This article originally appeared in PharmaTimes.
The pharmaceutical industry has undergone a seismic shift over the past few years. Boardrooms are simultaneously grappling with new regulatory landscapes, maintaining brand equity in fractured markets, expanding into unfamiliar territories, and stabilizing supply chains still impacted by the pandemic. Unsurprisingly, management teams may find themselves in a state of flux.
On top of that, interest rates at a decade-high and geopolitical volatility have had a dampening effect in a sector where mergers and acquisitions (M&A) have traditionally been seen as a key strategic lever for growth.
That said, green shoots are appearing.
The market is warming up again, presenting a renewed window of opportunity for brand growth. Within this landscape, a new class of Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) has emerged. These leaders are looking to embrace the defining challenges of the modern pharma sector by leading opportunities for M&A, rediscovering purpose, attracting next-generation talent, and differentiating their brands in a crowded marketplace.
The convergence of these challenges and opportunities carries profound implications for the brands involved. In this symbiotic dance of adaptation and innovation, marketing leaders are seen as navigators, steering their organizations to help reshape their business and propel their brands toward long-term success.
Indeed, in 2019, shortly after the acquisition of Celgene (a leading biotech company), Biopharma company Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) saw an urgent need to update its brand with a new strategic direction in light of this development. The new brand had to be fresh and more representative of who they are and who they will be in the future, and establish BMS as a diversified specialty biopharma leader with a refocused story that places the patient at the heart.
In large-scale transactions of this kind, essential brand considerations are at play to ensure longevity. Below are the four key considerations for pharma CMOs looking to propel their brand forward successfully.
Shifting brand paradigms
The uptick in M&A activity within the pharmaceutical industry means marketing leaders have to act sooner rather than later. M&As often necessitate a shift in a company’s identity, demanding swift adaptation to the new reality. If executed well, the rewards are plain to see: new market penetration, increased share price, and improved operating efficiencies. The true brand challenge, however, lies in integrating all the moving pieces. As pharma giants expand their portfolios, marketing leaders find themselves at a crossroads with a clear need to align the conglomerate’s strengths while leveraging, and not losing, the equities of the legacy brands.
Personalized pharma marketing
Absorbing the right innovation and emerging technology through M&A is a sure way to boost internal capabilities and expedite pipeline timelines, ultimately ensuring more efficiency and a faster path to growth.
BMS explains: “With reimbursement systems in Europe, you now see the patient voice at the table. We work to understand their needs, we call it ‘going beyond the pill.’ It’s a hugely exciting area in personalized medicine because the future of R&D is centered around designing medication for your DNA.”
With the patient at the heart of R&D efforts more than ever, brand leaders must ask themselves how to reach all consumers through one brand when every patient is treated as an individual. This gives rise to important considerations around data acquisition and tailored communication channels to reach people at an increasingly personal level.
In the crowded pharma landscape, relevance hinges on articulating a clear and compelling purpose. Pharma brands must amplify their reason for being in a way that aligns with their core strategic objectives and galvanizes the discerning talent audience they seek to attract. As BMS pointed out: “Purpose is critical to attract talent, and it needs to be authentically communicated within the organization.” A company’s purpose needs to be evident in its actions and not just its words because tomorrow’s talent can sniff out the slightest note of insincerity.
Novartis was able to embrace this successfully. After consolidation efforts, the company recognized its transformative power and embraced simple positioning as an R&D-led Life Sciences company. This evolution became deeply ingrained in Novartis’ organizational culture, propelling the company into a new era of purpose-driven innovation. This helped to attract and retain a new pool of talent looking to work for a business where they could play a key role in reshaping the industry for the better.
Medtronic, too, showcases this strategic thinking: a clear position centered on technology’s profound impact on healthcare allows the company to attract a younger, tech-savvy talent pool that resonates with its brand orientation and helps move the organization into a new era. Medtronic’s purpose even expands from healthcare into planetary welfare, extending their brand messaging on “healthy lives” to a “healthy planet,” with regular ESG reporting that demonstrates the authenticity of their purpose.
When science meets art: differentiation + positioning
Amid the increasing threat from unbranded and generic rivals, pharma brands must carve out their own space to gain an advantage over competitors. Abbott’s positioning, for example, combines heritage, adaptability, and innovation. By aligning its R&D efforts with unleashing human potential, the company created a unique identity and charted a course where legacy blends seamlessly with future potential.
CMOs must also ask themselves how their organizations will continue to deliver differently and stay front of mind for the scientific community in these choppy waters.
BMS, Novartis, Abbott, and Medtronic illuminate the strategic pathways CMOs can take, elevating brands beyond their services. As M&A activity begins to shape the industry again, these tools transform into not just survival instruments but transformation catalysts, enabling pharma brands to thrive amidst uncertainty, navigate complexity, and emerge as innovation beacons in an unpredictable landscape.
What do they all have in common?
Ultimately, simplicity emerges as a guiding principle underlying these brand strategies. In a complex landscape, distilling who you are and what you’re about to its purest form is the key to guiding brands during their transformation phase. Much is at stake when companies merge or are acquired – for the companies, employees, and shareholders. Companies can only move forward easily by knowing where they are going; brands that incorporate simplicity into their DNA get there with focus, standing out from the crowd and propelling them towards enduring success.
Emma Lewis is an Associate Director, Strategy