Brand Experience in Pharma: Narrow guardrails and lots of range

Jack Health Blog

September 27th, 2021 By Melinda Lindland

Once upon a time, there were three primary flavors of live experiences for pharmaceutical companies: exhibits, launch meetings and awareness activations. And they were often flavorless. Cookie cutter signage, simple podiums, traditional sit-down dinners.

Fast forward to today and the (heavily regulated) world of pharma is one of the richest places for brand experience to play. By rich, we mean it’s a playground for creatives, producers, and experience designers to flex every muscle. To be practical and compliant for the client who wants to push every boundary, and push boundaries for the practical, compliant client. Plus, a vast range in between.

The days of pharma being dry and clinical are fading. Not gone, but the work is adjusting for the times and the audience. For years in B2B, we said professionals are people first. We broke down walls when we added consumer feelings to campaigns to address business issues and audiences. It took a little longer in healthcare, but now we see work that feels like straight talk. Work that is consumable, personable, human and humorous.

On one end of the spectrum, that evolution feeds work. Brave, bold, experience design that sits within messaging and imagery guardrails but works harder to take our breath away than the work it replaced. Graffiti fonts. Bold colors. Edgy pop icons instead of athletes. Work born with stopping power.

On the other end is experience design that answers a practical brand need. It may not be bold or breathtaking, but it must be right. And fast. And clean and smart. Agency teams are lauded for responsiveness, staying on brand and getting it done.

And in many cases – these two extremes exist within the exact same client account.

The dichotomy of needs can be a puzzle for agency leaders. How do we invest in talent when we have clients spread across this axis? How do we focus our

offering? Which work deserves more praise? And how do we define a sweet spot? Or do we?

While each agency decides these things for themselves, one truth that is unlikely to change is how wide the range will remain for brand experience in pharma and healthcare.

If you are on the client-side, be wary of experiential agencies who put too fine a point on what differentiates them in the vertical. The firms built to be partners vs. suppliers are ready to meet you where you are, within the work they do. Flexibly. They will give an honest appraisal of the level of creative expression and brand experience suitable for the purpose.

If you are on the agency side, avoid the temptation to only praise work that sits on one side of the spectrum. As brand experience partners, we need fluency on both sides and to move fluidly between creative and practical outputs. Under one roof. So that every component is designed in service to the attendee journey. Full stop.

Right now, the opportunity for both client and agency is more awareness and curiosity around the wide creative range. Some teams avoid brave creative for fear of rough regulatory reviews. Match them with teams who push things and get them approved. It may be harder, but it’s possible. Then, study the elegance in the more conservative work. Celebrate its designers. They have experienced more limits on what they can do and still delivered a WIN for a critical program.

The RISK for both sides is missing the fact that a wide range within brand experience is a beautiful thing. It is unfortunate to undervalue work for being subtle. Or to judge work for being bold. There will always be a benefit to dialing elements up or down, but it’s the movement in and out of different levels of expression that make the work memorable.

And effective.

We’ve come a long way and the opportunities within brand experience are boundless, especially with creative expression. And it’s possible to color within the lines and strengthen relationships with the audiences that matter most. Because at the end of the day brand experiences exist to bring therapies to patients. And we can never lose sight of that purpose

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