The Heart of Pharma Marketing – Humanizing Brands

Written By: Vivek Hattangadi


The pharmaceutical industry customers, the patients and doctors (padocumers), are first humans, then patients or medical professionals. There are no two doubts on this. Yet we treat them like they are robots programmed to absorb our generic branding messages. (Just imagine 200 brands of rabeprazole+domperidone and another 300 of pantoprazole+domperidone communicating the same generic message.)  We brand managers do not recognise them as unique individuals although this is the basic human need. 

We thus fail to connect with the doctors. 

When we fail to connect with our doctors, our padocumers will fail to connect with us. They want to hear the message of a person, of a humanized brand, not a generic product.

The core of humanizing brands

At its core, humanizing brands is the process of infusing human-like qualities into your brand – your brand’s identity, medico-marketing communication, and in interactions with padocumers. To make your brand feel human, give it human traits. It’s about transforming a faceless product into an entity, a romantic brand that padocumers can relate to, trust, and even love. 

When you humanize your brand, you recognize that doctors do not connect with logos or slogans; they connect better with the people and stories behind the brand. (You now understand better, the importance of medical representatives – the future knowledge workers – and field managers in the branding chain). 

Let us examine the copy which has been prepared by a pharma company for an antiacne product, Acnex.

“Oily and acne-prone skin can take away the focus from her face… (Visual of a lovely, attractive girl)

Bring back the focus to her face… Acnex.”

When the dermato-cosmetologist hears this message, he will wonder if it’s for Retino-A, Persol Forte, Episoft, Revize, D’Acne, Clina or Clarina. This message can be for any of these seven better-known pharma brands.

Inhuman, I would say! This message is impersonal, emotionless and does not touch the hearts of doctors. It is a plain matter-of-fact statement which everyone knows. There is neither a story nor any emotion. It is so bland. 

Now consider this alternate:

“Why does the beautiful, bright Amulya, have such a low self-esteem?”  (Visual of Amulya working as a receptionist in a small 2-star hotel)

Then the story continues on the next page.

“This is the new Amulya, now an executive in a 5-star hotel. (Visual of a smiling, confident Amulya working in a 5-star hotel as the Chief Receptionist)

What did Amulya do? 

She applied Acnex as directed by her cosmeto-dermatologist.”

What’s the difference between the first approach and the alternate approach? We shall discuss that as we go along. 

In the alternate approach, Brand Acnex has been given the trait of a young girl, Amulya. An emotional connect has started. Acnex has humanized herself to create emotional connection with doctors (You have involved the cosmeto-dermatologist in the story). These emotional connects are vital because they lead to loyalty, advocacy, and long-term customer relationships.

Next, humans are wired to respond to stories. Humanizing brands allows you to tell compelling stories about their origins, mission, and the people who make it all happen; Amulya’s story of transformation has been beautifully narrated. 

In a dog-eat-dog crowded marketplace, humanizing your brands can set you apart from your competitors. You create a unique identity that resonates with doctors (and even patients), making it more likely that doctors will choose you brand over another. Even if someone now tries to ape you, go you know what will be the response from padocumers?

“Oh! It’s just like Acnex.” Your padocumers are slowly turning into Brand Acnex ambassadors. 

Humanized brands prioritize their doctors and their patient’s needs, preferences, and feedback. Humanized brands actively listen to their doctors and patients and adapt strategies accordingly. This leads to better Patient-Doctor Experience (PDX).

One of the most amazing ads is of Titan Eye Plus where they also have used AI to humanize their Smart Eyeglasses. 

Let us see which pharma company uses this another-industry concept in their brand microsites, or exhibition stalls during doctor’s annual conferences. 

How do you humanize a brand? 

Display emotions in your medico-marketing communication. The best way to do this is to imagine what your brand would be like if it were to be an actual human being.

Humans have emotions – so make your messages emotional. And empathy is feeling the same emotion of the other person. Empathy is a critical component of humanizing brands. It involves understanding and acknowledging the emotions and experiences of your padocumers. Brands which show empathy not only solve problems but also show they care about the well-being of patients and doctors. This emotional connection fosters loyalty and positive word-of-mouth.

When you say, “Why does the beautiful, bright Amulya, have such a low self-esteem?” you are showing empathy to everyone with similar problems. 

Storytelling helps in humanizing a brand. Give your brand a personality, as a storyteller would do for a character. 

Your brand is not the hero in the story. It is the padocumer (This is what most brand managers forget, and this is a sin). It is not an expressway to boast about your success. Ego-driven communication does not work. 

The natural corollary to this is to avoid gloating. Gloating, so common in our pharma industry, is not attractive for any brand. If anything, it will drive your prospects away. They look with scorn and derision at such self-congratulatory contents with nothing but an eye roll as they scroll past what the medical representative is saying. (And then you complain that doctors do not listen to your detailing). 

Humans are wired to respond to stories. You won’t gain doctor’s trust by sounding self-absorbed; you will gain it by showing that you care for them. This is where humanising your brand comes in. You’re starting a friendship, or maybe even a cult (like Harley-Davidson or iPhones). Humanizing brands allows you to tell compelling stories. 

As the story progresses, “She applied Acnex as directed by her cosmeto-dermatologist,” the hero of the story is not the brand but the cosmeto-dermatologist who recommends Acnex. Acnex is just a lackey to the hero in a Bollywood film. 

On the other hand, “…Bring back the focus to her face… Acnex,” the hero is Acnex and not the cosmeto-dermatologist. Neither are you engaging the cosmeto-dermatologist nor the victim. 

Differentiation is another way to humanize your brand. In a crowded marketplace, humanizing can set your brand apart from your competitors. Differentiation creates a unique identity that resonates with patients and doctors, making it more likely that they will choose your brand over another.

Do you recall the Ordent story, and how it differentiated from the milling crowd of this combo? (Ordent was an extremely late entrant, maybe the 15th or 16th brand of Ornidazole+Ofloxacin.) In its promotion, every aspect its medico-marketing communication, whether the brand name or the leave-behind-literature was directed towards the dentists. Ordent was humanised and made the dentists feel that without Ordent teeth infection cannot be resolved. Ordent almost told the dentists “I am here to help your patients” with moderate to serious aerobic and anaerobic mixed dental infections. 

Patient-centered approach is another beautiful way to humanize brands. Humanized brands prioritize their patient’s needs, preferences, and feedback. You actively listen to your audience and adapt their strategies, accordingly, leading to improved PDX. In this approach, patient engagement is used to drive brand strategies, tactics, and other strategic decisions. The success story of Januvia and Janumet (of Merck Sharpe and Dohme) is because its patient centered activity, the Sparsh Healthline. 

Cipla was the first company anywhere in the world to launch a patient-centered activity when it recruited counsellors to demonstrate the actual patients of asthma on how to use inhalers. And now you know why Cipla is such a dominant company in the respiratory disease section.  

In the patient-centered marketing efforts, rather than asking the patient to describe how a treatment improves their quality of life (QoL), the patient is asked what a treatment needs to achieve to improve their overall life. If you decide to embrace patient-centricity, you must move from “We know what you need” attitude to “What do we need to achieve to make you feel better?” style. For instance, it could be mingling with ‘patients like me. 

The Parkinson’s Club initiated by the makers of Brand Syndopa and made the patients of Parkinson’s disease feel relaxed and comfortable. My father was one of the beneficiaries. Do you know what he said? “Here is a company and a brand which helps me socialize with patients-like me. There are many problems which I cannot tell you Vivek because you may feel more distressed.”  

Syndopa almost went on to monopolise the co-careldopa segment. But what’s more, the brand equity of Sun Pharma sky-rocketed amongst the neurologists and had a positive fall-off effect of other brands of Sun Pharma. 

In collaboration with the patients or patient support groups, F&D, or R&D your organization should strive for products driven by patient’s needs and wants – through an empathic collaboration. 

And finally, be consistent. Make sure your humanizing efforts are consistent across all touchpoints, from your website to your customer support interactions in omnichannel marketing. (Omnichannel marketing refers to your brands’ presence across multiple channels.) Your brand is moving in the right direction by diversifying your approach to doctor-patient interactions. However, omnichannel marketing makes it difficult to maintain a consistent brand. 

Each channel may encourage a different style of communication, confusing potential customers when they encounter your brand. Omnichannel marketing creates a cohesive, integrated patient-doctor experience across your brand’s touchpoints, including brick-and-mortar locations when your medical representative meets a doctor in his clinic or hospital. Also includes brand microsites, communication on social media platforms for doctors, CMEs, exhibition stalls during doctor’s conferences and many more. 

And do you know which the most important aspect of consistency is?

To give the brand that human touch, you need to be consistent in what you write on the website or microsite and your actions and deeds. 

Take the case of Gilead (Gilead does not operate in India). The website says, “Gilead believes the price of medicines should never be a barrier to access, and we work domestically and globally to ensure that patients who need our products are able to obtain them.”  (Source: Accessed on 7-10-23). What a great ideal! But when it comes to action and deeds, please refer (Accessed on 7-10-23). “Sovaldi is expensive. This means a 12-week treatment course of Sovaldi would cost around $84,000 (INR 69,72,000 or BD Taka 86,52,000) and a 24-week course, $168,000 (INR 1,39,44,000 or BD Taka 1,73,04,000). This does not take into account the cost of the other treatment used with Sovaldi, and Sovaldi is always given in combination with other treatments, never alone.” Severe inconsistency! It poorly reflects on Brand Sovaldi, and Brand Gilead! And isn’t this inhuman!

Your medico-marketing messages needs to have consistency whenever and wherever a padocumer encounters your brand. To present a reliable and trustworthy brand image to your prospects, you need to work at unifying your brand message across all channels. A unified voice will also help to humanize your brand. Those who read your medico-marketing messages should feel that a person, not an unknown entity, is speaking to them. 

In conclusion, humanizing brands is about forging authentic connections with customers by displaying the human side of your brand and your organization. It involves storytelling, values, engagement, and an approach-centric approach and a consistency not just in omnichannel but in your thoughts, your writings, and your actions and deeds. If you can successfully humanize your brand, you will create trust, loyalty, and lasting relationships, ultimately standing out in the fiercely competitive market. In the era of generative artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain and more, where padocumers crave authenticity and connection, humanizing your brand is not just a choice but a necessity for sustainable success. 

And do not forget to see how beautifully Titan Eye Plus Smart Glasses has be humanized. Visit

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