Global pharma brands: are they worth the effort?

Ed Stapor

Havas Health

Ed Stapor highlights the success factors for memorable global pharmaceutical brands.

What do Apple, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, BMW, HSBC, Nike, Disney, IKEA, Starbucks, and Louis Vuitton have in common? Each has clearly spent an inordinate amount of time and energy creating positive customer experiences the world over. Fast food or luxury goods, all are successful, instantly recognisable brands with powerful global equity.

Connecting people to brands everywhere

The global winners talk to customers on their turf in ways that resonate, and yet amidst the customised conversation the brand’s consistent anthem can be heard. Some in our industry are daunted and willing to leave global branding to the consumer experts, but they forget our customers are also iPod and Big Mac loyalists and we connect with them via many of the same types of offerings and touchpoints. Today, for so many reasons, a consistent global identity with strong local applicability just makes sense. But no one said reaping those rewards is easy, especially in pharma. So what must we do to make it worth the effort?

A global look at the practical issues

While the pharma sector is based on scientific-rigour and must negotiate a strict environment in terms of what and how we communicate, regulatory concerns are our concerns, not our customers’. Whatever a product’s specific challenges, patients visiting Disney World still fill their prescription before their trip. As marketers, we are talking to the same people – we just have different hurdles to reach them.


“…there’s a big difference between a true global brand and a product that’s available in 100 countries.”


The notion of a global pharma brand is both exhilarating and dizzying because there’s a big difference between a true global brand and a product that’s available in 100 countries. The decision to go global requires strategic evaluation of the consistencies and differences across regions of key fundamental factors:

• Product: name, the label, formulation, dosage forms, claim structure,

• Market: competitive landscape, pipeline, treatment guidelines, new technologies, market dynamics, price sensitivity, pharmacoeconomic conditions,

• Customer: target audiences (prescribers, influencers, patients), unmet need, habits, attitudes, clinical trial experience,

• Regulatory / Legal: labelling, approval procedures, promotional guidelines, restrictions, trademark acceptance,

• Societal: cultures, values, language, political environment,

• Corporate: alignment between headquarters and affiliates on market position, resources, team structure, commitment, decision-making, budget control.

Why going global is in synch with today’s world

Insomuch as creating a global brand is a strategic decision, in many ways our mobile lives have become indifferent to borders. Healthcare providers, patients, caregivers and other stakeholders are influenced by information from multiple-sources that are agnostic to their points-of-origin. The implication for marketers is that once information goes public, we must be prepared for its “omni-accessibility”. In other words, whether or not you want to create a global brand experience, global considerations are now a modern concern.

One obvious but often unmentioned rationale for global brands is the budget savings it can yield and in today’s climate who can argue with that? A successful global brand should, in fact, yield an even stronger marketplace impact and increase revenue. So, what are the key success factors for achieving best-in-class pharma global brands?


“Today, for so many reasons, a consistent global identity with strong local applicability just makes sense.”


1. Universal insights. Insights within the category, target and brand are essential to capturing the multi-cultural and multi-dimensional world we live in. This deep dive of understanding produces powerful strategic platforms and greater probability of global success. If underappreciated or underutilised – for example, assuming what will work in one country will work in another – it puts the brand at risk.

2. Brand consistency. A great idea transcends borders, geographies, cultures and languages. What the brand represents – branding, positioning, messaging – should be consistent across markets but creating global brand experiences requires local adaptation for greater relevance.

3. Flexibility. Certain consistencies are the mark of a global brand but one size does not fit all. There must be a conscious approach to the level of local implementation based on three factors:

• Mandatory elements that must remain in their existing style, tone, and content, the only changes should be requirements for translation and / or regulatory / legal.

• Adaptable elements may be changed based on local cultural insights / needs / customs or market research that is sound and supports the global brand strategy.

• Discretionary elements may be changed as a result of local business issues and / or opportunities.

As a rule of thumb, the weighting on degree of flexibility is 70%, 20% and 10%, respectively. This approach will ensure the integrity and meaning of the global brand and that its services are adapted for local needs.

4. Unified. To give customers the ultimate brand experience consistently around the world, it is imperative that strategic activation is synchronised and seamlessly delivered throughout the customer journey. The reality is that we live in a world with a fragmented customer base (from patients, physicans and pharmacists to payors, caregivers, and advocates) and is increasingly dictating the terms of engagement. And the number of communication mixes is growing. A unified approach enables us to offer clarity, relevance, connectivity and enduring brand experiences.

5. Alignment. To ensure the company structure, culture, processes, and budget management are aligned, that internal and 3rd party partners are committed and fully engaged, and clear rules of engagement are established and carried out with discipline, only then do global brands become more than a vision.

Creating a seamless customer experience requires savvy

Where global brands have not been as successful as they should have been, has been as a result of internal misalignment. Sometimes all the right intentions do not transfer into action, as when a company is unprepared or under-estimates what it takes to be successful. And that is a shame as it is the one important variable that is fully controllable.


“Where global brands have not been as successful as they should have been, has been as a result of internal misalignment.”


Being on a global brand team is exciting and provides great career opportunities. A valuable lesson has been that the success of pharma global brands is not so much a question of ‘what to do’, but of ‘how to do’. It is about applying the principles of the five key success factors for achieving best-in-class pharma global brands. From a practical view, this means being disciplined to the process, being respectful of input from stakeholders and being committed to delivering a truly pharma global brand, no matter what it takes.

This will put us in the same category of success as global brands from the consumer world. It’s work but it’s worth it, both for the brands in our care and the people around the world whose healthcare will surely be better because we tried.




About the author:

Ed Stapor has been with Havas Health for 19 years. He started in Canada, on to California, then New York, and since August 2010, has been based in London. Ed is responsible for all Havas Life (formerly Euro RSCG Life) and Health4Brands European operations.

Three proudest achievements:

• Leading the worldwide team under the single agency model for launching / relaunching Lantus.

• Successfully merging two agencies, Robert A. Becker and Questar, to form H4B Chelsea.

• Achieving income and EBIT growth vs 2011 of +16% and +43% in Europe.

Relevant experience:

• Strong strategic and analytic skills and driver of building business.

• Global experience including Enbrel, Keppra, Lantus, Micardis, Pristiq, Revatio, Thelin and Viagra.

• Client-side experience in business development, sales and marketing (Cardizem CD and Injectable).

Personal qualities:

• Strong strategic contributor and driver of processes.

• Highly proficient analytic skills, very organised, and always taking initiatives for improvement.

• Considered a mentor, teacher and coach to staff and clients.

• Tireless work ethic, trustworthy and transparent.

Education: MBA (Finance and Accounting), Concordia University, Montreal.

What are the key success factors for achieving best-in-class pharma global brands?