How Pharma Can Show Up in the Eyes of Consumers

— Niamh Griffin, Account Director, WE UK 

Seven months in, 2020 is a challenging year for brands. We have seen some brands get ‘cancelled’, and some being championed and supported, based on their responses to the global pandemic, racism and human rights violations.  

At WE Communications, we firmly believe that brands are in motion – they are disrupted by the emergence of new technology, economic and societal shifts, and global events. WE started the Brands in Motion global study in 2017 with this belief, but nobody could have predicted that three years on, we would bear witness to these forces of motion impacting every industry, every brand and every person globally.  

Kantar has just released its annual BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands report, which is developed through a valuation methodology measuring brand performance, brand equity and consumer perception. This year, Amazon has secured first place having seen their brand value grow 32% in the past year. The report analysis shows that strong brands provide resilience during periods of market volatility – they decline less in overall value, and they recover faster. This might explain why this is the second year running that Amazon has topped this list.  

Reading the report, one thing stood out to me. In a list of one hundred brands – where Tobacco, Fast Food and Alcohol feature in the top 10 – there is not one pharmaceutical or health and wellness company included.

In the past few months, I have been watching optimistically as media outlets globally have dropped the overuse of ‘Big Pharma’ narrative covering perceived failings and the sector has seen a positive reputational boost. A recent Novartis study found that 73% of tech professionals say their opinion of the industry has improved during the pandemic, and in the UK alone, the Open Knowledge Foundation found there has been a huge increase in public trust with 64% of voters now more likely to listen to expert advice from scientists and researchers. So why are brands in this industry not being held in higher regard, and what can they do to improve this? 

Differentiate with a human narrative: Currently, experts estimate there are more than 130 treatments in development for Covid-19. Some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies are leading this but their brands remain unrecognised amidst the panic and media scaremongering during this pandemic. The science is important – but so is the story. For example, MSD is currently working on two vaccines, but they are also sharing through owned channels that they’re continuing to support Health Charities through Dedicated Grants Programmes, donating PPE, and partnering with industry and government. Now, it is more important than ever for brands to make sure they don’t lose their unique tone of voice, perspective and purpose. This narrative will be the differentiator and mean that brands stand out, and stand strong, in the coming months.  

React and move with cultural shifts: Within the BrandZ report, there was incredible growth in digital and social industries, with newcomers quickly climbing the top 100. Instagram grew 47% highlighting the continued popularity and value of the social sharing platform, securing a place in the Top 30TikTok was a newcomer in 2020, yet still managed to storm ahead of renowned brands such as Adidas, Pepsi and Uber, landing a spot at 79. A key route to increasing brand value will be exploring partnerships and collaboration with rising social brands that are highly valued by your key audiences and demographics. Brands need to remain relevant and leverage cultural shifts, rather than being negatively impacted by them.  

Dial-up personalisation: Consumers want to be healthier and their expectations are growing exponentially. A fundamental shift in attitude has meant that consumers are increasingly aware of their health and taking both reactive and preventative steps to improve it, but they are seeking easy and quick-fix optionsHow brands communicate about the offerings and products they are providing needs to expand from a simple promise that people will feel healthier; consumers also need to know how this will fit in their busy schedules and established routines. Improved quality of life, overall wellness, and ease of incorporation into a routine should be central to product narratives. 

Taking these proactive routes to adapt communications with audiences are small steps to improve the overall value of brands but also the broader pharmaceutical industry. With the reputation of the industry becoming more positive globally, I’m hopeful we could be looking at a very different report in 2021.  

* Brands in Motion is a global study about how perceptions shift over time. WE partners with YouGov every year to survey consumers and B2B decision-makers about their attitudes regarding forces affecting the market on a macro level, industries and brands. Brands in Motion is run in with 25,000+ respondents, across eight categories, in eight markets. For more information, please visit: