What can you do to guide the discussion about rebranding in the life sciences?
If the subject of rebranding comes up in your organization, you should guide the discussion away from a specific solution and specific deliverables. Your discussions will be better focused, more beneficial and less jargon-filled (and therefore more clearly understood) if you emphasize instead the benefits you desire and the goals you want to achieve. Of course, you should make your goals SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely).
Rather than allowing the conversation to drift downstream—e.g., “We need a trade show booth that will really make people stop and have a conversation,” or “I’m tired of using the same old colors so we should select something beside blue and green” —drive the conversation upstream. You can do this by focusing on strategy first, and taking the opportunity to reassess your position and your unique value proposition. Are you unique? How do you prove this? How do your audiences perceive you? This can be a great time to bring public-facing employees into the conversation, and to review any recent audience research.
If you don’t have a position that meets the seven key criteria (clear, unique, authentic, sustainable, important, believable and compelling) then narrow the focus of your initial discussions to just your position. (You can read more about crafting a position here and here. During these discussions you may continue to call this a rebranding if you wish—the language doesn’t matter. Get the conversation focused on benefits and goals. For example: “Our audience needs to understand exactly what makes us unique (the benefit) so we should develop a system (the goal) that enables all our marketing and sales personnel to understand it clearly and communicate this consistently and plainly (the feature).
How do you know if your life science position is appropriate?
To keep your discussions on track, it is helpful to have information (and data), rather than just opinions. Here is one exercise you can use to demonstrate to your team that a re-positioning (and rebranding) is in order. Send an email to your public-facing personnel (such as marketing, sales, tech support, etc.) and ask them the following questions:
- What do you think makes us unique and valuable to our customers? List the most important reasons, but no more than three.
- How different is the value we provide from that of our competitors, on a scale of one to ten—where one is “we’re identical to our competitors” and ten is “we’re completely unique, the one and only”?
Of course, it would be more valuable to have comprehensive research into your prospects’ and customers’ opinions, but this can be very expensive, so I’m offering this exercise as a low-budget way to get some data that can inform your discussions.
If the answers to the first question vary significantly, then your position fails to meet the first criterion of the seven listed above: clarity. If your position isn’t clear internally, then it won’t be clear externally.
If the answers to the second question average anything less than eight, then your position fails to meet the second criterion: uniqueness.
If your position isn’t clear or unique, it should be obvious that you need to reposition. Once you refine your position, you can distill and articulate your position in a clear brand-story (that is, you can rebrand).
What attributes should your team have to undertake a successful rebranding in the life sciences?
If you conclude that it’s time to assemble a rebranding task force, then you should be thinking about roles and attributes. What attributes should your team have, and what roles must team members fulfill?
Your team must possess several attributes to undertake a successful branding effort. Without each of these, the challenge becomes much more difficult.
Vision and breadth: The team should have a vision that is larger and more inclusive than just a narrow parochial view. An example of this type of narrow view would be a member of the team who works in finance and so demands that the entire rebranding process meet some arbitrary ROI metric.
Wise decision-making. Rebranding your life science organization requires the ability to make reasonable decisions (defined as a decision for which you have a reason) coupled with the ability to stick with your decisions. In my experience, the two most common reasons for rebranding failure are:
- Delays in making decisions
- Inconstancy in the decision-making process (today we’re going north, tomorrow we’ll be convinced that south is the only possible direction).
Wise decision-making can take many forms. It might include being as inclusive as possible by getting input from many team members, while not letting a single voice dominate the resulting direction. Wise decision-making might include adopting an attitude of “done is better than perfect”— that is, it is better to make a reasonable decision in a finite time frame than it is to try to make the perfect decision while taking forever to make it, because the market won’t wait forever.
Discipline: The team needs the discipline to take the long view, to stay on task and not get distracted by the latest hot trends or irrelevant input from someone with a loud voice.
Leadership: Your rebranding effort will be easier if you have leaders who can guide your team—listening, encouraging, building consensus, or redirecting as the situation demands. Of course, leadership does not have to come from the person with the largest salary, so I’ll address the roles you need on your team a little later in this whitepaper.
Insight: Your team must have insight into the mechanisms of high-performance marketing in general and specifically into your particular market sector and your specific audiences. For many teams, real audience insight is lacking—which is why timely research is so important.
Experience: Your team should have extensive experience in life science marketing, at the very least. Ideally, several members of your team will have participated at some point in their careers in a rebranding effort led by an external firm.
Courage: The courage to make unpopular decisions is essential. Change is hard for many people. After rebranding your life science organization, it can take a while for some people to become used to the results. Some people may remain critical forever. Giving these people the ability to “veto” your efforts will doom you to a “lowest-common denominator” approach—completely lacking distinctiveness or character. If you haven’t understood this by now, I’ll state it plainly: rebranding your life science organization is hard work and, judging from the poor state of life science marketing, it is easy to get it wrong.
Rebranding your life science organization is not something that most marketers go through everyday. It can be difficult to keep up with the latest thinking on rebranding, or to gain (and keep) perspective on your individual situation. For this reason, it is worth considering using an outside resource.
Should you use outside resources to assist you with rebranding your life science organization, product or service?
I’ve tried very hard to write this entire series of whitepapers from a position of teaching you to do-it-yourself. Anything else is too self-serving for my tastes; I prefer to focus on creating thought leadership that is focused on education, not sales.
Having said that, sometimes the best and most honest advice I can offer is to seek professional help. Rebranding and repositioning is one of the very few areas where an outside perspective will be extremely valuable in almost every instance. Companies that try to rebrand without outside assistance will have trouble with:
- Overcoming historical baggage that can place too much emphasis on the past (where the organization has been) rather than the future (where the organization should be going).
- Getting input from internal factions that put short-term interests ahead of long-term success, and keeping those factions from having undue influence, all while guiding them towards making constructive contributions to the process.
- Avoiding decision-by-committee that waters down the resulting solution to the lowest common denominator—completely lacking distinctiveness or character.
- Balancing input from all the diverse voices that must be involved in any successful effort, and coupling that with the ability to distinguish between the loud voices and the important ones.
- Recognizing and addressing the hard truths that often surface during discussions that involve serious “soul searching.”
Outside resources can provide an objective, experienced, neutral assessment of the situation. This experience and objectivity are vitally important to ensure a good and useful outcome. In addition, some employees are unable to judge the true merit of a proposal or idea when it is presented by another employee. In these cases, an outside resource can be seen as the one “without a dog in the fight.”
What roles should be present on your rebranding task force?
We’ve talked about the general attributes that are important for your rebranding task force. Now let’s talk more specifically about who should participate in the rebranding effort and who you should assign to your task force. It’s essential to choose (and winnow) carefully. If you have too many voices—and lack the methodology to incorporate and prioritize their input—you run the risk of creating a “lowest common denominator” solution. There are 7 roles that must be filled by (it should go without saying) active, engaged participants.
Company leadership. You project will fail without the attention and approval of the C-suite and the board of directors. The person or people in this role must help the team move forward, and make decisions when there is an impasse. One of the most important early decisions concerns the composition and the staffing of the rebranding task force.
Strategy. This role might (or might not) be filled by the same person or people who fill the company leadership role. It is crucial to have a strategic voice on the task force, because a repositioning typically involves a refinement or focusing of strategy or direction for the organization.
Customers and prospects. I am not suggesting that you ask customers to join the effort, but the voice of the customer should be brought into rebranding process. One way you can understand their opinions is by conducting well-targeted and carefully crafted research. This information will provide breadth and completeness.
Customer-facing personnel. Another way you can hear an echo of the customers’ voices is to listen to your own people: personnel with direct customer contact, such as sales, customer service, those who provide technical assistance, installers, trainers, etc. This second view of the voice-of-the-customer provides in-depth texture and nuance. Both the breadth and completeness of information directly from customers and the texture and nuance from customer-facing personnel are vital in any rebranding effort.
Implementers. You need people who are responsible for day-to-day marketing activities to participate in the rebranding process. They’ll bring invaluable experience and—since they’ll be responsible for carrying the new position and brand-story forward—they can provide a practical perspective throughout the process.
Finance. This functional area is often overlooked: “Oh, we don’t need them because we’ve already set a rough budget,” or “They’re too busy.” Really, they’re too busy to participate in ensuring the future success of the organization? Rebranding your life science organization has many implications, often requiring significant financial investment. The only way to have a unified approach to this multi-faceted challenge is to have people with financial responsibility in the room.
Process leadership/guidance. This is where responsibility for leading the task force through the rebranding process lies. This is the role that is most often filled by an outside resource. Typical criteria for selecting a consultant for this role include, but are not limited to:
- Experience in your industry or sector
- A track record of completing similar projects
- Ability to lead a diverse team through difficult conversations
- Chemistry with the task force
Optional roles that you may want to consider assigning to the task force include IT and operations.
A note about priority
All participants in the task force must give top priority to your rebranding effort. If they don’t, you’ll have meetings and activity without purpose. I’ve seen time and again that the group that does participate will try to make decisions in the absence of some members, only to have those decisions vetoed at some later point, leading to rework, delays and increased expense.
When to rebrand in the life sciences, now or later?
If you’ve had your discussion about rebranding your life science organization, and you’re ready to undertake a rebranding and repositioning effort, when should you begin? There is one rule of thumb and two caveats that will guide you in making this decision.
First, the rule of thumb: if you are going to rebrand, you should do so sooner rather than later.
There are several rationales for this rule of thumb. The first is based on a single assumption: that you’ll have more audience members in the future than you do right now. This might happen because your organization grows, or it might happen because your reputation spreads, or for any one of a number of reasons.
Ideally, each of these audience members will have a different image of your organization after the rebranding effort than before. (Otherwise, why bother?) Teaching them this new image requires resources (effort, time and money) on your part and attention on their part. You want to spend as little of your own resources as you can, and waste as little of their attention as you can, so you should undertake this effort when your audience is as small as possible; that is: right now.
In other words, you want to teach the smallest audience possible, and begin building a new image in the minds of the audience as quickly as possible, so you must rebrand as quickly as possible.
There are other rationales for rebranding your life science organization sooner rather than later, including:
- First-come, first-served—claiming your position acts as a deterrent to your competitors trying to muscle into the same space.
- You’ve got many audiences—one of the factors in a search engine’s algorithm is longevity, that is, the age of the content on a web The sooner you declare your new position, the sooner search engines will recognize this as your position, and the more entrenched you’ll be in their algorithm.
- Lost time is lost money—the sooner you position your company correctly, the sooner you can start to harvest the results.
There are only a couple of caveats that might interfere with the strict application of this rule of thumb:
- Are there upcoming milestones, such as a merger, acquisition, or a change of leadership? Plan around those. It might make sense to delay (or accelerate) a change in the marketing of your organization to accommodate the timing in other aspects, such as financial or political.
- Is there a major event, such as a tradeshow? This might affect when you launch your efforts publicly. (But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should delay getting started.)
- When the topic of rebranding your life science organization comes up, guide the discussion upstream towards repositioning. Focus on desired benefits and goals, not tactics.
- Check the validity of your position by asking a couple of simple questions of your public-facing employees: What makes us unique? How different is our value, on a scale of one to ten?
- Your team must have multiple attributes, including: vision, wise decision-making, discipline, leadership, insight, experience, and courage.
- Rebranding your life science organization is hard work. The use of outside resources can help your team achieve the desired perspective, gather input from multiple factions, balance the urgent and the important, and avoid decision-by-committee that could result in a lowest-common-denominator approach.
- Roles on your task force should include: company leadership, strategy, the voice of the customer, customer-facing personnel, implementation, finance and leadership of the process.
- Once you’ve decided to reposition or rebrand, you should do it as soon as possible.
Making the decision to rebrand in the life sciences.
In our next issue, I’ll provide a decision tree that can guide you in making the decision about whether to rebrand or not.