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January 20, 2015

We just recently released a global study on Brand Authenticity here at Cohn & Wolfe that shed a great deal of light on how consumers perceive brand activity and what is important to them. I have to say, we were a little surprised. People from all around the world told us that they care much more about a brand’s behavior than they do about a brand’s products. They care much more about what a brand does than how a product performs.

Say what?

In fact, coming out of the Authentic Brands Study we uncovered seven core pillars or behaviors of any authentic brand:

  • Communicating honestly about products and services
  • Acting with integrity at all times
  • Communicating honestly about environmental impact and sustainability measures
  • Being clear about and true to beliefs
  • Being open and honest about partners and suppliers
  • Standing for more than just making money
  • Having a relevant and engaging story

These are all behaviors that build a brand’s authenticity, creating an open and honest dialogue with consumers. These are all behaviors that demonstrate a great deal of respect for those around you, including your customers.

If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. Product benefits can be obtained from a number of brands within any given category, so it’s the branding that differentiates them from each other. It’s the brand that consumers choose, not so much the product. It’s the brand’s behaviors that people notice and share.

How is any of this relevant to healthcare companies and brands? Brand Authenticity is probably even more important in healthcare than virtually any other industry. In healthcare, we are without a doubt seeking “respect” when it comes to our activities. As healthcare providers we in turn must also show respect in order to be embraced and respected by our constituents.

How do we get there? Let our Authentic Brands study guide us on how to provide information, get personal, and show compassion.

Provide Information

As people become more responsible and accountable for their own healthcare, “honest communication” becomes paramount. Patients and patient groups are becoming more and more motivated and in some cases vigilant in finding accurate information, uncovering truths, and surfing through sales information.

As a result, it’s important for healthcare brands to be completely forthcoming with information, and to provide more content than is perhaps necessary to help consumers make their own decisions. Provide important information in a way that is easy to navigate and understand, without covering up what’s truly valuable. Issues like costs, side effects, and side-by-side comparisons should be presented objectively and honestly, not buried in a lot of lingo to better “sell” one particular product. Let the consumer make the decision based on complete information that is well presented, showing that you respect their decision. They will respect the company in return.

Get Personal

As we see a growing number of consumers participate in different ways to measure, track, and analyze their own health, it’s putting the burden on healthcare brands to help them turn that personal information into action… authentic action that will truly add value to their lives, not just sell another drug. As wearable devices and data portals take on more and more prevalence, consumers are going to turn to those brands that help them the most. But remember that all of that personal information must be treated with respect. 80% of the US respondents in our study said that “failure to protect personal information” would make them extremely angry – the highest in the world.

It’s also important to communicate on a personal level. Talk with your consumers, not at them. “Big” doesn’t always mean better in consumers’ minds, in fact only 12% of our study participants said that big companies “generally do what they say they’re going to do.” You should openly and freely communicate your organization’s value systems and invite participation in them. Learn how to communicate on a local level as well as nationally, perhaps using local spokespeople who are a part of the community. Get personal with your consumers and they will understand and respect you even more.

Show Compassion

Our research pointed to a strong link between authenticity and the belief that a company or brand “treats people right,” including employees, customers, and the community… even if it hurts profits. It’s important to demonstrate how your employee, community, and constituent relationships help people. Involve your employees in community activities, and encourage participation with doctors, nurses, and anyone else you affect. Show compassion for what each of those people go through in their lives and show how your commitment to them drives your company policies. Show the respect that people are looking for, at every level.

So many people question whether a pharmaceutical company can possibly be authentic. Our study would answer with a resounding “YES,” provided that the company and brand behave appropriately in this Age of Authenticity.

To review our full report, click here.

Jim Joseph