As we navigate through the Covid days, the hope of somehow getting back to the pre-pandemic normal still lingers – notwithstanding a host of uncertainties in its way. The longing is driven by the hype of availability of scientifically proven, safe and effective drugs and vaccines – unrealistically soon, despite top experts still keeping their fingers crossed. Some are even more forthright in their expression, as reflected in a September 30, 2020 report. It flashed a headline - “There is no getting ‘back to normal. The sooner we accept that, the better.”
Alongside, COVID-19 crisis has also triggered some disruptive changes in the business processes around the world. Amid this global health crisis, interestingly, several global pharma CEOs are sensing a number of game-changing opportunities – having business implications, even much beyond the pandemic.
One such example, as Bloomberg reported on September 29, 2020, the CEO of GlaxoSmithKline Plc feels: The Covid Pandemic is ‘a Shot at Redemption in Pharma Industry.’ Elaborating the point, she said: ‘the sector’s push to find vaccines and drugs to end the crisis, if successful, could change the perception of pharmaceutical companies in the future.’ Coincidentally, the researchers from The Harris Poll found:
- As of May, 40 percent of the American public said pharma’s reputation had improved since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak
- And 81percent recalled seeing or hearing something about the industry during that time.
- This is a continuation of the former trend that The Harris Poll first noted on March 2020.
There shouldn’t much doubt, either, that similar general impression on the pharma industry, with a varying degree, may now be felt in most countries, across the globe.
Curiously, flowing from this ‘redemption of pharma reputation’ angle – with new drugs and vaccines, the scope for leveraging another opportunity is also surfacing. This is from pharma ‘branding’ perspective and pertains to creating ‘purpose-driven brands’ for success in the new reality – during the pandemic and much beyond. In this article, I shall focus on the second area, and would start with its relevance to increasingly more informed health care consumers of date.
‘Purpose driven brands’ – attained greater relevance in Covid time:
The concept of creating ‘purpose driven brands,’ is profound – it goes much beyond product features, benefits and intrinsic values. It is motivated by – why the brands exist not just for providing a solution to manage or cure a disease, but also to meet a crucial need in society.
Studies have unfolded, with better stakeholder connection – and greater share of their mind, ‘purpose driven brands’ help improve brand loyalty, resulting into increased revenue and profit. We will see below, why in Covid time, this trend has started gathering wind on its sail, and deserves to find its place at the very core of any pharma branding strategy.
The consulting arm of The Beautiful Truth, also echoed the same sentiment in the article – ‘How Pharma Can Navigate Change With Purpose.’ It reconfirmed, at times of external crisis, like the global pandemic, creation of ‘purpose-driven brands’ is vital. Not just ‘for saving and maintaining business, but also for boosting internal team morale, and reconciling public trust.’
The pandemic has redefined the core purpose of a brand:
Another recent article –‘Through COVID-19, Leading Brands Have Found Their Purpose,’ published in CMO by Adobe, among many others, vindicated this point. Acknowledging that the COVID-19 pandemic has redefined the meaning of brand purpose, the paper explained the reason for the same.
In pre-Covid days, many organizations used to build brands following traditional norms – curing or effectively managing a disease is the purpose of a brand. But, since last few years, a growing number of new generation health care customers expect a brand’s ‘purpose’ to expand beyond the product and the company. It has to be inclusive in nature – benefiting the macro-environment, including governments, health care professionals, and the public. With this expectation gathering momentum during Covid time, pharma players would also need to redefine the core ‘purpose’ of a brand. Incidentally, many pharma CEOs also believe, if this trend continues, the image of the industry would probably undergo a metamorphosis.
Surveys vindicate the rationale for redefinition:
Several top consulting organizations have published excellent articles covering a number of critical points in this area. One such paper - ‘Purpose is everything,’ was published in Deloitte Insights, on October 15, 2019. It wrote on how brands that authentically lead with ‘purpose’ are changing the nature of business today.
The rationale for redefinition of brand purpose, also gets reflected in a contemporary Deloitte survey, as quoted in the above article. It revealed the following top three issues that stakeholders identify with, while making decisions about brands:
% of respondents
|How the company treats its own people/employees||
|How the company treats the environment||
|How the company supports the community in which it operates||
Aligning purpose to create deeper connections with stakeholders:
Especially at the Covid time, if companies try to align their purpose in doing good – for the society, they can build deeper connections with their stakeholders. And, in turn, amplify the company’s relevance in their stakeholders’ lives. From this perspective, it’s good to note in the above Bloomberg article, that one of the top pharma CEOs articulating the same in public. I reckon, increasingly, pharma businesses would endeavor harnessing the power and opportunity of aligning the ‘core purpose of brands’ with societal good, as came out in the above Deloitte article.
Mostly millennial generation favor ‘purpose-driven’ brands:
The initiation of this trend dates back to pre-Covid time with wider usage of internet. However, with the increasing democratization of health care - social media based instant information sharing, the ability to communicate with others as needed, have increased manifold. Consequently, stakeholders, particularly, the millennial generation with a different mindset, aspirations and expectations are expecting pharma players to act more on the pressing societal issues. This makes them lean towards a purpose driven brands and companies. The unprecedented Covid health crisis is acting as a force multiplier in this area.
Another study – ‘Why Customers Are Supporting ‘Purpose-Driven’ Brands,’ published in Link fluence epitomized this evolving customer preference succinctly. It reiterated, ‘It’s no longer enough for brands to deliver great products and experiences. Instead, consumers are demanding for brands to be more proactive and conscious in delivering value to society as a whole.’
‘Purpose-driven brands’ – the latest ‘marketing buzzword’?
This question was conclusively answered about two years ago - from the 2018 Cone/Porter Novelli Purpose Study. Although, this survey was conducted in the United States, it has a global relevance amid Covid pandemic. Some of the key findings include:
- 78 percent believe companies must do more than just make money; they must positively impact society as well.
- 77 percent feel a stronger emotional connection to Purpose-driven companies over traditional companies.
- 66 percent would switch from a product they typically buy, for a new product from a purpose-driven company.
- 68 percent is more willing to share content with their social networks over that of traditional companies.
Examples of ‘purpose-driven’ pharma brands/companies:
Let me give just two examples each – from pre-Covid and Covid times. The article – ‘Mission-Drive Pharma Brands,’ published by Wonder on January 15, 2018, cited several examples of ‘purpose-driven’ pharma brands. This was based on a research of individual drug campaigns for top-selling drugs around that time. These include promotional campaigns on:
- Humira: Highlighted the participation in a community food drive, and volunteering in a playground construction project.
- Lyrica: Highlighted the engagement in a multi-generational interaction and helping others.
Encouragingly, while combating COVID-19, several pharma companies have also displayed a sense of ‘purpose’ to save the humanity from the pandemic, mainly through collaborative approaches. Let me quote below two such examples:
- On April 14, 2020 GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi announced a very unusual collaboration to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, expeditiously. This was done for a greater purpose, responding to the critical need of the society – saving millions of lives.
- Roche called on and campaigned for the governments for focusing on testing and prevention, to maintain adequate medical supplies for health care professionals around the world. It also urged the health authorities to work closely with the life sciences industry to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic through international collaboration to tackle Covid-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, as on October 04, 2020 morning, India recorded a staggering figure of 6,549,373 of Coronavirus cases with 101,812 deaths. Still there is no respite from Covid-19’s unprecedented onslaught on the country. Be that as it may, coming back to the creation of ‘purpose-driven brands’ in the Covid time, let me quote again from the above CMO by Adobe article, where it underscored:“Never before have brands been asked to show their true purpose and leadership as they are today. It’s inspiring to see companies across industries and throughout the world come together to address some of the most pressing needs brought about by this crisis.”
As Accenture had articulated: ‘In an era of radical visibility, technology and media have given individuals the power to stand up for their opinions and beliefs on a grand scale.’ Keeping this in view, with gradually changing stakeholder mindset and expectations, the ‘purpose of a brand’ deserves to be a critical centerpiece in the pharma ‘branding’ process. Various studies have established – since pre-Covid time, and more during this pandemic – brands, reflecting a robust sense of ‘purpose’ on societal values, people and the environment, connect better with customers.
Consequently, as the stakeholders find these companies walk the talk, they develop a strong and sustainable brand preference, and reward the manufacturers commensurately, both directly and also through word of mouth. Alternatively, if the stated ‘brand purpose’ is not genuine – which customers can quickly find out through digital transparency, they shift their preferences to the deserving ones. Going by this growing trend, I reckon, creating ‘Purpose-Driven-Brands’ assumes a critical importance to win marketing warfare, in the new reality.
By: Tapan J. Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.