How to navigate the top three challenges of rebranding a pharmaceutical company

How to navigate the top three challenges of rebranding a pharmaceutical company


Patrick Heath, Vladimir Kacar, Kavya Paul

Planning for and rolling out a rebrand is always complicated – but when it comes to life science, biotech, and pharmaceutical companies, it is especially complex, and for good reasons.

To start, many of these companies are global and have evolved through a series of acquisitions, mergers, and divestures, often producing a host of legal name changes that need to be considered.

This complexity is compounded by the limited size and geographic reach of the typical corporate brand team. Pharma companies traditionally have very strong marketing teams that typically focus on brand building for individual products rather than on the corporate brand as the primary brand value lies in the individual products. However, this can leave the organization without enough knowledgeable resources to tackle a corporate rebranding implementation—an initiative that may only come along once every couple of decades.

What’s more, there are so many internal stakeholders to coordinate with during a global rebrand—and these far-flung team members seldom have a shared structure in place to facilitate cooperation on such a complex initiative. Because corporate brand teams may be embedded in corporate strategy or corporate communications, they haven’t developed relationships with the many internal stakeholders in marketing and beyond who now need to help plan and implement brand change across the organization. The need to establish these working relationships quickly becomes a top priority, given that rebranding at a pharma company touches Facilities, Manufacturing, R&D, HR, IT, and Legal as well as local and regional Marketing and Sales.

Another complicating factor lies in the diverse set of regional and national regulations. Some of these regulations apply to changes in products and packaging and/or impact trade compliance while other local regulations may govern local, physical branded assets such as signage. (For example, in the U.S, – soil sampling may be required before new signs can be erected in some areas of pharmaceutical campuses.)

Given there is so much to tackle, how can life science/pharma/biotech companies prepare to properly implement a corporate brand refresh or rebrand? From our work with global companies over the past two decades, we’ve identified three key areas to focus on first when you need to tackle company-wide rebranding.

The 3 biggest challenges of rebranding a pharmaceutical company

1. Put together a centralized structure to cover all aspects of rebranding

Without a robust and experienced corporate brand team with global reach to help guide the product teams through the rebrand process, it can get choppy fast. Involving the right experts from inside and outside of your company, accurately estimating costs, and creating detailed standards are just a few of the herculean tasks ahead of you. Even if a global brand team is in place, your company will still need to create a rebranding organization that involves staff from other functions. Here’s why: A typical rebrand implementation touches over 600 branded assets, and impacts everywhere your brand lives, from physical locations to products and packaging to digital properties and more.

The best way to avoid complications is to ensure that your project is set up properly from the start. This means tapping the right stakeholders from across your organization early in the process, asking the right questions to identify the true scope of the change, developing and getting your budget approved, building a timeline of key events, and consulting with a rebrand implementation expert if necessary to ensure you have the resources needed to do this specialized work.

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Another key consideration is ensuring your project structure works for a decentralized organization–the most common structure in the pharma industry. You need to establish line of sight into every department and branded asset the rebrand will be touching. This will empower your team to orchestrate rebranding activities across geographic regions while maintaining a consistent, timely and on-budget rebrand.

In particular, be sure to:

  • Create a complete rebrand plan that considers project budget, structure, and approvals
  • Have a robust timeline to sequence and prioritize what will be rebranded when
  • Account for manufacturing cycles of your products and consider stock on hand
  • Communicate internally so all members of the organization are aware of the direction and plan

2. Address the specific issues stemming from previous acquisitions or divestitures

Whether you are launching an entirely new brand or a refreshed brand, it can profoundly impact how your organization functions on a global scale. If your company is like many of your peers, over time you’ve made acquisitions, divestitures and possibly merged, amassing many distinct brands. To ensure a cohesive global rebrand, it’s important to address the connections between these pre-existing company brands, individual product brands, and the umbrella corporate brand. Is now the time to rebrand any of these entities or acquired products, or bring them in under a single brand umbrella? The answers to questions like these will help you understand the scope of the rebrand and provide appropriate guidance.

Here are some examples:

  • If products and packaging and collateral are affected by the rebrand, the volume of items to address will mushroom and you’ll need to prioritize, centrally plan, and communicate the changes to everyone who needs to know.
  • If older company names won’t be used anymore or become secondary to the corporate brand, you’ll need to create clear guidelines for facility and operational managers so they can represent the entity names correctly across branded assets such as signage, wayfinding, fleet, and more.

3. Understand the regulatory, legal, safety and IP requirements

The scope of your brand change significantly impacts the complexity of the legal regulations you need to comply with.

If you are rebranding or refreshing your brand and the corporate name is not changing, you have a simpler path ahead of you, but you’ll still need to be sure to consult with in-region legal, facilities, and manufacturing managers to be sure you’re accounting for all requirements.

If you have a completely new brand name, the process is usually more complex. These changes may impact regulatory and compliance among other areas that have downstream impacts from name changes.

In either case, a critical factor is proving to regulators (such as the FDA in the U.S.) that these changes will not impact your underlying product in any way. The outcome of communications with regulators will be a key factor in driving timelines and the steps that will be required in executing the change. The goal is to not have to re-certify any products as that could create business disruption.

Secure rebranding success with an implementation partner

Given the sheer number of organizational, global operational and regulatory complexities involved, pharma companies can’t afford to take a casual approach to rebrand planning and implementation. But, without a seasoned partner to guide you, you might not know where to begin.

At BrandActive, we specialize in leading large organizations — including those in highly regulated industries — in seamlessly executing complex rebrands. We aren’t regulatory advisors. But as brand implementation consultants, we know how to ask all the right questions to create a comprehensive and responsible plan for rebrands in the pharma industry.

So, whether you’re rebranding or refreshing your corporate brand, understanding the challenges that lie ahead is the first step towards a successful outcome. Interested in learning more about how BrandActive can guide your organization in navigating a rebrand? We’d love to connect.