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Does your brand need a check-up?

Published on 04/05/05 at 12:00pm

Brands are all about 'adding value'. To provide this value to our target customers we need to ensure we have the right brand, that provides the right benefits and in the right relationship, which continues to deliver value that meets or exceeds expectations of our target customers, as well as maximising the value of the brand to the company in a competitive market.

Consumers have been shown to 'forgive' brands that sometimes get things wrong provided they continue to add value to their target consumers. The minute they don't, they are dead!

The same applies in the healthcare market to the wide variety of target customers.

To prevent the brand 'getting sick', with the consequent affect on the bottom line, it is important to conduct regular 'healthchecks'. Nipping any potential problems in the bud will stop them developing into major ones.

A common problem is to expect this process to be carried out as a matter of course by the advertising agency. But the agency does not own the brand, nor is it the brand's guardian. Instead, they are communications experts who are commissioned to communicate what you want said about your brand and its values - and they rarely last the lifetime of the brand.

The responsibility for the health of the brand should be internal, and rest with the 'brand champion'. The in-house brand champion should be able to recognise the first signs of brand sickness well in advance of any outside agency. But these signs might not be immediately obvious, which is why a check-up is vital.

Conducting a brand healthcheck will often involve challenging yourself on the critical question: Does my brand still add value to the target customer and is it intended?

If the brand's health is flourishing, you will be able to rely on your customers to make prescribing and purchasing decisions based on not just the functional aspects of the product but the value that you add - which means you can expand your messages beyond simply trying to turn product-driven features into 'benefits'.

Conducting a brand healthcheck is about taking an objective look at your brand, and asking the following ten questions. Answer them honestly and any potential brand weaknesses or problems will become obvious, enabling you to tackle them before they start damaging your competitive position.

Brand vision must be valid

Is your overall brand vision still valid, including your 'insight' into the world?

Brand vision is what drives the brand: strong brands have a clear vision of what they want to be and where they are going. So, in part your vision is the internal expression of the goals and aspirations for the brand qualitative and quantitative.

But it is no good just having an internal focus. In our highly competitive world we need to 'shape' markets, in order to maximise the brand's value. Aspirations must be realistic and relevant to customers and what is happening in their world - an insight into that external world is crucial.

The question is not just 'what do we want to be?' but more 'what can we be?'. That means reviewing a number of inputs, including corporate expectations (have they changed since the original brand vision was set?), customer needs, competitor brand visions and the drivers of prescribing choice.

Any brand healthcheck must start with a review of your brand vision and in particular your insight into the external world - the perspective about the world that defines the brand's opportunity. Is it still relevant? Does it need to evolve? Has the 'opportunity' been fully met and is no longer of real value?

Are your brand core values still relevant?

If the brand vision sets out the aspirations for the brand, the core values express its personality. The world and our customers move on. If that world has changed, it is possible that those values are either not relevant to your key audiences - or worse, they could be alienating the very people who you are hoping will embrace your brand.

As with all aspects of a brand review, in order to gauge this you need to have a sound insight into the aspirations of your target customers and how they are changing - otherwise how are you going to measure the relevance of your brand's core values. Research and understanding will play a key role in conducting the healthcheck - it is not simply an internal operation!

It is about evolution not revolution, however. Great brands stay relevant to their target customers but are never static. They adapt and change in line with their target customers - your brand needs to evolve to stay alive.

Understand current and future prescribing drivers

If you want your brand messages to trigger and exploit prescribing drivers - vital to fuel growth clearly you must understand what those 'hot buttons' are.

Too often brand managers adopt the mindset of trying to understand why customers are not using my brand, rather than trying to understand why they do what they do. There is often no link between our view of why the product should be successful and the customer's behaviour.

Research tracking studies will tell you the obvious, hard information, but don't provide an insight into new possibilities - what could be achieved.

During the brand healthcheck, you need to know what different behaviours exist or are developing in the market, and what underpins those behaviours. These are generally 'non-measurables' such as beliefs and attitudes, motivations and constraints. The healthcheck will generate hypotheses and then use creative and robust research techniques to test them and develop a greater understanding.

Brand value equation

Will your brand value equation (BVE) still provide sustainable competitive advantage in the medium to long term?

Too often the pharma industry measures the value it offers customers in terms of product value - that is to say the functional benefit of the product. But the Brand Value Equation (BVE) combines three different benefits, and the brand healthcheck needs to ensure that all three are providing competitive advantage.

Perceived value for money, functional benefit and emotional benefit combine to produce the BVE. The normal pharma paradigm is to focus on the feature-benefit analysis; to take account of the more intangible needs, a further step is necessary, and a sound way of approaching this is the ACE model: Attributes, leading to Consequences, which deliver Emotional Benefits.

The Attributes are the product features and characteristics; the Consequences are the product benefits - what the product can actually do; the Emotional Benefit is the end psychological benefit - the desired endpoint. This is rarely as simple as a 'successfully treated patient', but is intimately connected to the customer's personal needs.

To put it simply, the BVE is: Brand Value = Benefits (Functional and Emotional)  - Price.  The more real the benefits, the less the reliance on price, and the greater and more sustainable the competitive advantage.

However, those benefits need to be meaningful (to the customer), sustainable, credible, differentiating, and above all motivating! In the face of a changing world, with or without new competition, does our BVE still meet this acid test?

Relevant marketing communication activity

Does all your marketing communication activity accurately reflect your brand positioning and the core values?

There are many activities in the pharmaceutical marketing mix that are tried and trusted and part of the 'traditional' approach to communicating the brand and its value to our target customers.

Too often insufficient thought is given to whether the activity or its execution adds to the brand value or undermines it in some way. Brand marketing strategy is about deciding what not to do as much as what to do. Some activities may be incompatible with the core values or the overarching brand value, and will consequently destroy brand value rather than create it.

Part of the brand healthcheck has to be a review of all the communication activities - from the agency to the salesforce - to ensure that all aspects of communication are working synergistically to build brand value. Anything that does not add value should be removed from the mix.

Exploit key prescribing drivers

Does your communication exploit the key drivers of prescribing?

It's not just about making sure your communication reflects your brand positioning and core values; to be really effective it must hit those prescribing 'hot buttons'. Involve those who are responsible for brand communications in the healthcheck to make sure they are armed with insight into those prescribing drivers - ensure their activity is also reviewed as part of the healthcheck.

Customer brand perceptions

How well do you know how your customers perceive your brand - do they think it's the right brand, offering the right values?

A brand must appeal to a distinct group (ie, segment or segments) of customers, and different segments will have different values, against which your brand must align. They will also have different perceptions of your brand.

The stature of a brand is made up of knowledge - how well-established the brand is, which is eminently measurable; and respect - how highly regarded the brand is, which requires more sophisticated and qualitative research.

Relying on anecdotal evidence or wishful thinking can isolate the brand manager from their key audiences, and lead to an ailing brand because its actual market perceptions are not understood. Once again, a strong insight into customer thinking is a key part of assessing the health of the brand. An understanding of their perceptions of the value delivered by the brand, its strength and its stature are key.

Meaningful brand positioning and proposition

Is your brand positioning and core proposition still meaningful, credible, differentiating, sustainable and motivating?

Brand positioning is the marriage between four things: the feelings of the target customer; the competitive set; the distinctiveness and benefit of the brand; and what you say about the brand - and how - to the target customer (by segment).  Customers evolve, competitors change and the knowledge of the brand develops.

Judge this positioning against the five crucial tests of: meaningfulness, credibility, differentiation, sustainability and motivation. If it meets these criteria, it will result in the target customer knowing, believing, acting upon (ie, doing) and feeling the distinctive benefits (functional and emotional) of your brand versus the competition.

The core proposition is not just the strapline on your advertising! But for some brands and brand champions, that is all it is! Fundamentally, it is the single critical message that you want target customers to identify with, remember as motivating and differentiated, as well as understand in the context of their functional needs and feel is appropriate to their emotional needs. And above all see as a call to action.

As such, you should be checking that it is easily understandable - in ten seconds or less! - constant, simple and memorable, as well as being distinctive.

Get the marketing mix right

Is the marketing mix right - right activities and right resource? The key to assessing whether the marketing mix is right is to consider the Brand Value Equation (BVE), and understand the relative value of the elements of the BVE. This enables you to recognise and address the predominant factors that need to be influenced through the brand building process, and in the journey from initial penetration of the market to brand of choice.

Making a return on investment

Can you demonstrate a return on investment? Every company has limited resources to put into the marketing mix. A thorough assessment of the brand's requirements will ensure that these resources are spent in the most efficient and effective way possible. A brand healthcheck is not just about a theoretical exercise, it's about ensuring that you get the maximum return on marketing investment - and no one can argue with that!

Many pharma marketers have the title 'brand manager' but far too many are at best complacent and at worst ignorant about the health of their brands. And yet in a world where product differentiation is under constant pressure, and where price is  determining prescribing behaviour as much as anything else, a strong, healthy brand can be the difference between growth and stagnation.

Conducting a brand healthcheck is not a small undertaking; it needs objectivity, time and insight. But it will always give a return on investment, because the brand's health is an asset that no pharma company can afford to neglect. Is your brand's check-up overdue?


10 questions that will get your brand back in shape

If your brand is in the doldrums it is worth giving it a full 'healthcheck' - ask the following ten questions:

1) Is your overall brand vision still valid, including your 'insight' into the world?

2) Are your brand's core values still relevant?

3) Do you really understand the current and future drivers of prescribing?

4) Will your brand value equation (BVE) still provide sustainable competitive advantage in the medium to long term?

5) Does all your marketing communication activity accurately reflect your brand positioning and the core values?

6) Does your communication exploit the key drivers of prescribing?

7) How well do you know how your customers perceive your brand - do they think it's the right brand, offering the right values?

8) Is your brand positioning and core proposition still meaningful, credible, differentiating, sustainable and motivating?

9) Is the marketing mix right - right activities and right resource?

10) Can you demonstrate a return on investment?


Dr Paul Stuart-Kregor is director of  The MSI Consultancy. For more information e-mail: or visit:




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