“At AstraZeneca the global brand is designed and built in a partnership between the global brand team and representatives from our major markets, focusing on the top six that account for 80 percent or so of sales. There is no ‘hand over’ of the brand in these markets—they are part of its development. The problem is with the rest of the world, which has had little chance to influence the brand and feels no ownership.”
Managing director of brand consultancy IdeaPharma Mike Rea agrees that global brands are not always respected by local product managers. “I remember going into the office of one client and him taking great pride in that he used the brand book as a door stop.”
Local product managers have a large degree of autonomy. They answer to their local marketing director, not the global branding team, and their primary responsibility is the financial success of products in their market. Although the local management team knows it should implement the global brand, when a product manager argues the case for a local version, they often grant permission. For them, the numbers matter far more than the vision of a global brand.
Spare a moment's thought for the local product manager, though. He feels the pressure from all sides, as his local agencies also want to make their mark. “It's natural that the local agency wants the opportunity to be creative,” explains Parton. “When the art department just follows rules there's less perceived credit when the product succeeds. The creative people have great ideas, and the agency will come back to the product manager and try to sell its ideas. Once the product manager is convinced, then they will use whatever resource to go about it, doing it their own way. They may even use market research to get the answers they want and demonstrate that their idea is better then the global one.”
In other words bad branding boils down to big egos. Product managers and art directors want to make their mark. They want to produce something unique.
To counter the we-know-best culture, some branding experts advocate that the pharma companies cede control to an outside agency. As pharma companies are only just learning how to brand, why not let an expert act as the gatekeeper?
Parton immediately recoils at the idea. “I hate the idea of external guardianship. If the industry doesn't wish to own its own brands then it has lost its way. Branding is so fundamental to our business success that failure to own our brands would be an abrogation of responsibility. We shouldn't need a third party to look after our crown jewels.”
Nevertheless, he concedes why outsourcing could look attractive. “It may be more efficient. You see more continuity in third-party suppliers. There are often people there with years of experience, who have worked with numerous product managers. In reality the agency people already have some degree of responsibility.”
According to Parton, several of the global advertising agencies believe they could execute this role of global brand guardianship. They argue that by appointing a single global agency, pharma companies could circumvent the problems of local deviance from the brand.
Rea is not so sure. “Ad agencies don't understand branding any better than the pharma companies. Branding is much more than advertising, which is what these agencies are set up to do. About 95 percent of brand experience in the pharmaceutical industry is non-visual, so ad agencies would be out of their depth.”
Instead Rea argues that global branding teams need more authority to impose the brand. “There is too little authority in HQ to enforce the brand locally, and too much given to what the local guys think will work in their own market. At the moment the global brand is developed in the hope that people will use it, but the global team has no power locally.”
Parton acknowledges that control of the brand needs to move up the management hierarchy. At present local product manager—relatively junior posts in the company hierarchy—have a considerable amount of control. Although campaigns will be signed off by the local marketing manager, they are probably too busy to test everything against the global brand. “I think this is the crux,” says Parton. “We need to persuade the marketing managers about the importance of the global brand.”
Rea finds the crux doesn't lie locally, but right at the top of the management hierarchy. “Ultimately responsibility lies in the corporate boardroom,” he maintains. “They still haven't got it. They think that branding is nice to have rather than fundamental. Until senior management redraws the chain of command so that global branding is no optional extra, then its local implementation will continue to be sporadic.”
Meanwhile without a strong brand guardian to prescribe proper usage and implementation of the brand, pharmaceutical companies risk weak implementation in local markets.