Major pharmaceutical companies are beginning to embrace the “brand personality” marketing strategy traditionally employed by consumer-focused companies such as Apple, Coca-Cola and Harley-Davidson, new research shows.

BY 2018, the global pharmaceutical market is expected to be worth over $1.3 trillion. To corner their share of profits, established drug companies have to fight fierce competition from generic products, adhere to stringent government regulations and sway a consumer base that is better informed than ever before, say the researchers, from Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business in Quebec, Canada.

By imbuing their brands with human characteristics, pharmaceutical companies can boost sales by developing direct relationships with their consumers, and as a result patients are more likely to ask their physician to prescribe specific brand-name medications, according to the study, which appeared recently in the Journal of Consumer Marketing.

“Brand personalities can transform products from being merely functional to having emotional value in the eyes of the consumer,” says marketing professor and co-author Lea Katsaris.

“Pharmaceutical companies give their brands personality traits by relying on physical attributes, practical functions, user imagery and usage contexts. As a result, brand names like Viagra, Lipitor and Prozac become shorthand for the drugs themselves,” she notes.

To conduct the study, Prof Katsanis and co-author Erica Leonard used an online survey to poll US respondents. They rated 15 well-known prescription medications based on 22 different personality traits, such as dependability, optimism, anxiousness and elegance. They study included a number of blockbuster drugs from leading pharmaceutical manufacturers including Pfizer, Eli Lilly and GlaxoSmithKline.

The results of the survey reveal that prescription drug brand “personality,” as perceived by consumers, has two distinct dimensions - competence and innovativeness.

Consumers typically applied terms such as dependable, reliable, responsible, successful, stable, practical and solution-oriented to branded drugs, thus showing a preference for overall “competence.”  Words like unique, innovative and original related to the “innovativeness” of the medicine in question.

Commenting on these findings, Prof Katsanis says they can help marketers better understand how competing brands are positioned and act accordingly to ensure their products remain distinctive, and that one way of achieving this could be to appropriately focus more on either the “competence” or “innovativeness” dimensions.

“From a consumer perspective, prescription drug brand personality may make health-related issues more approachable and less intimidating, facilitating physician-patient interactions by making patients more familiar with the medications used to treat what ails them,” she suggests.