Developing emotional pharmaceutical brand communications – does it work, why does it work and how do we do it?

Sunil Ramkali

Strategic Pharma, W Communication Agency

Every pharmaceutical marketer wants their brand campaign to be more emotional, but do we know why emotional marketing is important for brand adoption? To help you answer this question, this article looks at why emotional marketing works and how you can develop more emotional brand communications.

Is your brand memorable? Do you really know what your customers think about your brand? Does your brand make your customers feel good? Knowing the answers to such questions will help get closer to brand loyalty.

Communicating brand features is critical where factual information about a brand is important, as it tells the customer what they can expect from the brand. However, in an increasingly competitive market place where differentiation at a rational level can sometimes be difficult to demonstrate, your brand must also engage your customers on an emotional level. In this situation marketers need to provide sales teams with brand communications that are differentiating, compelling and relevant, and will engage customers at a functional and emotional level.

Brand positioning is the catalyst

The term ‘emotional marketing’ is a phrase that is often used in marketing, e.g. “we need to be more emotional in our brand messaging”. However, do we actually know what emotional marketing is and if asked, could we demonstrate that emotional marketing works, i.e. increasing sales?

Emotional marketing is not simply updating brand imagery with happy smiling people. Emotional marketing is multi-levelled and must be adopted across the marketing mix from the brand strategy to customer execution.


“…your brand must also engage your customers on an emotional level.”


Emotional marketing is insight driven, with key customer insights being captured in the brand positioning statement. So the more emotive your statement, the more emotive your brand messaging will be. Developing brands to treat acute and chronic conditions that affect a patient’s well-being, ability to function or even life expectancy should provide any marketer with sufficient motivation to develop an emotive positioning statement.

Does emotional marketing work?

The ‘Marketing in the Era of Accountability’ paper published by IPA dataMINE is a landmark publication that documents the effect of emotional marketing on consumers. This publication was a meta-analysis of 880 national case studies from the IPA dataMINE bank1 that looked at the critical success factors for highly effective communications, measured using hard business end points, including sales, market share and profit.

Of course we are not looking at pharmaceutical brand communications, but what the publication did show is that very few advertisements included factual information about the brand in question. The point being is that facts do sell, but not in isolation.

It does not matter how great your brand is, if it does not engage your customer the facts will be lost. Campaigns that bonded on an emotional level outperformed those that focused solely on rational messaging. When analysed, ‘fame’ was the most important factor when it came to emotional bonding.

The value of emotional marketing was confirmed by some consumer research from Ogilvy &amp, Mather2. This research was subsequently used to create The big ideaL™ model at the organisation. The objective of the research was to identify why some brands outperformed their main competitor. Brands like Coca-Cola were compared to Pepsi, Nike to Puma and Apple to Microsoft. The most important predictor for brand preference was being truly different or unique, followed by being seen as optimistic, a leader and making the customer feel good.

Looking specifically at ethical pharmaceuticals, the review article – Does brand differentiate pharmaceuticals?3 concluded that the factors influencing physicians’ perceptions and prescribing behaviour take place at different phases of the brand’s ‘promotional’ lifecycle.


“Emotional marketing is not simply updating brand imagery with happy smiling people.”


According to this model, the physician’s perception of a brand is shaped very early and begins when they start to receive information about the brand during the ‘pre-launch’ phase. Expectations will be formed during this phase and will influence the physician’s decision on whether to use the product. The first personal experience will be very important for future prescribing. After this ‘experimental’ phase the physician will move into the ‘familiarity’ phase where the brand promise communicated in the pre-launch phase is achieved or not. If the two match, then repeat prescribing and brand loyalty is likely and the physicians will trust the brand. Therefore, understanding what trust means for your brand is critical and must start in the pre-launch communications and activities.

Let’s not forget, healthcare professionals are also consumers and there is no reason to assume the consumer approach to marketing will not work for pharmaceutical communications.

Why does emotional marketing work?

Decision making is driven by two competing systems in the human brain, the automatic / intuitive (System one) and the controlled / rational processes (System two). The distinction between the systems4 has been used to develop more effective marketing strategies. In other words, by better understanding the decision-making process of your target audience will help to deliver more effective marketing strategies.

System one is generally based upon feeling or emotions and as a result, decision making using system one is unconscious, automatic and non-verbal. Decision making by the system two is based upon rational or factual information and is generally conscious, controlled and verbal. When we look at how the two systems work together, system one is fast and powerful and system two is limited and slow. Thus more often than not, the buying decision is driven primarily by system one.

How to deliver more emotional brands?

There are a number of simple marketing techniques that can be used to move from rational based communications to communications that include emotional brand benefits and values. One commonly used technique is ‘benefit laddering’.


“…the factors influencing physicians’ perceptions and prescribing behaviour take place at different phases of the brand’s ‘promotional’ lifecycle.”


Benefit laddering involves following a defined structure from the identification of the functional brand features or attributes to the development of the emotional brand benefits and values. This approach enables the marketer to build a logical pathway and to identify the right vocabulary to when expressing rational and emotional brand drivers. The technique is often used when constructing a brand positioning statement as it ensures the key brand statements capture the relevant brand facts, benefits and values in the appropriate tone of voice.

Using the ‘laddering’ interview technique5 Pfizer was able to extract information from hay fever sufferers on their rational &amp, emotional drivers for brand choice. From the rational brand attributes such as non-drowsy, fast-acting and no side effects, the associated emotional drivers included freedom, value for money, belongingness and responsible. This information was used to construct the successful ‘Rapid Response’ OTC campaign in the UK.

Winning the hearts and minds of your customers

Developing an emotional marketing campaign is not the ‘magic bullet’ to successful brand adoption. It is merely another piece of the pharmaceutical landscape jigsaw that must not be overlooked in a market place that is becoming increasing rationale in the way it determines brand value.

As a marketer our role is to develop brand communication strategies, from messaging to branding that will engage our target audience. This can only be achieved by identifying and delivering the right mix of rational brand drivers to influence the ‘mind’ and emotional brand drivers to influence the ‘heart’. The two must co-exist, and if we can find the right balance between the two, this will drive brand adoption and loyalty.


1. The ‘IPA dataBANK’ is a database containing detailed marketing information on over 1,200 case studies entered over the last 25 years into the IPA Effectiveness Awards

2. How The big ideaL™ sells big – Tim Broadbent

3. Bednarik Neuroendocrinol Lett 2005, 26(6): 635-652

4. Stanovich and West (2000)

5. Reynolds and Gutman 1988




About the author:

Originally from the UK, Sunil now heads up the Life Science Business Unit at the W Communication Agency, Malmoe, Sweden. In his role, Sunil works closely with W’s life science clients where he is responsible for the day-to-day management of regional / global communication projects, from brand strategy development to sales implementation.

Over the last 22 years Sunil has held a number of commercial roles within the industry, incl. sales, sales training, hospital account management, pricing strategy, global &amp, affiliate brand management and market access (UK, IT &amp, DE). During which time he has been able to develop an in-depth understanding of the rapidly evolving global pharmaceutical landscape.

Using this knowledge he understands the importance of unearthing the right key customer insights to drive brand adoption, how external stakeholders define brand value, and the importance of communicating brand value in a relevant, compelling and motivating manner to successfully address customer needs – from regulators to payers to healthcare providers to patients, i.e. the complete ‘communication value chain’.


Do you think emotional marketing works?