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A Review of Corporate Websites in the Pharmaceutical industry
Tone of voice, design choices and user experience are fragmented and often inspired by best practices from the period between 2009 and 2011. There is a big opportunity for industry players to step up and embrace modern, digital communication.
A Review of Corporate Websites in the Pharmaceutical industry
by Mads Krogh Petersen
Vertic’s review of 12 corporate websites showed an overwhelming internal focus at pharmaceutical companies as they communicate to the outside world. However, a few players have taken significant steps towards walking- the-talk on patient centricity and broader inclusion of the remaining stakeholders in the healthcare eco-system. Tone of voice, design choices and user experience are fragmented and often inspired by best practices from the period between 2009 and 2011. In conclusion, there is a big opportunity for industry players to step up and embrace modern, digital communication.


This is how we did the review. The corporate websites have been evaluated on the basis of an expert opinion of the overall experience. The team from Vertic reviewed the corporate websites of J&J, Pfizer, Roche, GSK, Novartis, Sanofi, Astra Zeneca, Abbott, Bayer, Merck, Lilly and BMS.

The evaluation is of the company’s website itself not of micro-sites or social presences. The review was designed to uncover how each brand is expressed through the design, copywriting and concept of each corporate website. It was designed to evaluate how a viewer might receive the brand experience from a few minutes browsing each website. While a detailed analysis of all site content was done, the ratings are not an audit of all available content within each site. This means that while a site might have a rich amount of CSR content available, if it is not immediately clear and prominently presented, the site will be evaluated as not having foregrounded that CSR content.

The responses to the evaluation were mapped into a matrix.

The X-axis illustrates the continuum from an internal focus to an external focus. The external focus aligns with the general move in the industry towards patient centricity. It considers voices from the outside world integral to the communication by the pharmaceutical company. The internal focus end of the continuum represents the historical position of the “omnipotent” pharmaceutical company. Achievements within drug development, statements from the CEO, share prices and similar, are prioritised by the omnipotent pharmaceutical company.

The Y-axis represents the user experience. When it comes to the user experience, we face a continuum from treating the corporate website as a faceless, content archive for disparate information to a modern approach with a single-minded, clear focus and a visually charged, human voice.

It is by combining our evaluation of X and Y, we can get a picture of how well the sites are doing from a User Experience and Pharmaceutical Communication point of view. The top right quadrant represents the desirable state in Vertic’s view point.
The analysis of the different corporate websites shows a bias towards an internal focus with a somewhat dated approach to design. Abbott, GSK and Novartis stand out from the crowd by featuring a combination of a modern experience and/or a move towards an outward focus. In the following, we walk through the unique trademarks of corporate website placed alongside the Focus Continuum.

Primary Elements on High Internal Focus Corporate Websites
Primary Elements on Mid Internal Focus corporate websites
Primary Elements on Some Outward Focus Corporate Websites
The more outward focused sites feature fewer different items on the homepage. They are not just more outward focused, but more focused in general.
In the following, we walk through the unique style choices of corporate website placed alongside the Dated to Modern Experience Continuum.

Style on Highly Dated Experience Corporate Websites
Style on Somewhat Dated Experience Corporate Websites
Style Modern Experience Corporate Websites
In the case of GSK and Novartis, a highly modern copywriting style helped earn them a more ‘modern experience’ rating than a site such as Lilly.com which featured a more modern design but very conventional copywriting and content.

The Laggards

If you take a look at the corporate websites towards the left of the matrix, you will find that they fundamentally have the same structure. They contain a matter of fact description of the following themes:

- Research & Discovery: Innovation

- Determination

- Change people’s lives for the better through therapies and caring

- Being responsible

- Diversity

- Give back to communities & the world

The Laggards are most concerned with making content available about themselves and addressing a historical view on “all the items that need be on a corporate website”. They put less emphasis on how they communicate, how they engage the stakeholders on their premises, and how they make it easy and attractive for stakeholders to decode the unique essence and intent of the brand.

The Winners

Abbott and Novartis, which are the clear winners in this evaluation, also cover the themes of the Laggards. But in stark contrast to the remainder, they do so through the lens of a creative concept and in a manner that connects those activities with the world outside rather than coming across as blatantly self-serving.

A creative concept is not just a design or copy style. It is a theme that defines everything from design to copywriting to the selection of what topics to talk about on the website. A decision to feature patient stories, or foreground CSR or innovation is not a creative concept — it’s HOW these things are expressed.

While some of the other sites have great copywriting and good stories to tell — GSK is a notable example — they lack a clear theme that binds the stories together and paints a clear picture of the brand. You can read stories on gsk.com or roche.com and be engaged, but still not come away with a strong feeling of what the brand stands for and how it is distinct. Most of the content on the sites is fairly similar and interchangeable.

Abbott and Novartis, however, don’t just tell nice stories. They tell specific stories, in a specific way in order to give the audience a deep understanding of what they stand for — what their brand DNA is.
“Realising our potential by helping others realise theirs”

Abbott is focusing on energy as a core driver for ideas, innovations and results. Its imagery feels more in tune with a sportswear brand like Nike than a pharmaceutical site. Its sports nutrition products might explain this, but Abbott also features a full range of other drugs aimed at diabetes, vascular issues, non-sports nutrition and animal health. The science is there in all the stories, but the emotional takeout is passion, stubbornness and drive. The site isn’t just informational — it’s instructional — with a number of articles on fitness and nutrition.

They want to give a clear impression that they are not your everyday pharmaceutical brand. They differentiate by using the language of active self-improvement and positivity and consciously positioning themselves alongside brands like Nike rather than their peers. They also are quite self-confident — they’re happy to sing their own praises — which is refreshing — but it’s a balance of “We’re great” with “You can be great.” The energy with which they tell their stories and give advice are what drives interest for their audience.

Much of the content in the site is advice on healthy living: disease detection, fitness, nutrition and living with disease. All of it is presented in a way that feels more like a positive self-help site than a pharmaceutical brand. It comes across as helpful and genuine — not content that has been ‘tacked on’ to a conventional pharmaceutical site to make it feel more patient / consumer-centric.

The stories are personal, energetic and inspiring. Even stories about pharmaceutical innovation are told from a personal point of view and structured deliberately to be exciting.

“Long Live Life.”

Novartis is about the idea that life is an amazing and a fragile thing. People are fallible creatures and can easily be struck down by the smallest thing. Researchers are constantly trying and failing until they find solutions to many human ailments. They create content about the search for cures, the hope for cures and the success stories that give us reason to hope.

The idea that it’s not all about success stories, that researchers fail many times before they succeed, that human beings are such complex things that even a ‘normal life’ is a miracle, and that every one of Novartis’ employees has been touched personally by the diseases they’re trying to cure. The approach is all about making the patient feel closer to the Novartis brand giving a sense of “We’re all human and we’re all in this together.

They differentiate by being refreshingly frank, honest and personal in telling engaging stories about the struggle to solve medical problems. The personal, human nature of the storytelling drives interest by being relatable to the reader.
Unlike Abbott, the creative concept is not immediately apparent in the design. The strength of Novartis’ approach comes through in the copywriting and the contents of its inspiring videos.

Reading the content tells us that Novartis knows there are no easy answers — but Novartis’ staff with keep working until they find those answers.

They focus on their R&D efforts — but instead of writing about it from a factual point of view, or singing their own praises by listing successes, they bring the reader into R&D the process. They are disarmingly honest about the struggles involved in developing new medicines. We are introduced to the people behind the scenes — personally. We understand their drive and their journey and we feel closer to Novartis as a brand. We see Novartis as a company that is made up of people who are fallible just like us — but with expertise and passion to keep working until they find a solution.


Anybody who has ventured this far into this blog article also knows that the industry is under transformation. The pharmaceutical company is no longer omnipotent, but needs to work collaboratively in a network with the industry stakeholders including payers, HCPs, patients, caregivers and the public at large. As a pharmaceutical company you should showcase your intent to collaborate, listen and embrace the views of those stakeholders through your communication and deliver an experience which reflects an understanding and respect of your partners in the industry. Do that through the lens of a creative concept which really shows who you are. And yes, there is a free position in the matrix for anyone who dares.