Branding is for Cattle…and Pharmaceutical Marketing

Branding is everywhere, and physicians and medical consumers are now faced with more choices than ever before. But what makes someone choose one brand over another?

Branding can make things easier for the physician. When faced with many choices, they are more likely to turn to a brand that they know and trust. It serves as something dependable and familiar, saving time and trouble. This means that there is now an even greater need than ever before for companies to create strong brand recognition.

Ted Leonhardt of The Leonhardt Group once stated, “Branding is an emotional shortcut between a company and its customer”. It is this shortcut that the physician (and medical consumer) is looking for when faced with many choices. This is especially true when marketing Pharmaceuticals, as side effects and potentially lethal outcomes make the choice of product even more important than many other product categories.

A brand is not simply the name of a Pharmaceutical product but rather the value the drug has for physicians and their patients.

How do marketers ensure that it is their brand physicians and medical consumers choose repeatedly? By examining the best practices for an effective brand, we can determine how online marketing must be crafted, and how effective online marketing can further create and reinforce this power brand.

Brand Management

A brand is not simply the name of a Pharmaceutical product but rather the value the drug has for physicians and their patients. Brand management can often mean the difference between a successful or unsuccessful venture. However, misconceptions about what branding actually is can stand in the way of effective brand management. The two most common misconceptions about branding are:

(1)  Brands and brand images are relevant only when purchase decisions are ‘irrational’ or ‘emotional’. They have nothing to do with markets populated by highly sophisticated and experienced customers, nothing to do with purchase decisions based on benchmarking studies and objective performance data.

Wrong! Any brand that is successful is so because the consumer views it as a promise of receiving a certain type and level of value. This value can be a complex issue and not narrowly defined in terms of quantifiable performance data. Clearly, high-tech and Pharmaceutical brands do clarify exactly what objective (and clinical) performance data is to be expected. However, with most competing Pharmaceutical products, there are usually factors in each drug profile that provide advantages or disadvantages over their competitors, making the product choice not a clear-cut one based on performance data alone.

Many ‘emotional’ factors can also be called into play in this arena, making the brand an important part of the overall process. If people know and trust a certain brand name, and it is associated (either quantifiably or emotionally) with high quality clinical data, then it has a strong competitive advantage over unknown brand competitors. No matter how objective physicians like to think they are, there will always be a certain ‘emotional’ bias towards the known branded product. The bottom line is that a rational decision is one based on maximizing value, and value can be based on an objective or subjective decision.

(2)  Brand management is best left to the marketing or sales departments; it’s not central to the technical direction of the company. A brand is just a logo, trademark, slogan or ad campaign, and marketing handles those things.

This ignores the fact that the foundation of all marketing is creating and nurturing a promise of value to a customer, and delivering that promise. If all functions within an organization are not working together towards the same goal of creating a single promise of value, the customers won’t buy in to the product or brand. This requires much more than an advertising campaign or slogan. It requires knowing what to promise to whom, which requires the ability to assess the potential of relevant compounds and anticipate its customers’ needs (before the customers are aware of them). These needs must be fulfilled by everyone involved in the company, as well as the wholesalers and resellers.

Brand Planning

To effectively manage a brand, marketers must plan from beginning to end, and realize a brand is not a brand without a set of tangible or intangible benefits associated with it. This goes beyond being simply a renowned product name. The real value of a brand is at the heart of a strong relationship with the customer.

To manage a brand effectively, marketers must conduct pre-planning, analyzing the market for profits, needs, consumer values and behaviors. Marketers must determine the current promise of value, and make a commitment to continually refining the promise of value.

They must enlist the entire company by determining what the various business functions must accomplish to make good consistently on the promise of value. Managing a brand means differentiating the product and creating distinctiveness as well as injecting personality and presence into the brand. It must also include measurement. By instituting measures of brand performance throughout a lifecycle, marketing can be honed and a brand improved.

Because the relationship with the customer and the promise of value are central to the branding process, Brand Managers often ensure that their brands are symbolic of a certain attitude or approach, or related to a high involvement issue.

This ensures that the brand is associated with much more than just the product it represents in order to create a stronger relationship. Pharmaceutical products already have associations with high involvement issues that can be leveraged effectively to be associated with particular attitudes and approaches.

Branding campaigns to involve the physicians (and medical consumers) and develop high involvement relationships can be planned in many ways. Two common approaches used are ‘affinity’ branding and ‘dispositional’ branding. These can be used successfully in combination with Pharmaceutical product branding.

Affinity Branding

Most commonly used in Pharmaceutical marketing to physicians, affinity branding builds trust and credibility through another entity’s brand, done simply by using a known and trusted name or an explanation of a relationship with such an entity. Usually, in Pharmaceutical marketing, this is achieved by associating a product with a high profile Opinion Leader physician(s). When marketing prescription products, Pharmaceutical marketing departments often enlist the help of Opinion Leader physicians to create advocate panels and advisory boards. The Internet allows many opportunities to utilize affinity branding in this way.

Dispositional Branding

This branding, on the other hand, is more a type of branding used to associate a brand with a particular mood, situation, emotion or disposition. It’s extremely effective in branding particular drugs, especially OTC drugs. Non-Pharma companies use dispositional branding very effectively. An example would be: which brand would you use if you had a package that you had to get to someone overnight? Even though FedEx does not use this slogan on its website, it is still firmly entrenched in the minds of many consumers, thus showing it to have been an effective dispositional branding campaign.

Some brands overwhelmingly succeed in integrating their brands with the consumers. The consumers integrate the brands they buy with their own identity. This is done more often in non-Pharma branding but can also be an effective model for Pharmaceutical companies to consider.

Most people want to belong to something that they feel is worth belonging to.

Harley-Davidson is one brand that has created this kind of allegiance and loyalty, inspiring devotees to even tattoo the logo (or ‘brand’ it) on their bodies. Its brand is a kind of identity badge for its users and signifies far more than a motorcycle. Another excellent non-Pharmaceutical example of the brand as an identity marker is from General Motors. The initial Saturn ad campaign called it ‘a different kind of company, a different kind of car’. The car received incredibly positive press coverage, and consumers and supporters were made to feel part of something special through a ‘Saturn Owners Club’ database and other perks. This online community of car owners further boosted word-of-mouth support for the car, and now there are many Saturn Owners Club websites.

This same basic model can be applied to marketing Pharmaceuticals. Many companies create ‘advocate panels’ and ‘advisory boards’ of Opinion Leader doctors. This allows the doctors to feel special, invited to be ‘in the club’, and boosts the doctors’ support of the product and their word-of-mouth marketing.


The key in these examples is that the brand marketers succeeded in creating a feeling of belonging to the people that buy or advocate the product. Most people want to belong to something that they feel is worth belonging to. Of course, in Pharmaceutical branding, there can be sensitive issues that often need to be confronted. No matter how proud someone is about their choice of drug and its relieving effect upon their symptoms, there are good reasons that they probably will not wear a T-shirt saying ‘Zovirax – the Herpes relief that worked for me’. However, if the branding is done in an interesting way – with more of an attitudinal approach – online ‘clubs of sufferers’ can be created successfully.

A great example of an online sufferer’s club is by Jeanne Barnett. I have known Jeanne since the mid 1990’s and her website was not created for any other purpose than to help Cystic Fibrosis sufferers; however, what she has achieved with it is something that Pharma companies should aspire to. It has a strong affinity with the users and is of immense value to them. Ultimately, if your brand can establish a strong affinity with its customers and their needs, then it can establish a community of interest around the brand. This can be leveraged in many ways and can be especially effective online.

For more information on the topic, please contact the author - Dr Andree K Bates at Eularis:

eyeforpharma Philadelphia 2014

Apr 15, 2014 - Apr 16, 2014, Philadelphia

Make customer centricity work: smart pharma mindsets, models and technology that will seal commercial success