Pharma companies are coming out of the shadows - Coley Porter Bell

Pharma companies are coming out of the shadows

A glaciar shown beneath a body of water

Written by: Jenn Szekely, Managing Partner

Featured in Campaign US

Corporate pharma brands are speaking directly to consumers as they gain prominence during the pandemic.

Most people know what Viagra or Lipitor are, even if they’ve never taken them. But if you ask them who makes those drugs, much fewer will be able to answer Pfizer. Historically, pharma companies have distanced themselves from their portfolio brands. But in a digital world with changing consumer expectations, not to mention a global pandemic, some are starting to revisit this strategy.

Pharma companies have kept their corporate brands quiet to protect themselves in the event of a product issue, which can impact peoples’ health. Weight loss drug Fen-phen was recalled in 1997 after a study revealed it caused heart disease and pulmonary problems. That led to thousands of consumer lawsuits, resulting in pharma company Wyeth paying billions in damages. Claims are still being filed and paid 20 years later. While separating the corporate brand made sense before the internet, companies can no longer hide behind their portfolio brands. People now have access to instantaneous information that can spread in real-time and on a global stage.

B2B brands go B2C

More than half (52%) of consumers want brands to stand for more than what they sell, according to a 2018 study by Accenture. As people show they care about the companies behind the products they buy, more B2B companies are starting to speak directly to them. CPG brands such as Procter & Gamble kicked off the trend of corporate brand purpose, but pharma companies are following suit. Last year, Pfizer’s ‘Science Will Win’ campaign showed how the corporation was racing to create the COVID-19 vaccine. The company has also been telling the story of its rebrand in the press, including conversations with the CEO.

The war on talent intensifies

Technology is increasingly playing a bigger role in pharma. According to a recent Deloitte survey, 68% of biopharma leaders cite advances in technology as a top five issues that will shape their company over the next year. As pharma becomes more technology-driven, the talent mix at these companies is expanding. These companies are now not only competing with traditional peers, but with the Apple’s and Amazon’s of the world. As global talent shortages grow, pharma companies have to work harder to attract new talent. That starts by making their corporate brand desirable to new candidates.

The COVID-19 spotlight

The pandemic has put pharma brands front and center like never before. In January 2020 the pharma industry received approximately 10,000 mentions globally in major publications, compared with over 30,000 mentions in December. Moderna, how a household name, was virtually unknown to the public a year ago. Very few people probably know who made the flu shot they took last year, but those who’ve taken the COVID-19 vaccine know exactly which company made it. This has opened the door for pharma brands to establish a relationship with consumers in a way that was a real challenge before. As pharma companies come out of the shadows, the challenge will be to clearly differentiate themselves beyond the sea sameness in the category.