Sustainable development poses opportunity to strengthen brand image

In Canada, the communication between innovative pharmaceutical companies and the end consumer (the patient) is carefully controlled by the government through stringent restrictions on direct to consumer advertising. In addition, companies’ marketing and detailing approaches to health professionals are limited by the industry association’s code of conduct rules.

Without these avenues of communication and due to the proximity to the USA (which has more liberal marketing rules and frequent fines and disputes), the innovative pharma industry is unable to effectively promote the benefits of its products, defend against major criticism, or build a strong brand image.  

In the Canadian system, a sustainable development corporate strategy serves as an excellent opportunity to communicate to the public and strengthen company and industry image. Ipsos-Reid comes to a similar conclusion for the American industry with its poll: “Pharmaceutical Companies Need To Raise Awareness Of Their Social Investments To Improve Industry’s Image”. 

A quick perusal of a few of the largest multinational drug companies’ Canadian websites (e.g., J&J family of companies Canada, Sanofi-Aventis Canada, Pfizer Canada) finds that Canadian companies are not yet providing sustainable development (SD) strategic content. However, according to several multinational headquarter websites, some companies are already undertaking global strategies to address environment protection and “footprint” management (e.g., Pfizer Global).

As the companies begin to roll out their SD strategies, they must ensure their content is more than messaging and fanfare. Consumers, especially those ecologically-savvy, will be able to recognize if a strategy is for show or not, and a duff strategy may actually have a negative impact on a company’s image.

In sum, comprehensive SD strategies could be leveraged by Canadian innovative pharmaceutical companies to improve brand image, and if done properly could have a significant impact on ecological sustainability.

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Posted in corporate sustainability, sustainable development
5 comments on “Sustainable development poses opportunity to strengthen brand image
  1. reideltj says:

    I need to be convinced of the value of building a “sustainable brand” in the pharma space. Consumers don’t get to choose which drug their doctor prescribes and I’m doubtful that a doctor will use ‘sustainability’ as a criteria in their drug selection. Side note: As a patient I would hope that ‘best drug available’ would be criteria my doctor uses, not sustainability.

    In terms of brand value of a sustainable image I think there’s a good case for food producers and energy companies. As a consumer I have an easy way to express an interest in sustainability by choosing to buy from “sustainable production” companies (witness the boycott of BP in the US, see the Facebook group with over 700K members http://www.facebook.com/BoycottBP ).

  2. jeremy says:

    The big pharmaceutical companies might justifiably protect the natural environment for commercial reasons. What if the cure for cancer was secreted away in a rainforest eco-system somewhere and they stood by while that forest was cut down for timber? Pretty big lost opportunity, right?

  3. crazykouts says:

    Check out this cool link: http://www.environmentalleader.com/category/pharmaceuticals/

    Clearly, pharma companies are seeing value in implementing SD strategies! Interestingly, SD has become integrated with performance management (another one of my favourite topics!).

  4. shaneennis says:

    I completely agree with the sentiment that any corporation considering to build a brand based on a sustainable image in order to attract consumers who are obviously concerned about ecological issues must be prepared to operationalize sustainable development within the organisation, because the plans can horribly backfire.

    A few weeks one of my lecturers was discussing how Exxon Mobil tried this strategy by producing a 30 second advertisement to be played during the American Super Bowl which explained how the company’s sustainability strategy had resulted in the company reclaiming wetland areas in North America for whooping cranes.

    While I’m not saying that even this small act from the company isn’t a step forward, I am suggesting that the cost of reclaiming this habitat probably cost a lot less than the $2m – $3m the company spent on the 30-second advertisement to promote the “sustainable development”.

  5. casimonek says:

    If you talk more than you walk, backslash, sooner or later is inevitable. But if a company has several significant projects that improve socio-envorinmental impact of their production and product, it’s also important to make these known. Customers, although key stakeholders, are not kings of the hill. There is a general society that questions how each and every industry is addressing corporate sustainability, and it should be given an answer as well.

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