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


Prescribing a drug is a complex decision based on many factors, some rational, some irrational, like any decision. The decision often comes down to the customer–brand relevance—a connection supported by the data and clinical advantages of the drug itself. This decision making over time is a result of a powerful and differentiating brand position on the physician's brand-map. The brand essence defines and differentiates the brand to help marketers occupy the mind-space available to their drug.

Focus on Essence

The process of understanding and identifying the brand's essence is strengthened by the presence of an account-planning function within the ad agency. A standard function in consumer agencies for the past 15 years, more and more pharma ad agencies are adding the account-planning function to strengthen this strategic discipline. Account planning brings a specialized focus to the communications strategy, working arm-in-arm with the client's market researchers and the agency's creative departments. The account-planning team's mission is to put a spotlight on the relevant customer insight and to help identify and articulate the brand's essence.

Is the shift to the greater focus of brand essence really necessary? Haven't pharma's traditional marketing approaches succeeded quite nicely in the past without them?

The answer is yes, they have. But, historically, pharma has not had the sort of marketplace pressures that taught consumer marketers discipline and focus. Pharma marketing and advertising matured at a time when there were often just a few drugs in a therapeutic category, each with distinctive mechanisms of action. Our need to achieve consensus among marketing, sales, legal, regulatory, and medical affairs encourages a default to clinical messaging; multiple ideas about the brand's efficacy, safety, and tolerability; etc.

Today, however, there are far more market pressures at work, all of which factor into a much more challenging marketplace: more brands in each therapeutic category, many with minor differences; more sales representatives than ever chasing a shrinking reservoir of physician attention; a physician target less receptive to personal detailing and more educated about clinical claims; and managed care formulary management that is increasingly savvy in its desire to hold down costs.

Today's pharma marketplace demands bolder marketing and more focused positioning rooted in customer insight. Not just because the need to stand out is greater than ever before, but also because as we launch new drugs with smaller clinical differences, communications that articulate a focused brand positioning will fare better over the life of the brand. For branded drugs, as we all know too well, life's too short.

Why the added discipline of brand essence? Because strategic discipline is challenging in any creative enterprise. Advertising agencies must develop ideas that grow brands—ideas that break through and shift the perceptual dynamics in a market. Great ideas that move markets require the support of functional messages and a foundation in the customer insight. But it is also a clear articulation of the brand's essence. This discipline better serves the brand and the customer. And in doing so, it drives the ultimate goal: accelerating brand growth.

Stewart Young is director of account planning at Corbett Accel Healthcare Group. He can be reached at


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