Monday, 30 November 2015

The latest pharmaceutical disease: what it is and how to cure it

Having written my MSc dissertation on the future of the pharmaceutical business model, I could type for days on end and have you scrolling forever. However, I don’t think that would ever be published as a blog article. To realise that childhood dream of mine for at least the length of this post…
Come into my office, take a seat and let Dr. Lok tell you something:

The traditional business model of the pharmaceutical sector is failing.

It is a disease that if left untreated, will cause the company that has contracted it to perish. Symptoms include diminishing market share, increasing overheads and a thinning profit margin. The only cure is an innovative business model - no longer a one size fits all approach but one that each pharmaceutical company can mould around themselves. Think of a memory foam mattress; sold the same to all but embracing the individual and supporting their sleeping positions.
Outside of this GP surgery in the real world, we see traditions diminish as technology and other breakthroughs move the next generation forward into another era. This idea can be projected onto the pharmaceutical industry:

The main reason why the traditional business model is failing is due to the increasing difficulty to establish blockbuster drugs, and the growing number of patent cliffs that are drawing ever closer and giving way to a new generation of generics.

By looking at the fundamental management model of patterns of strategic change (Johnson and Scholes, 1993) (above), we can see that the industry has seemingly enjoyed continual growth for a prolonged period of time. Firms now face a period of flux unless they are able to successfully employ a transformative breakout strategy. With such a strategy, firms do not only have a chance to be a formidable competitor in the market, but can transform the business model of the sector as a whole.

The usual go-to for a breakout strategy in many industries is mergers and acquisitions (M&A), but it is no secret that these have not been successful for many in the pharmaceutical industry unless they have been planned strategically. Pfizer for example, was described by the New York Times as “Frankenstein’s monster” in 2012. They had carried out five large M&A deals in the decade preceding 2011, and ended up making substantial losses across the company.

To those suffering from traditional business model disease, I write a prescription for market research.

Market research is key in enabling pharma to understand how they might leverage their brand’s brands’ USPs to protect and even continue to grow their market share in the face of ever increasing generic competition. These USPs can no longer be molecular and data focussed but need to be humanistic. We doctors see patients - people - who are experiencing a dis-ease. By fully understanding these experiences, companies can recognise the value in easing the distress of a patient rather than just focusing on the molecular microbiology or clinical data story.

At Branding Science, we are able to gain a real insight into the rational, but moreover the emotional drivers which spur the prescription of different drugs. From pre-launch to post-launch, we use a variety of innovative psychology-based methods that allow us to dive deep into the thoughts of health care professionals when making prescription decisions. By helping our clients understand the reasoning behind the decisions being made, we are able to work with clients to effectively identify which themes they should leverage their brand upon in order to connect emotionally with both physicians and patients. Therefore, branded drugs can still be at an advantage in terms of maximising market share as long as they remember that their brand is an intangible asset that only they can exploit.

Traditional Business Model Disease does not have to be terminal - the cure however may be unique for each and will be found through the understanding of customers and end users. I look forward to seeing which pharmaceutical company will be first to unlock that cure and transform the industry.

The Author: Chloe Lok is research executive at Branding Science. She holds a Masters in Management from the Imperial college in London and a Bsc in biochemistry from the University of Reading.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Lessons from Storytelling: Make your customer the Hero of your Brand’s story

Think for a second about your favourite character from a book you’ve read or a film you’ve watched. Or maybe that favourite character is from a television show, or even a podcast? What about this character makes them so great? Memorable? Is your character a hero or villain? What makes a character a hero or a villain for you?

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man
-         Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Is part of their appeal because you see yourself in them? Or rather, that you want to be them or have their experiences (and rewards, of course)? We all, on some level, would like to be the hero in an epic story, after all.

The main thing is here is that successful stories have compelling characters; without them, tales fall flat. So how are captivating characters created?

There’s a formula that writers like to follow in order to create compelling characters – be it heroes or villains – for their stories:

MC wants (External Goal) because (External Motivation) but (External Conflict).

Let’s look at this in a bit more detail: Characters, they say, have wants. These wants are governed by goals. Their goals come about because of motivation, but they always – and this is the crux of all the most memorable, most real characters – experience a conflict that prevents them from achieving their goals.

Now, I’m not asking that the pharmaceutical industry write the next New York Times Bestseller, or make a Hollywood blockbuster out of their brands.

But I believe there is something to this idea of making their customers the hero of their brand’s story, and not necessarily making the brand itself the hero.

It’s easy to walk into a physician’s office and tell them why a brand is the best product to treat their patients (typically this is done in the form of data). But does this truly impress physicians? Yes, it will, because they are medically trained to recognise superior products.

But what about when it is a crowded market space, where data for these products is similar and there isn’t much that can help to differentiate between them?

It might be suitable then to focus on your customer, rather than your product. The best way to do this? By making your customer the hero of your brand story. For example, taking the formula that authors like to use for their characters:

Physician wants to treat patients (Goal) because this is his job and it makes him feel happy (Motivation) but he doesn’t know which treatment is best (Conflict).

 By discussing your brand with your customer in this way, you are putting them at the centre of the story and helping them to fulfil their own needs but also be the hero for their patients.

Of course, this can be different depending on which culture you are in. For example, in the West heroes are typically individuals (e.g. Superman) whilst in the East they are often based on a collective’s triumphs. Knowing your market and your target customer is the key to any successful marketing strategy and one you must explore before you develop your brand story.

And again, who doesn’t wish to be a hero?

This article was written by Sofia Fionda Senior Research Executive at Branding Science

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Live Storytelling: the impact #pharma can make in front of their customers

Trying to pinpoint when the first story was told would be impossible. Some of the most famous stories – Gilgamesh, Beowulf and even Aesop’s The Tortoise and the Hare - began life as fireside spoken tales.

It would be fair to assume that we started telling stories when we first devised language, but I guess that’s more about how stories were able to spread from one culture to another so prolifically – Homer’s Iliad was first told in Greece and it’s now been read on every corner of the globe. How’s that for impact?

Of course, written stories are very impactful in their own right. The bestselling book, according to Wikipedia, is the ‘The Bible’ – but even that began life through word of mouth.

Written stories cannot surpass the impact of live storytelling.

It’s why YouTube is so successful, and Ted Talks are watched by millions of people each year. There’s something powerful yet intimate about the presenter-audience relationship; relaying a story directly to others, watching their faces fly up in surprise, disgust, feeling the emotions of a tale.

The brain has a dedicated region – the Limbic system – to process emotion. What’s more, it has specific cells – mirror neurons – that are activated when another individual acts or shows emotion. These cannot be readily activated through reading a story; they are the brain’s response to viewing another human acting and mirroring their actions internally. All this in order to process information more efficiently.

Therefore, the impact of live storytelling can, in many cases, far surpass the effect of reading an article online, or, for example, a detail aid. Though the story has been carefully devised, structured and tested to fit physician’s expectations - even covering the emotional charge of treating a certain therapy area - it in no way negates the need for direct contact with your customers.

This makes the sales call – and most importantly the story you tell during this call – the best opportunity to convince your customers of your brand. So don’t forget this.

The question remains then: how will you come up with the killer story to tell your customers in that face-to-face situation? Well, the Branding Science Group specialise in helping you not only construct your story, but practice the execution. Get in touch with our team to find out more!!

This article was written by Sofia Fionda Senior Research Executive at Branding Science

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Pharmaceutical marketing communications

People I meet are often intrigued when I say I work in the world of pharmaceutical marketing. After all the pharmaceutical industry is extremely regulated. In most parts of the world, marketing communications are restricted to the healthcare professional community. Yet, looking at adverts aired in North America, one can easily see what pharmaceutical brands are all about. A well-known example is certainly that of Viagra and Cialis.

When Viagra was launched back in 1998, it was the first oral treatment made available to treat erectile dysfunction. What was most commonly known, until then, as impotence, was not at the time perceived as a treatable condition. So Pfizer developed awareness campaigns, using celebrity endorsement, for example with football legend Pele or former senator Bob Dole.

As we have seen, initial awareness campaigns focused on relieving the embarrassment of the condition and encouraged men to go and discuss their problem with a physician. Coupled with extensive PR coverage, the drug quickly attained blockbuster sales. Advertising campaigns shifted their focus to depict happy and victorious men, themes that would long stay the core of the brand’s identity.

But in 2003, Pfizer was faced with a serious contender, as Eli Lilly launched Cialis. Conducting pre-launch market research, Lilly’smarketing teams found that a number of women felt pressured by growing expectations from their husbands taking Viagra. Taking advantage of tadalafil specific pharmacodynamics, they started promoting the drug as one that would enable couples to have (once more) a satisfying sex life.

The difference in focus and tone between the two brands remained for years, whether characters would sing, as in this Viagra ad from 2006:

...or Cialis (2010)

…Or talk about (how much they enjoy what they can do with) their treatment:
Viagra 2005:

Cialis 2007: 

Now dubbed the Weekender, Cialis became market leader in several European markets such as France by 2007. While its marketing kept on focusing on the spontaneity couples could enjoy using the drug, Pfizer’s communications slowly adapted to give a more prominent role to the Viagra safety profile. First, by reminding the audience which is ‘the most prescribed E.D. treatment in the U.S.’ (2011):

...and later that ‘you only take it when you need it’ :

More importantly, this advert from 2014 made the headlines around the world as it was the first time a Viagra ad gave a prominent role to a woman, thus suggesting a strategic shift in the brand’s communications, now following the footsteps of its rival in understanding that it is not only men whose lives change with E.D. treatments.

Direct-to-consumer advertising from these two brands illustrates a key function of pharmaceutical marketing which is to differentiate treatments in a crowded marketplace. As in other industries, a deep understanding of experiences and expectations gives marketers an edge to build compelling stories. And not unlike other industries, the innovative nature of the pharmaceutical industry means our understanding also needs to evolve and strategies need to be adapted over time. Helping our clients to do just that is what we, at Branding Science, are all passionate about.

The author: Axel Rousseau is Vice-President of Branding Science in Asia-Pacific. He has worked on global market research projects for pharmaceutical brands in over 11 countries.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

More for patients

By now, you may have seen Adweek’s 2-minute video on Branding. Upon its release, the video immediately went viral, receiving over 130,000 views in 23 days.

What could be so compelling? The video speaks to one simple truth: the success of a brand hinges on the team’s ability to “see through the eyes, hearts, and minds of people.”

Watching the video got me thinking about pharma. During a recent project I interviewed a cancer patient named Jim, who spoke about the emotional roller coaster of his disease with complete vulnerability. 

When asked to describe his ideal treatment, Jim described Baymax from the Oscar-award winning animated film Big Hero 6. He said, “I want to feel like I have an arm being put around me, like I have someone who is helping to carry me through the pain and suffering.”

For those who haven’t seen Big Hero 6, Baymax is a healthcare providing robot who acts as a guardian and best friend to the movie’s main character Hiro. His comprehensive approach involves being in sync with patients physical AND emotional needs. He is the embodiment of patient-centric care, whose sole purpose in life is to care for people. Instantly activated by the sound of distress, Baymax only deactivates once his patient states “I am satisfied with my care.”

If Baymax is the gold standard for patient care, to what extent does pharma achieve this?

Every brand puts patient imagery front and center in their communications, but does that translate into a meaningful brand experience? How does pharma go beyond treatment and communication materials to truly address the needs of patients?

Living patient centricity is a challenge, but, in doing so, brands have the power to cut through the clutter and make all the difference – not just in the minds of patients, but for prescribers and payers as well.

A simple question must be answered.

Does your brand rise above to meet the needs of your customers?
·         What brand initiatives are you most proud of?
·         What has your brand done to change the treatment paradigm?
·         What added value does your brand provide to your customers?
·         What can your brand do to make Baymax a reality?
I believe in more for patients. Does your brand? Let’s get the conversation going. #moreforpatients

The author: Jess Soriano, part of the Branding Science San Francisco team 

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Goal Amnesia: How to avoid a New Year Slump for your business

Christmas is over for another year. The shops have taken down their Christmas decorations and are already setting up their Easter displays. Hangovers are now forgotten (I hope) and bank balances have been checked, panicked over and you’re now resigned to a careful, penny-counting January. This month is all about making and sticking to those New Year’s resolutions.

But what exactly are resolutions?

 Typically at this time of the year we make a firm decision to go to the gym, or not to eat any more cake. To save money. To not spend our paycheque on the first day of the month. We’ve all started our years with these kinds of good intentions.

But a resolution is not complete without a goal.

The goal to lose the Christmas merriment that now clings to your hips and makes you waddle, for example.

And we all know by now that it’s very difficult to stick to your resolutions and achieve your goals, without looking into your current behaviours and most critically, your current habits.

Whilst these are very much personal resolutions and individual goals, it’s also an opportunity for companies to make resolutions for the New Year too. So that they can build upon the successes and/or implement the learnings of the past year.

Our CEO Peter Cunningham has a long history within the business world and more specifically, the market research industry, running both his own company but also working directly with big pharmaceutical organisations. Throughout his years working with pharma he has been asked many times to help brand teams formalise their brand purpose, so that the team can create and implement the most effective sales and marketing strategy.

When asked about the problems that businesses can face in the New Year, he says:

“All the issues that companies face evolve around good and bad habits; when good habits are forgotten or not instilled and bad habits are not addressed effectively.”

Peter refers to this as ‘Goal Amnesia’ where companies at the corporate or departmental level have forgotten what their brand purpose is; not only for the product they are intending to sell, but also the purpose of the team. It’s a result of everyone coming back after the Christmas holidays, reacquainting themselves with the work they left from before the break and becoming busy with that. Which can result in them losing sight of their overall goals.

Ask team members to define their brand purpose, and they seem to struggle to articulate exactly what the goals are that they are working towards, and what their role is within their company. Without refreshing this, it’s likely that the machine will still run, but unlikely that it will run to its full potential.

Which is why the start of a New Year is the best time to refresh those company goals.

If you haven’t already done so, then use this time to take your team aside and recap what your brand purpose is, what the expectations are for your brand and re-establish your brand / company goals. Do it together, because it’s important to have your team aligned.

The same way that if you yourself have made the resolution to lose weight then it’s no good having your head promise to put down the cake, when your stomach is doing all it can to consume that cake.

Welcome to 2015 everyone!