The Essence of a Brand - Pharmaceutical Executive

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The Essence of a Brand
Beyond good messaging, marketers must establish a brand that is forever etched into physicians' minds


Pharmaceutical Executive



Stewart Young
Pharma's selling system is unique in the marketing industry. We have the luxury of delivering multiple messages over the life of the brand through representative detailing. By contrast, consumer marketers typically communicate their messages en masse in bite-size pieces, typified by a 30-second TV advertisement.

Ironically, this advantage can turn into a disadvantage—hindering the discipline with which we approach brand positioning. Pharma marketers typically develop communications plans based on messaging—the multiple ideas they believe will convince the physician about the differentiating value of their drug. Often this focus on messaging comes at the expense of effective positioning. It's true that every pharma brand's strategy includes a positioning statement. But too often that statement is actually a multi-clause summary of its messaging platform.

But selling (and messaging) and marketing (and positioning) are not simply personal and nonpersonal versions of the same endeavor. In a classic sense, positioning is the place you want your brand to live in the customer's brain. Messaging is the supporting evidence that justifies ownership of that space. Today, as categories become more competitive and sales representatives gain less quality access to doctors, pharma marketers are recognizing the value of an approach to positioning that is already familiar in consumer marketing: brand essence—the single-minded, summary idea the brand is to stand for in the customer's mind.

Beyond Positioning

The idea of brand essence may come from the consumer side, but it's an excellent fit with pharma marketing. After all, consumers devote little brain-space to the meaning of any given brand. Physicians, on the other hand, truly care about differentiating brands: They need to know and understand the prescription brands in their therapeutic categories (as if someone's life depends on it, literally). They must know the old agents, the currently approved treatment guidelines, and the drugs in the clinical trial pipeline. It is their responsibility to use drugs safely and effectively. Therefore, more brain-space for the brand.

But brand essence is more than a logical, factual differentiation of one product from another. It's best seen as the "elevator-ride summary" of the place we want the brand to reside on the physician's mental and emotional "brand-map." Brand essence is the result of a mixture of empirical facts, feelings, functional benefits, and brand personality that leads to the single-minded, differentiating brand idea. It is about the higher-order or emotional value of the brand to physicians and their patients.

For instance, for Merck/Schering Plough's double-action cholesterol drug, Vytorin (ezetimibe/simvastatin), the brand's professional campaign uses a pair of lightning bolts to dramatize its dual action, suggesting the emotional component of power and speed. The brand essence is the power of dual inhibition. The print campaign of Alcon's glaucoma franchise consists of two black pages with the headline "Because you can't hear a sunrise." The brand essence is clearly not just preserving sight, but the preciousness of sight.


For its glaucoma print campaign, Alcon chose a minimalist yet powerful approach by running a two-page black spread. The brand essence: for the preciousness of sight.
We often hear that physicians are literal and just want the facts. But what could be more fascinating than changing lives and the wonders of the human body and life itself? Do physicians want science? Yes, it is the cornerstone. But they also want to be engaged with a clear concept for the drug, to help them organize what they know and learn about it over time. They want a concept that reinforces their desire to heal and that satisfies their need for evidence-based information and client health and satisfaction.


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