Building Trust

Would you trust a pharmaceutical brand with your life?

These are interesting times. The speed with which the threat of COVID-19 has swept the world has made the issue of our health —as individuals, societies and nations—our number one preoccupation. 

We are in the unusual situation where we face an unknown threat and our only way to manage it is through trial and error. Where once we looked to the experts for a definitive answer, we now realise they are learning along with the rest of us. 

But it’s because of this lack of certainty, rather than in spite of it, that trust in medical scientists is more important than ever. We are being called upon to trust in their advice, trust that they will come up with the right answers and trust that any ensuing medical response will be effective. Pharmaceutical companies are also in the difficult position of having to marry promise to pragmatism. While individuals and governments clamour for answers, these brands understand that there will be no immediate solution. In the meantime, in the absence of solutions, they will need to find other ways to sustain trust; how they do that will have long-term ramifications for their brands, far beyond what COVID-19 holds. 

Now might be a prime moment for a pharma brand needing to build consumer confidence to step forward and prove its mettle

The evolution of trust 

The first challenge is that the global populace has become less trusting overall. There was a time when we trusted the establishment, when the voice of the BBC was sacred, for example. Today, there is scepticism. We have lost our trust in government and other authorities, for a variety of reasons, leaving people unsure where to place their confidence. Often, it’s brands that have taken over where the voice of authority has failed. In fact, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 41% of people agree that brands have better ideas for solving problems than the government. Pharmaceutical companies used to enjoy a level of unequivocal trust. The ‘white coat’ prevailed – the advice from the scientist in the Colgate advert was accepted without question. We still trust Anadin to do what it says on the box, but even our trust in pharma brands is not now without its caveats. 

How do brands earn trust? 

The way we think about brands is not dissimilar to how we think about people. Factors that earn our trust in them should, therefore, not surprise us. Brands we trust tend to be: 

  1. Those that are on our wavelength. Brands can be like familiar friends, they can relate to our needs, empathise with our perspective and tell us what we want to hear.
  2. Brands that tell the truth and are true to their word (even when we’re not looking). They have earned our trust by consistently delivering against their promises and not letting us down.
  3. The brands trusted by those we trust. If a good friend, valued expert (a doctor perhaps) or impartial observer whose opinions we value trust it we are more easily persuaded.
  4. Those over which we can exercise control should they fail to deliver (the promise of a money-back guarantee, the power to refer or maybe seek redress from a higher authority, etc.)

Pharma brands during a pandemic 

With the UK in lockdown and the establishment showing the strain, an anxious public is keener than ever to discover and hold firm to who and what it can trust. Now might be a prime moment, then, for a pharma brand needing to build consumer confidence, to step forward and prove its mettle. It would certainly appear that some have done just that, such as by spontaneously volunteering to turn their labs and resources to testing for COVID-19 and prioritising research into possible cures. 

But words must be followed through with commensurate actions if such acts of apparent altruism are not to trigger the consumers’ now finely honed scepticism nerve. How exactly is the firm helping and how consistently is it behaving across the rest of its business dealings? With the power of the internet and a surfeit of time for sceptical minds, there really is nowhere to hide–transparency is not only critical but inevitable and failure to deliver against public promises will not only be held to account, but could jeopardise future trust. 

The right communications are now more critical than ever, even the geniality (and not just the credibility) of the experts chosen and cited by pharma brands will have a part to play in building perceptions of the brand’s bearing and trustworthiness. There is also the challenge of being artful in communicating appropriately to those with different interests, without appearing disingenuous when these appear contradictory.

Playing on different wavelengths, while maintaining everyone’s trust, can be challenging at times – such as reconciling the imperative for complete transparency against the assurance of absolute confidentiality. Ultimately, this will be the litmus test for pharma brands that have been assiduously gathering and jealously guarding customer data. Who will have access to it? How will they use it? Can they be trusted to safeguard it? Brands in the sector might also consider aligning their goals at a time like this. It is when rivals link arms and behave in a truly open and honourable way, working towards the same goal, that the world sees how much they genuinely care about making a difference. 

The transition from masters of chemistry to
processors of data 

In the not so distant future we will all be using smart wearable devices that can track not only body movement, temperature and heartbeat, but blood pressure, oxygen and glucose levels. They may even track markers of an existing medical condition, in real time, with the accumulated data combined with personal information (such as bodyweight and family medical history) to create a detailed profile which, aggregated across a database of millions of other users, not only tracks our current health, but anticipates our potential future health profile. 

Drug dosages will be personalised to our precise biological needs, with reminders to take them and prompts about side effects. New supplies of medicines (in personalised dosages) will be ordered automatically – perhaps in customised polypills, containing several medications in one capsule. Geo-positioning and access to our emails, social media feeds and diary, will also enable them to anticipate our medical needs – as well as alerting us if we enter a location where a medical risk is anticipated (while providing advice on how to protect ourselves). 

These new technologies will massively improve the effectiveness of medications, as well as reducing waste (in the UK, unused drugs worth an estimated £150 million are thrown away each year, in the US the figure is nearer $2 billion); over time the wearable device is likely to become a lifelong embedded microchip and personalised medications will be 3D printed and machine dispensed. Best of all, many potential conditions will be avoided altogether. 

The challenge for pharmaceutical brands, however, is that they must undergo a radical transformation from being trusted as masters of chemistry, to processors of data. Although we have, over many years, come to trust them with molecules, the industry has yet to earn our confidence in treasuring our private information – the digital imprint of our life.

In the here and now, COVID-19 is all about maintaining confidence while the industry powers up to find a solution. But then as it gathers more and more information about its consumers and works to provide deeply personalised treatments, consumer trust will be built on the whole package, the company’s legitimate need to hold data, what it does with that information and in whose interests those actions are. 

First published in Pharma Times, magazine, May 2020  
(Keith Lucas writing as Strategy Partner, Superunion) 

Watch Your Brand | 3

Start with the brand, the rest will follow…

With brand image being so important, it is easy to see why watch manufacturers spend such enormous sums on advertising and sports sponsorship. Unfortunately, too many Swiss watch manufacturers, for all their brilliance in creating, manufacturing and selling exquisite watches, have yet to truly master the discipline of strategic brand management. Consequently, most marketing programmes fall into the “just another watch campaign” category (i.e. a backdrop of some aspirational imagery with a yacht, powerboat, sports car, aircraft, etc., a bland English headline, intelligible to all international audiences, a standard ‘ten-to-two’ shot of the watch, some technical credentials and a line about how long we have been making watches…), alternatively, the brand logo might simply appear as the ‘official time keeper’ at some sports event (which, as everyone knows, amounts to little more than ‘name-drop’ publicity). With the greatest of respect to these esteemed firms and their advertising agencies, how many watch advertisements can you recall and describe right now? Leaving aside the exceptional “You never actually own…” campaign from Patek Philippe, few of us can manage more than a couple of others at best. Now, how clearly could you describe the different watch brand personalities? Probably not very accurately – other than to highlight the prestige of big names.
Now try the same test with cars, drinks or clothing brands and notice the difference. In the luxury watch industry, it is as if marketing expenditure is regarded as a necessary ‘cost of entry’ to the luxury brand marketplace and, provided the anecdotal feedback from the trade and the retail distribution is satisfactory (corroborated, hopefully, by the eventual sales of the watches), that is enough. For the average consumer (as opposed to the avid watch geeks), the challenge of differentiating between the many alternative brands means that the most dominant, consistent brands stand-out even more strongly. The retailer can redress the balance somewhat by presenting the case for the others, but, by that stage in the process, many consumers’ minds will already have been made-up. A glance at the correlation between brand strength and sales trends across most markets will demonstrate this.

Effective brand management is also key to mastering the other two decision-making themes: ‘product design’ and ‘personal engagement’. First, with respect to product design, a clearly-articulated sense of the brand’s values, personality and vision will enable a well-defined creative brief to be prepared which can save time and eliminate confusion. All too often new designs rely on the instinct and imagination of the creative studio to anticipate and create what it believes customers will find attractive, within the context of their own personal interpretation of what the brand stands for. Any doubt will generally resolved by erring on the side of caution rather than risk alarming distributors or end customers. So, when a new consumer trend emerges (such as the demand for sports watches with black cases and rubber straps – as pioneered by brands such as Hublot and Bell&Ross), many high-end manufacturers will literally spend years trying to decide whether or not it is appropriate for them stick with the familiar or embrace the trend. A clearly-defined and well-articulated brand, on the other hand, makes it quick and easy to determine whether such an approach was ‘on’ or ‘off’ brand. The third theme, ‘personal engagement’, refers to the final process of actually bonding with the product by handling it, trying it on, evaluating its quality, determining the choice of finish or colour options then, ultimately, assessing its value for money and after sales support, before making the commitment. Once again, a well planned brand strategy will inform and direct each element at every stage in the customer journey so that all touch-points project the same consistent values – from quality of the bracelet (the clasp, like the car door handle, is the first tactile interaction with the product and needs to be “on brand”) to the design of the presentation box, and from the working of the warranty to the price-point that clinches the deal.

There probably is no other product quite as enigmatic as a luxury watch. Nor is there a market quite as enigmatic, nor a strategic brand marketing challenge quite as ripe for change.

Continue reading “Watch Your Brand | 3”

Trust me, I’m a Bank Manager

bank-managerThere was a time when the bank was one of the pillars of the establishment. Together with the church, the military, the civil service and, at least in the UK,  the royal family and even (for much of the 20th century) the BBC. The bank was a dependable institution and the bank manager was as safe as houses – now he is about as safe as house prices!

Whatever happened? Is it any wonder that our society has become so disoriented and lacking confidence when its very foundations have been undermined?

We have, in short, been let down by those we used to trust. Trust is a precious commodity because there is a personal cost involved – we make ourselves vulnerable by depending on someone or something else. Any breach of trust, therefore, can leave us feeling angry, betrayed and disillusioned.

But we humans, however we dislike the idea, remain as dependent as ever on surrounding ourselves with things in which we can place our trust. As Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ demonstrates, we need to feel a sense of security and wellbeing and crave things that can be depended upon to live up to their promise. These used to be the pillars of the establishment, now these have been replaced by what we might popularly call ‘brands’.
From Apple to Omega, Manchester United to Virgin Atlantic, Swatch to BMW, Hermés to Tumi, our lives are not only dependent on trusted brands, but often defined by them. They advertise our values, even our beliefs. They are our personally-chosen pillars of our own individual establishment. If they let us down, we have the power to dump them, if they make us feel good we wear then and share them (we can ‘wear’ a BMW or a Mac simply by being consciously seen with them in public!).

Look at it this way, if you were a committed Mac aficionado and Apple did banking, wouldn’t you open an account? I bet you can already imagine what to expect when you walk through the door? The values, the attitude the service, the white space, the Financial Genius Bar and a gloriously tactile satin aluminium credit card? And how much you would (secretly) love to be seen using that card… If, for any reason, Apple doesn’t happen to float your metaphorical boat, substitute a brand that does and rewind to the beginning of the paragraph. I think you get the picture; we’re living in an individualised new world in which we are personally empowered to choose and maintain our own micro pillars, ones on which we can depend and which reflect our own lifestyle, values, vision and outlook.

The point here is not to lure popular brands into banking, rather to encourage banking brands to become popular brands. They ought to be working harder than ever to project the values that will generate trust and earn our critically-needed customer commitment and advocacy; instead, most of them still seem to be behaving like self-obsessed nincompoops. Balance the column inches on controversial bonus payments, payoffs and management incompetence against those on innovation, new initiatives or customer service strategies.

I’m guessing that if Apple did banking, the words: “trust me, I’m a bank manager” could, before long, take on an altogether more compelling tone!

genius