3 Ways Pharma Marketers Can Learn From the Consumer World

June 19,2015

Pharma vs. consumer. It’s been a ubiquitous topic over the last decade—at conferences, as a thought-starter for brainstorm sessions, in trade articles. It surrounds our efforts.

The freedom of consumer marketing
Clearly, differences exist between pharma and consumer marketing. Case in point: On, the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 32 running shoe is described as having “highly responsive cushioning to help you reach high speeds.” Reimagined as a pharmaceutical ad, it would require fair balance noting that clinical trial participants experienced fatigue and muscle soreness and 2% of patients developed shin splints. Based on personal experience, their efficacy claim should also require a prominent “individual results may vary” disclaimer.

As pharma marketers, we often get bogged down in FDA regulations. We get discouraged as we dream of the simplicity of brands like Apple, Starbucks and BMW. As an industry, I think the biggest lesson pharma can learn from consumer brands is to think differently. We need to break out of the mold of sameness and find unique ways to convey our messages and reach our targets. We should be inspired by the courage and leadership of consumer brands that have broken from the norm. We should dare to do the unexpected.

Think the opposite of your competition
While most women’s healthcare products focus on endorsements by beautiful celebrities, glowing skin and the image of perfection, Dove has chosen to embrace the beauty that exists within all of us. From their #speakbeautiful campaign to helping our daughters build positive self-esteem, Dove is determined to change the conversation.

What makes these efforts great is not just their differentiation from the rest of the beautiful-face-filled category, but the deep consumer insights at their core. Women are consistently bombarded with society’s interpretation of beauty, which impacts their self-esteem. So, while the rest of the category focuses on how their products can help you achieve that interpretation of beauty, Dove focuses on demonstrating how you already are beautiful. It’s a memorable message with deep impact.

Don’t outspend your competition, outdo them
Few brands have the budget to make a big splash at the Super Bowl. When you think of great ads during the game, Budweiser’s iconic Clydesdales likely come to mind. Not only do we remember them because of the creative execution, but because year after year, we know Budweiser will have a prominent presence on our televisions throughout the game, investing millions in getting their message heard.

Newcastle, the antimarketing brand of beer (whose $2 million annual media budget wouldn’t have bought them a single spot during the game), reached millions of viewers by promoting the commercial they never made. In a self-deprecating YouTube trailer (warning: profanity), Academy Award nominee Anna Kendrick pokes fun at Newcastle for hiring her to create a Super Bowl commercial but not having money to place the spot. Part of a larger “If We Made It” campaign—including fake storyboards, focus groups and a full website dedicated to all the potential commercials Newcastle could have made—the video was a viral sensation. The campaign was Adweek’s No. 1 campaign of 2014.

Learn from the best
Let’s translate these insights into the pharma world. What can we do to ensure we don’t fall into the vast sea of sameness? Let’s start with a few simple steps:

  • Define the obvious approach. Then, uncover all the pathways that are the opposite of obvious. Inspiration often comes from the least obvious places—leverage it.
  • Root initiatives in the audience’s goals instead of the brand’s goals. Brand success relies on understanding your target audience’s needs and motivations. Think like your target, not like a brand manager. Use these insights to develop a brand that really resonates.
  • Don’t let budget restrict great ideas. Have a big idea and a small budget? Figure out a scalable way to execute the idea. Don’t let the impossible stand in your way.

Maybe most importantly, we need to remember that when we are marketing for pharma companies, we’re still marketing to consumers. Doctors, caregivers and patients are all inherently consumers. It’s time to stop talking pharma vs. consumer and start talking marketing. The possibilities are endless.

Tiffany Ryan heads up new business opportunities in pharmaceuticals and healthcare as a member of the Strategy team. She also wears out a few pairs of sneakers a year as a distance runner.



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