The False Economy of Following the Leader

It’s hard not to feel sympathetic for Consumer Healthcare brands that feel a little nervous about standing out. That conservative culture around the category was born of a desire to do good; shaped by regulations created to protect the consumer. Whilst regulation is not the only reason consumer healthcare marketing has become a little tame, it’s certainly one of them.

What started as category regulation has become a limiting self-regulation. Marketers in the sector have begun subconsciously boxing themselves in and behaving and thinking like one another.

And the situation is fed by an incestuous recruitment philosophy:

Paracetamol Brand A hires a specialist marketer from Back Pain Relief Brand B instead of looking outside the sector for a fresh perspective on the category. Conservatism can be a reasonable philosophy, but not if you’re out to win new share. In comms terms, following the leader’s rules only strengthens that leader’s grip on the mind of the consumer. Which is why Consumer Healthcare categories don’t have the same switch mobility as FMCG.

Pain relief brands settle for being like Nurofen, cold and flu brands settle for being like Lemsip, and the healthcare world keeps turning without disruption.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, it shouldn’t be that way at all – especially for ambitious brands with smaller budgets.

Wearing the same clothes as the category leader feels comfortable and appropriate, but it’s a formula for maintenance, not change. Tell the same stories as your competitors and you end up occupying the same space in consumer’s mind… and then the only option you’ll have to win more market share is spending money on more media.

So what’s a Healthcare challenger brand to do, to win new share?

Resist the prevailing category tone at all costs:
This feels safe but only strengthens the brand leader’s standing as ‘best in class’- rather than reframing the argument.

So make a point of being a genuine alternative: in tone, style and message. Rather than battling your more cash-rich competitors, remove them from the scope of the discussion.

For example, when Orajel needed to grow its influence within the toothache pain relief market, rather than trying to compete with the robust equity of category leader Nurofen, the brand recalibrated the conversation around toothache relief.

The brand reframed the ‘speed of relief’ argument to be about how local/topical a treatment is and therefore carved out a unique and superior positioning – and double-digit sales growth for the Orajel brand.

Be brutally single-minded with your brand proposition
The best-formed brands focus on sharpening their proposition to ensure simple-but-unique distinction, memorability and recall.

Volvo doesn’t just mean ‘transportation’, it means ‘safer transportation’;
Dove doesn’t mean ‘beautiful’, it means ‘happy with my beauty’;
Red Bull doesn’t just mean ‘energy’, it means ‘energy that gets results’.

Simple, emotional distinctions make the consumer’s part of the transaction easy and instinctive. Yet healthcare brands still frequently give in to the temptation to tick all the consumers’ boxes and try to be all things to all shoppers. They end up lacking emotional resonance because they lacked the courage to choose what they should stand for among the baffling racket of their category.

Pick the right moment, and make your presence count
Brands can access consumers like never before and be incredibly targeted at the point of need- so for Consumer Healthcare brands it’s more possible than ever to identify a problem and be on the spot with a solution. But nearly 90% of ads are still ignored, so the real challenge is having the courage to break that fourth wall and turn presence into visibility.

It’s an exciting era for Consumer Healthcare brands: formulation advances have democratised more parts of the symptom management process and given consumers more choice than ever.

Allowing your brand’s comms to be dictated to by category precedent or muted by self-regulation can put a major cap on growth potential.

Royston Reeves

Royston Reeves

Strategy Director