A cursory view of the pipeline of new pharmaceutical drugs reveals what most healthcare marketers know to be true—that the business has shifted from a few big brands covering large populations (depression, cholesterol) to many smaller brands targeted towards smaller populations. Secondly, pharma companies have long focused on specific therapeutic categories. Lilly, Amgen, Novartis, Pfizer, GSK, and Sanofi all have an oncology franchise. Merck, Sanofi, Johnson & Johnson, and Bayer have a diabetes franchise. The theme here is that marketing a franchise is an important one for the future of pharma branding. And in taking a step further in the redefining of this house of brands, it's important to explore the idea of branded engagement.
Why marketing a brand franchise presents a different kind of opportunity
A franchise with a therapeutic category focus isn’t born out of a need for marketing efficiency, but out of the desire of a business to streamline its product development. That said, there are some areas of opportunity that do arise as a result of the franchise approach: they could be categorized into a) infrastructure efficiency; b) strategic selling opportunities; and c) strategic opportunities in extending value-added services. The efficiencies in the area of a shared CRM infrastructure (especially for reaching physicians), including access, patient support systems in the form of websites, and a savvy sales force that needs to focus on one category, are all significant advantages that most companies realize.
The strategic selling opportunities around franchises are often less commonly carried through, such as presenting efficacy and safety across products and aligning patient subtypes and disease progression. Other areas include leveraging payer pricing offsets for bundled formulary decisions, capturing real-world data on patient outcomes, and connecting with the overall cost of disease management. But the opportunity least acted upon lies in the third category—extending value-added services. This is the arena where information meets utility and one that I point to in coining the term "branded engagement."
What is branded engagement?
Branded engagement is not brand engagement. It is a customer-centric program that's brought to market by a franchise or a business unit. And franchises and category-specific businesses (vaccines, animal health, etc) are ideal candidates for making a successful investment in such platforms. Pfizer’s animal health division, spun off as Zoetis, is one such company that invested in a noncommercial engagement platform (Vetvance.com) for emerging veterinarians to support their career decision-making process and gain access to industry expertise, peers, and financial support. MerckEngage.com is more informational than utilitarian, but it does cover several different chronic conditions, while Cornerstones4care.com from Novo Nordisk focuses on Type 1 diabetes.
There are other examples in healthcare, but they're generally in the realm of branded content and present information about things like disease management without going the extra mile. Branded engagement must go beyond content and offer personalized utilities; Nike Fuel comes to mind. These platforms are often mobile and social (which is possible to do without the use of open text, using social features like ratings, connections, and surveys) and can compete or, better still, integrate with existing apps, tools, trackers, and even medical devices.
Just as the pipeline of pharmaceutical products has moved past the multibillion-dollar cannonball opportunities to targeted clusters of franchises, strategic branding for franchises and business units must evolve to support value-added programs that differentiate them through branded engagement.