Last month, GlaxoSmithKline debuted the branding of its new consumer healthcare unit, which will officially be spun off later this year. The company, Haleon, is joining the ranks of other consumer healthcare companies being spun off from large pharma companies. Among others, Johnson & Johnson recently announced plans to separate consumer brands such as Band-Aid and Tylenol from the pharma and device mothership.
MM+M spoke with Tess Player, Haleon’s global head of healthcare professional and health influencer marketing, to learn how the company plans to differentiate itself in an increasingly crowded space. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
MM+M: What’s the motivation behind Haleon as a separate company and its new branding?
Player: Much has been written on the squeeze that was already happening pre-pandemic when it comes to government funding of healthcare and buckling healthcare systems. There was already a trend toward pivoting some of the healthcare funding towards prevention, rather than getting caught up in the treatment treadmill.
COVID-19, of course, accelerated a lot of the trends we were already seeing, and put even greater pressure on healthcare systems and primary care. Some of the solutions include an emphasis on the role pharmacists will play in healthcare, as well as the industry being more open to enabling patients and consumers to take on some of that prevention mindset for themselves.
I think there’s a real opportunity for many of us to focus on this growing area of need. In some stats we uncovered last summer, we found that eight out of 10 people wanted to take better care of themselves, but only two out of 10 felt they had the confidence or knew what to do. There’s a real opening for an organization dedicated to everyday health, prevention, maintenance of health and well-being.
How does Haleon plan to differentiate itself from the competition?
We will be the first of the pharma companies to separate, and the first to actually do it and be listed separately, in the U.K. We also set our purpose: To deliver everyday health with humanity. The everyday-health bit is fairly clear, but the humanity aspect is what sets us apart. We’re aiming to make everyday health more inclusive, sustainable and achievable.
In terms of our portfolio, we have products that are optimally set up for delivering an everyday healthcare company. We are focused on oral health, for example, and the importance of the link between oral health and systemic health. We also have our world-leading pain relief portfolio, where we are taking on the challenge around chronic pain. And then we have our therapeutic skin categories and our wellness portfolio.
The bigger piece for us is how we use that portfolio to address the future needs of our patients. It’s about how we make sure we enable healthcare professionals to have the best and most trusted brands to recommend to their patients, so together they can better manage their everyday health and health outcomes.
You mentioned inclusivity as being a pillar of the brand. What are Haleon’s specific plans?
We recently announced a partnership we’re doing with the Economist Intelligence Unit and University College London to set up a health inclusivity index – by way of comparison, think the Edelman Trust Barometer. One of the things that was missing was an understanding of what the barriers might be to everyday health being accessible for all. With a team of academics across multiple functions in partnership with the Economist, we’ll be doing field research that looks at the determinants of health equality and what we might be able to do about it.
What we’ve learned from the research in the last month or so is that a key driver of health inequality is health literacy. For example, we have community pharmacies in a number of markets around the world, and there might be a grandparent walking into a pharmacy with a grandchild. The grandparent’s third or fourth language may be English, so it falls on the grandchild to translate some chronic health condition or maintenance of optimal health to the pharmacist. That’s just one example to illustrate the complexities of what’s needed for us to deliver on this promise and this intent.
You touched on the idea of embracing prevention, as opposed to treatment. How does Haleon plan to do this?
We see that part of our DNA as an organization: Essentially, we’re behavior change specialists. We’re a marketing organization, which means we create persuasive communication. In our case, the persuasive communication we create, as well as the products and innovation that go alongside it, is designed to help people take better care of themselves because they understand they might have a particular need.
On a basic level, that’s how we see our role in society: Using that persuasive communication and behavior change to enable people to better understand their healthcare needs, and then providing solutions for them. Part of that is our partnership with healthcare professionals, and listening to them as much as we listen to the patients or consumers. It also entails listening at the policy/government level and down to the grassroots level.
How will Haleon compete with other companies in this space? There are plenty of them.
We will be the ones that set the benchmark for a spun-off consumer healthcare company, so we see there’s a real responsibility on our shoulders to make sure we pave the way for our competitors. By having more competition in the area, we benefit humanity overall.
We also see that what we believe everyday humanity means will set us apart. We want to be the champions and the leaders to make sure that everyday health is more achievable, more sustainable and more inclusive.
That includes making sure we’re at the forefront of the healthy planning part of our sustainability. For example, we’ll make sure our toothpaste tubes are recyclable and that we’re putting less plastic into our brushes. But we also have a responsibility in category areas like respiratory health. We have partnerships with organizations like the Clean Breathing Institute, which looks at the impact of air pollution on health.
The final bit is making sure everyday health is more achievable. Some of that entails making sure it’s not just about the cost of a product, but where it’s available and whether healthcare professionals themselves are available to patients.