Health Issues India has had the good fortune to interview Gauri Chaudhari a brand coach, brand strategist and co-founder of Brand Innerword, a healthcare brand consultancy. We discussed her book, The Perfect Pill: 10 Steps to Build a Healthcare Brand (SAGE Publications India).In our discussion, Chaudhari tell our readers what the book is about, how her personal experience informs it and, as she says in our interview, “how healthcare brands can be built to create a win-win situation for patients, doctors, and the industry.”
- Thank you for reaching out to us and agreeing to speak with me. Could you, first of all, introduce yourself to myself and our readers and tell us about your background and what led you to this point?
I am a healthcare brand strategist and a co-founder of Brand Innerworld, a Healthcare Brand consultancy. I have over 27 years of experience in the world of marketing and advertising. Before starting Brand Innerworld Consultancy, I headed the healthcare business of FCB-Ulka Advertising and handled assignments for India’s top healthcare companies. I was an integral part of the global team of FCB-Ulka Healthcare, situated in New York, USA, and gained a global perspective on healthcare brands.
I have been associated with different genres of healthcare brands such as prescription medicines, OTC brands, medical devices, Rx to OTC switches, surgical products, and hospital brands.
Besides working on brands, I have developed mass health awareness campaigns like anti-AIDS campaigns for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and JHU, A ‘Knee Replacement’ campaign for the Rheumatoid Society of India.
Patient behaviour is hard to change. Communicating with empathy and giving them a sense of empowerment is the key. In the last few years, I have worked in this area with keen interest.
- I’d like to ask about the book you’ve written – The Perfect Pill – and what inspired you to write it and what you hoped it would achieve?
The Indian healthcare industry has done an incredible job. No one can deny the role of the Indian biopharmaceutical industry in providing affordable medications to the poorer populations in the world. In India, the industry has contributed immensely not only to the health of the average Indian but also to the GDP [gross domestic product] of the country.
Yet, there are some healthcare brand marketing practices that need a course correction.
In India, the pharma market has a unique character. Unlike western countries, we have a happy co-existence of patent-protected brands and branded generics. The term branded generics probably is an Indian invention. Though they are called branded generics, they are marketed more as ‘generics’ than ‘brands.’
A brand is created to offer unique customer value. Largely, the undifferentiated nature of these generics does not add any unique value to patients or doctors.
In the Indian market for any given disease, there are more than fifty branded generics with the same drug, composition, and even formulation. Moreover, these brands are promoted precisely in the same manner. So similar are the brands that one can easily replace the other. The emphasis is more on pushing the brands through a doctor’s prescription than creating patient value.
Since these brands have no differentiated benefit, they usually try to increase the overall noise level in the doctors’ chamber to outsmart the competitor. They create an unbearable cacophony in the doctor’s chamber. On average, a doctor meets fifteen to twenty medical representatives each day. Each medical representative pesters the doctor for a prescription. Since these brands have nothing unique to offer, doctors do not see any point in meeting these representatives. To overcome this problem, some companies indulge in unfair trade practices.
In such a situation, patients are at a loss. The generic form of marketing does not focus on the understanding of patients and their needs. Today’s patients are savvy with their condition. They want solutions that cater to their needs and life challenges in managing their health.
What is true for branded generics is true for other healthcare brands as well. Rarely they are built as brands and exist as me-toos in the market.
The ultimate objective of any brand irrespective of the Industry is to create customer value. A healthcare brand must create value for patients and doctors to improve overall health outcomes.
The Perfect Pill, 10 Steps to Build a Healthcare Brand, highlights how healthcare brands can be built to create a win-win situation for patients, doctors, and the industry.
- Who did you write this book for?
The principles and the process elaborated in the book apply to all genres of the healthcare brands including
- Branded generics
- Patented brands
- Medical devices
- Surgical brands
- Quasi OTC non-prescription brands
- OTC brands.
These principles can be applied even by a healthcare practitioner to build his or her brand.
The book is suitable for marketing and sales professionals working in the healthcare industry. This book is a handy reference guide for brand management teams in the Indian healthcare sector. The content of the book is quick to understand and easy to apply.
The book will prove immensely helpful to marketing professionals or business development managers while working on a brand strategy or annual operating plan.
The book is also useful for the R&D [research and development] departments who develop formulations. The book highlights how a brand formulation can be developed, keeping patients’ needs and the challenges faced by healthcare practitioners in mind.
Healthcare marketing must have a robust medico-marketing base. It is the job of a medical advisor to provide a strong foundation for a healthcare brand. The book highlights ways in which medical advisors and brand managers collaborate to build a robust healthcare brand.
The number of business schools offering specialised healthcare marketing courses is increasing. This book will prove to be a welcome addition to the library as it provides a window into the world of brand management.
In short, this book is for everyone who intends to deal with healthcare goods or services meant for the patients.
- What influenced how you present strategies for brand-building? You mention personal experience, so I’d be very interested in that in particular, but overall, what influenced you?
The newspaper headlines in the past few months have been extremely disturbing to me as a marketing and advertising professional. The healthcare industry is accused of having a nexus between healthcare professionals and the pharmaceutical industry. There is an increasing demand for banning prescription of brands. The policymakers, media personnel, are insisting on the marketing of medicines as generic. There is merit in what they are saying. Somewhere, the branded generics did fail the public at large. The entire healthcare ecosystem must exist only for the patients and better health outcomes.
YET, can selling medicines as generics be the answer to improve healthcare outcomes? I don’t think so. In my mind there are multiple reasons for this
- Commodities are too basic to understand the needs of different customer segments
- When customers in general are moving from commodities to brands in every walk of life, it is unfair to push them back to commodities or generics in case of healthcare
- Illnesses and treatments are an important aspect of life. Patients want customized solutions that brands inherently can offer
- Doctors and healthcare practitioners know it very well that each patient is different. They face different challenges with different types of patients. Patients’ physical needs, lifestyle and occupational demands, emotional bend of mind differ from each other. Hence even the solutions must differ. Generic medicine can never partner with HCPs to resolve these challenges, but a brand can
So, to improve the current situation in the market, the policymakers must bring in the strictest rules to stop the unethical practices. Yet, they must not push the entire industry in the commodity or generic zone.
Hence the obvious question is, how can we develop practices that bring out an ultimate win-win situation for patients, healthcare practitioners, and brands? So, here is the book that answers this very question.
- You say ‘building strong brands has become the need of the hour’ – could you explain what you mean and why ‘building strong brands’ has not yet been recognized as necessary in this way?
The Indian healthcare industry, particularly the pharmaceutical industry, chartered a different path than most of its western counterparts. We followed something called a process patent and not the product patent for several decades. This allowed our industry to manufacture many drugs with the reverse engineering process and market them here in India. So, many patented drugs were available in India at lower prices. This fuelled growth for the industry. Thus though they were called branded generics, the focus was more on generic part of marketing than the branding.
But things are changing now. The R&D pipelines are drying up. There are no more blockbusters on the horizon. The industry has to relook at the model.
Several other reasons are forcing companies to think brands. The increasing competition in the market has added immense pressure on the sales and marketing teams. These generics have a chance to differentiate themselves depending on the patients’ needs, but for that to happen, they have to develop a brand mindset. Only brands can differentiate and invest in the needs of the patients for their survival.
- You mention that ‘patients want to take health in their own hands.’ How will your strategy and proposals concerning branding help to do that?
Absolutely!!! Patients are becoming more aware of their health and health conditions. Thanks to the internet revolution. More and more educated Indians want to have right over their own health. They are not happy with one size fits all approach. The burgeoning middle class wants customised solutions. At the same time, the bottom of the pyramid too is health aware and concerned over health issues. Thanks to mobile phones and related media, they too are more health aware than before. Hence while treating different patients, doctors have very different challenges. By each day, these challenges are increasing.
When a brand is formulated based on customer understanding, better health outcomes are obtained. Let’s take a simple example. Suppose a mother has two children, say two years and seven years old. She faces different challenges if they have a cough and cold. She wants her 2-year-old cranky child to sleep with the cough formula while she wants her 7-year-old to stay absolutely awake in the school while on the medicine. So, the formulation has to be different for them.
The same is the case with diabetes medicine. Challenges faced by a healthcare practitioner in treating different diabetic patients differ with age, occupation, gender, the lifestyle of a diabetic patient. A brand may invest and partner with HCP in helping a diabetic housewife differently from an office-going, male adult.
Today’s patients want to discuss these things with their healthcare provider and take a joint call.
The book also explains how to build emotional connect with patients. Modern medicine focuses a lot more on the rational aspects, often ignoring the emotions associated with illness and treatments. A brand can choose vocabulary, colour, logo, design to make that connection. There are ample examples of the same in the book.
- In the foreword to this book, brand strategist Ambi Parameswaran says that it has a “social cause” to serve. Did you write this book with a “social cause” in mind and, if so, what was it?
I feel health outcomes must be at the heart of the healthcare ecosystem, and hence it has to be centered around the patient. Understanding the challenges faced by doctors is another important aspect. Somewhere there is a distrust between the patients, doctors, and the pharma companies. The brand-building model suggested in the book creates an ultimate win-win situation for patients, doctors, and brands.
The brands based on the process elaborated in the book will also help companies come out of many ‘unacceptable’ practices if they are indulging in any.
- You outline ten steps – could you briefly break down these ten steps for our readers?
The first step is to know your brand. In my personal experience as a coach, I have found out that sales and marketing teams lack in-depth knowledge of their products. In rush to outsmart competition and push brands to the customers, teams fail to know what value the brand can bring to customers.
The second step is to define markets well. Patients don’t go to doctors for medicines; they go there for relief. Healthcare brands must define their markets on the basis of patient needs and challenges faced by doctors and not on the product category it belongs to. This is the only way one can get value generated for customers.
The third step is to dig into pain points faced by the customers and partner with them to alleviate them.
The fourth step is to understand the competition and create a point of differentiation.
The fifth step is to bring the first four steps together to create customer value.
The sixth step is for building a brand personality that connects with the doctors and patients. Diseases and treatments do not belong only to the rational domain. There are a lot of emotions associated with health. Brands must understand these emotions and build communication that creates an emotional bond.
The seventh and eighth step is to strategise the overall brand and promotional strategy.
The ninth step is for deciding on media strategy so that brand communication reaches the customers effectively.
The tenth step is to do brand valuation so that the brand continues to grow into a strong brand.
- What do you consider to be the main takeaways of this book?
To create an ultimate win-win situation for patients, doctors, and healthcare brands, one must focus on health outcomes. For this to happen, developing a brand mindset is critical.
So, the takeaway is the process that suggests ways to create differentiated products, services, and promotion for the benefit of patient and doctor segments.
Gauri Chaudhari is a brand coach, brand strategist and co-founder of Brand Innerword, a health care brand consultancy.
In a career spanning 25+ years, she has handled assignments in healthcare brand building, marketing and advertising. In the past, Gauri has worked in marketing teams of Boehringer Mannheim and Knoll Pharmaceuticals and has handled brands from multiple portfolios.
As the head of FCB Ulka Healthcare, she has worked on varied genres of health care brands including ethical prescription brands, OTC medications, medical devices, surgicals and hospital brands. She actively helped in switching some of the Indian pharma industry’s most celebrated prescription brands to OTC. She has worked on mass media campaigns including John Hopkins’ and USAID’s anti-AIDS campaigns in India. She enjoys teaching and has taught in business schools for two decades.
This article has been amended with a credit to the publisher, SAGE Publications Limited.