Healthcare Brand Summit: Adapting to contemporary communication channels

By Rashmi Menon , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Marketing | December 06, 2013
On Day 1 of Healthcare Brand Summit, supported by OPPI and Brands of Desire with DDB Remedy as the knowledge partner, speakers alluded to social media and how pharma companies have to invest in relevant branding and effectively utilise technology.

Day 1 of Healthcare Brand Summit had many of the speakers professing the importance of building strong, relatable brands in healthcare and pharmaceutical industries and how the companies need to look beyond the conventional marketing techniques and tools. Organised by afaqs!, the two-day summit, which is the first of its kind, was held at Hilton Hotel, Mumbai, and was supported by OPPI and Brands of Desire. DDB Remedy is the knowledge partner.

(L-R) Kewal Handa, Swati Dalal, Sharad Tyagi and Soumitra Sen

Ashish Karnad and Deepa Mathew

Ranjit Shahani

Lawrence Ganti

Rajiv Dingra

Nagesh Rao

Nandu Madhava

Graham Hales

Ranjit Shahani, country president, Novartis India, and former OPPI president, kick-started the session by introducing the concept of a powerful brand. He said a brand could be a valuable asset for a company to increase its shareholder value. However, the healthcare industry has been a very poor investor in branding and a lot of work was needed on this.

While acknowledging that pharma companies operated under restrictions on advertising their products, Shahani said that the industry had to be creative in its marketing and communication. "Today, the top brands in the world are recognised by their slogans. These are strong brands and are consistent with their communication but none of them are from healthcare or pharma companies," he lamented.

However, things were looking up, he said, with pharma companies trying to put taglines to their brands now. Even Indian companies have started imbibing this, which helps in getting not only top of mind recall but also shareholder value, Shahani observed.

Shahani's keynote address was followed by a panel discussion on 'The critical value of brands in a changing Indian healthcare industry'. Moderated by DDB Remedy president Soumitra Sen, the panel comprised Kewal Handa, managing director, Salus Lifecare, and former MD, Pfizer; Swati Dalal, director, marketing excellence, Abbott Healthcare Solutions; and Sharad Tyagi, managing director, Boehringer Ingelheim India.

Setting the tone of the discussion, Salus Lifecare's Handa highlighted that from a $4 billion industry, the Indian pharma market had grown to $14 billion between 2003 and 2014. Yet, the top 10 pharma brands lost their market share from 0.6 per cent to 0.4 per cent within the decade.

"This tells us that the top 10 (pharma) brands haven't been able to hold their market share and have not enough to invest on building their brands," Handa said, adding that except two brands, none of the brands in the top 10 list of 2003 figure in the current list. The reason for this was that Indian brands were not built on intellectual property (IP) unlike their western counterparts, which not only built a brand on IP but also set accountability of performance of that product.

Agreeing with Handa, Tyagi of Boehringer Ingelheim opined that brands with patented products would last longer, given that the Indian market was based on retainer model. Considering that the pharma sector thrives on quality and assurance, that's the image the brands have to invest in as it will get etched in the patient's mind.

Abbott's Dalal felt that changes in media had led to patients having tremendous choice. The doctors were no longer given demi-god status but were now considered as service providers and the patients were quick to get second opinions. In such a scenario, it was essential to create clutter breaking initiatives and create excitement on the stories and campaigns. In fact, the role of ICT in healthcare would define the next wave of innovation in healthcare services, she insisted.

However, how does one keep a brand relevant in today's world, given that new molecules are coming in? Added to this, communication fatigue is often in the mind and not the brands, so companies need to promote the brands in an exciting manner by looking at the classical life cycle management of a brand.

IMRB's Ashish Karnad and Deepa Mathew, both group business directors, gave a presentation on the consumer trends that drove attitudes and behaviour towards healthcare. Pointing out some key trends, they said that due to increased internet penetration, courtesy mobile phones, 4 per cent of rural Indians sought information on healthcare online. Also, some of the top searches on Google were on specific ailments and diseases. Around 6 per cent of people bought healthcare products like equipment or non personal care products online.

Lawrence Ganti, country director, Merck Serono, shared the various social media initiatives the company was taking. He highlighted that in his company, expenditure on traditional marketing had dropped by 60 per cent. Instead, the company now employed a multi-channel marketing approach, where it used social media, telemarketing, web portals and domains and mobile vans to disseminate information and engage with the target audience.

Ganti was also quick to point out that employees were a company's brand ambassadors and its biggest assets, so keeping them abreast of the organisation's communication strategy was important. Besides owning web portals and putting up engaging and informative content around the ailments and conditions, where Merck's products are focused on, the company also organises webinars for doctors, he revealed. It also conducts classroom training for its new sales representatives and later, e-learning modules to test them on a monthly basis.

Some of the key learnings Ganti shared included focus on content and continuous updates, small start, flexibility, wise choice of channels, ensuring transparency and honesty, deputising a person or team and giving them full support, bringing others into the fold, ramping up internal education efforts, building internal belief and continuous pushing of limits for ROI.

Rajiv Dingra, founder and CEO, WAT Consult, spoke about unleashing the power of social media to create consumer brands. Unlike other sectors, pharma companies were left with conversational marketing but not many companies did that. He also pointed out that the content was an aspect that healthcare companies were failing to leverage.

On similar lines, Nagesh Rao, president and director, MICA, said that healthcare and pharma brands needed to understand the difference between healthcare and medical care. He said that brands needed to co-create stories with their audience, which would then create a lot of relevance not only for the brand but for its audience as well.

Nandu Madhava, CEO, mDhil spoke on the common issues in measuring ROI in online marketing. He then recommended some winning strategies that the companies could employ, like high impact, high reach media, custom brand destination, custom editorial videos, video channel management and custom digital promotion.

Finally, Graham Hales, Interbrand's global chief marketing officer, concluded the session by saying that pharma brands felt that innovation was a key differentiator. But it was not about innovation, which was a loose and sloppy word. The brands had to arrive at distinctive promises. He reiterated that brands need to track consumer journey, which would reflect from the consumer's experience. It was also vital to understand the influences on various touch points.

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