By Louis Garguilo, Chief Editor, Outsourced Pharma
Six exhibition halls in Paris Nord Villepinte, France, encased city-like ecosystems (or gigantic beehives); the conference in total so big it was hard to plan a strategy. It was a battle of outsourcing provider brands, and differentiation was difficult.
The lead sponsor’s brand has been under attack. Some say it is “about time” and fixes necessary, others see discourse denigrating to a degree of “finger-pointing.”
The conference (CPhI Worldwide 2014) and brand (India’s pharma/outsourcing industry) coalesced in a seamless marketing integration. With a pleasing yellow-orange sunrise background supporting a light font and professional logo (Rx India), the chosen message blanketed the convention, covering it entirely but softly. It flowed on strategically placed banners, decorated pillars and hosted crossbeams upon entrance and egress.
The campaign was in effect a defense, a rebuttal. But like the art of aikido, it defended—and counter-attacked—by deftly redirecting the negative energy. It supplanted a recent focus on quality issues—US FDA issued import alerts against 21 Indian manufacturing facilities during 2013—with industry-based statistics intended to both inform and build reputation. The content was not so much marketing copy par excellence as a quiet, nearly subliminal, data articulation:
- 523 Indian facilities are registered with US FDA, the highest number for any country outside the US.
- Indian companies accounted for 39% of all Abbreviated New Drug Application (ANDA) approvals in 2013.
- India accounted for 40% by volume of US generic drug imports in 2013.
This initiative provides universal instruction in brand equity building, maintenance and support. It is fronted by a group established by the national government known as the India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF).
I had the opportunity to speak privately to the CEO of IBEF, Ms. Aparna Dutt Sharma. She was relaxed and determined, like the campaign she was overseeing at CPhI, and said such things as, “We’re not really interested in dwelling on recent discussions. We’re moving the conversation to facts of an established industry primacy, and the positive influence on the future of the industry we are bringing. India is helping to advance the science and technology of the industry. That is the message.”
Shoes On The Convention Floor
Meanwhile, individual industry generals—executives of the Indian companies that make up the brand—were out proving the point. One personage was Executive Director & COO of Piramal Healthcare Limited, Vijay Shah, who penned a thought-leadership piece on “green chemistry” for the CPhI Pharma Insights Annual Industry Report 2014. In a press conference, he spoke with passion on leading a surprisingly wasteful global pharmaceutical industry to flow and various catalysis and other technologies for more ecological, sustainable—and ultimately economical—development and manufacturing for the pharma industry.
According to Shah, “The pharmaceutical industry produces a higher ratio of waste per kilogram of product when compared to other chemical industries, such as petrochemical, bulk and fine chemicals, and polymers.” He has a specific metric for this, the Environmental (E)-factor, which measures the kilograms of waste produced per kilogram of product. “We will help advance green technology to bring the world further to sustainable human activity,” he said. “Leading CRAMS companies will take up Green Chemistry by Design (GCbD) to help drive efficiency savings. In the future green chemistry methodologies will be ingrained into all stages of the pharma industry, including R&D.”
Accompanying Shah, and expanding the brand as a cutting-edge research location, was Piramal Pharma Solutions & Critical Care CEO, Vivek Sharma. He said demand his company was seeing for additional ADCs (antibody drug conjugates) services was so strong that Piramal was dedicating new research resources and capacity to making more drug approvals realities for its pharma customers.
In another hall, a different kind of Indian service provider, Clearsynth, was demonstrating brand differentiation. Vijay Ambati, chairman & CEO, told me he defines his company as the “‘Catalyst’ in making global drug discovery research work better for the pharmaceutical industry.”
“When a researcher or company is stopped for lack of a small amount of reagent or other specific chemical, we get them going again,” he says. Billing his company as the world’s largest inventory of certified analytical reference standards and research chemicals—numbering over 359,000 products—Ambati is a creative marketer who brands ambitiously, and employs a unique visual to keep his company in the forefront of customer awareness (see accompanying image).
Other well-known Indian providers, in a display of solidarity and co-branding, included the “Rx India” logo on their conference booths. Years ago the world started to talk about “Japan Inc.” The India pharma/outsourcing industry collectively is aiming at just such a brand moniker.
At Times, Brand Support Compels Direct Fire
The IBEF is not afraid to take its gloves off when it feels the need to fight back directly. It issued a pre-conference press release (September 26) from New Delhi that threw this editor back in his chair for a moment. It was titled:
Indian industry decries smear campaign against its pharma exporters and Government also intrigued
If the CPhI Worldwide presence was ubiquitous but soft-pedaled, this was boots in your face. The release started with: “The India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), on behalf of the Government of India, has taken strong objection to a smear campaign being orchestrated by the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute (AEI) against the whole Indian pharmaceutical industry. It seems that the effort is to tarnish the image of the Indian pharma industry which it has painstakingly developed over the years and is often recognized as ‘Pharmacy of the World.’”
Particular umbrage was taken over a “working paper” regarding “the quality of 1,470 antibiotic and tuberculosis drug samples that claim to be made in India and were sold in Africa, India, and five mid-income non-African countries,” according to the IBEF press release. In the release, Pharmexcil India Director General, Dr. PV Appaji, is quoted as saying: “There seems to be a deliberate campaign to malign the Indian pharma industry. The minimum requirement would be to give an opportunity to the labeled manufacturers to give their comments against their test observations.” Pharmexcil is the Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council of India, established by the Indian Ministry of Commerce & Industry.
Outsourced Pharma takes no position here other than to point out the comprehensive brand equity support by the IBEF. Again, in total, this campaign of national industry promotion—in a fully democratic nation—certainly is worth studying for all industry companies and entities. Let’s move then, to a final discussion on brands.
Battles For Brand Longevity
The sum total experience customers, consumers, employees and all stakeholders have with an entity is its brand. The promotion of the brand is the entity’s conveyance of the promise it makes regarding its products and services. If the promise and the experiences don’t match, the brand equity is diminished and the company will not continue to be successful.
It seems, though, all brands, should they have the good fortune to stay around long enough, suffer setbacks. Three examples from other industries: Ford, an early automotive production innovator, lost customer trust and brand appeal more than once over the years; Microsoft started as the premiere challenger of the status quo in computing, but then fought a reputation for stifling innovation; Coke lost ground through a failed new product launch and had to re-focus the brand.
Brands come under external attack by the competition. On the other side, internal branding—workers’ understanding of what is most important to their employers and customers—can also have a major impact. Moreover, brands change as companies, markets, and products and services evolve; there is then the need to adequately inform customers of new promises.
In the pharmaceutical industry, quality must be the preeminent component of every brand. Any thought otherwise is folly; lives are at stake. For marketers, then, when all outsourcing is based on quality, quality cannot be a brand differentiator.
I recently wrote on the four global territories of pharmaceutical outsourcing, and with some admitted bombast, dubbed it a “Quadrilateral CRO/CMO World Order.” (The four are the U.S., Europe, India and China.) An initial question for pharma sponsors vis-à-vis outsourcing can be location-related: “Do we “near source” with proximity being a key component, or look globally for the very best fit?” Therefore, while each service provider survives on its own merits and branding (and quality issues will hit hard), it is also under the umbrella brand, defined by global sponsor perceptions of the region.
India seems to understand this clearly, and is crafting a brand narrative that is looking to provide a national industry differentiator. The story will have to include the reality of some areas of quality improvement. CPhI Worldwide 2014 was a certain “coming of age” for the Indian industry in regards to an increased confidence in getting in front of and setting a global agenda. This can only bode well for the entire pharmaceutical industry, and perhaps provide us with more lessons in brand equity along the way.