After years of being dragged down by the reputational issues of an industry perceived to be more focused on profits than products and people, one of the unintentional benefits of Covid-19 is that pharmaceutical brands have been able to step out of the shadows and into the light.
The significant role they played in pushing the boundaries of science to develop and rollout coronavirus vaccines has vividly demonstrated the industry’s ability to put people before profit – increasing awareness, loyalty and trust in the process. By showing society and healthcare professionals alike that the pharmaceutical industry can be both responsible and responsive, a window of opportunity opened for pharmaceutical brands to step away from their profiteering image and build more positive corporate brands through stakeholder capitalism.
Stacy Vaughn, Head of US Healthcare Market Research at Hall & Partners, explains
During the pandemic, the pharmaceutical industry has demonstrated to people and healthcare professionals worldwide that they do care about people over profits, despite decades of negative press and mistrust.
Further evidence is found in a recent ranking of the world’s 100 most conscious brands – created by Omnicom Group duo Hall & Partners and Wolff Olins. In the ranking, Pfizer and AstraZeneca were named among the top 10 brands in the world in this ranking with Moderna ranked no.15 and Johnson & Johnson no.24.
The global survey questioned more than 9,000 consumers asking them to rate 230 brands in the US, UK and China. It defined ‘conscious brands’ as those that are responsive to people’s needs, moods and culture and that also take responsibility by helping people, communities and the planet.
A surprise consequence of the pandemic has been the boost it has given to the pharmaceutical industry’s reputation.
AstraZeneca, for example, was not only committed to defeating Covid-19 by harnessing and sharing their scientific knowledge and expertise, it also confirmed its vaccine would be made available to lower- and middle-income countries on a not-for-profit basis.
Pfizer has likewise helped to change the world this year by fulfilling its manifesto of delivering ‘Breakthroughs that change patients’ lives.’
These are achievements that makes generic marketing proclamations from non-medical organizations of ‘we exist to make the world a better place’ ring hollow by comparison.
The rise of these brands – from a public trust and perception perspective – is all the more incredible when you consider how poorly pharmaceutical brands were perceived back in 2019.
The pandemic reminded the world how important pharma is to the healthcare system, and to the world.
It also created an opportunity for pharma companies to highlight a more positive corporate brand to healthcare stakeholders and consumers alike. Traditionally, pharmaceutical marketing has been product-led rather than corporate reputation focused and not particularly seen as being collaborative, so this represents a significant shift in focus for the industry.
But what’s next? Pharma brands can’t fly on the coat-tails of what they did during the pandemic forever. Reputations are built over time. They need to continue to prove that they will contribute to the overall healthcare system. Demonstrating a purpose beyond profit has never been more essential for pharma brands.
Being seen to have purpose matters
In research carried out last year by Hall & Partners and Porter Novelli amongst 1600 healthcare providers across the US and Europe, having a clear purpose was important to more than eighty percent of payers and 90 percent of healthcare professionals when assessing a new health technology entrant or making prescribing choices.
As the pandemic progressed, in the second wave of the research, the number of healthcare professionals who said they considered this strongly in their own prescribing choices increased from 37 to 50 percent, demonstrating their increasing expectations of pharma manufacturers.
Further, more than half of the healthcare providers and payers questioned felt that forging partnerships with national healthcare systems that deliver better outcomes for patients and address healthcare system challenges was one of the most important actions the industry can take to demonstrate its purpose.
Partnering for the greater good helps deliver purpose
There has never been a better time for pharma companies to step away from their product-centric strategies and enter a new era of corporate-driven stakeholder capitalism by partnering with other stakeholders – for example, regulatory agencies, insurers, local governments, advocacy groups, community centres – to solve the most vital healthcare system challenges.
By putting themselves at the centre of the healthcare system and continuing what they started during the pandemic, pharma companies can potentially become the glue across healthcare system relationships. This could mean that in the future we see more consortiums led by pharma and underpinned by a shared purpose.
Indeed, pharma brands could well become a role model for the way society and business operate together. In order for it to have a lasting impact on trust, pharma must not only act with purpose but must ensure that it communicates its actions clearly in as part of a long-term and sustained strategy.
Making sure that purpose serves patients directly
The ultimate demonstration of purpose by pharma brands is through helping healthcare professionals to serve patients and improve outcomes.
This speaks to both consumers and healthcare professionals who have the same growing sense of consciousness about the purpose and values of the products they choose – and now the companies behind those products.
Indeed, in Hall & Partner’s Value Shift research, which interviewed 20,000 consumers across 10 countries, 15 critical shifts in consumer values were identified; including growing importance of safety, which was the second most significant shift in people’s values.
A more conscious era for pharmaceutical brands
Managing the corporate brand in the context of the more conscious consumer is something for all pharmaceutical companies to consider strongly. By continuing to make patient outcomes a priority and helping to solve the many different challenges that exist in healthcare systems around the world, pharma brands can show healthcare professionals that they can be trusted partners for a long-term, post-COVID world. In doing so they can help to strengthen loyalty and trust authentically among both healthcare providers and consumers. Having a strong corporate brand and continuing to demonstrate broader purpose is essential for pharmaceutical manufacturers today. This will benefit the product brands as well as the long-term health of the business.