Making medicine emotional

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Megan Hillen
Megan Hillen

Burly men in leather love to show off their Harley tattoos. Middle-schoolers will fork over $50 for a t-shirt if it has a Hollister logo. A tech nerd's Prius wouldn't be complete without an apple sticker in the window.

Since the birth of branding, and particularly in the advent of the “like,” people have been using brands as a means of self-expression. We create emotional ties to brand names because we identify not with just the product, but with what it represents—and how that reflects who we are to the world.

Brands can personify a tangible thing into something powerfully intangible. A strong brand decommoditizes a commodity because it lives in our heads and in our hearts. Charles Revson, founder of Revlon cosmetics, said it best with, “In our factory, we make lipstick. In our advertising, we sell hope.”

Pharma's brand challenge

Each day we are handed an innately clinical or sterile product and tasked to make it attractive to patients and caregivers (or as “attractive” as FDA regulations will allow). Yet, many pharma marketers fall victim to just reporting efficacy and safety, topped off with the obligatory “family on the beach” stock image. We tend to focus on the tangible—the head—and forget the intangible—the heart.

How can pharma brands be “more human?” How can we brand our brands so the name on the orange bottle actual means something to the people who are getting some aspect of their life back because of it?

It requires courage to flip comfortable pharma industry habits on their head. It's our role to help pharmaceutical companies begin our own version of Mr. Revson's mantra. Here's how you get there:

1. Uncover the brand. Look beyond what you make or sell and instead ask, why do you exist? What is the higher purpose for your customers to believe in? Why are you in that disease state/industry to begin with? Purpose often begins with a clearly articulated brand mission, such as Pfizer's “working together for a healthier world” or Bayer's “Science for a Better Life.” If you haven't seen Simon Sinek's “Start With Why,” begin there. Now you have your brand story. Marketing communication is then the manifestation of your story. Yes, it really is that simple.

2. Define the brand. Here is where the story comes to life. Create a brand imprint that defines your audience, brand promise, differentiators, reason to believe and brand voice. This step, in essence, personifies the brand and makes it human. If you were to meet your Rx brand in a bar, what would he or she be like? It's a fundamental step in forming a decision about the brand's behaviors, appearance, communications and the overall experience delivered to your customer. The brand imprint forms the “something to believe in” that transforms a consumer touch point into an emotional and human brand connection.

3. Deliver the brand. We're in an exciting time as marketers, even in a historically conservative industry. The Don Draper days of ideating around the next brilliant tagline are over. We're not just marketers, we're marketers in a digital world. This reality requires integrated execution in every consumer touch point. It requires an understanding of the whole human experience.

Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, but they'll never forget how you made them feel.” It's time for pharma to put that feeling into what we do.


Megan Hillen is planning supervisor, Intouch Solutions.

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