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Writing the prescription for healthcare branding

Markus Saba (MBA ’93) couldn’t find the right book to use in his Healthcare Brand Plan class at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.

“Marketing books didn’t capture healthcare’s unique conditions and nuances,” says Saba, professor of the practice of marketing and executive in residence for the UNC Center for the Business of Health, “and healthcare-oriented books focused on the science but didn’t capture brand building.

So, he filled that void by writing the book he needed: a branding roadmap customized for healthcare.

Saba held numerous marketing leadership positions in global and healthcare marketing during his 25 years with Eli Lilly and Company, and brought that expertise back to UNC Kenan-Flagler to teach.

He partnered with Hilary Gentile, McCann Health global chief strategy officer, to write “Brand Plan Rx: The Marketer’s Guide to Building a Thriving Health and Wellness Brand.”

They drew on their decades of work in launching major pharmaceutical and wellness brands to provide a step-by-step formula for creating and launching a strong, effective brand plan.

“The book is derived from the Healthcare Brand Plan class that I developed at UNC Kenan-Flagler and fine-tuned over the years,” says Saba. “While the manuscript was with the publishers getting edited, my class used the draft manuscript. They gave us feedback that we incorporated. They were our test market – real-world market research.”

He thanked his students in the book’s acknowledgement: “They provided us with vital insight and an understanding of what worked and what didn’t; how best to explain concepts; and what constructs, models and examples were helpful, and which ones to leave out.”

The book filled an industry void, too. “We realized that there was no simple go-to manual for our industry, no one source that teaches how to write a brand plan by detailing the best processes and practices and sharing real-world success stories and failures specific to health and wellness,” says Saba. “They were asking for the art-and-method of brand planning consolidated into one reliable source specific to their industry.”

The book shows how to write a brand plan for the healthcare industry based on two key tenets:

  • Choice: If you can’t summarize a brand plan on one page, you haven’t made the tough decisions to drive success. The only way to obtain that simplicity is by making clear choices.
  • Cohesion: It all has to fit together. A “golden thread” should connect the choices you made with your strategy and tactics.

An endorsement for the book is from Rolf Hoffmann (MBA ’87), chairman of the board of directors of Biotest and a board member at the UNC Center for the Business of Health. “Finally, a book that considers all the distinct factors of marketing in the healthcare industry. Practical, to the point, entertaining and educational,” he wrote.

The two first met at UNC Kenan-Flagler when Hoffmann interviewed and recruited Saba to Eli Lilly. “I worked for Rolf during my first assignment at Eli Lilly,” says Saba. “I remember the interview in the basement of Carroll Hall in 1991 like it was yesterday.  He’s been a friend, supervisor, work out buddy and mentor for 30 years.”

Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global, also endorsed the book: “How do you market a successful brand in today’s constantly changing healthcare industry? Markus Saba and Hilary Gentile have spent decades confronting that challenge. In ‘Brand Plan Rx,’ they show us how to use a simple and powerful framework of inspirational storytelling.”

“We show how to apply traditional marketing principles to the healthcare space so that your brand will make a marked difference in people’s lives,” says Saba.  According to feedback from students and industry, this Rx (prescription) is ‘just what the doctor ordered’ for healthcare brand managers.