Over the past few years, we have seen many non-healthcare organizations focusing more and more on health. Companies including Bosch, Philips, Siemens, Microsoft and GE, to name just a few, have done significant work in healthcare related areas and earned a lot of positive credit. Healthcare businesses are leading ambitious drives in corporate citizenship as well, but attention for these campaigns seems minimal. Did you know that the same company that created VIOXX also helped cure river blindness in developing nations?
So the questions we've been asking ourselves are: Why are healthcare businesses, whose primary focus and goal are advancing care, getting less credit for their work in healthcare than other businesses? And how can they amplify this message effectively?
The answers to these questions are not all that simple. Corporate citizenship used to center mainly on sustainability and green initiatives, but health initiatives have gained increasing importance. As we’ve been saying: If five years ago “green was the new black,” then health is now the new green.
Given this shifting focus, the health and life sciences industry is faced with a unique business opportunity and some questions. At the precise time that corporations across other industries are placing greater emphasis on corporate citizenship efforts, how does corporate citizenship play a role in this unique field? What role does it have in brand strategies and, ultimately, in driving business goals?
I imagine that when most people think about the healthcare industry, corporate citizenship is rarely a subject that rises to the top. Instead, what comes to mind are typical issues that have continued to demonize the industry over the past few decades—pricing strategies, limited access to care, rising costs, and ubiquitous lawsuits, to name a few. No one seems to be talking about the incredible advances in cancer therapy or initiatives to eliminate preventable disease across the world. The result: work that is essentially good for people and society is most often viewed through only a negative lens.
It seems as though health and life sciences companies are missing a large opportunity. So why is it that health and life sciences companies are not leveraging their brands to help mitigate some of this risk and negative perception?
It’s not that healthcare companies haven’t been doing good work all along— it’s that they haven’t been able to effectively communicate the good work that they do. The reason is that product brands have historically dominated the pharma, biotech, and medical device industries, and product brands don't have the ability to communicate the positive impact of corporate citizenship. A product brand can’t take credit for creating drastic advances in cancer care— but a corporate brand can. A product brand can’t take credit for corporate citizenship activities— but a corporate brand can.
At InterbrandHealth we’ve been focusing on the increasing role of the corporate brand in healthcare— see Wes Wilkes’ white paper “Vital Times: The Changing Role of Brand in the Health and Life Sciences Industry.” We believe the health and life sciences industry is experiencing dramatic value-driven transformational change, and along with that comes the need to shift the focus from product brands to corporate brands.
As health and life sciences companies begin to emphasize the corporate brand over product brands, the commitment to corporate citizenship can finally benefit the brand and business.
While we’re not so enthusiastic as to assume that this shift will make people think only positively about the industry, we do believe this will allow companies to at least get credit for the good that they do. Health and life sciences companies will always have to deal with risk, for example, product failures and black box warnings, but being a good corporate citizen— and letting the world know about it— can potentially help mitigate some of the risks that inevitably will come by demonstrating company cultures focused on helping society and developing innovative solutions to global health problems.
Ultimately, with this increased focus on corporate citizenship and the growing visibility of corporate brands, there’s one question left to ask: Is your current corporate brand strong enough to support the increased presence and visibility?
Jonathan Lanznar is a Strategy Consultant for InterbrandHealth.