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We want a global brand, should take you what, 3-6 months, tops?

Published on 14/10/03 at 03:07pm

'Friendly fire' and 'military intelligence' are celebrated oxymorons, and many creative agencies would have it that 'creative market research' is an equally implausible combination. But as global healthcare branding is here to stay, how do we find out what pushes peoples buttons from Soho to SoHo?

This article, taken from a paper presented at the recent British Healthcare Business Information Association (BHBIA) meeting in Bournemouth, looks specifically at the role of creative market research in creating compelling global brands by digging under the surface to unearth the golden key to unlock the secrets of the subconscious.

As humans we all share similar experiences growing up and developing our place in society. We take in and process information on both a rational and emotional level. In fact, in another apparent contradiction, every rational decision is driven by emotion. Without an emotional shorthand it would be very difficult to make any decisions. Imagine how long a trip to the supermarket would take if you checked every ingredient, E-number, calorific value, fat content and additive.

We like making rational choices. They make us feel clever and informed, and we can be pleased with ourselves that we havent been influenced by more emotive pressures such as advertising.

The first purchase in any new category will be driven by a rational evaluation of attributes. (But wait a minute, surely the desire to try a new product category is emotional in itself? If you decide you want a DVD player you can then immerse yourself in specifications and details that have little meaning in reality, beyond reassurance.) We then feel happy we have made the best choice. And we tell our friends.

That every rational decision is built on emotion helps branding make a lot more sense. If this article was processed on a Macintosh it could be assumed the author was a creative; on a laptop PC youd imagine a smart executive suit; handwritten with a Mont Blanc pen, a stylish thinker; or with a Bic biro, well sensible, but is that the best you can do? So branding is truly a kind of shorthand that will help to establish a new brand as quickly as possible, optimise patent life and build a platform for life beyond post-OTC switch. It all boils down to repeat purchase for a long and loyal future.

Brands are for the long-term. Any potential brand should be carefully nurtured before launch, introduced to the world in a truly consistent manner, and guarded with passion by everyone in the company, today and well into the future. No one individual should be allowed to change the brand in the misplaced belief that their flash of insight and initiative will lead to personal promotion and fame. So the investment made in getting it right first time when creating the brand is crucial. It requires a large body of information that needs truly creative market research to bring it to light. The brand has the task of achieving many aims. It needs to:

  • deliver consistent attributes and messages
  • satisfy rational needs (like nothing else can)
  • satisfy overt emotional needs (feeling good about the decision)
  • satisfy implicit emotional needs (that often go unacknowledged).

The big question is: how can these hidden emotional needs be revealed and how can we take advantage of this knowledge? Market research offers a range of techniques:

  • straightforward question and answer to elicit 'left-brain' rational reactions that reflect, at best, what doctors actually do, and, at worst, reflect what doctors think we want to hear
  • projective techniques  a creative pick 'n' mix toolbox to reveal more implicit right-brain emotions.

The idea behind the BHBIA paper was to review these techniques by examining how we all (well, pharmaceutical executives at least) respond to brands. Not just any brands, but specifically relatively expensive non-pharmaceutical brands we are passionate about, but which we use with little thought. In short, we chose to look at airline brands, and who better to research than frequent fliers on transatlantic air routes, including a group of younger travellers and older, more seasoned respondents. The choice of stimulus was a selection of projective and enabling techniques to access 'right-brain' hidden emotional responses to stimulate a metaphoric way of thinking, communicate 'difficult-to-articulate' feelings and access autopilot (sic) decisions.

The respondents were split into two groups. For simplicity, only the two main carriers were looked at  British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. The process started with an open discussion of a surprisingly large list of key attributes: check-in, security, lounges, upgrades, flexible tickets, films, food, massage, seating (size, comfort and flatness), baggage handling, the all-important washbag, pyjamas, food before take-off, the aircraft, the crew, the professionalism and personal touch.

We then used a visual collaging enabling technique, using magazines, scissors and glue sticks. The results were are very illuminating. The inevitable conclusion to the exercise is that each airline knows its target market, but they have little in the way of a clear strategic vision to build their brand into the future. Too much attention is paid to each other's tactical offerings, and too little to innovative leadership built on the hopes and fears of regular customers. We are seeing a different side to branding with the airlines - they are big businesses whose branding should be expertly handled. But we have visible financial problems, cost cutting, job losses, too much introspection and not enough understanding of customers' needs and desires, as well as outrageous prices on monopoly routes.

For many of us air travel is a necessity, and the big benefits for regular travellers often don't even extend to the aircraft and the flying experience:

  • check me in quickly (no, look at those queues)
  • let me take my luggage on board (Ive got to run at the other end and I don't trust your handlers, from bad experiences)
  • put me in a lounge with laptop power and telephones and a decent beverage
  • let me board the plane last, once the non-regulars have settled
  • on the USA return leg feed me on the ground so I can go straight to sleep
  • luxury of luxuries, drive me to the airport to a dedicated check-in.

On the plane there are relatively easily replicated attributes:

  • big seat with laptop power
  • minimal disruption
  • security that I feel but don't notice
  • fresh air
  • relaxing (massage)
  • water when I need it
  • friendly smiles, sincerity
  • reasonable food, why attempt haute cuisine in a microwave?
  • vegetarian choice
  • lighter snacks as appropriate.

The take home message is: branding is about how we feel. We are not 30-somethings, (actually somewhere >40 >50) but we feel like we are, so Virgin plays to our deeper feelings of youth. We prefer a relaxed manner to a formal one, and to feel that there is no pressure to conform to someone else's ideal, is our ideal. And upgrades feel the same need to feel 'special' - why do airlines fly empty business and first class seats across the Atlantic?

Doctors do the same. They tell us they want rational attributes (and they do respond to them) and, while they may not acknowledge the need to feel an emotional bond, they do. Doctors will stick to their product of choice because the decision makes them feel good, no matter what new attributes come to the fore, because it does exactly what it says on the pack insert and it has always delivered. So why look further? Branding has become more than the consistent use of a logo, it is a total philosophy that only creative market research can help uncover.

The techniques we used for transatlantic airline carriers can also be applied in pharmaceutical market research - ideally with new global products.

First impressions last

It is a truism that you only get one chance to make a first impression, just ask William Hague or his successor. This is not to say that local brands cannot be created. On the contrary, local perceptions will be strong. But they are best worked with, rather than creating a 'second impression', which will probably leave your market confused and dissonant: 'I know I shouldn't, but I use product X at 150 mg, because its always worked for my patients (me).'

The market we have chosen to look at as a way of demonstrating branding in pharmaceuticals is a very busy and competitive area - the ARB antihypertensive market. As you would expect, the various brands are functionally very similar, but how do doctors feel about them emotionally?

We asked a group of GPs who had all prescribed at least three ARBs in the last month, and had been assessed by various means to be 'creative'. They generally used Amias or Aprovel first line, while the minority avoided Cozaar and Teveten, which were perceived to be too old and too new respectively.

The ARBs have established attributes for what they do to the condition: control - lower BP - protect; and what they do to the patient: notices nothing - normality - less worried - favourably changes lifestyle (possibly)  dependent on doctor (bad thing?). What GPs are looking for are 'chilled out blood vessels, relaxed arteries, and a new central heating boiler! '(we said they were 'creative').

The rewards and frustrations of treating hypertension relate to the feeling of how to help patients understand the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and the importance of compliance, and how doctors can combat the feeling of drowning in a sea of hypertensive patients.

The visual, kinaesthetic and auditory associations and metaphors for the currently prescribed ARBs are listed below, along with the brand personalities. Some interesting conclusions can be made from these associations: the ads doctors see do influence the choice of visual associations, and brand image, at the emotional level, is profoundly different and will have an influence on future sales.


Colour: Yellow

Place: New York

Food: Burger

Temperature: Hot

Atmosphere: Steamy

Film: Notting Hill

Personality: Successful

Image: Dapper

Integrity: Untrustworthy

Personification: Fly-by-night


Colour: Pink/blue


Food: Strawberries

Temperature: Warm

Atmosphere: Relaxed

Film: Popular play

Personality: Calm

Image: Confident

Integrity: Dependable

Personification: Friendly


Colour: Grey

Place: Hamburg

Food: Soup

Temperature: Cold

Atmosphere: Freezing

Film: Schindlers List

Personality: Teacher


Integrity Almost made it

Personification:Adam Ant, Bill Beaumont

Aprovel is clearly the best placed, Amias is brash and can win business, but it will be hard fought. Cozaar, with its global imagery at launch and first position, has done well but doesnt look to be well prepared for its future.

The Cozaar response is the grandfather with grandchild image that is appropriate to build emotion, but the target audience did not show this in its collage work. There is a danger, therefore, that while this human image could have been a good launch image, it may be detracting and confusing the loyalists at this stage in the product's life. In fact, the collage work shows a desire on the part of GPs to not want to become involved and distance themselves from patients.

These ARB brand portraits all show the power of branding and it is tempting to say that Aprovel has a longer term future than Cozaar and Amias - you decide!

So in conclusion, the purpose of 'creative market research' is to uncover profound insights into the emotional and rational needs of GPs when prescribing a specific drug. This will provide a clear brand platform by which we mean the value, image and personality of the ideal brand. This, combined with a creative positioning based on real market insights, will allow agencies to create good, insightful advertising.

Positioning, where differentiation is the main objective of the game, should also be a creative process. There is no point telling your agency that your position is to be the antihypertensive of choice in diabetic patients. This represents 'inside out' thinking - telling the market what it should think. Better to think outside-in and understand what GPs need emotionally and rationally.

The key outputs from the ideal 'creative market research' should include:

  • rational attributes
  • explicit desires
  • deeper implicit desires.

Understandably the attributes will help build the strategy and positioning. The explicit desires help build the all-important access to the doctors' subconscious, the brand platform. And the implicit desires help build the brand promise - the simple universal five-word 'a-ha!' moment, the emotional shorthand that will help the doctor make that 'rational' prescribing decision for more patients more often.

The sales story will spring from the rational, the launch ads from the explicit desires, and the Holy Grail of long-term loyal sales from the deeper subconscious desires of doctors and patients embodied in the brand.

So for all the agencies out there, put aside your prejudices that research kills good ads and learn to love its creative potential - of course, poor quality research can still kill good advertising, and often does! If your ads are built on real clear insights, they will be better ads and will test well. You will know what your customers want to know, how they want to see it, its colour, shape, taste and texture. Do they think it is earnest, or fun? does it party, what language does it speak? It is all part of the big picture - your brand picture.

Big brands are here to stay, great big brands could even move beyond patent expiry. Now that is a goal worth fighting for!

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