What Pharma Can Learn From Pop-ups

by Sara Petherbridge

What do Air Jordan, St. Ives, and BRANDLESS have in common? Besides the fact that they are three of my favorite brands, all of them have provided their customers with immersive brand experiences in 2018, and I was lucky enough to experience two of them for myself: the “St. Ives Mixing Bar” and “Brandless Pop-up Shop” in New York City. What is a “pop-up” shop, you ask? By definition it’s a short-term sales space for brands or products.1 However, I’ve recently found that “pop-ups” offer consumers much more than a physical place to purchase products. Pop-ups provide an opportunity for a shared, exclusive experience with your brand, leading to increased brand awareness and stronger relationships with your customers. When it comes to developing stronger connections with your audience, shared experiences are the way to go. And they’ve become increasingly popular over the past few years thanks to the rise of e-commerce brands striving for a more physical touchpoint with their customers, and the increased demand from the market for experiences rather than products.2

Pop-ups, when done right, exhibit three specific qualities: shareability, exclusivity, and physical brand immersive experience.

1) Shareability:

In our constantly connected world, did it even happen if you didn’t Instagram or Snap about it? A good pop-up is an experience that consumers can share about socially both while it’s happening and after they’ve left. The more shareable an experience, the more eyes and ears you have on your brand, increasing your awareness scores. But more valuable still is that shareability allows for your brand to bring its biggest fans together in one highly visible place while focusing the narrative (to the extent that social media allows control).

2) Exclusivity:

Although pop-ups are inherently exclusive, I think the level of exclusivity associated with your brand experience should be a strategic decision. While some pop-ups employ exclusivity using location and length of time, others employ exclusivity by offering the experience only to their most loyal customers. The former works well in motivating consumers to consider your product, while the latter strengthens relationships you’ve already formed and helps to convert competitive customers.

3) Physical Brand Experience:

This is the most important piece of the pop-up/brand experience puzzle. As more and more products enter the market, brands are having to find more creative ways to seize attention and connect with their customers in more meaningful ways. In a world of increasing category sameness, the value your brand provides needs to move beyond function, creating connections that last. There is no better way to do that than direct physical touchpoints, engaging senses and emotions.

How we can optimize for healthcare

It’s become more important to provide these value-added experiences to our consumers as their consumption capacity decreases due to the overwhelmingly crowded marketplace. This is especially true for HCPs. A recent article in The New Yorker reminded us that for every 1 hour a doctor spends with a patient, 2 hours are spent doing computer work.3As we vie for their time, each additional opportunity that we’re given to communicate with them becomes more valuable, and each impression you leave needs depth and weight in order to leave a lasting memory. With such limited opportunity to connect, immersive brand experiences offer an effective alternative for creating lasting impressions that build brand equity for the long-term. So, what does shareability, exclusivity, and a physical brand immersive experience look like through the lens of a healthcare brand?

Unconventional convention presence

Some might say a single product convention booth with the latest tech would employ these three characteristics, but I’d encourage them to look a little deeper. Yes, conventions are a great place to host your shared experience—HCPs are already extremely engaged, and conventions are inherently exclusive from a length of time and location perspective. But even in healthcare, a single product focus might not be the best strategy for your brand. Conventions are a great place to employ a physical brand immersion strategy that focuses not on individual brands, but instead highlights your client’s comprehensive collection of products that have collective equity. These portfolio plays carry an intrinsic value of their own (e.g., the pharmaceutical company franchise or the pharmaceutical company’s Diabetes portfolio). When we elevate these umbrella “brands,” we place the newer products within them at a competitive advantage before they even enter the market. Highlighting portfolio brand value beyond single product benefit helps HCPs experience and FEEL that larger value. It creates a solid foundation upon which you can launch and support multiple products. Shareability comes largely from the blending of brilliant creative, in-depth understanding of the consumer, and the strategic application of experience design.

Amplifying the “care” in healthcare professionals

When it comes to patient-brand relationships, there are few touchpoint opportunities outside of the doctor’s office and NPP, both of which don’t allow the brand much direct influence over the narrative. Immersive shared experiences offer an opportunity to elevate the brand’s essence, or purpose, in the mind of the HCP.

Of late, added value in the pharma industry tends to take the shape of patient financial support programs. These programs provide an added touchpoint with the patient and demonstrate to both the patient and the HCP that the brand is committed to helping the patient get well. Expanding upon these programs and physically bringing them to life would provide more opportunities for patient interaction and strengthen the patient-brand relationship already established via the financial support component of the program.

How can we bring a support program to life in a shareable, exclusive, and more immersive way? Exclusivity would be inherent, given that only patients enrolled in the program would have the opportunity to participate in the experience. The simple fact that the brand is providing, or sponsoring, an experience for the patient strengthens the connection between them. But when the experience is emotionally invigorating, that connection is taken a step further through the brand’s association with those strong emotions. Expanding your support program to encompass mental and emotional support during treatment brings the emotional element into the brand-patient relationship that financial support alone doesn’t achieve. A diagnosis often affects patients physically, mentally and emotionally, and brands that can provide comprehensive treatment develop deeper connections with patients. Over time, consistent experiences will continue to solidify that relationship and increase your brand’s equity among your customers.

In the end, an experience provides your brand with someone’s undivided attention for a certain period of time, something that’s become an endangered concept in our constantly connected world. And if you do it right, those 10 minutes can convert to a lifetime of loyalty — not just a “pop-up” experience.


1. https://www.shopify.com/guides/ultimate-guide-to-pop-up-shops/why-run-a-pop-up

2. https://www.ama.org/publications/MarketingNews/Pages/magic-of-pop-up-shop-marketing.aspx

3. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/14/health/hospital-mergers-health-care-spending.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fpolicy