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Miracles and mistakes in strategic planning

What happens when we allow conscious thought and experience to cloud our thinking?

The agency went to a lecture at the Royal Institution given by a Nobel prize-winning psychologist called Daniel Kahneman, who has published a new book entitled Thinking, Fast and Slow.

The reason we all went is that the book is about how the human brain routinely takes mental shortcuts to make decisions based on associations already in the head, leading to many irrational decisions.

In pharma many prescribing decisions are made semi-automatically or from learned experience, ie, using 'fast thinking' to process what Professor Kahneman calls his 'learned association of ideas' – meaning in marketing speak, total brand perceptions. This total brand perception is made up of all the different messages the audience has received over time – from the brand, the internet, colleagues, from the competition… everything.

It becomes clear therefore that the fundamental objective of all communications activities is to make sure that the audience has the kind of associations we want in order to believe our brand is most suitable to his needs. But of course that means we have to manage this reputation carefully across everything he hears about the brand.

This is getting more and more difficult as the messages are now transmitted across many separate media with different teams involved. We are no longer in the blockbuster era of 300+ salespeople visiting GPs with simple sales aids together with double-page ads in the trade press. This is the era of a huge mix of global imagery, internet learning, apps and iPads, on top of all the traditional media and meetings.

To tie these diverse and sometimes unbranded media together is impossible with the old-fashioned single global image and three key messages – they no longer cut through and aren't flexible enough to work across multiple media.

We find that what is needed is something made for this new era of multimedia – and that is a new kind of strategic approach which we call 'Media Neutral' strategy.

This does what it says on the tin; it is a theme designed to work across any media, from face-to-face to web, much like the way in which Red Bull uses 'Gives you wings' in its ads, but also in its sponsorship of multiple adventure sports. The tool was invented for consumer marketing when TV lost its dominance and something had to be found to tie together sponsorship, the internet and traditional media.

We have successfully adapted this approach for pharma, developing a pragmatic, fast and powerful process that helps define a single thought for the brand's communications.

Using this technique we have built brands into market leaders – despite having no new data - and launched brands on small budgets that have changed the way the NHS works.

A strong Media Neutral strategy encourage audiences to reassess completely their views of the relevance of the brand because it subtly associates a brand with desired attributes in a way that the audience comes to accept subconsciously.

So, while it's great that the importance of values and associations in influencing decision making has been highlighted by such an eminent psychologist, it's now up to all of us to respond by using the right tools – especially media neutral strategies – to make the most of this in our new, ever more complex world.

Dominic-OwensSeven-Stones-logotypeThe Author
Dominic Owens
is planning director, Seven Stones
He can be contacted at:

6th January 2012

From: Sales



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