It’s A Wonderful Brand.

In the classic Frank Capra movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the hero hits a low point where he ponders whether the world would have been better off if he had never been born. Spool forward 67 years, and it feels as though our industry is having a similar crisis of confidence about brands. Do they still matter? Are they relevant in today’s world? Articles and opinions abound telling us that brands have less and less of a role because people want content that is (or at least feels) independent of commercial interest.

What about in the healthcare space? After all, it’s not like we are the guardians of Coke or BMW or Apple, building up equity over the decades, instead we have the reality of patent expiry and loss of exclusivity. Plus, our customers don’t always get to choose a brand, one is prescribed to them. So, isn’t building a pharmaceutical brand an expensive luxury rather than a must-have investment? All in all, would it really matter if pharma brands didn’t exist?

If we go down that road, we may find that, much like Jimmy Stewart in the aforementioned movie, we end up in a very different place from where we grew up — a tough town where cash is king and everything is short term – look out for today and let tomorrow look after itself. Sound familiar?

It probably does, because the advertising industry has been heading there for a while now. You see it in some of the work being produced today: lots of separate experiences with little in common beyond the color palette and logo. We follow our customers across multiple media experiences, either trying to blend in and not be “advertising,” or looking for the immediate transaction.

The result is a creative archipelago rather than a cohesive story. This fragmented world is why brands and big brand ideas are going to be more important than ever going forward.  And most especially in health where people need real help making better, more confident healthcare decisions.

Now, this isn’t some teary-eyed nostalgia trip harkening back to the good old days because brands need to work very differently. For starters, digital allows everyone to see everything, which means separate campaigns for separate audiences, such as professional, consumer or payer doesn’t really work anymore. It makes a brand feel fractured.

Nor is it about just stretching consumer thinking across to HCPs or vice versa. Future success will depend on finding big, more generous ideas and strategies that give brands the flexibility to manifest appropriately and be relevant to each audience and context, while obviously remaining the same (brand).

This sort of thinking moves us away from our traditional approach to healthcare brands. In the past, the brand has been an informer and a promoter. Today, a brand needs to work harder to get the attention and trust of its customers. It needs to connect to both HCPs and their patients on a much more emotional level as a partner; helping, guiding and supporting people through their healthcare journeys.

This is a critical role, not just for our customers, but also for us as marketers. In this complex media world, where we are tempted to produce all kinds of tactics for all kinds of audiences just because we can, brands keep us on course. They let us know when we are in the right place and that everything is as it should be. Brands are Zu Zu’s petals, treasure them.

By Graham Mills 
Graham Mills is executive director of Digitas Health.
Courtesy of MediaPost

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