Pharmaceutical branding

By Tom Dougherty

11 July 2014

Pharmaceutical branding should focus on parent brand

Pharmaceutical brandingMost pharmaceutical branding fails to steal share. Pharmaceutical giants such as Pfizer, Merck, Abbott Labs, among others, have done an excellent job creating new drugs.

These “umbrella” companies have had some success in pharmaceutical branding and marketing. But they could be doing so much more. There is brand opportunity in the pharmaceutical industry to be had with individual brands. But the real brand power lies in the tree, not the apple.

The shift in marketing strategy from calling on doctors to advertising directly to consumers has transformed the pharmaceutical marketing industry.

Once, this was an industry that took root purely within advancements in chemistry and science. Now, new and better drugs are constantly entering the market. Drugs like Viagra are household names. The average consumer knows all about Viagra from commercials, stand-up comedy, and famous spokespeople such as Raphael Palmeiro and Mark Martin.

Who knows the parent brand?

If you were to ask those same consumers who actually makes Viagra, you would be hard pressed for an answer. As we all know, the pharmaceutical business lives and dies by research and development. In fact, R&D costs are so incredible that new companies can go out of business without ever producing a single drug.

Companies cannot predict which line of research will result in the next wonder drug. Therefore, it is difficult to divvy up their eggs amongst R&D efforts. Focus on R&D results in larger companies buying smaller companies that develop promising drugs. However, as research gets more expensive, drug prices do too. Acquisitions and mergers always bring obstacles in the path of brand development.

On the whole, pharmaceutical branding invests in creating separate brands (a house of brands model) for each drug created. In turn, that does little for brand equity for the parent company. Rather than building on an established brand promise, drug companies reinvent the wheel when developing a new drug. Outside of Wall Street, brands like Merck and Pfizer have little to no meaning.

Consumers may only know Merck after watching news coverage of the Vioxx lawsuit. With such ardent focus on R&D, it is easy to see how drug companies lose their parent brands. The brand quickly becomes secondary to the drugs. In fact, this absence of brand is evident by the lack of meaning with any drug other than the description of the malady the drug treats.

Where is the customer?

pharmaceutical brandingA house of brands identifies a singular customer without adding the umbrella brand value of the manufacturer. (Think of Apple or BMW as the ultimate branded house.) (Read more about the BMW brand model here.) This description provides no equity in the drug itself nor the company who produces the drug. Nor does this basic description facilitate connection with the customer. But pharmaceuticals have untapped potential to differentiate.

Most pharmaceutical branding groups create what we call “a house of brands” because there is arguably more equity in a drug company’s individual drugs than in the company itself. Although this is not the ideal business model, it can be effectively managed and profitable.

In order for companies to succeed in the utilization of the Proctor & Gamble model, they must re-evaluate how they market their drugs and how they create a pharmaceutical branding strategy that connects with the target market.

This analysis goes beyond using fear tactics that are commonly used in today’s drug advertising. Instead, drug companies must look for ways that connect with consumer beliefs. This understanding must be evident in everything for which the brand stands, starting with naming.

Drug names border on the ridiculous

While there are regulatory imposed restrictions for the naming process of drugs, there is clearly room for companies to better address the complexity of naming. The name of the drug must in someway mean something to the consumer and represent something more than the healing attribute of the product. The name of a product cannot accomplish everything for the consumer. It does not encompass all of what the brand entails.

But it certainly can form an initial brand connection and recognition. In contrast to the house of brands model, the second and much stronger option for pharmaceutical companies is to create branded houses. This strategy creates specific meaning for the parent brand and all offerings. Therefore, they function as vehicles of that meaning.

A better pharmaceutical branding model

This pharmaceutical branding model would involve a great expenditure of resources in order to properly bolster the parent brand. However, creating a branded house would be less expensive over time as consumers build relationships with the company rather than a seemingly unattached individual drug. Subsequent product offerings would not be nearly as costly because brand meaning would have already been established through the parent brand.

This model also aids in the difficulty of naming new drug. That is, the drug would already have an immediate connection to the parent brand name. Clearly, there is plenty of room for brand development within the pharmaceutical industry. At Stealing Share, we make it our business to seize these brand opportunities within the market place, providing actionable and strategically sound tactics.

Branding is more than creating a great looking logo or a catchy name. Brand, like pharmaceuticals, must be researched, tested, and developed before it is of any value. It is about time that pharmaceutical brands go beyond theory to take hold of the identities they deserve.