Efficiency is good, effectivity is better

Back in the good old days, before globalization dominated communications, agency and client promotion used to be all about working in a core team, which understood the client’s product and market inside out and delivered work that was effective and highly individual.
But then globalization came and with this new requirements. The motto now was campaign work that would be consistent across the world.

The demand was for global ideas and global execution, which this in turn meant new structures, teams of flying international-execs implementing a single image created elsewhere to run everywhere. The chosen image would then be rigorously applied worldwide to ensure the brand was universally represented in a consistent manner.

Then someone decided to research the ads and ask doctors which ad image they prefer and to determine the lowest common denominator– and it started to go downhill from there.

One can’t help feeling that the need for control slightly overtook the need to communicate effectively – that the need for consistency became more important than the ability to cut through and communicate clearly.

No one knows how much has been wasted through processes that have led to tens of similar looking ads for dissimilar products appearing out of the global market research machine, but it is probably millions of pounds, euros and dollars.

The only purpose of brand communications is to change behavior and thereby sell more. Bland communications will not be perceived and will not change attitudes or behavior or sales so is a waste of money.

Efficient production of the materials might be a valid goal for a marketing organization, but it is definitely not the most important part of marketing. The one that should have the right to overrule all others is effective communication of the messages in a powerful way. Bland communication is wasted money, nothing less. An efficiently produced bland message might as well have not been produced in the first place. What we need is communication that is surprising, interesting and thought-provoking, that reaches target groups in different countries and which is also produced efficiently.

Too little pharmaceutical communications at the moment is produced with an awareness of the need to compete for attention. Consequently it is too similar – it ticks the right boxes in a research venue, but it doesn’t actually stand out enough to get noticed in the real world.

Take for example what we call the ‘Halleluiah’ imagery currently so in favor in global ads. In these ads a ‘happy patient’ stands (or leaps) with their arms in the air, celebrating the ‘freedom’ drug X has given them. Some even manage to complete the banal picture with the ‘halleluiah’ imagery retouched into a sunlit beach scene. This probably tested well in research, offering a positive vision of the patient’s future with drug X. But there is a problem in the real world - there are over 25 of these ads running right now, but for completely different products. That confuses patients. How can a brand differentiate itself?

What kind of communications process produces 25 identical ads for completely different products and for target groups in 25 and more countries and cultures? Certainly not one which has effective communication with the customer at its heart.

Sure, hardly any advertiser can afford to produce 25 different ad campaigns with different messages and core ideas. We live in a global communications world and we need strong brands. Strong brands are created by clearly identifiable brand communication, with focused, unified, consistent messages that is clearly differentiating form competitors, a brand communication that creates a brand personality. Aberrations in the core brand messages in regional or channel specific communications confuse in the same way as does an enigmatic personality.

But we are foolish if we replace consistency with bland uniformity. Strong personalities can easily vary with their fashion style for varying occasions. “One-size fit-s it all” this is not correct- not in respect to persons nor to channels nor to cultures.

Jet setters may not be influenced strongly by their cultural background, when they decide for high tech products, but even then psychological factors like the need for security play a role in the decision process. And this need varies in different cultures and is checked with other criteria. Size of a company is a key indicator for trustworthiness in anglo-saxon countries, whereas tradition is seen as an important point for enhancing trust and confidence in other cultures. Decision for and acceptance of healthcare products is heavily dependent on emotional and cultural factors. Think how strongly past experience of family members influences perception and acceptance, or former experience with local competitive products.

How can you communicate in such a global world effectively as well as efficiently? In a way that gives the marketeer an efficient global process, but which restores the effective and competitive communication to the customer back at the heart of the process, realizing that this is the only thing that matters.
We believe that the most efficient way to produce effective global communication is not the use of a translation manufacturer – it is a process that already in the development phase involves human beings from and insights of important markets. Big data piles help less, it is a tightly knit team of client and agency people where the creative teams know and understand the product and its target markets intimately. Only they can ensure its differences are translated into a powerful big idea that persuades audiences in all markets.

This core idea has to be so strong that it does not get lost in translation and local adaptation. In contrary it should inspire local ideas that fit to the core values of the brand and its global strategy and at the same time allow for inclusion of local and cultural specificities that make a campaign successful in a special audience or country.

This can be done very quickly and efficiently. If people are involved right from the beginning creative teams do not have to reinvent the wheel. Tools like a client-specific extranet help to manage the delicate balance between efficiency and effectiveness, the help to master the tightrope walk between the need for a central consistent brand message and the necessity to meet specific requirements of old and new channels and global and local audiences.

We guarantee: such a process will not lead to the 26th campaign with immaculately groomed, silver grey haired patients, who are reaching for the skies but instead to competitive and compelling communications that work and are also delivered efficiently.

Author: Ingrid Wächter-Lauppe in cooperation with Dominic Owens, London
This article was first published in GWA Healthcare Kommunikation 2013 , FAZ Verlag