Coming to America: Can Nordic brand values engage American stakeholders?

 

Journal of Brand Management (2008) 16, 30–39.

Abstract

 

In this paper, we discuss the intersection of business strategy and proactive, self-reflective corporate branding in the Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk. With headquarters in Denmark, Novo Nordisk has 23,600 employees in 79 countries. The company has a leading market position in Europe, key segments in the United States, and strong positions in Asia. Still, the highly, even hyper-competitive, US market remains crucial even for a smaller, more specialised company like Novo Nordisk. American pharmaceuticals are now polling at all time lows in terms of public trust (if we leave out for the moment the exceptional example of Johnson & Johnson (J&J)), and there is a looming healthcare crisis of Type 2 diabetes in the United States as well as parts of the developing world. Can a company that announces ‘growth—but not at any cost’ sustain growth in North America? The question for Novo Nordisk in this market becomes whether there is room for a socially and environmentally responsible pharmaceutical brand that ‘does the right thing’ to differentiate itself from competitors. One of the most respected and recognised of Scandinavian corporations, will Novo Nordisk’s brand values, so consistent with northern European culture, be ‘lost in translation’ by North American stakeholders even while the ways in which global companies come to define and act on brand values and meaning may well determine the future of Anglo-American business thinking? To address these questions, we draw on a multi-year project involving two case studies with the Danish company. Focusing on issues raised by the relationship between Novo Nordisk’s brand strategy in Denmark and its North American subsidiary, we discuss Novo Nordisk’s reaffirmation of its core identity in terms of continuity with its rich heritage in the care of diabetes and its brand platform of ‘changing diabetes’. Charlotte Ersbøll, the company’s Vice President of Corporate Branding, explains that ‘changing diabetes’ emphasises the continuous fight against diabetes and how Novo Nordisk is demonstrating leadership in this fight through action. Novo Nordisk makes for a particularly timely example. We explicitly try to capture the difference, or at times dissonance, between stakeholder relationships in Nordic brands and in the United States. As a logical extension of Danish values, particularly their emphasis on employees and community, the company made extensive investments in a process of internal discovery that was originally conceived of as aligning corporate culture, internal brand identity and external branding. In fact, this process also led to a more expansive and richer concept of the brand with greater potential for alignment with internal and external stakeholders. The strategic trajectory from identity and values to connecting with all stakeholders through a brand has become more sophisticated and is gaining wider acceptance with managers. Yet it is a step many companies avoid to their ultimate cost. This study of Novo Nordisk originates with the Corporate Brand Initiative based at Copenhagen Business School. While the findings of case studies are still unfolding, Novo Nordisk suggests that successful corporate branding is closely tied to corporate culture; corporate branding is cross-functional; corporate branding may be mandated by top management, yet to succeed, executives at the top of a global brand must remain open to creative ideas from global subsidiaries; investment in a brand should be seen as a long-term strategy…

Read it here.

Authors: Mary Jo Hatch, James Rubin & Majken Schultz