Your brand (your brand/story) plays a crucial role in your sales success in life science marketing
Your brand (what we’re calling your brand/story) and your sales success are directly connected.
Here’s how this connection works: Your brand/story articulates your unique differentiation (your UVP) and is then expressedand promoted through your touchpoints (such as your website, your tradeshow booth, etc). Based on the impressions gathered from those touchpoints (some that you can control and some you can’t) your audiences create an image in their minds about what your organization stands for. This image will affect your audiences’ attitudes, beliefs and even their behaviors.
In this sense, your brand/story is the crucial link between your marketing and business strategy and your tactical touchpoints, those points where your audiences and your organization touch, such as your website, your trade show booth, a conversation with a salesperson, an email blast, a webinar, a whitepaper, etc.
Your audience will assemble the impressions and the messages that they receive from these touchpoints into their own image of your organization. So there are two aspects of your brand/story that are crucially important. First, your brand/story must clearly articulate your position (which we’re assuming for the sake of this discussion meets the seven criteria for a strong position: clear, unique, authentic, sustainable, important believable and compelling). If your brand/story does not articulate this position well, your ability to influence the image your audiences build of your organization is severely diminished.
Second, your brand/story must be consistently expressed through your touchpoints. If one touchpoint conveys one particular message (e.g., precision or attention to detail), but another conveys a different message (e.g., imprecision or lack of attention to detail), the audience will be confused, or – more likely – neither message will sink in, leaving the audience to ascribe to you any impression they choose.
Your audience has a lot of control over the image they choose to build of your organization. But when your audience chooses their own impression of you because your brand story does a poor job articulating your position, or because your marketing touchpoints have done a poor job expressing your brand/story, your marketing will fail.
Research shows that your brand/story does matter in life science marketing.
Many scientists are extremely doubtful that a brand will affect their own behavior. They believe themselves immune to marketing’s effects. But there’s a great deal of peer-reviewed research that has shown that no one is immune to marketing.
If you’d like to read more about this fascinating topic, this newsletter summarizes some peer-reviewed research that shows that even subliminal (!) exposure to a corporate trademark does indeed affect behavior, under conditions that are not at all unusual.
So, let’s assume that a brand/story can affect attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. What are the components of a compelling, effective brand/story? And how do you create one? That’s what we’ll cover in this issue.
Communicating your life science organization’s brand/story
Your brand/story is the connecting link between your internal marketing activities (setting strategy, choosing a unique position, etc.) and your external promotional activities (touchpoints such as your trade shows, your web site and your content marketing).
The main job of your brand/story is to translate your business strategy and position (private) into accessible verbal, visual, tactile, auditory etc. messages (public) that can be clearly understood by your external audiences. Your brand/story should be the common element of all your touchpoints.
A brand/story has many elements. It is composed of verbal, visual, tactile, auditory and olfactory components. There are emotional and rational layers. The interplay of these elements can be complex. Great brand/stories are not built overnight; they can take years to develop.
Let’s look at the three components and the two layers of life science brand/stories.
The three components of life science brand/stories in life science marketing
Brand/stories communicate on many levels, including through verbal, visual, tactile, auditory and other channels.
Verbal channels include aspects of your brand story such as:
- The name of your organization
- Your tagline
- Your messages (such as the body copy on the home page of your web site, or the text in your email blasts)
- Your content (more about this in a little bit)
- Anecdotes or stories you tell about your organization
Visual channels include:
- Your corporate identity (your symbol and/or your logotype)
- Your corporate colors
- Your corporate typographic choices.
- The images your organization uses consistently. These can include photos, images or shapes. Brand/stories can create a unique impression by choosing a type of image (photos or illustrations), the subject matter (e.g., people, equipment, etc), and the style of the image, such as the point of view and the technique used (for example, always shot in black and white, brightly lit, head on shots of people), among other factors.
- The layout and “style” your organization uses consistently.
Tactile channels include:
- Environmental cues
There also are auditory and olfactory components but they are less important for life science marketing than the verbal, visual and tactile components. Because many people mistakenly believe that decisions are only driven by rational thinking processes, many brand/stories put excessive emphasis on the verbal components, and ignore the role that the visual or tactile elements play in a brand/story.
Though the auditory and olfactory channels are not typically emphasized in the life sciences, it is important to remember that tactile, auditory and olfactory experiences can play a large role in creating a strong impression of your brand/story. Any one who has ever unpacked an Apple product (tactile), heard a TV commercial featuring an Intel processor (auditory) or walked by a Cinnabon store (olfactory) will understand what we mean.
The two layers of your brand/story in life science marketing
In addition to the verbal, visual and tactile components, there are two layers to your brand/story: rational and emotional. The emotional layer is much more important that many people realize. Research suggests that decisions are made primarily in the non-rational areas of the brain (the neo-cortex).
Inspiration, the second stage in the buying cycle, is a prime target for the emotional layer of your brand/story. But the emotional layer can be scary for marketers, particularly marketers with lots of technical training and a tendency to overemphasize the rational approach. But emotions can be powerful influencers, and aesthetics, of course, is the language of feelings.
Given this complexity – rational and emotional layers and verbal, visual and tactile components – how do you create an effective brand/story?
The answer: Design and creativity. These are the ways to bridge the gap between strategy and execution. But not just any wild and creative idea will do.
We need to harness creativity in the service of business goals, with well-managed and focused design. Raw creativity is common in most people; well-managed creativity is not. Learning how to harness creativity in the service of Design can take years, just as it can take years to learn how to harness creativity in the service of Science.
In the words of Marty Neumeier, author of The Brand Gap, “Execution – read creativity – is the most difficult part of the branding mix to control.”(Neumeir Page 75). Accounting is a discipline that most scientists gladly turn over to an expert. Design also is a discipline – particularly when it comes to creating and managing your brand/story – that also must be turned over to an expert.
The new channel in communicating your brand/story in life science marketing
Despite the complexity of all these layers and components, there is a relatively new, and very important aspect of your brand/story and that is the “content” for which your organization is known.
Thanks to search engines and web browsers, your brand/story can be now be expressed and consumed easily by your audiences via valuable, unique content that you publish. This is called content marketing, a vital component of your marketing mix. We have written about content marketing for the life sciences extensively here but the importance of content marketing warrants special attention in this issue.
When many scientifically trained people hear the words “content marketing” they think of peer-reviewed journal articles. While it is true that the peer-review process was one of the very first examples of content marketing, relying only on peer-reviewed articles does not take advantage of all the benefits that content marketing can offer your brand/story.
Content marketing is an incredibly effective method of communicating your organization’s unique position. Why? The content you develop acts as a magnet, drawing your prospects to you and encouraging them to give you permission to begin a dialog. If your content is truly built around your unique position, each piece of content helps articulate your position further, deepening your hold on your chosen position. Over time, this content can become a competitive barrier to entry.
Many marketers do not yet think of life science content marketing in this deep and fundamental way. The majority of life science marketers are not using content marketing to the extent they could to help their organization gain traction.
Harness the emotional power of your brand/story with anecdotes
One type of content that has yet to receive much formal attention from most life science marketers is an “anecdote.” These are a great way to bring your brand/story and the underlying values to life for your audiences.
The CRO Quintiles has long told the story that the company got started by Dennis Gillings doing biostatistics on his kitchen table while working on the faculty of UNC. This story was meaningful because it conveyed the idea that Dennis Gillings was smart enough to do the work himself and it contrasted the “humble beginning” with the listener’s knowledge of the “large finish,” that is, the large growth that Quintiles has experienced. This anecdote communicated something about the organization and its values.
Another story that Quintiles told during the early years (when the number of employees was less than 50) was originally related to me by a C-level executive. Her staff (primarily programmers) wanted to put some fruit in the break room as an alternative to all the vending machine offerings (carbs, anyone?).
The programmers got permission to sell fruit in the break room and when they did so, the executive was surprised to find the fruit arrayed in rows and columns: red apples, green apples, oranges, each in its own column. She said she would have gotten a nice bowl and arranged the fruit on display, and when someone took a piece of fruit, she would have rearranged the fruit in the bowl.
The executive proudly pointed to this row-and-column array of fruit and said, “But then I realized that this is how our employees view the world.” She went on to say that this mindset is exactly why people engaged Quintiles, because this systematic approach was built into the way line-level employees would be treating customers’ valuable data.
This story became an effective part of Quintiles’ sales pitch. They told this to prospects to demonstrate the authenticity of the organization’s claims of “data integrity” and “systematic”. Consequently, in one of Quintiles’ early brochures, there is a picture of red and green apples in rows and columns on a table. No other CRO would have put a picture of a grid of apples in their brochure, which is an indication of just how authentic and unique this part of their brand/story was.
This story of the apples was powerful, simple, emotional and authentic. It conveyed to prospects some of the unique differentiators that Quintiles had chosen to embed into their brand/story. Anecdotes and other forms of content marketing can be a perfect way to communicate part of your brand/story to your audiences.
What anecdotes are commonly told about your organization? What attributes do these convey?
Your brand/story and the link to successful sales.
Your brand/story is the link between your business strategy and your tactical touchpoints. If you get your brand/story right, you can help cement an image in the minds of your audiences that aligns closely with your chosen position. This will help them create an image that they see as important, believable and compelling, which is the first step in influencing their attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. Get it wrong, and you’ll struggle to be seen as unique. Fortunately, you can get help to ensure that your position is translated clearly and concisely into your brand/story. This is one place where hiring a professional consultant makes sense.
- Your brand/story is the crucial link between your marketing and business strategy and your tactical expressions (your touchpoints).
- There are two aspects of your brand/story that are crucially important.
- Your brand/story must clearly articulate your position.
- Your brand/story must be consistently expressed through your touchpoints.
- The concept of your brand is changing. It is no longer based on interruptions, private, one-time and focused on “push.” Instead it is permission-based, public, continuous and focused on “pull.”
- Marketers are shifting their nomenclature from a static “brand” towards a dynamic “story.” Since “story” puts too much emphasis on the verbal component of your organization’s communication, we’ll use the nomenclature “brand/story.”
- Your brand/story’s main job is to translate your business strategy and position (which is private) into accessible verbal, visual and tactile messages (which are public) that can be clearly understood by your external audiences.
- Your brand/story should be the common element of all your touchpoints.
- Your brand/story has multiple components: verbal, visual, tactile, auditory and olfactory.
- Your brand story has multiple layers: rational and emotional.
- Creativity and design are the link between your organization’s strategy and your brand/story’s execution.
- Content marketing is an important component of your brand/story.
- Anecdotes can be important content, as they can bring forth the emotional layer of your brand/story.