Live from Cannes Lions Health: Atilla Cansun, the CMO at Merck Consumer Health (now part of P&G Health), was back at Cannes this year to talk more about love. Brand love, that is. 

He said, for too many years, our industry has seen physicians as business partners at best and machines who can only process graphs and charts at worst. His mission: humanize the relationships between healthcare professionals and companies. 

To do that, Cansun has prioritized three specific goals for his teams’ work:

  1. Brand over business. You have to focus on building the brand and the relationship with the physician over short-term revenue goals
  2. Focus on the patient. Neither the pharma company nor the doctor should see themselves as the center of gravity
  3. Delight, don’t drain. In a sea of similar, people will always remember the brand that surprised them positively

Broadly, the industry isn’t doing that today. Instead:

  • 80% of content being shared with physicians is in a graph and chart
  • A lot of the time is spent on convincing and proving value by going over studies; not enough time is spent talking about real patient and their stories
  • Our representatives are being checked and tracked against specific content they’re expected to share; there’s not much conversation beyond that predictable agenda or monologue

Cansun’s colleague, Justyna Dettmer, Global HCP Director, took us into an example of how Merck Consumer Health is trying to do better. Dolo-Neurobion is a pain portfolio. It comes from the pharmaceutical world and looked like / sounded like many of the other competitors in the category. To humanize the brand, they started with a simple insight: doctors say “there are many different kinds of pain with different etiology and also different manifestations. I am often confused when to use what.”

To stand out from the category and help doctors navigate, Dolo-Neurobion refocused on mixed pain, treating muscle pain and nerve issues at the same time. That became the foundation of brand over business, focusing on the space they wanted to own over time. 

The portfolio is brought together by an iconic wave that visually interprets the pain scale, a foundational part of communication in the pain space. That’s another holistic element of the brand that from starting conversations about real patients to details of scientific studies in both highly branded and portfolio spaces. 

Overall, the brand is focused on talking about patients over data. Merck Consumer Health believes that doctors don’t become doctors to shop for products. Instead, they want to help people. So, their sales materials and conferences are focused on starting conversations about the everday life of the doctors’ practices and health issues that look familiar to them. From there, it’s much easier to make the transition to product relevance.  When it’s time to dig into data, the team turns those facts into experiences with virtual reality that visualize the science in ways designed to delight. 

As they moved from product brand to love brand, sales grew, too. Two examples shared: 32% growth in Mexico over three years; 38% in Brazil.

The team saw even bigger results with Neurobion. The brand was inconsistent across the world. It had millions of charts, but not one unique story to share with doctors and connect across geographies. 

The product treats a Vitamin B deficiency by nourishing nerves. That connection between Vitamin B and nerves was one doctors struggled to make. Cansun explained, doctors told us, “There are so many vague symptoms like numbness, tingling, tiredness, etc., that my patients complain about. I never thought that could be connected to nerve issues.”

They built new brand hallmarks and a stronger visual foundation, focusing on elements that will be recognizable in absence of the brand and let them own a new category of nerve care. 

Then, sales and conference teams invited doctors in to feel the struggles of patients. They used simple tools – like gloves or brushes – to create high experience moments, including feeling a tingling in the hands or struggling to button a shirt. Once the doctors had those experiences, it was much easier to connect them to the specific questions and worries heard from their patients. 

A sampling of results: 65% sales growth in Brazil over three years; 33% in India; 64% in Philippines.

About the Author:

As Managing Director of Innovation and Insights for Syneos Health Communications, Leigh is responsible for building and scaling a global team of healthcare experts who together help life science leaders better understand the complex lives, influences and expectations of their customers. Specifically, they uncover actionable insights that fuel empathy and creativity; lead co-creation events that let marketers learn from peers, trends, and new possibilities; and help clients identify the most valuable and useful new customer experiences to create.

Leigh has worked with Fortune 1000 companies to craft their digital, mobile, social and CRM strategies for nearly 20 years.She’s worked for category-leading agencies in retail, public affairs, B2B technology, and higher education. Prior to moving to Syneos Health Communications, she held several leadership roles at our largest agency, GSW.  There, she founded an innovation practice fueled by the zeitgeist and spearheaded digital and innovation thinking across the business.

Leigh has taken a special interest in complex healthcare products that can change lives in meaningful ways. She was recently a strategic lead on the 3rd largest launch in pharmaceutical history: Tecfidera. Before that she had keys roles with Eli Lilly Oncology, Abbott Nutrition, Amgen Cardiovascular, and Eli Lilly Diabetes.

A critical part of Leigh’s work is trends and new ideas. Every year, she convenes a group of trend watchers from across our global network to identify the shifts most critical to healthcare marketers. This year, she led over 250 experts to experts to focus on the most important changes in the commercial, consumer, marketing, digital and healthcare landscapes. (See reports at

Leigh is a sought-after writer and speaker. Recognized as one of the most inspiring people in the pharmaceutical industry by PharmaVoice and Top 10 Innovation Catalysts of 2017 by MM&M, Leigh also was recognized  as a Rising Star by the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) for her overt passion, industry thought leadership and significant contributions in new business, strategy and mentoring.