It is a common misconception that the pharmaceutical sector has changed, or is undergoing a period of change, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Those within the industry know that, whilst things may be happening at a faster pace, the core of what they do remains unchanged. But from the outside, the global population has become far more aware of the sector, and also more grateful for the amazing work it consistently delivers.

A recent survey by the European Pharmaceutical Review found that the public perception of leading pharmaceutical companies has in fact improved, with larger businesses performing higher in terms of public trust and confidence than pre-pandemic. Therefore, the pandemic has not accelerated the contributions of pharma to everyday life, but instead has merely highlighted them.

The pandemic influence

Of course, pharma, life science and healthcare sectors are as busy as they ever have been. As we continue to combat this pandemic, these sectors – more than any other industry – have not had to reset. In many ways, it has been business as usual.

What these sectors are seeing as well is a shift towards more powerful and emotive storytelling. Whether in B2B or B2C comms, we are starting to see a more human side of the big brands. A side which shows its personality, its voice, its impact. And that it is proud of its contribution to society. When a sector’s data and results are universally compelling, it is these individual traits that ultimately differentiate one business from another.

While traditionally brand has not been a core focus, a recent report highlighted that more recently pharma has seen an average rise in marketing spend of 70% in the past 20 years, totalling £21.5 billion. This means there has been a shift in focus, which has seen brand and reputation take up more of the mantle within the leading pharma firms. Through strong brand communication and design, we are starting to see a new side to pharma and life science and healthcare sectors.

Communicating complexities

In 2021 and beyond, it is vital that an organisation’s brand undergoes an evolution in order to be best prepared for a world where many more eyes are now fixed on the sector. The world has changed and so must a brand. A business that might have existed for decades would’ve altered in some way – which is why it must continually ensure that it communicates all that is special about its business of today, not expect what was created years ago to still be fit for purpose. So how do you enhance the image of something that has always been working in the background, and out of the limelight?

A company may think it is superior to its competitors and be good at selling its product and service, but to really succeed, its quality of product and service must reach existing and new audiences better than that competition. The brand, its people and its reputation represent everything that the outside world knows about that particular business. Communicating key messages is critical.

Science and technology work in great complexities, with incredible detail. So there is a lot of groundwork needed to get under the skin of these enormous powerhouses and get to the core of the proposition.

Being able to distil, articulate and visualise that complex and heavily data-led work is not easy. It must always be a balance of authenticity and originality. A clarity of words and compelling imagery. GSK is a great example of this, with its recent launch of some groundbreaking brand imagery created using real-time data to highlight its advancements in technology.

By creating such striking assets, GSK has been able to portray its ability and quality in an entirely new and fresh way, one providing something truly unique and one not attempted previously by its competitors.

But the company also invests time building a library of imagery that focuses not just on the scientists and labs but also the end user. GSK knows that these real stories can’t be bought in a stock library. The lengths the firm goes to to present its passion for its work and what it brings to society demonstrates a pride and belief in the greatness of its people, business and products.

There is so much passion within the sector, but sometimes perception is not as important as benefiting life, and so communicating this passion can get lost within the business.

This is a challenge faced by a diverse cohort of businesses in the space – whether it be Dr Ehrenstorfer or Mikromol’s reference materials or Informed Sport’s supplements – but each must follow the same principles for success. By analysing and listening to how their businesses have evolved, observing the market and crafting compelling visual identities, each company’s USPs can be reflected in original ways which have longevity built in.

Looking ahead to a post-pandemic proposition

Prior to the outbreak of coronavirus, the creation of certain vaccines and drugs could have taken years before they would have been ready for public consumption. Certainly, the pandemic has accelerated this, due to the need for immediate and effective results from pharma and life science.

This is a significant moment in our history. Organisations now realise they cannot risk missing the boat when it comes to the life-saving work they are – and have been – delivering for decades. But while they (rightly) focus on delivering this work, they also need to make sure the right people know about it. Which is where brand can help to solidify the impression a business leaves on broader society.

With this in mind, businesses are looking for new ways to share their innovation, their impact and their delivery of life-changing work. And at the core of all of these things lies the human face of a company.

Through considered, strategic design these brands will be able to do this, and really demonstrate their unique offering to new and existing clients and customers. By observing other sectors, it is clear that those brands that engage with their customers as people – and not just as faceless entities from another company – are those that are succeeding in these times.

Put simply, pharmaceutical and life science businesses need to seize the opportunity and act with conviction. To do this, they should communicate what’s special about them, in the most original, authentic and unique ways. They can’t stand still or simply expect people to keep coming back to them.

If they can avoid being held back by the traditional perceptions of their work, and their business, then we will start to see a new side to the whole industry. One with the shackles taken off, which allows these businesses to burst through their own ceiling.

Stuart Lang is founder and creative director of We Launch