The Return of the Corporate Brand

The winds have shifted on the issue of corporate branding in pharma. For the last decade or so, companies focused communications investment on building product brands assuming those were what mattered most to stakeholders. Their brands defined their company identities. Recently, however, there is a resurgent interest in corporate branding, or a corporate narrative, not only for the powerful boost it gives to public perception, but also for the positive influence it exerts on the selling environment.

Consider Johnson & Johnson (J&J). Last spring, the company introduced its first corporate branding campaign in more than 10 years. Called, “For All You Love,” it is designed to evoke warm and fuzzy feelings about a brand that customers have trusted for years. In a New York Times article about the effort, the company said the goal was to “continue to reconnect with all of the people who come into contact with J&J in their daily lives.” The article also suggested J&J’s motivation in creating “For All You Love” was to distance itself from the bad press of product recalls and pending litigation.

Shionogi Inc., the U.S. operation of Shionogi Ltd, a Japanese pharmaceutical company with a 135-year heritage as a medical scientific powerhouse, created a corporate narrative, “Achieved with Good Chemistry,” as a way to define itself to its American internal and external audiences (See Figure 1). This “good chemistry” narrative links directly to the science of drug development, for which Shionogi Ltd is known, as well as the focus of the U.S. organization on the human dynamic in relationships.


Healthcare is Becoming Deeply Personal

“Healthcare is evolving to become highly personalized as well as deeply personal,” says Deanne Melloy, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Shionogi Inc. “Achievement of positive outcomes for our patients, customers and our company through good chemistry, in both senses of the phrase, is a succinct way to describe who we are and what we stand for.”

Pfizer’s “Get Old” campaign is also a form of corporate branding. This narrative has an emotional foundation but is primarily about establishing leadership on the critical and dynamic issue of aging. The company said earlier this year that “Get Old” is designed to “open a dialogue about and promote a better understanding of aging.” It certainly doesn’t hurt that Pfizer has a number of medications that target this aging population.

There are numerous reasons why messaging the company has taken on increased value. One is the commitment of today’s pharmaceutical industry to transparency. As a result, a company’s integrity, values and behaviors are always on display and, thus, matter more than ever. How these are perceived—in good times and in crisis—has a direct impact on the performance of its products.

So do a company’s people. It shows when employees feel they are a real part of their companies. A positive corporate identity that is alive throughout the organization and maintained through authentic and easily accessible communication supports morale, retention and recruitment.

Additional returns on an investment in a corporate narrative include:

Separation from the pack: A company with a credible, consistent and memorable message that is supported by responsible conduct will distinguish itself, especially in highly competitive environments.

 A buffer: A reservoir of image goodwill can help buffer a company in negative situations, particularly those that impact a drug class.

 A lexicon: A corporate narrative provides consumers and stakeholders with a vocabulary to use when talking about a company, conferring a sense of familiarity. The benefit to the company, of course, is the ability to define itself using its own words and associations.

Signifier to shareholder, investment community: A corporate narrative sets a strong tone and establishes management leadership and philosophy, fundamental in creating a persuasive investment story.

Enhance the selling environment: A consistent company identity creates a positive context for brand sales that can help open a dialogue.

A competitive advantage: Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, said in 1997, “This is a very complicated world. A noisy world.  And we’re not going to have the chance to get people to remember much about us. We have to be really clear on what we want people to know and we have to tell it to them.” The effectiveness of this strategy for Apple is clear, and all these years later, the world is not any less noisy or complicated.

For companies investing in a corporate narrative, whether anew or for the first time, the key to realizing the maximum value is messaging that is an honest reflection of the company, its leadership values and commitments. It’s not simply a pithy phrase or tagline. The narrative needs to have real relevance if it is to resonate with stakeholders. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, once it is brought to life, it must be maintained through internal and external communications. Short-term attention will not deliver results. This doesn’t necessarily mean a multi-million dollar advertising campaign is required. Instead, the communications, like the narrative itself, need to mirror the company’s identity and style.

  • Sandra Stahl

    Sandra Stahl is Managing Director at jacobstahl, a Bloom company. She is also founding faculty and acting head of the PR Track in the Branding + Integrated Communications master’s degree program at The City College of New York and author of the award-winning, The Art & Craft of PR.


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