The secret brand ingredient

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Positive brand engagement will increase sales
Positive brand engagement will increase sales

Think of it as the two-way conversations between your brand and your customer(s).

What is Brand Engagement?

Brand engagement can be defined as the sum of the touch points your brand has with customers. But even though it combines every touch point, it is only as good as the last encounter it has. A single bad brand experience can undo years of planning and execution.  (Just ask the Tylenol folks!)

Brand engagement is not your positioning statement, your brand strategy, or the advertising you use for promotion.

It's all of these and it's none of these. 

In a recent post, Jesse de Agustin (@emonalytics) characterizes true brand engagement as a function of sensory arousal, interest, attention, emotion and memory Difficult to attain, brand engagement is fatal to a brand if it's missing. One could argue that true brand engagement is the single most important element of a brand's success.

But does all of this matter in pharma marketing? As a brand manager, do I really care about anything other than script lift? The answer should be yes, because sustained script lift can only come with true brand engagement.   Brand engagement insulates your brand from competitive forces, provides a platform to build upon, and fuels long-term brand growth.

The Problem

One challenge you may encounter when trying to achieve brand engagement in pharmaceuticals is that your brand initially will engage with an intermediary (the healthcare professional or HCP), not with the ultimate end customer (the patient). So, brand engagement is critical to getting your brand off on the right foot.

Another issue is that brand engagement is difficult to measure—it's rated on a soft qualitative metric, unlike sales, which are rated on a hard, quantitative metric.

Traditionally, we have looked at scripts as a measure of brand performance.  But that doesn't necessarily prove that HCPs are engaged. Brand engagement may be one of the most difficult concepts to sell to senior management, who often focus strictly on quantifiable performance and prefer to invest in things that will generate short-term demand. (Back up the sample truck!)

If senior management doesn't understand the value of brand engagement, it most certainly won't invest in it.  Furthermore, most HCPs typically won't admit they have some emotional connection to your brand. (“I'm a doctor; I don't look at the ads—just show me the data.”)  Yet we know that the human being inside that lab coat really does react emotionally to advertising.

The Solution

The trick is to create the right emotion—an emotion that is aligned with the HCP's belief or value system.

The first step is to find the insight that will power your strategies and, ultimately, fuel your creative.  As an industry, we churn out millions of dollars of market research every year.  Most of this research sits on shelves gathering dust, never to be read again—often because we do research for the wrong reasons.  (“We've always done it” or “Senior management expects it.”)

But in order to find the insights that connect our brands with our customers, we need to go into research seeking answers to specific questions such as, “Why is our brand first in the category in new patient starts, but dead last in length of therapy?” or “Why don't doctors spend time discussing menopause with their patients?”

With this approach, the research takes on a purpose and often leads to differentiating insights.  

Once you've found the pearl in your research, strategies will often fall into place. This is because your customers will be quick to let you know when your brand's messages might be missing the mark. Creating strategy, then, becomes a simple matter of giving your customers what they want or need.  It has always amazed me how easy it can be to choose the best strategy once the market research has been conducted properly and has provided useful insights.

Stopping power is sometimes confused with strong creative, but stopping power alone may create either a positive or negative emotion and is not enough to create brand engagement

Stopping power is a way to titillate the senses, pique interest, and grab attention—three of the five functions of brand engagement. Having good stopping power enables your audience to form a lasting impression of your brand. You want your brand to be associated with strong emotions (it's good for brand engagement) as long as these emotions are the ones you want your audience to feel.

Building your creative on carefully derived insights is the only way to ensure that your brand evokes the right emotions and that you attain true brand engagement. It is also the only way to ensure that emotions turn into actions.

Healthcare professionals may never admit that they read the ads they see, or listen to reps in their office, but if you see that prescriptions for your brand are steadily increasing, you can be sure that you've reached your audience.

Senior management will also appreciate brand engagement when it sees solid quarter-to-quarter brand revenue growth.  And if having HCPs write all those prescriptions is not enough to convince you that you have achieved true brand engagement, you can always ask your target physicians what they think of your brand—then watch their reaction.  Even the most data-driven docs will answer that question straight from the gut! 

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