“True success is in the power of recall” Dr Tarun Gupta

In a career that’s spanned almost four decades in the pharmaceutical industry, Dr. Tarun Gupta has worked across brands in various roles and also has nearly thirty years of academic experience. In a candid one-on-one, he speaks to Brandcare on branding practices in the industry…

According to you, what makes for good branding practices in the pharmaceutical industry?
The journey to good branding practices starts with a good brand name. A brand name has to be short, easy to write and phonetically sound. Best names bring in a molecular relevance. Mox is a good example. Companies need to test brand names among doctors – say fifty doctors in five markets – and customers first. Secondly the face of the brand is very important – the way you develop logo, colour and design. Ultimately, as products become more and more similar, you need to look at differentiation through promotion. In this clutter of products, either you differentiate or perish.

Do you think big brands such as Corex, Mox, Voveran, Phensedyl, etc were made in an environment of scarcity when all that mattered was availability and awareness? For brands to become big today, do they need a sharper competitive strategy?
There’s a certain aspect of truth to it. Take Voveran for example – most people cannot pronounce it correctly even today. Yet, it’s a highly successful brand. Some brands made it big when the crowd was small.

For these brands to grow today, they need to think sharper and connect to today’s customer needs. People look for alternate ways of drug delivery apart from the conventional. Are other types of delivery systems possible? Voveran does not have a spray. Can they make one? Can it be delivered in a sachet or as pellets? Experimentation is needed, more options the better! Sharper customer relevance and competitive edge will come through research of customer and patient behavior.

The best strategy needs innovative research. Are pharmaceutical companies relying too heavily on the ubiquitous gut feel?

Yes, we go by what appeals to us, appeals to top management. Allow agencies to test their work among doctors. Look for markers of acceptance. One can’t arbitrarily decide what strategy is. Get involved and listen to people, before during and after promotional campaigns. Only then will you be enriched by what people are saying. The voice of the customer is significant. It’s a comfortably cocooned industry. We think we know our customers. Perhaps, we do at individual levels. One customer is not representative of the target group. We need to listen to mandates. You listen, you learn. You listen, you learn, then only, can you lead. !

Can you share with us your experience of successful brand building?
The names that immediately come to mind – Augmentin, Voveran, Corex, Becosules. These are highly successful brands but their – or any – success should not be measured in turnover. True success is in the power of recall. Most brands trying to make it to the big league are forgetting this.

Recall takes a back seat as short term sales and sales promotion controls the brand steering. Most promotional agenda lasts for three months. There is no strategic continuity in promotion. Neither reps nor customers are able to recall brand values. Large product portfolios trigger a promotional fatigue among reps. There is a huge disconnect between strategy implementers and strategy planners.

Agencies and creative people need to play an active role in maintaining the promotional continuity and guarding the brand values. Branding teams need to define core brand values and not relegate promotion to ingredients. No other industry is as obsessed with ingredients. The more ingredients driven you get, more likely you are to lose brand perception. It’s easy to be molecule and customer driven, but difficult to be benefit driven.

What are your views on brand documentation in the pharmaceutical industry?
Absolutely absent! Brand history and documentation is a real problem area in the pharmaceutical industry. It’s not difficult to do. We should ask for more documentation and companies should discipline their own people. Documentation is important to understand the original thinking on a brand. If you look at the total picture, old brands are doing better than new brands. It’s important to know what was done right and what went wrong. If you want to understand today and tomorrow, you have to search the yesterdays.

How can branding agencies play a more meaningful role in healthcare branding?
It’s more of an industry problem. Pharma companies need to work with the best agencies and learn from them. Bring out all the work clients didn’t run, the best work is there! If you bring in a branding agency listen to what they have to say. We have to learn and give credit where it’s due. Work with outstanding people; it’s not an area of compromise. Don’t ruin a brand or make it ineffectual with poor advertising. It’s all about communication. Take away the communication and all you are left with is a product