From chocolate bars to toilet roll – How purpose driven marketing can drive growth in the pharma industry

People care about why companies and brands do what they do as much as what they sell. A study conducted by Kantar in 2020 demonstrated that brands with purpose outperform, by nearly double, brands that do not. Consumers want to engage with products and services that stand for something that connects with them as human beings.

For healthcare brands, their ability to fundamentally change the lives of the people they touch creates the potential for a particularly powerful purpose story to be told. So why does this so often not deliver against its potential, or worse, get lost completely in reputational issues?

Healthcare is immensely broad, from drugs and medical devices to care providers and technology solutions that power our hospitals. Yet almost everyone’s purpose story is at the core, the same. They exist to, in some way, transform the lives of patients. Whilst a powerful purpose in isolation, it is diluted when everybody from insurers to treatment manufacturers is saying it. To deliver a compelling and relevant purpose-driven narrative, healthcare brands need to be unique, relevant and focus on a specific purpose that puts their consumers at the heart of it. But most importantly, consumers want to see this purpose born out in tangible actions and outcomes.

So, what can pharma learn from non-healthcare brands? When executed successfully, purpose driven branding and messaging leads to commercial success, as we have seen with many consumer brands. Toneys Chocolonely for example delivers a strong purpose narrative centered around ending modern slavery and child labor in the cocoa industry. They deliver on this through everything they do, right down to their chocolate bars being made of unequal pieces to represent the inequalities in the chocolate supply chain. This has all culminated in very high brand awareness for their age and ever-increasing commercial success.

Another great example of this is ‘Who gives a crap toilet paper’. A toilet roll brand focused on improving sanitary conditions in the developing world by donating profits to build toilets. That goal is the foundation the brand sits on, and something that again, is communicated through all they do. As with Toneys Chocolonely, they have found a relevant and compelling brand purpose that aligns with what their customers want.

It may be easier for these ‘challenger’ brands to make a ‘splash’ in building purpose, but we see bigger organizations such as Microsoft, Ben and Jerrys, Tesla, Etsy, Zoom making a real success of communicating their brand purpose.

The purposeful brand index highlights the impact that Covid-19 has had, with one third of the top 100 brands since 2019 being brand new. The purpose power index average score for pharma is now higher than retail with examples of GSK and Pfizer rising as new leaders. All of this demonstrates that we’re at a pivotal moment for the healthcare industry. For a long time brand awareness and trust with the industry has been low. But things are changing, with the attention that vaccine development is rightly getting, more than ever people are aware of the companies that create these products and the processes involved in getting products to the people that need them.

With perceptions of pharma on the up, how can this opportunity be leveraged through communicating a compelling, human-centric purpose?

We believe that 3 key principles can guide the process:

1 / Find your unique purpose

What is our overarching objective/strategy? What is the issue/challenge we are solving?

2 / Put your customer at the heart of it

What are the key human insights supporting this strategy? How will this benefit our customers?

3 / Build it into everything you say and do

What specific actions and initiatives are needed to implement this strategy? How do we embed and activate these?

To understand more about how we can help support you in building a purposeful brand, get in touch with our health team.