The key to Merck KGaA consumer health marketing success? Think like P&G

Merck KGaA's consumer healthcare strategy for brands, including pregnancy multivitamin Femibion, uses strategies from the consumer packaged goods realm.(Source: Merck KGaA)

Merck KGaA has taken a page from consumer packaged goods’ playbook for its consumer OTC marketing strategy—and it's working.

The German-based maker of a $1 billion portfolio of healthcare brands refers to the strategy as creating “lovebrands,” in a recent report on the companywide success of its new approach. The familiar consumer-goods strategy builds brand identities that not only depend on the technical or functional assets of the product, but also create an emotional benefit or connection with consumers.

The now 3-year-old strategic shift comes from the top down—Atilla Cansun, chief marketing officer of Merck consumer healthcare, was a longtime P&G marketing executive before joining Merck in 2013. Several other global brand directors on the marketing team have also moved over from the consumer giant.

“I wouldn’t say we are copying P&G, but this approach and mentality of working with consumers—and also [healthcare providers], but predominantly consumers—in a quite intensive way to test product concepts, test campaigns and so on, is not really new in the consumer goods industry, but it’s still relatively new in the healthcare and OTC arena,” said Lars Atorf, head of consumer health communications at Merck.

The word Merck uses—“lovebrand”—is associated with former Saatchi & Saatchi chairman Kevin Roberts, who wrote the book Lovemarks about the ways brands can transcend even loyal consumer status to become loved by people. Saatchi is one of Merck’s agency partners.

Merck uses the strategy across all six global consumer brands and also its five or six regional brands, Atorf said, and is looking at how to use it with its local brands. The consumer-driven strategy hasn't been picked up by Merck’s pharma prescription drugs as of yet, he said, although some of those brands may be “observing what we’re doing.”

For good reason: The Merck consumer brands under the long-term strategy have “grown significantly in the past two to three years," and consumer perception, attitudes and awareness of the brands have also been increasing, he said.

Digital engagement is important to the strategy, and one of the brands Merck highlighted as a success is pregnancy multivitamin Femibion. Digital marketing for the brand is meant to “empower women with specific actions they can take that will benefit their future children’s health,” according to the company's release.

Femibion has more than 100,000 followers on its Facebook page and active engagement: More than one million people, for instance, watched its most recent video. Atorf said gynecologists also are engaged.

The consumer-style brand strategy isn't meant to take away from the products' technical or scientific strength, Atorf said. “It’s not that there is a lack of scientific background for the products,” he said. “We take our strong scientific and medical expertise and add that (lovebrand) component on top and that makes us stronger.”