The changing role of brands

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A brand is more than just a symbol, slogan or trade name. It transcends logos and visual identities. Brands establish identity, provide differentiation and, most importantly, drive economic value.
 Our industry sells products and services that consumers don't necessarily want to buy—things that tend to remind them of imperfect health or force them to confront their mortality. The role that brands play within the industry is not to simply identify a particular product or service, but rather to transform patients' attitudes toward the treatment or solution being offered. In effect, brands need to create a positive association, and, in some cases, a sense of hope.
 Brands are capable of engaging consumers and healthcare professionals by providing them with a much-needed sense of clarity and giving them a reason to use products and services that goes well beyond "my doctor said so."
A well-managed brand finds the connective tissue between the functional and emotional responses of the patient—linking the head and the heart. Purchasing products and services requires patients to make intimate and, in some cases, life-changing decisions. Brands can play an instrumental role in guiding them through that difficult and emotional process.
Given all this, it is past time for us to evolve the role of the brand in the industry. A brand can no longer be viewed as strictly a promotional/communications tool. It must be recognized as a core business driver—one that directly influences a manufacturer's business strategy from the beginning.
In the coming years, pharmaceutical companies face patent expiry and loss of exclusivity on a number of the blockbuster brands that drove revenue streams in previous decades. End users will demand more targeted therapies and pharmas will experience less demand to deliver potential blockbuster products that once dominated their portfolios. As a result, the role that brands play is rapidly changing to meet the needs of the newer commercial models.
Many manufacturers are recognizing and responding to this transformational change by shifting their focus from a product-oriented value offering to a more solutions-oriented value offering.
Additionally, solutions-based offerings are increasingly aligning to the brand proposition of the corporation or enterprise. While this shift has been apparent throughout other sectors, it is just now beginning to have an impact on the health and life sciences sector. This current trend is forcing many manufacturers to bolster the strength of the corporate brand in order to create differentiation from competitors. 
Some industry leaders will be inclined to shy away from exploring alternative brand models due to the risk associated with linking the corporate name to the products. But the proliferation and acceleration of traditional media, combined with the instantaneous consumer dialogue of digital/social media outlets, are making our world and our industry increasingly transparent. As such, the separation between product and manufacturer can no longer be maintained. 
In recognizing brand value as a strategic business and financial asset, companies will be able to drive demand, loyalty, retention and purchasing power for their respective organizations—all of which will subsequently translate into an analytical measurement of downstream economic earnings and shareholder value.

Wes Wilkes is InterbrandHealth's executive director of global strategy
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