Big Thinking. Strong brands.


The Brand Development Process - An Overview

Posted by Jon Chandler/Mike Owen on March 2, 2011

Brand Development is not a one off event that happens once and then is left behind. It is a process that continues in various guises from the earliest recognition of potential as a 'brand idea' to its coming to life as a 'launch brand' and on to being a 'living brand' in real market conditions.

The purpose of this perspective paper is to take a 'Big Picture' look at the key phases of the Brand Development process within the healthcare arena. We will look at each of these phases, consider why they matter to the process overall and identify some of the key issues that confront us at each phase. We will also suggest some broad ways that 'research' can meet these challenges. Future 'Perspectives' features will look at and talk about each of these phases individually in more detail.

Pipeline Development and Management

The development pipeline is crucial to the future of any pharmaceutical company. Limited patent protection means that companies have to successively reinvent themselves and their product portfolios over time. In building a product pipeline it is vital that therapies are developed which have future commercial viability, they have to be able to shape and re-shape their future markets.

The challenge here is gauging what possible futures could look like long before they have arrived. Pipelines have to be planned and managed against the backdrop of a future where market conditions and market needs are very likely to have changed. The crucial challenges here are the application of strategic insight and intelligence:

  • To create, develop and evaluate target product profiles for offerings that will be commercially viable in a future world
  • In turn, disciplining portfolio planning and development, ensuring investment goes to those products with future commercial potential

Market Research can aid these processes, particularly if classic research skills and tools are used in unconventional ways. Fundamentally this necessitates parallel work streams, some internal and some external:

Internal Future Workshops: Focussing and applying internal skills is crucially important in Strategic Pipeline management. Within pharmaceutical companies there is generally considerable awareness of existing trends and future product developments combined with sensitivity as to where these might lead. However, this is less often clearly channelled towards an exploration of what future pharmaceutical markets might look like.

Thus there is often a relatively unexploited resource despite it being an important potential asset for the company. Here there is a real role for very early 'Strategic Brand Development' focused on the pipeline that brings together internal teams and leads these through processes which apply their talents towards addressing the problems, issues and potential of their future markets.

External Think Tanks: Future prescribers and users obviously have the potential to provide useful commentary on what different futures might look like. They can identify the needs within these futures and hence the relative potential of different hypothetical product offerings. But the challenges of generating a useful contribution are significant. This is not a place for 'question and answer' Market Research.

For 'crystal ball gazing' to offer any real value there is a need for specialised approaches and for work to be done using target audiences recruited for their analytic skills as much as their market knowledge. Ultimately this means creating external teams with potential 'future skills'. Partly this is about recruiting the right people and partly this is about building up this 'future facing' skill set within teams. These teams can then focus much more successfully on the problems and needs of future Health Care Practitioners, patients and markets.

Strategic Brand Positioning

If a brand is to achieve its full potential in a market it requires a marketing strategy and a communication plan that is designed to seize the opportunity and even, on occasions, create that opportunity. Planning here needs to start long before launch. We need to be anticipating the shape and needs of the future, we need to identify how and where the brand can fit into that market or in what ways it can work to re-shape it. Fundamental in all of this is the development of a core strategic platform from which all elements of the brand flow, addressing needs that are relevant in the context of the future world.

Again the challenge here is gauging what possible futures will look like and particularly what the future need-scape will look like. Out of this we can then build:

A core strategic proposition that redefines future competitors and drives the future HCP/Patient landscape.

Market Research can provide powerful inputs here, but to optimise its contribution it is once again important to break out of conventional research moulds. Again this calls for parallel and interlinked work strands, utilizing and directing the internal resource base:

Internal Brand Development Workshops: Leading internal teams through processes which generate a range of potential strategic propositions grounded in pipeline offerings. By using a series of 'Brand Thinking' tools these propositions can be shaped against the backdrop of known and hypothesized needs. Honing and refining these propositions can then be achieved through interaction with representatives of the future market.

External Brand Development Workshops: To properly utilize the potential input of Doctors, Nurses, Patients and other key players we need to involve them in the early brand development process. It is also vital to create build up a future facing skill set within these external teams so that they can represent the potential future market. These skills can then be focussed using 'Brand Thinking' tools and applied to the construction of future market and need scenarios. We can then evaluate and refine strategic positioning options [developed in the parallel work stream by internal teams] against this backdrop.

Brand Platform Development

As a brand launch appears over the horizon, optimising that brands potential requires the development of an in-depth strategic platform which defines central elements of the brand identity. The challenge here revolves around the translation of the high level strategy represented by the Strategic Brand Positioning into specific articulations and expressions that are properly integrated with one another and resonate with the future 'need-scape'. Most obviously the Strategic Brand Platform needs to incorporate:

  • The brand core; the development of 'strategy in detail', identifying the ideas and values that will deliver the desired positioning successfully and powerfully

From this we need to develop:

  • Brand Iconography; the visual style and palette for the brand
  • Messaging; creating a storyline for the brand

The challenges facing the development of the brand platform again relate to the skill sets of different participants and the tools used to 'unlock' these skills. Here, different elements of the development process require different skill sets. Some people, with more innate creativity, will have more to offer in providing inputs into development of brand iconography. Conversely aiding in the development of a brand storyline typically requires more didactic skills.

Where we are developing iconography and storylines rather than testing them, it is typically more important that respondents have the right skill set than that they represent a particular sample grouping. Thus, it is often valuable at this stage if recruitment and screening can be used to direct respondents to where they can contribute the most.

Developing the core Brand Platform also requires that respondents are given tools which enable them to fully utilise the skills they have. Here a wide variety of creative and enabling techniques have been developed which are crucial at this stage. These can be brought together as a set of 'Brand Building Tools' and applied in such a way that they can evaluate ideas and approaches against the target positioning whilst avoiding the like/dislike trap.

As at earlier stages the role of market research is not to deliver the answer from the mouths of respondents, but to use the outputs from research to inform a deeper and more profound analytic process. In developing the core brand platform the output from the analytic process will be a 'Brand Model' or 'Brand Template' that can provide the central reference point for the development of all brand communications and expressions.

Brand Platform Delivery

Thus far in the Brand Development process most of what has been done has tended towards the conceptual. There comes a point where the conceptual needs to be translated into things which are more concrete. The challenge here is about transitioning from strategy in detail to executional elements that bring that strategy to life in everyday materials such as:

  • Sales aids
  • Advertising
  • Medical Education
  • PR

As always researchers can and need to do more than simply 'test' materials amongst a target population. There are big opportunities here to increase efficiency of effort by working with internal and other agency teams to help optimise inputs for research through sifting and refinement processes. This is most effectively done where a series of 'pre-screening' steps are employed, to ensure that potentially strong ideas are not lost before they have been properly shaped. Pre-screening here needs to take the form of a dialogue between brand team, creative team, research team and representatives of the target market.

It is also important that brand platform delivery is developed and screened against the specific targets and goals of the strategy. This provides a crucial opportunity for final review and fine tuning of the strategy and its transformation into concrete forms.

In the earlier stages of this process, research to deliver the brand platform may well look unconventional. For example initial materials may be refined amongst representatives of the target market who have been selected for their sensitivity in working with different kinds of materials [abstract conceptual skills, visual, didactic]. In its later stages Brand Development Research needs to take on more of a conventional 'materials testing' format to help review and refine specific materials against the backdrop of strategy in detail.

Post launch brand platform acceptance/reception

Claims have been made that pharmaceutical brands create the foundations for success or otherwise within the first few months of their launch; once launch is underway the die has been cast. How far this is absolutely true is debatable; there are examples where poor launches have been subsequently recovered although they are relatively uncommon. Nevertheless it is obviously true that the first year in the brands life is very important, and is a time when the direction and pace of development of the brand needs to be monitored and subsequently fine-tuned.

Understanding how a brand is taking shape in the mind of its target audience is not a question and answer kind of problem. For many the brand will only have begun to take shape as a series of loose associations and half formed ideas, even those who are its 'early adopters' are unlikely to have developed a fully matured view. Approached in the wrong ways, or pressed too directly, people can easily give false readings of success or failure in these circumstances.

A few things are crucially important here:

  • It is vital that a sample is created that distinguishes between different levels of exposure and adoption and that these different levels are treated in different ways. For example, 'early adopters' need to be managed differently from those who are at various stages behind them. We need to know different things from different people at different points along the adoption curve. In turn, future communication priorities will vary between these different people.
  • Also, alongside more conventional measures of brand success, a series of tools need to be applied sensitively that will allow 'soft measurement' of the brand. Here 'soft measurement' is not simply about accessing something ethereal:
    • It is about understanding how feelings and subjective associations are beginning to attach themselves to the brand
    • It is about identifying how elements of a brand storyline are beginning to build an 'idea space' for the brand

This allows us to adopt a more diagnostic approach to the early days of a brand; rather than just identifying levels of awareness or attachment of key messages to the brand we can identify if the brand is developing the right positioning; whether it is seen as psychologically 'fit for purpose' as well as communicating its rational benefits and, ultimately, whether the long term health of the brand is assured.

Brand evolution

All brands have opportunities for further growth throughout the course of their lives. Sometimes this can simply be through extending the reach of the brand into new customer groups. Sometimes this can be through line extensions and new indications. Whichever of these is the case the challenge for the brand is how to constantly reinvent itself in the mind of the consumer whilst maintaining its core brand properties that identify it as unique and special.

The ways in which research can assist in these processes will vary according to the degrees of reinvention required or desired:

  • In instances where the brand aims to simply take a small evolutionary step forward then the issues and approach relating to brand platform delivery will generally apply:
    • Identifying how best to bring the next evolution to life whilst maintaining the brand's core strategic platform largely unchanged:
      • With creative input from both internal and external teams in the earlier stages
      • With brand evaluation tools used in the later stages
  • Where an evolution requires a major re-invention of the brand, for example if it gains a new indication in a fundamentally different therapy area, then there is a need to return to the styles of approach relevant to Strategic Brand Development:
    • Returning to and remodelling the conceptual heart of a reinvented or regenerated brand
      • Using both internal and external Brand Development Workshops at early stages of the process
      • Developing new Brand Platforms and new Brand Delivery options
    • However, this needs to be done carefully to maintain the integrity of the brand and avoid alienating current users

Final Thoughts

At whatever stage of the Brand Development process we find ourselves, three things need to be kept in mind:

  • Firstly it is critical that we utilise the skills of those working in pharmaceutical companies, including both members of the brand development team and those with other remits who can nevertheless make an important contribution
  • Secondly we should always choose participants for research on the basis of their more general skills (creative, analytic, didactic etc.) as well as the expertise that they have developed in their specific area of endeavour
  • Thirdly we need to make sure that we use the right tools at each stage of the process so that we can optimise the input and contribution we get from both internal and external teams

We shall be returning to and expanding on these ideas in future articles. In the meantime we welcome any comments, thoughts and input.


Posted by Linda MacMillan on
Dear Jon and Mike,
Don't know if I missed earlier outings of "Mojo" but certainly saw this one. Great to have you back on the scene. Hope to catch up with you both sometime in the near future.



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