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Branding in the Age of Social Media
Branding in the Age of Social Media

Branding in the Age of Social Media

But Is Transparency at Odds with Regulation in Pharma Marketing?

Brands must move past promises and into fulfillment, must shift from control to transparency: but are these new values compatible with tightly regulated markets like healthcare?

The Ronnestam Group of Sweden neatly summarizes many of the lessons for brands resulting from the growth of online communities and social media such as Twitter and Facebook. They propose, as others do, that social media is upending traditional notions of brand development, and highlight ten 'shifts in thinking', including moving from notions of customers to followers, from marketing to entertainment, or from structural bindings to trust.

"What you’re looking at is a brand new world where information flows free. Whatever you do will become transparent. You’re losing the competitive edge based on physical innovations and ideas, intelligence and innovation will prosper. Loyalty is no longer based on structural bindings and price. The consumer of tomorrow values sustainability, freedom of choice and humbleness.

What ever you do, you can expect a global competitor that can deliver their products and services from anywhere in the world. Personally I use a computer I bought from the states. My mobile was bought in Hong Kong. My software’s are all bought online from abroad. My backup service is located in the States. Hell, even my notebook was ordered from abroad.

Brands that can translate these changes in how people consume information are the winners. Brands that try to protect what they have, not opening up and milking every last penny out of that old cow of yours will be the losers."

But in tightly regulated markets, the challenge is two-fold: as customers learn to expect different ways to learn about and communicate with brands, how can companies be part of the conversation instead of simply observers; and how can this be achieved when there are restrictions on what types of product information can be communicated?

My belief is this challenge isn't as frightening as it seems. Sure, social media like Twitter or, for physicians, sites like Sermo mean that online conversations can take on a life of their own, there are a few simple ways to tackle these challenges:

1. Don't think of social media as homogeneous. If all you're thinking about is Facebook and Twitter then you're observing social media through the lens of traditional notions of Web sites and mass distribution. Neither one of these sites, for example, is "one" community. They are multiple communities within single platforms. Think of it like a trade show or medical conference: you may have 25,000 physicians walking the halls of an oncology conference, but there's probably only a small segment who specialize in lung cancer or late-stage disease treatment. What's important isn't the platform (the conference) - what's important are the communities within that platform. If you start thinking of social media as clusters of customers who are having conversations, it helps to shape how you can have conversations with those communities in meaningful ways.

In other words - first, forget the technology. Focus on the people and what they're talking about. Brand strategy can more easily evolve from this perspective.

2. Forget spin. Think support. For the pharmaceutical brand, information is the lifeblood of community. And most pharmaceutical brands have plenty of information. But the days of trying to highlight a single data point from a trial are over: knowledgeable patients and healthcare professionals are combing the Web for trials and facts and are coming to their own judgments. The brands that support data dissemination across a variety of Web sites and venues succeed because they're helping to make sure that when a patient goes hunting for information, they find it. This has significant implications for clinical trial development and publication: the more meaningful and ubiquitous you can make the data, the better armed communities will be in making decisions about your brand.

3. Go where your customers are: The walled garden approach to Web strategy doesn't work anymore. The 'build it and they'll come' attitude is expensive to execute and maintain. Content and Web strategies need to be nodal: 100 small content modules across 100 conversational sites can have far more impact than one giant portal, and they can be constructed to be both compliant with regulation and measurable.

The notion that social media leads to a change in philosophy and approach isn't wrong: companies will need to increasingly value transparency and honesty in how they communicate with stakeholders. In so doing, the opportunity to create new bonds based on trust and respect will pay dividends. But initial forays into social media don't need to be frightening or daunting and can help to establish new levels of customer engagement and, in the long run, create lasting organizational change.

doug thompson
Branding in the Age of Social Media

doug thompson

Doug Thompson is CEO of Remedy which he founded a decade or so ago with a couple of old laptops and one of those fax machines with curling paper. Doug keeps a pulse on innovation and on maintaining the team-based culture that has allowed Remedy to grow from that modest start.