The importance of brand building

Since 2020, the marketing landscape for the pharmaceutical industry has seen dramatic shifts. There have been declines in rep access, a heavy focus on awareness advertising, and saturation of digital and PLD channels. Marketers have their foot on the gas of performance marketing.

And just as the marketing landscape has changed, healthcare has been rapidly evolving, especially in areas such as rare disease and oncology. New approvals, mutations and genetic testing continually advance, presenting healthcare professionals (HCPs) with complex clinical challenges. The question marketers are asking themselves is if the overemphasis on performance marketing and the shift away from brand building  yielded the desired results.

The answer is no. And not just in healthcare.

A report published in eMarketer in December 2023 highlights that globally, across all vertical categories, marketers have recognized that performance marketing has not delivered the promised impact. These marketers plan to increase their spend on building their brands by more than 50% compared to two years ago, demonstrating a greater emphasis on developing a robust brand identity and cultivating meaningful connections with customers.

eMarketer chart
Image credit: WARC Media.

Getting back to brand building in healthcare

Establishing strong brand reputation and equity requires a strategic investment of time and financial resources. Moreover, it requires a thorough understanding of the factors that influence healthcare decision-makers throughout their days. Providing them with resources to better navigate the clinical significance of the science. Over-investment on performance marketing, thereby limiting scientific education, diminishes their ability to prioritize the impact on patients.

Deep education should be the cornerstone of any good marketing plan

Cultivating Opinion Leader (OL) support is a proven way to build brand equity and educate HCPs. Industry data show that 83% of HCPs are more likely to prescribe if a brand is endorsed by an OL. Peer-based education harnesses the authority of OLs to deliver clinically relevant content. As we work to overturn performance marketing fog, it’s important we develop comprehensive strategies which integrate scientifically relevant data across various channels fostering deeper engagement with the clinical value of brands.

To further highlight the value of OLs in our marketing plans, a Decision Resources Group (DRG) survey found that OL support and deep clinical content are key drivers of ROI, with 70% of physicians believing it critical for pharma companies to provide education resources rooted in science to gain their trust.

Current performance marketing models overemphasize reach and frequency, which lead to overtly promotional, repetitive digital communications without depth of clinical content. This creates significant content fatigue, driving lower engagement.

In summary, marketers are beginning to realize that an over-emphasis on performance marketing has not delivered the desired results. Globally, across all verticals, they are getting back to the critical work of brand building. In pharma, that means educating HCPs, cultivating meaningful relationships with practitioners and establishing our brands as trusted partners. In doing so, it will empower HCPs with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions and improve patient outcomes.

Steve Carickhoff is president of BioPharm Communications. He has spent more than 20 years in the pharmaceutical industry, both on the brand and agency side.