Most citizens will know that the Activia brand is from Danone or that Nescafé is from Nestlé. But despite the fact that most will also know brands such as Viagra or Prozac, few will know that behind them are Pfizer or Lilly, respectively.

And the reason for this is that most pharmaceutical companies have deliberately separated their company’s brand name from the brands of their drugs. Generally, in the pharmaceutical industry, corporate brands have been in the shadow of their product brand portfolios. It has not been until the pandemic that we have seen Pfizer, AstraZeneca or Moderna gain visibility for their vaccines, as they were rarely known to the general public.

One of the reasons pharmaceutical companies separated their corporate and product brands was as a measure of corporate brand protection in the event of a product problem. Even more than in other sectors, a problem with a product in the pharmaceutical sector can have a devastating effect on both a reputational and economic level for the company.

But in our internet age, the argument for keeping corporate branding separate from product branding loses all meaning. Access to information is quick and easy for everyone, with no geographical or time limitations, and citizens demand authenticity and transparency from brands. Without further waiting, the sector is set to enter the era of visibility.

The reality is that the pharmaceutical industry has been late to incorporate branding into its strategies. For many years he based his business on three factors: powerful R+D, a strong defense of patents and the effectiveness of aggressive promotional tools. With this, it is clear that its value contribution was in the development of new medicines, always from an internal perspective. An equation that is no longer valid at all.

Today there is a need for an approach that puts people at the centre, in this case it is a more complex approach as it must incorporate internal talent (company), patients (consumers), doctors and pharmacists (prescribers). This is a model of transformation where the brand plays an important cohesive role. Let’s remember once again that branding is a set of perceptions and feelings that reside in the minds of its audiences. Despite this, the industry still needs to insist that its audience is made up of people and not diseases.

Transformation at the corporate level

As corporate brands gain visibility, they need to review their strategy, as well as their identity. Are they responding to today’s market? Businesses need strong brands, and to achieve this, purpose and culture are essential. According to a recent PWC report, 80% of European pharmaceutical company executives do not think their current approaches, processes and products are fit for purpose. Investing in your brand is a good first step to taking your business and its people in the right direction.

Purpose is a compelling reason for the existence of a brand, it must go beyond the logical benefit of health and go beyond by providing a particular focus. It combines the ambitions and beliefs that motivate an organization, as well as the changes it wants to make to its ecosystem. But it is no longer enough to simply “have” a purpose. You have to know how to put it into action. No matter how good your team is, it will be impossible for them to take you into the future without a clear vision of where they are going. In the same way, no matter how good your brand strategy is, it won’t be successful without having a team of committed people who can bring it to life.

For this reason, the marketing departments of pharmaceutical companies must be strategically readjusted. This applies to the profiles of marketing executives, now they have to become brand managers instead of product managers. It’s not a question of titles, but of vision. While product managers use their extensive product knowledge to increase sales, brand managers are responsible for ensuring that purpose is shared inside and outside the organization.

On the other hand, in terms of generic drugs, new regulations and laws mean that the product brand loses value in the face of the rise of the corporate brand. And this is a process that can only be tackled by reinforcing trust and increasing the reputation of the laboratory via the corporate brand. One more argument to reinforce it.

Transformation at the consumer level

Patients, as passive subjects, become consumers due to the active role they assume thanks to digitalization. Huge amounts of information of all kinds are at your fingertips through search engines and social networks, where the conversations and advice are almost endless. Up to 89% of people visit Google to search for symptoms, according to Eligibility. Consulting on the internet is much faster than waiting for a doctor’s diagnosis and is even used to get a second or third opinion. Empowered patients start their journey to health by educating themselves about possible problems, diseases, prevention, remedies, hospitals, doctors, etc. A whole new dimension for brands to bring their expert vision.

The digital world represents a great opportunity to improve the brand experience by enhancing the relationship with the customer. It allows for greater personalization by facilitating
, so it is an excellent way to add a component focused on an emotional perspective to the usual functional information. You have to think that consumers are looking for experiences focused on themselves and not on the lab; It’s not about telling them how good we are, but about making them feel heard and being part of a community that brings them something greater than a specific solution. A new range of possibilities where pharmaceutical companies, through their brands, can play a leading role.

Transformation at the level of prescribers

It is also important to focus on the digitalisation of relationships with prescribers. Sales forces in the industry based their strength on direct contact with prescribers. But there is no doubt that virtual selling is here to stay. In this sense, in addition to new tools, the power of micro-segmentation of audiences and personalization of messages comes into play. This approach is driven by technology and forces a review of traditional systems, highlighting the value of the human versus the devices, in order to increase much-needed empathy. It’s time to move from push strategies (product-centric) to value-added pull strategies (people-centric), and this is great terrain for brands.

Healthcare professionals have gone from sharing experiences at conferences to generating conversations on different platforms, taking on a role that spontaneously moves from Key Opinion Leader (KOL) to Digital Opinion Leader (DOL). In addition to the image, audio is set to take on greater prominence, giving way to authentic and unadorned conversations, in real time. Prescribers need arguments from companies for the correct transmission of the values of the brand and its products. More training and tools to be closer to the end customer.

As if that were not enough, doctors and pharmacists are joined by new influencer prescribers. Recently, Biohaven took a two-pronged approach in the U.S.: Using an unknown patient advocate on social media, but also recruiting mega-influencers like Khloe Kardashian to offer health advice. With 204 million followers on Instagram, the Kardashians’ reach and influence is evident, but even in their case, under a stamp of authenticity: their migraine struggles were well documented in the Netflix series “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” According to Biohaven’s CEO, Vlad Coric, “It’s about the patient’s story, we’re dedicated to following it and telling it in a genuine way.”

There’s no doubt that industry regulation is a limiting factor, but there are still accessible ways to approach customers, for example, through non-branded campaigns and communications. It may seem nonsensical, but it’s not. Its goal is still to attract attention and educate people about a disease or a specific therapeutic process, seeking to become a point of reference for consultation and pursuing a call to action: consult the doctor, call to receive information, and even facilitate sharing of the content in a personal way.

OTC – GC Parallelism

With regard to over-the-counter (OTC) products, the parallel with the FMCG industry is so great that even pharmacies are adopting the rules of the free market. Competition is fierce and branding strategies are essential for the client to choose our brand, even without the doctor’s prescription.

As more pharmaceutical companies build on this momentum, their next challenge is brand differentiation. This is a category full of equality, where most brands are displayed in a similar way: the same colors, images, and content. They should definitely start thinking about their brand, defining what they stand for and what makes them different.

The Beginning of a New Era

As if that weren’t enough, the big tech companies are taking the healthcare market by storm. Amazon finalizes telemedicine service in the U.S. Microsoft has just bought the most widely used speech recognition company in hospitals. The race to colonize healthcare is gaining speed. The Big Five tech companies (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Google) are trying to find their niches in the huge healthcare market and this is something that is going to completely revolutionize the industry.

Recently, Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson have become regular topics of conversation in homes, a novelty, but the great reality of corporate pharmaceutical brands does not have anywhere near the same prominence. The time has come to usher in a new era to which they can no longer turn their backs.


Carlos Puig Falcó
CEO of Branward