The Art and Science of a Global Brand

Aug 01, 2009
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

Al Topin
After a pharmaceutical company has spent millions on R&D, years awaiting approval, and countless hours devising a brand strategy, the next most important question is where to market a new drug. Increasingly, rather than attacking the US or another primary market first, pharmaceutical brands are being launched globally. What is the reason for this shift?

For starters, the pressure to maximize return on investment often mandates the broadest market entry and increased earning velocity. In addition, the need to set competitive barriers requires preempting competition in as many markets as possible.

At the same time, the communications landscape has seen many of its geographic barriers eliminated. The Web now provides immediate global access, and medical congresses have observed an increasing number of attendees from far reaching locations, while many key medical journals have added to their worldwide circulation. The result is an opportunity for additional reach and enhanced cost efficiencies if the brand is maximized for a global kick-off.

Tony Chant
Yet while global communications have become more streamlined, certain barriers remain challenging. We all recognize the need for awareness of various cultural differences when launching a brand. Even more daunting are the issues of differing medical practices, varied regulatory approaches, and elusive reimbursement systems.

Putting the Plan in Action

The science behind global branding involves organizing and managing a multifaceted team, as well as multiple layers of information. Building and mobilizing a global team can resemble a massive military effort, with the need for support staff at headquarters, line troops in the field, a range of alliances with specialty groups to bring depth and experience to the campaign, and a cadre of knowledge workers to translate information on global and regional markets from raw data into meaningful insights.

The art of global branding lies in controlling, balancing, and focusing this multi-level, multicultural, multi-regional, and multi-functional, effort. It requires the subtlety of a diplomat, the foresight of a seer, and the measured hand of a symphony conductor.

Over the years, as both individual ad agencies and members of a European network, we have witnessed a number of successful and not so successful efforts. Here are seven strategies that will help any leader of a global team master the art of control, focus, and balance.

Define and agree on objectives. Given the scope of a global brand launch, this first step will seem obvious. But often the pressure to move a program forward creates an impulse to "jump on your horse and ride forth in all directions," assuming that all parties know the plan. It is worth the time and effort to gather the group, discuss the issues, and clarify the objectives to avoid major missteps and confusion.

Define and establish distinct roles and responsibilities. What seems clear at the outset rarely ends up that way. Decision-making appears simple until everyone chimes in and no one is willing to compromise. To avoid confusion, appoint a core decision-making team, or a small group of senior executives, including someone to represent the regions and the overall global project leader to make the close calls. Next, form several teams to oversee key elements of the process, customized to reflect your own corporate approach and bring multi-functional backgrounds to the table. Each team should be responsible for maintaining focus, timetables, and developing concise, documented recommendations. Consider individual teams for strategy development, tactical planning, global implementation, and any other appropriate division of initiatives. Lastly, agree upon a decision-making process. If roles and responsibilities are defined from the start, you can avoid the after-hours phone calls, chain of command interference, and the inevitable whispers and undertones.

Develop a schedule of pre-set meetings. While there will always be the need for ad hoc and impromptu meetings, a series of weekly or biweekly team meetings and phone conferences will help relieve the stress of attempting to coordinate meetings across time zones and travel schedules. You should also schedule in-person meetings with the global team at least a year in advance. This, once again, relieves the stress of planning, and more importantly sets target dates for deliverables.

Create a preliminary outline of the brand book and tactical deliverables. It's never too early to establish the expected outcomes. The list may change as the process evolves, but the expectations will guide each team in development and force an early determination of standards and specifications.

Determine the keeper of the centralized files. Where is that graphic? Do you have that file? Who was the last person to see that document? What did we decide about that issue? These questions can be answered by appointing one group or partner to be the central resource for all graphic material, historic and final, as well as the repository for all information and documents. When a team is spread across the globe, with players changing as the process continues, a single digital source is both a cost-saver and often a lifesaver.

Appoint a branding committee (or branding czar or czarina). A clear benevolent dictatorship, in the early phases of global brand execution, is the only way to protect the hard work of the global team and the intellectual property rights of the brand. All initial applications of the brand and message should be approved by a single source ready to respond quickly and efficiently. A degree of flexibility should be expected, but only a single point of approval will deliver the continuity required.

Develop a contingency plan. Given the broad scope of global branding, it's important to develop contingency plans early on in the creative process. Set aside time at a preliminary team meeting to identify potential problems or stumbling blocks that could damage your brand down the road, then assign resources from your team to develop comprehensive solutions to these problems. That way, should the worst happen you will be fully prepared to respond quickly and decisively.

Communication Matters

When your team is spread out around the globe, fractionated by chains of command, and pulled in multiple directions by responsibilities, it is impossible to over-communicate. Send the note, review the conversation in writing, file the after-meeting notes; make pre-meeting calls to align the issues, make post-meeting calls to be sure each party heard the same message, then write it down and circulate for confirmation. Overkill? Yes. Necessary for success? Absolutely.

With the variances in regulations, medical practices, and customs in each country and region, the tendency to find a point of commonality in message, concept, and brand is hard-wired into the process. Yet that very process can weaken the impact and distinction of the brand. Obviously, the prime mandate of the process is to create a unique, unified brand program. Yet the very nature of the challenge dilutes the most diligent efforts. Can this be prevented? Not often. Can it be limited? With great care and diligence.

In any program, the forces of distraction are consistently working against you: capturing your attention, attempting to change your priorities, diverting your key team members, and slowing your carefully crafted decision process. This is where seasoned leaders earn their keep, and where the art of developing a global brand reaches its highest level.

As the process goes forward, you'll need to keep your team on track and your priorities in place. At times, you may have to call upon hidden talents as a diplomat and sympathetic supporter to avoid weak compromises and trivial turf battles. But if the result is a clear and focused brand that can leverage its initial position around the globe, then payback will come at both the financial and career levels.

Al Topin is president of Topin & Associates in Chicago. He can be reached at

Tony Chant is president of EuroCom Healthcare in London and the EuroCom Healthcare network. He can be reached at

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