet, and doctors regularly travel to other countries to get the latest clinical information at medical conferences.

Regulatory institutions in major markets are sharing information and harmonising review processes to be more integrated.

At the same time, pharma companies are recognising that building one global brand is both more cost-effective and more strategically sound than building and supporting a multitude of country-specific brands.

As a result, both large and medium-sized pharma firms have looked to globalise, or at least regionalise, their advertising campaign development.

Many have sought help from the top consumer agencies in developing global campaigns with locally relevant executions in each market. Unfortunately, while there are many examples of successful global brands on the consumer side, effective multi-country campaigns for ethical products have proved more elusive.

Global marketing challenge
One factor that makes global marketing such a challenge is the management infrastructure that exists in pharma firms.

In most cases, local affiliate presidents in each market own the P&L and report to a regional executive who has no accountability to the global marketing leaders. As the affiliates do not report to global marketing, the division has little, or no power to bring them to consensus around a global campaign.

Traditionally, in this model, the affiliate president would work with creative agencies in their own market to develop their own campaigns.

The advantage of this approach is that the campaign is well targeted to the local physicians and patients, and the marketer feels empowered in their role.

However, because there is no consistent messaging, or look, to support the brand globally, this approach is costly and may be confusing to customers who encounter the product in more than one market.

Major global agencies - which are, for the most part, American-owned - have tried to solve the problem with the 'exported' global campaign approach. In this scenario, the campaign is developed in the US and tested independently of the local marketers, then exported to the affiliates in the form of a campaign book with very little scope to customise it for the local market.

With this method, the goal is to make the campaign fit into each market. The typical result is a creative approach that offends the least, rather than works the most. Consequently, local marketers feel disenfranchised and are motivated to show why the centrally-developed campaign will not work in their markets.

A better approach
Clearly, the current methods of building global pharmaceutical brands are not working well.

What are the alternatives? In a perfect world, without any constraints from the existing market, a global marketing strategy would do the following:

  • Structure the marketing departments at pharma companies to be brand-centric, rather than geographically focused

  • Win the hearts and minds of the local marketing personnel for more thorough implementation of regionally developed campaigns

  • Develop campaigns that share strategy, look and feel, but are designed to fulfil the unique needs of each market

  • Centrally produce all campaign elements to save time, energy and money

  • Refocus the activities of the local marketer to gain better insight into the global strategy.

Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world. Nevertheless, there are actionable steps we can take to move towards these ideals of global marketing.

Brand-centric companies
The structure of pharma firms is probably the factor that most needs to change, as well as the most difficult to fix in the short term.

To be a brand- and marketing-focused organisation, a pharma company's brands must be owned at Operating Committee level. This way, innovation and the funding to support it happen at the highest levels of the company.

This allows for more sustained funding of initiatives that require more than a calendar year to complete. In addition, by creating reporting relationships between affiliate marketers and the global marketing team, goals can be aligned and tactics that are inconsistent with the brand strategy can be quickly identified and managed.

There is widespread understanding that pharma needs to change its infrastructure to support globalisation, but change of this magnitude will not happen overnight.

In the interim, other key steps can help to move firms towards better global branding.

Solid foundations
A great global campaign starts with a solid strategy that all of the stakeholders have agreed upon. However, getting global marketing teams and affiliate marketers to reach consensus is no simple task.

Many global marketing groups feel that they are in charge of promoting the brand to the world and that their job is to dictate the strategy to the affiliates. However, as discussed earlier, this rarely works.

Alternatively, if global marketers viewed affiliate marketers as clients who need to actively participate in the strategic and creative process, many of the frustrations felt by both parties could be eliminated.

For this to occur, global marketers must not only gain insights from their local counterparts during strategy development, but they must involve them throughout the process in the consolidation of those insights and the setting of central strategy.

Containing costs is usually a major barrier to this approach. Having face-to-face meetings with the local affiliates, as a group, has become too expensive to do on a routine basis for every brand. Therefore, those who attempt to be more inclusive often resort to communication with affiliates via email, rather than in person, which usually leads to poor results.

A better approach would be to have a third party, such as a global marketing agency, which moderates and facilitates this critical step. Assuming the agency has senior personnel in the targeted affiliate countries, the local agency team can facilitate a global-to-local workshop that would describe how the local affiliate can use the global strategy to develop their plans in a more cost-effective way.

As part of this process, the local affiliate may provide feedback about what is going to be most relevant in their market. If this is done prospectively and is consistent with overall brand strategy, it will add relevance and impact to the local marketplace.

The result of this initiative is complete transparency, buy-in at local level and a more aligned affiliate and local agency.

Creative concept ownership
Once the major affiliates have agreed upon a global strategy, creating a campaign that is both globally consistent and locally relevant is the next step.

As with the strategy development, getting all the major affiliate brand managers to provide input to the creative brief is a critical investment that will pay huge dividends in a more streamlined creative development process.

Ideally, this input will be gathered at a face-to-face meeting with the group, but if that is not possible, a well-planned web conference may be a viable alternative.

Once consensus has been reached, the agency can then confidently execute on the brief. If the campaign is being developed for Europe, it is crucial that the concepting process is done with the participation and direction of the local creative teams in each European market, not just US-based staff.

Ideally, the concepting team should be made up of at least one creative from each of the major markets, so that all cultural and individual market dynamics can be considered at the outset.

The result will be ideas with scale that require little, or even no compromise in execution, which is critical as it will assure local marketers that their culture and markets are keenly represented.

If local marketers feel a sense of ownership for the global concepts, they will be less apt to stray from the branding guidelines when it comes to creative execution. This brainstorming process should result in two to five concepts that can be tested in major markets to determine the best choice.

However, the integration does not end here. The global marketing team and its agency should work with local affiliates to recommend how the campaign can be produced regionally in the most cost-effective way.

The output of this process should then comprise a considerable library of images and templates which reside on a client extranet, for all affiliates to access.

In having access to all of the original art files, smaller affiliates which may not have the resources to hire their own agencies can still produce solid creative work that is both locally relevant and consistent with the global campaign.

Evolving local roles
Currently, the local affiliate pharma brand manager spends an estimated 50 to 70 per cent of their time developing materials to feed the salesforce and executing their plans. The role of local marketers needs to evolve with the effective use of network agencies and centralisation of the process.

In the global marketing approach described above, local marketers will focus on providing better, more relevant insights to the global or regional marketer.

They will spend more time interacting with customers, setting up marketing panels, and experimenting with pilot programmes that concentrate on amortizing the centrally-developed campaign into the new media channels that are available to them.

They will also focus more of their time on access issues and working with government agencies to find ways of reducing the cost burden of treatment.

These activities would be not only a more effective use of local marketers' time, but would also support pharma in delivering better, more cost-effective medicines.

Given the size and complexity of most pharma companies, changing their internal global marketing structure and processes will be a significant endeavour, requiring time and commitment. However, the rewards of building successful global brands are sweet, and the companies that rise to meet the challenge will reap them.

Phil Deschamps is CEO of GSW Worldwide, a subsidiary of inChord Communications, a Ventiv Health Inc company.

2nd September 2008


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