In our last issue, we clarified the terminology around the words “brand” (a word I hate) and rebranding. Go back and reread the previous issue if you need a refresher.

There are a couple of points that are important to understand as we move forward.

The word “rebranding” is a red herring. When you hear “rebranding” put your team’s focus on repositioning instead.
  • The word “rebranding” is a red herring. When the conversation turns to rebranding, we should (in almost all cases) really be talking about repositioning. If you’re going to be changing your brand-story (which is the distillation and articulation of your unique position), you should take the opportunity to refine or completely redefine your position. In fact, there are only a very few, rare conditions under which you would create a new brand-story without first redefining your position.
  • Don’t confuse rebranding with the creation of a campaign (which is a series of touchpoints deliberately linked by some common elements, aimed at creating a particular set of results). Creating a campaign does not involve re-positioning the company.

What triggers a discussion of rebranding in the life sciences?

There are many factors that may trigger a conversation about rebranding within a life science organization. As I explained above, I believe the word “rebranding” is a red herring, and we should actually shift these conversations into whether or not a repositioning is needed.

There are five categories of factors to think about in regard to repositioning or rebranding.

I’m dividing these factors into five categories, relating to the environment, audiences, touchpoints, brand-story and position. Within each, there are factors that should give rise to a repositioning discussion, and those factors that might. When I say should or might, please note that I am only talking about starting the repositioning discussion. Once you begin that discussion, you may or may not choose to complete a repositioning.

Here are the reasons that a discussion about rebranding (and repositioning) should, or might, begin:

Environmental factors, such as:

  • Should: Legal action (e.g., the company is forced by a lawsuit to change its name or brand-story).
  • Might: Competitive pressure arising from competitive action (e.g., a larger competitor begins cutting prices aggressively to buy market share in a particular sector, forcing competitors to abandon the sector).
  • Might: Technological shifts that prompt significant changes in the market.

Audience factors (both internal audiences and external), such as:

  • Should: Research with external audiences that reveals that the image of the organization is not appropriate. For example, audiences might be unclear as to what the organization stands for, or might be confused, or might have an image that is damaging to an organization. (This is an example of misalignment #1 in your life science marketing.)
  • Should: Confusion about the organization’s position or messages among internal audiences. (This is much more common than you might think.)
  • Should: A shift in the intended audience, for example, “We now want to target the c-suite in a hospital, rather than trying to sell only to hospital lab directors.”

Touchpoint factors, such as:

  • Might: Inconsistency along the ladder of lead generation. Now, most (and I could plausibly say “all”) life science organizations have some inconsistency in the presentation of their brand-story along their ladder of lead generation. This inconsistency can spring from one of two primary causes. First, most organizations have a complex ladder of lead generation, with multiple rungs and touchpoints, so maintaining complete consistency is very difficult. Second, a lack of marketing discipline can lead to inconsistency; the more lax the discipline, the greater the inconsistency. In either case, once the inconsistency gets severe enough that it retards marketing performance, a decision about rebranding typically arises. (This is an example of misalignment #3.)
  • Might: The need to revise or update an expensive touchpoint. The three most common examples are web sites, tradeshow booths, and—rather surprisingly—signage. All three of these touchpoints are relatively long-lived, have significant visibility, and can involve significant expense.
  • Might: Research reveals that a long-running campaign is losing resonance with the audience.

Brand-story factors such as:

  • Should: Renaming the organization
  • Should: Misalignment between the position and the brand-story. This typically occurs when the position of the organization has been changed, and so the existing brand-story no longer reflects the position of the organization. (This is an example of misalignment #2)

Organizational factors, such as:

  • Should: A merger, acquisition, spinoff or other corporate shift, including creating a new division.
  • Should: The introduction of a new product or service.
  • Should: Entering a new market sector.
  • Should: A change in strategic direction for the organization or for the marketing efforts.
  • Might: A change in corporate leadership personnel. New leaders often want to put their own stamp on an organization, and rebranding is a clear public statement that “there is a new sheriff in town.”
  • Might: A particular business metric reaches a critical point (e.g., declining sales, or decrease in web traffic, etc.).

Figure 1 lists all these reasons, divided into categories across the Marketing Mechanism of Action.


Figure 1. The factors that should—or might—trigger a discussion about rebranding (and by implication, a repositioning) are shown here. 

These are many of the factors that should (or might) start a discussion about the need for rebranding. Sometimes it can be a combination of these factors that begins the discussion (e.g., the need for a new web site plus a worn out campaign plus a specific declining metric, such as sales).

Regardless of how the conversation gets started, it is important to guide the discussion towards the core issue: refining the organization’s position.

What should trigger a discussion of rebranding in the life sciences – but typically doesn’t?

There are a few things that should trigger a serious discussion of rebranding but typically don’t. The most important example is embarking on a new, extensive content marketing effort. This should trigger a discussion of rebranding because content is such a vital facet of the public face of your organization, and content’s importance will only increase over time. The “point of view” and “tone of voice” used when developing and creating content is an integral part of an organization’s brand-story. (For more on tone of voice, see the discussion on archetypes ).

Embarking on a significant new content effort could be a chance to revise or completely redo an organization’s brand-story. This should be used as an opportunity to rethink the organization’s position.

What are the benefits of repositioning and then rebranding?

There are many benefits to fine-tuning your position, and expressing this position in a new brand-story. Organizations that reposition themselves improve their ability to:

  • respond to competitive pressure
  • engage with their audiences (existing or new, internal and external)
  • clarify what they stand for, and the benefits of doing business with them
  • bolster their content marketing efforts
  • reduce inconsistency along their ladder of lead generation
  • correct any one of the four misalignments  that can be prevalent in life science marketing.
  • align their marketing efforts with the strategic direction of the organization
  • enter a new market sector

This list is, of course, incomplete; there can be many benefits of repositioning a life science organization.

What are the disadvantages of repositioning and then rebranding?

There are several negatives that typically accompany a repositioning (and then rebranding) effort. It is important to recognize these ahead of time, and include in your discussions the trade-offs between potential benefits and potential negatives.

Repositioning and rebranding come with negative consequences that must be considered as part of your decision.

Focus: Repositioning and rebranding will change the focus of your marketing efforts. It interrupts the ongoing marketing conversation with your audiences, because it requires that you teach your audiences new things. While this can have medium- and long-term benefits, in the short term your marketing communications will be interrupted.

Time: Repositioning and rebranding takes time. You should plan on the process taking anywhere from two to six months from the time you begin the process. If you count from when you start the conversation, it will take longer. And if you conduct significant research with audiences to understand their perceptions early in the process, a step that is highly recommended, these timelines can be extended further.

Expense: Costs can range widely, based on the quality of the work, the amount of research done, and the complexity of the situation. Costs can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for very large organizations. Regardless of the size of the organization, this should not be seen as an opportunity to cut budgetary corners.

Follow-through: Once you reposition and rebrand, you’ve got to update your touchpoints across the entire ladder of lead generation: packages, printed material, business cards, letterhead, web site, whitepapers, webinars, tradeshow booth, sales presentation, etc. The total cost and timeline for these activities can be significant; this should not be taken lightly.

When should you not rebrand?

Given both the positives and negatives listed above, are there times when you should not reposition and rebrand? Yes, absolutely.

You should not reposition and rebrand if you’re not going to do it right. A half-baked effort won’t help your marketing results. You should not undertake this if you’re not serious.

You should not reposition and rebrand if you don’t have enough resources allocated (time, money or people).

You should not rebrand if you’re not going to do it right.

You should not reposition and rebrand if all you need is a campaign.

You should not reposition and rebrand if your team doesn’t have the correct skills, attributes and attitudes— a topic I’ll cover in my next issue.

You should not rebrand if you’re not willing to consider whether or not your position is properly and appropriately defined. To consider your position, examine it without bias.

  • Is it written down in clear language?
  • Is it well understood by your internal teams?
  • Does it meet the four internal criteria (it must be clear, unique, authentic, and sustainable)?
  • Does it meet the three external criteria (it must be important, believable and compelling to your audiences)?
  • Finally, is your position well articulated in your brand-story?

If your position meets all of these conditions, then you should carefully consider the reasons for rebranding—it may not be necessary. If your position does not meet these criteria, then any rebranding effort should begin with refining your position.


The rebranding discussion is usually triggered by the appearance of one or two of the many factors that I’ve outlined in this white paper. These factors can arise anywhere along the Marketing Mechanism of Action. Once the discussion begins, it is important to move the discussion upstream to include refining your position. As the discussion progresses, make sure you consider both the positive and negative consequences of repositioning and rebranding; the negative consequences can be significant.

In the next issue, I’ll discuss the team that you need to undertake a rebranding effort.