Conceptualizing, Making, and Selling the Brand

January 1, 2005
Rick Keating

BioPharm International, BioPharm International-01-01-2005, Volume 18, Issue 1

In the increasingly competitive world of drug discovery and development, the role of branding is more important than ever. With all the various sectors - big pharma, generics, specialty pharma, and biotechnology -vying for limited dollars, branding must begin early in the development process and, ultimately, play an integral role not only in taking a product to market, but also in sustaining that product against competition, perceived and real.

In the increasingly competitive world of drug discovery and development, the role of branding is more important than ever. With all the various sectors — big pharma, generics, specialty pharma, and biotechnology —vying for limited dollars, branding must begin early in the development process and, ultimately, play an integral role not only in taking a product to market, but also in sustaining that product against competition, perceived and real.

WHAT IS BRANDING? AND WHY DO YOU NEED IT?

Branding makes a product three-dimensional. It captures and expresses the product's qualities, it brings confidence, it communicates differentiators, and it clearly states the key messages. It is consistent, memorable, and convincing. Branding is a holistic approach that includes tangibles — package design, logo, and slogan — as well as intangibles — image, emotion, and value.

Most importantly, branding sells. Selecting an effective brand name and strategically positioning that brand in the market helps build loyalty, awareness, and perceived quality among your target and actual buyers.

Effective branding in the pharmaceutical industry is particularly important, as the company has an ethical responsibility to ensure that the purchaser is not misled. Consumers typically lack the knowledge and expertise to make medical judgments. Effective branding is the link between the company and the consumer.

COMMON MISTAKES

The art and science of branding are often misunderstood. There are several reasons this happens.

  • In the world of pharmaceuticals, as in many highly technical industries, the focus of development is on the product, not the brand. While most of the major pharmaceutical companies understand branding at the same level as Coke, General Motors, and Apple, many of the emerging companies are not up to that level. They occasionally miss the point, and it shows in the naming of the product, advertisements, packaging, direct marketing materials, investor calls, communications, and public relations.

  • An unqualified "branding" firm or individual is hired to develop the brand. Occasionally, a company selects the firm based on price alone rather than its capabilities. It is necessary to consider not only branding costs but also opportunity costs. In other words, what will it cost not to have the product branded properly, in terms of money, time, and differentiation from the competition?

IS BRANDING NECESSARY FOR PATENTED PRODUCTS?

Even when there is no competition, branding is essential. Almost every product or drug at one time or another has competition, so it is critical to prepare to meet today's opportunities, as well as protect the asset's future. Additionally, the patented, competitionless product may eventually have sister products or offerings. A well-branded, recognized, and respected first product will add value and accelerate the market acceptance of new products. If proper branding does not take place, a very long, expensive, and unnecessary marketing road will need to be traveled.

Branding is also crucial from a long-term investment perspective. Especially if the sponsoring company is publicly traded, brand recognition is essential to attracting current and future share-holders, institutional investors, and business partners.

WHEN IS THE RIGHT TIME TO START THE BRANDING PROCESS?

The short answer is: right away. If your product is already approved, you're too late. Branding should begin at the time of product conception. Coming up with a name alone can be a daunting task, especially in the biopharmaceutical industry, where product names are often difficult to pronounce and it is challenging to make them resonate with consumers.

THE RULES OF BRANDING

When undertaking a branding initiative, there are certain basic steps one should take.

  • Recognize your internal marketing and branding limitations.

  • Seek professional assistance.

  • Begin the branding process as early as possible, and engage a branding counselor to develop a solid branding process timeline.

  • Consider all the elements: name, image, packaging, labeling and product support services.

  • Ensure consistency throughout all elements of the brand.

  • Establish goals and benchmarks early on to determine if the initiative achieves the objectives.

Likewise, it is crucial to avoid certain pitfalls.

  • Don't ignore the rules mentioned above.

  • Don't hire a relative to undertake your branding program.

  • Don't underestimate the power of proper branding.

  • Don't drink the KoolAid of the scientists and drug developers when choosing a direction. Rather, use research (such as focus groups) to validate your proposed brand by the very people who will purchase it.

  • Don't be too impatient, as establishing a brand among consumers and purchasers takes time.

  • Don't be unreasonable: the best branding campaign in the world can't sustain an ineffective product in the marketplace.

CULTURAL DIFFERENCES

We live in a global society. Any products that could come to market, whether in the near or distant future, should be identified in the scope of work issued to the branding firm. The branding firm should determine, early on, key elements of the brand that will translate across cultures. Understand your target markets and how the brand will be received.

The naming of the brand is the most important step. Before you settle on a name, ensure that it is not offensive or otherwise inappropriate in another language.

COMPLIANCE ISSUES

According to healthcare attorney Robert M. McNair, Jr., names, slogans, and advertising campaigns should be designed and implemented with special care. Biopharmaceutical manufacturers should be careful to avoid product names or slogans that allow a product to be thought of as unique when it is in fact a common product. Likewise, companies should avoid excessive claims about a product's effectiveness.

He explains that all ads for prescription drugs should include summaries of side effects, contraindications, and effectiveness — including negative indicators. The company that ignores these simple limits exposes itself to a variety of risks, including likely violation of FDA rules (with resultant fines and other penalties), possible monetary liability for consumers injured by use of the drug without appropriate precautions, and, in extreme cases, civil or criminal sanctions for consumer fraud arising from misleading or incomplete names, slogans, or ads.

CONCLUSION

Branding is an integral component not only to bringing a product to market but, just as importantly, to sustaining it in the market. A well-planned branding strategy begins as early in the drug's development process as possible, and it sets the stage for product differentiation, value, and ultimately profitability.

Rick Keating is president and CEO of Keating & Co., 100 Campus Drive, Florham Park, NJ 07932, 973.400.5400, fax 973.966.6080, rkeating@keatingco.com , www.keatingco.com

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