Strategies for Building Unwavering Brand Loyalty

Building brand loyalty—especially unwavering loyalty—is no easy task. Just ask any brand manager. PM360 decided to tackle this subject and sought out the advice of those who do this everyday. We asked the following questions:

  • What do you think is the best approach(es) to building brand loyalty in your experience?
  • How does building brand loyalty differ between patients and HCPs? How has your approach to either target audience changed in recent years?
  • Can you give a short anecdote about something that worked for your company—maybe even surprised you in terms of the loyalty it provoked—whether from patients or physicians?
  • What are the best methods for gathering the customer insights you need to increase brand loyalty? What are the latest developments in this area?
  • How would you advise new brand managers entering the field to think about brand loyalty strategies—and what would be the first piece of advice you would give them?
  • Read what our experts had to say on the following pages.


Nancy Gillen

Nancy Gillen
Vice President, Marketing and Business Management
Toshiba America Medical Systems, Inc.

“If we build it, they will come.” Many brands think that if a company builds a great product, its customers will buy it and keep coming back. This no longer holds true in healthcare today.

Device companies must listen to customers’ needs and work with them to solve problems. Many brands confuse satisfaction and loyalty for the same thing. In reality, satisfaction doesn’t mean customers will buy again. Loyalty does. Customers expect an honest relationship with a company that understands their business, interacts with them and adapts to them.

The Affordable Care Act changed the way healthcare providers conduct business and deliver care. Our customers asked for Toshiba’s help to navigate these new directives, and we could demonstrate our understanding of today’s challenges as a partner that adapts to their needs. By using the expertise of our healthcare economics manager to educate and keep our organization informed about healthcare reform, we can better understand and respond to customers’ needs—the central focus of putting customers first.

We welcomed out-of-the-box methodologies for customers to communicate their needs through the most desired channel and started the Aquilion ONE Club, a series of meetings with physicians to discuss how they are using technology and what they would like to see changed. This was so well received the participants nearly doubled and conversations moved online so more physicians could chime in.

With the need for more immediate communication, brands must forge new kinds of relationships with customers. Building brand loyalty is not a “one and done” approach. It’s a commitment a company makes to its customers—and then executes.

Michael McLinden

Michael McLinden
Practice Director, Healthcare
McK-CP (formerly Mc|K Healthcare)

An anecdote that comes to mind concerns Genzyme. When we did research with Gaucher disease sufferers and their families during protracted shortages of Cerezyme, we heard complaints about product availability, cost and the rigors of the treatment. But mostly we heard from people who were remarkably sympathetic to Genzyme.

I saw similar brand relationships between physicians and the companies that became Boston Scientific-Meditech and Target Therapeutics. The interventionalists who used their products saw those companies as collaborators and partners in patient care. More than once I heard a physician say, “That product still has some bugs, but we’re working with them to help them get it right.”

In both of these examples, the companies created a basis for engagement beyond simply providing a product. Families of Cerezyme users didn’t talk about Genzyme, but about relationships they had with specific persons within Genzyme. In Meditech and Target, interventionalists saw the company not as a vendor but a collaborator working towards a common objective. There’s a name for the characteristic that these brands share: Empathy.

Andrea Kretzmann

Andrea Kretzmann
Managing Director, West
Palio+Ignite, an inVentiv Health Company

Brand equity is important for healthcare products. Our approach: Understand customers’ perceptions, their likelihood to recommend a brand and why. If customers don’t advocate a brand, they are not loyal regardless of their prescription volume. Building brand loyalty is a priority that should be a fundamental part of marketing plans with objectives, initiatives and measurement. As budgets and longer-term assessment of performance diminished, teams traded off long-term priorities. Hurdles to accessing a branded prescription are increasing, so we must nurture loyalty through positive experiences to achieve brand recommendations that get fulfilled and maintained throughout the patient journey.

Marketers are adept at sharing product information and tend to concentrate brand-building activities during launch—especially in defining personality and positioning. Establishing emotional resonance and loyalty takes clarity, consistency and experience with a product. We want “stickiness” throughout a product’s lifecycle despite increasing pressure from generics, co-pay costs, insurance coverage and information overload. The healthcare sector is different from consumer goods in which the brand is king and building equity from the “brand” is central to marketing strategy and success, but we can adopt their best practices.

A brand is essentially the sum of what a customer knows and feels about it and how it stands apart from other brands. The differences between HCPs and patients in what they know, the frequency of their interactions, their expectations and desired outcomes for the brand are vast. We leverage those differences and invest in brand-building activities for HCP customers who are making a brand choice several times a day on behalf of patients and who derive trust and comfort from brands they recognize.

Jeff Farina

Jeff Farina
EVP, Managing Partner
ghg Summit (formerly Vogel Farina)

HCPs become emotionally attached to Rx brands that contribute to their sense of professional competence, success and satisfaction due to their ability to consistently and easily solve important problems they face on a daily basis. Some modifiable brand attributes that help build this loyalty include generating a data set that is relevant to the broadest possible segment of patients that HCPs treat; offering simple, practical solutions for side effect and reimbursement issues; and providing credible materials that empower HCPs to effectively educate themselves and their patients. For patients to develop loyalty to an Rx brand—most important in treating chronic conditions—it is critical to continuously reinforce that the health benefits significantly outweigh its drawbacks, whether that is cost-, convenience- or side-effect-related.

While patients are concerned about medication costs, it traditionally seemed to be a secondary issue for HCPs. Today, however, HCPs are extraordinarily—often militantly—sensitive to Rx drug costs to patients—and the healthcare system. Moving forward, it will be next to impossible to build brand loyalty for new agents unless the manufacturer is perceived to be doing everything possible to make drugs affordable and accessible to the broadest number of patients—or clearly demonstrates that using it removes other costs from the healthcare system.

Today’s HCPs, healthcare systems and payers are most interested in better, more cost-effective outcomes. So new brand managers need to understand that the concept of “Pill Plus” has become critical for building brand loyalty. It’s not just about medication, but also the suite of outcome-improving services wrapped around it. There must be an obvious, clearly communicated commitment to helping the whole patient.

Steve Speares

Steve Speares
Vice President, Global Franchise Head, Surgical Marketing
Alcon Laboratories, Inc.

I’d like to share an anecdote about building trust with your clients. When we launched the Constellation, we knew it was a game changer. It was the most advanced machine ever created for vitrectomy, which is the surgical removal of the vitreous gel from the middle of the eye. Vitreoretinal surgeons have some of the most complex surgical skills imaginable—necessary for what they do inside the back of the eye.

After we received 510K and launched the Constellation, we learned early that we had a few issues with intraocular pressure from some of our surgeons who were using the machine. We immediately did a voluntary recall and personally contacted every surgeon who owned it. Rather than make excuses, we told them what had happened, apologized and made amends by getting them the prior technology as soon as we could so they could continue to operate. We were transparent, efficient and most importantly, honest.

The effect was remarkable. Our surgeons were grateful for our candor and quick response. Once we corrected the glitch, surgeons immediately went back to the Constellation all over the world. Market share is now upward of 85% globally. Our upfront and clear accountability paid off—we showed that we could be trusted to admit our mistake and then fix it. Brand loyalty, as shown, is earned.

Jonathan Isaacs

Jonathan Isaacs
Chief Creative Officer
Evoke Health

People love brands that love them back. Great storytelling is the hook, but it’s the experience people stay for—so that experience must be worth their time, every time. It’s not about tactics, but creating value by truly understanding the wants and needs of customers and then fulfilling them in delightful and unexpected ways.

It’s not about us—it’s about them. Whenever a consumer engages with a brand and comes away feeling better, smarter or more prepared to make a big decision, they appreciate it. Do that enough times with passion and consistency and you can create enduring loyalty. After all, isn’t that what love is all about?

To get closer to customers, most marketers use proven research methodologies and tools such as segmentation, qualitative insight research and brand tracking studies. And we certainly leverage these inputs to help build unbreakable bonds between our brands and customers.

However, some of the most interesting and nascent methods blur the line between research and marketing—methodologies like co-creation that put the customer at the center of a brand’s promise. Frankly, there is nothing quite like sitting across the table from one of your customers, working to solve a communication problem—and they tell you exactly what they want, how they want it and, most importantly, what is a waste of their time. Smart brands intuitively understand this and do everything they can to find a passionate and willing partner.

Shelagh Brooke

Shelagh Brooke
EVP, Chief Strategic Officer
Ogilvy CommonHealth, part of Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide

Building brand loyalty in any category is about delivering an experience that makes customers feel they made the right choice and want to stick with it. In healthcare, the need for a positive experience is greater. So in a “wellness” brand like Walgreens, Balance Rewards are provided that bring their promise of being “at the corner of happy & healthy” to life in a concrete way. Customers are rewarded for smart lifestyle choices—not just for buying. They feel good about themselves and feel like the company cares and is working to help them achieve their goals. That’s a positive experience that builds loyalty for Walgreens.

For pharmaceutical marketers, it’s a little more difficult to build a positive experience with a brand that someone would rather not take in the first place—no matter what condition they have. But reinforcing a positive experience is still possible by validating progress and demonstrating that the brand is taking interest in the needs of the whole person. Helping patients understand what to expect while on your medication, making it easier to gain access or helping with co-pay savings are all things that help build a positive experience with the brand.

My advice to new brand managers: You are loyal to those you know, trust and who have consistently been there for you when you needed them most. So your strategies must include ongoing engagement across many touch points to give your target—HCP or patient—the chance to get to know you, understand what you do, witness the benefits you provide, and come to trust you over time. That simple.

Susan Duffy

Susan Duffy
McCann Regan Campbell Ward

When I was growing up in the business and learning about marketing, it was all about the continuum: Awareness, acquisition, conversion, loyalty and advocacy. It struck me that our clients spent much of the marketing budget on the front end for awareness and acquisition, yet very little on loyalty.  A data strategy guru shared the Pareto principle, also known as the 80-20 rule: 80% of your sales come from 20% of the customers. To build brand loyalty, new brand managers should reflect on the 80-20 rule—and know who their customers are, what motivates them and, equally, what turns them off.

I have also asked clients to think about the brands to which they are most loyal, and why. It’s usually because the client is surprised and delighted by the service they receive.

Thinking about why you are loyal to brands is a customer insight. But in terms of the best ways to gather insights, there’s a lot of talk about harnessing the power of “Big Data”—not always applied in our business. Hyper-targeting customer segments is one of the most exciting developments in this area and a great tool for better understanding the motivations, behaviors and the influencers among our customers. Whether targeting doctors or consumers, we should be able to use data sources to predict behavior and impact sales in a positive way.

Nancy Beesley

Nancy Beesley
Chief Marketing Officer
HCB Health

I often see new product managers come in and they want to do something to own it, to make their impact on the brand. This can lead to what I call “Brand unwinding.” There is so much turnover in this role that a brand manager is in the job for two to three years before being moved on to another assignment.

Patience is key to establishing brand loyalty. We get sick of a “campaign” long before our targets do and to try to breathe new life into our brands we begin “refreshing” and “tweaking.”

But brands are built, not instantly created. They take time and discipline. Customers buy brands because they know what to expect—even in packaging and advertising. Every time you change it, you unwind your brand and loyalty slackens.

When we worked with KCI out of San Antonio (now Acelity), they were building a brand with Vacuum Assisted Wound Closure, or VAC Therapy. It was a relatively unknown technology and the company’s marketing team took it to $1.5 billion in seven years, building an epic level of brand loyalty. They had a great product—and the discipline that few other companies have. They resisted changing their brand over that seven-year growth period. They could advance the technology and grow share while keeping the essence of the original brand. It was not easy to do, but they did it and reaped the rewards of loyalty.

Doug Grant

Doug Grant
Vice President and General Manager, U.S. Hematology and Cardiology
Bayer HealthCare

To build brand loyalty, we listen to our patients, their families and the healthcare providers who treat them. It sounds obvious, but it can take a bit of doing. We have systematically built a structure around customer engagement and also developed numerous programs that give us the opportunity to hear directly from healthcare providers and patients.

In hemophilia, a rare disease, there are relatively few patients, but the patients we do see are very active in advocacy. So they are a good analogy for all of our customer engagement activities. We’ve worked with some of these advocates for decades—from adolescence right up through their late 30s and beyond. It’s incredibly rewarding, and the insights they provide, regarding, for example, long-term pipeline products they require, are invaluable. What is it like to infuse a hemophilia product? What would make it better? What is your long-term vision for managing your bleeding disorder? You don’t know what you don’t know, so you’d better ask.

We’re also in the community. Again, in hemophilia, some of our employees have the disease or have children or other family members with the disease. Talk about meaningful engagement! In treating any type of serious or chronic disease, there are no shortcuts. You have to have an authentic desire for both engagement and dialogue.

A story I can share: Recently we took a look at the Bayer brand, which has tremendous loyalty and a 150-year legacy of trust. Yet we weren’t leveraging it! We were focusing on individual product brands, whether that’s aspirin, Aleve or one of our newer oncology products. When we started making minor tweaks to improve the corporate branding across our products—putting that Bayer Cross front and center—we found that customers really responded. They know us. And we needed to remind them of that.

Nancy Finigan

Nancy Finigan
GA Communications 

New brand managers must understand the importance of building their brand’s value proposition beyond product benefits. In a PricewaterhouseCoopers report, Pharma 2020: Marketing the Future: Which Path Will You Take? they highlight the shift away from a marketplace of broadly marketed medicines to one composed of niche therapies that treat rare disease and disease subtypes. This shift provides the brand manager with brand loyalty building blocks.

Future specialist therapies will continually evolve. They will demand a broad spectrum of similarly evolving services including diagnostics, multichannel distribution, intensive patient education, training, customer service, reimbursement support, monitoring and health management programs. Niche therapies will require highly educated clinical sales teams capable of interacting with specialists. The cost profile of these therapies will require highly sophisticated pharmacoeconomic models and a sophisticated managed care sales team capable of discussing health economics with payers.

These evolving therapy/service offerings provide significant opportunity to create brands that payers, physicians and patients value like never before. While products can be replaced by superior competitors or cheaper generics, brands have no substitutes. Dynamic packages will offer marketers a fertile landscape from which to develop highly differentiated and continually growing brands.


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