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Brand Rescuing


Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-10-15-2007
Volume 0
Issue 0

The ability to review what people are saying about a brand has become a hot topic among pharmaceutical marketers. Managing a brand used to be fairly straightforward, until, of course, the advent of the Internet. Today, the challenge is enormous: blogs, podcasts, micro-blogging, instant messaging, Wikis....

The ability to review what people are saying about a brand has become a hot topic among pharmaceutical marketers. Managing a brand used to be fairly straightforward, until, of course, the advent of the Internet. Today, the challenge is enormous: blogs, podcasts, micro-blogging, instant messaging, Wikis....

For the pharmaceutical industry, brand management is business critical at all times and often enters regulatory realms, adding a significant layer of complexity to the mix. For most pharma companies, online brand management currently means ensuring that their brand's Web site appears first in the paid and organic search results. And that's it. Companies are often reluctant to venture further and actually investigate what is being said about their brand in popular online forums such as blogs or social communities. Why? Simply put, they are wary of FDA and their own internal regulatory committees. Companies fear getting wind of an adverse effect, such as a suspicious headache, caused by their drug that they will then need to disclose.

Heather Frahm

This is a legitimate trepidation, but turning a blind eye to the way the drug is being perceived online will not make the problem go away—and it can easily lead to further brand mistrust.

With so much apprehension in terms of a program, pharmaceutical marketers should initiate online reputation management in small, bite-size pieces—baby steps, so to speak.


In a Google search for almost any pharmaceutical brand, one finds a number of negative search results. In fact, on average, about 30 percent of the branded key-phrase SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) are negative. All pharmaceutical brand managers should perform a test search on their brands. Questions they should ask themselves:

  • What percentage of the results is negative?

  • What percentage are negative when they search for competitors' brand names?

  • Does their brand have an official tolerance policy as far as negative search results are concerned?

If not, presenting a policy to the corporation is fundamental to managing brand reputation. Official tolerance policies would look something like this: Pharmaceutical Company X's Best Practices: If the SERP results for the brand name are negative by 25 percent or more, engage in search reputation management. If the SERPs are worse than Pharmaceutical Company X's competitors, engage in search reputation management.


What is the value of implementing this first step of a SERP reputation-management program as part of an overall communications strategy? Let's say a brand wants to determine the effectiveness of a recent DTC ad campaign in terms of positive or negative perception of the brand. Having a thorough understanding of the numbers of positive and negative results in the SERPs preceding the campaign will allow them to determine whether the campaign improved or worsened the results. This is valuable and actionable insight.

Fortunately, all online content leads to one central location: search engines. Whether the content is fact or fiction, the search engines are usually the first place consumers will form an impression of a brand. If a company can effectively manage the results on a SERP, they will inevitably be better equipped to protect their overall online brand reputation.


Once a brand manager has a sense of positive, neutral, and negative SERP results and can monitor according to the company's tolerance policy, he can take action to ensure that the top results on the SERPs, those that consumers will see first, are as positive as possible. This is done via search engine optimization.

Brand managers should leverage their existing assets by optimizing them. Assets include patient testimonials, method of action videos, press releases, TV commercials, etc. If these assets are in a digital format, they can be optimized to appear in the search engines for a brand's key phrases. This way, a brand can crowd the negative results off the first couple of pages.

Besides optimization, there are also paid search strategies every brand manager can implement to help in the process of reputation management online. These include:

  • Continually monitoring and notify-ing the search engines of brand trademark misuse

  • Purchasing the top spot for the brand name

  • Monitoring for domain misspellings and brand jacking: Managers of popular brands should type in their brand names and look closely at the results to ensure that no URL jacking has occurred. Unethical marketers will buy a URL similar to another brand's (for example, "allavert.com," which is a common misspelling for the allergy drug Alavert). But consumers will be unaware that they've clicked on an incorrect link.


At this point, a brand manager can begin to fully manage the brand's reputation. An industry as carefully scrutinized as pharma certainly does not need yet another black eye. And it is true; digging into negative search results to determine what content lies within them can open up a Pandora's box of adverse effects. However, pretending the content does not exist can leave false and misleading information sitting in cyberspace, waiting to be read by a consumer seeking reliable health information.

And what if a consumer reads erroneous or out-of-date information about a drug and then gets sick or, worse, dies?

Instead of worrying about the potential headaches of committing to this step in a reputation-management program, companies should be concerned about the infinitely worse headaches that can come from avoiding it.

Negative and incorrect information is not the only content pharmaceutical companies are missing if they refuse to venture into the blogosphere. Customer advocates and potential brand evangelists are everywhere, and third-party endorsements of a brand can be priceless in this industry where so many are doubtful of trustworthiness. What then should a brand manager do to get started? This type of program is most effective with executive buy-in. Therefore, getting the corporation on board with the policy is an ambitious yet important goal to have. Regulatory teams need to be involved, too, and they can help with eventual presentations of the policy to FDA.


These steps might seem like a long shot and overly aggressive in an industry that has long shied away from participating in new media because of strict government regulations, but they are still worth striving for over time.

To influence consumers and demonstrate that a brand is trustworthy, the industry must show that it is not afraid of getting to a point where it will participate in an open dialogue with both its critics and its supporters.

Heather Frahm is president of Catalyst Online, a search engine marketing firm. She can be reached at hfrahm@CatalystSearchMarketing.com

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