Rebranding in the life sciences.

In the last issue, I covered steps 1-5 in the life science marketing rebranding process. These first five steps are:

  1. Identify the audiences for your life science marketing efforts.
  2. Understand your sector, audiences and decision drivers by conducting research.
  3. Audit your competitors life science marketing efforts and then use what you learn as a yardstick to audit your own marketing efforts.
  4. Determine your life science marketing UVP (unique value proposition) and position. As an option, you can choose to develop multiple positions to test later in the process (step 8).
  5. Determine your life science marketing archetype and “tone of ” As an option, you can choose to select multiple archetypes to test later in the process (step 8).

Now let’s look at the remaining steps.

rebranding in the life sciences

Figure 1. This diagram describes all ten steps in an ideal rebranding and repositioning process for your life science marketing efforts. Each of the steps relates to one of the five components of the Marketing Mechanism of Action: Position, Brand-story, Touchpoints, Audience and Environment.

Step 6: Build your brand-story to distill and articulate a unique position for your life science organization

Your brand-story is the distillation and articulation of your life science marketing position into public-facing marketing communications. The primary function of your brand-story is to translate your business strategy and position (private) into accessible verbal, visual, tactile, auditory etc. life science marketing messages (public) that can be clearly understood by your external life science audiences.

There are many components to your brand-story, including your name, tagline, corporate identity, messages, fonts, look and feel (design style), image treatment (e.g., we are going to use soft-focus black-and-white images only), archetype and specific images. Your brand-story is the distillation and articulation of your position into public-facing marketing communications. 

Given all these diverse components, creating your brand-story to drive life science marketing is not a trivial undertaking. Every aspect of your brand-story should work together to communicate the attributes you want your life science audiences to associate with your organization, products or services. The creation of your brand-story is typically the remit of your life science marketing strategy and design team, which can be internal or external to your organization.

During repositioning and rebranding, it is common to use external strategy and design resources. There are many reasons for this.

  • First, for internal teams that have built or maintained your existing brand-story (sometimes over many years), it’s often difficult to adopt an unbiased viewpoint about the changes needed in your life science marketing strategies and tactics.
  • Second, internal resources frequently lack the diagnostic tools to identify the pertinent issues from among all the issues that surface during a repositioning and rebranding effort—that is, to separate the signal from the noise.
  • Third, once these life science marketing issues are identified, internal resources seldom know how to harness them in the most effective way possible. To provide just one example, internal resources are not often familiar with the most effective ways to coach internal teams from other functional areas (I’m thinking of scientists in particular) about how to think about and make the many decisions that arise during repositioning and rebranding efforts.
  • Fourth, internal resources have more experience in maintaining a brand-story and developing touchpoints than they do in creating new brand-stories that are designed to articulate a new position in a compelling manner. This lack of experience in creating new life science marketing brand-stories can mean that many of the skills required for these efforts are not present in internal teams.

These are just a few of the reasons that external life science marketing strategy and design resources are often utilized during a repositioning and rebranding effort. Of course, these reasons don’t mean that you can’t use an internal team, but caution is advised.

One advantage that internal teams may have is a deep understanding of your organization’s individual circumstances, including the competitive landscape. Prior experience with the life sciences in general and with your specific sector can shorten the learning curve and result in more effective marketing solutions. For this reason, make sure that you’re working with experienced resources, whether they are internal or external to your life science marketing team.

As you develop your brand-story, it it is important to ensure that the result meets multiple criteria:

  • Appropriate to your life science sector
  • Appropriate to your life science audiences
  • Of high quality
  • Able to carry your public-facing communications for years without looking tired or out-of-fashion
  • Unique

You can read more about the importance and the creation of a life science marketing brand-story by clicking the prior links.

Step 7: Conduct message testing research as you reposition/rebrand your life science organization for maximum life science marketing effectiveness

It’s not enough to think that your life science marketing brand-story fits you pretty well. You must ensure that your revised position and brand-story will resonate with your life science audiences. You can simply guess, which carries with it higher risk of getting it wrong, or you can confirm this with research that determines which position, which archetype or which message is most important, believable and compelling to your audiences—as well as which position, which archetype or which message would be “most trusted to handle the challenges my company faces” and which “would be easiest to do business with.” Any insight from research must be used to finalize your marketing strategy, that is, your UVP, position, archetype and brand-story, including messages and tagline. 

Without feedback from your life science audiences that provides the answers to these questions, it will be difficult to know what’s working and what isn’t. There are many types of research you can do, to answer many types of questions, and there are many ways to do this research. You can read more about getting feedback from your audiences by clicking the prior link.

The important thing is to get curious about what your life science marketing audiences think, and conduct the research in ways that give you clear answers to your questions.

Once you have received these answers, it is important to fine-tune the components of your position and/or your brand-story so that it is as important, believable and compelling as possible to your audiences.

Research often reveals new insight—that’s why we do research, after all. Any insight you gain must be used to finalize your life science marketing strategy, that is: your UVP, position, archetype and brand-story, including messages, tagline, etc. Usually this finalization involves making small changes, but sometimes the research results can be surprising enough to require major shifts. You must adapt your life science marketing strategy based on what you have learned, and then you must finalize it.

Step 8: Finalize and document the rebranding of your life science organization for maximum life science marketing effectiveness

Your life science marketing strategy and the public-facing expression of that strategy should be so solid that it can last for quite a while without major changes. Your position should not change for many years; your brand-story should not change for years, and your touchpoints can change more frequently.

Components of your life science marketing How often these life science marketing components should change
Position Almost never. Think about this as a change that might occur “once in a decade,” assuming that the environment or your offerings don’t change drastically.
Brand-story Very seldom. Think about this as a change that occurs only once every several years.
Touchpoints  As often as necessary. Think about this as a change designed to meet changing conditions. The channels can change, even as the expression of your brand-story remains consistent.

Figure 2. Different components of your life science marketing will have different lifespans. Baring any unforeseen changes in strategy (such as acquisition) or competitive environment (such as significant competitive action), the lifespans of your Position, Brand-story and Touchpoints are listed here.

As you put the final touches on your life science marketing strategy, it is important to define and document it clearly. Your strategy will be useless if it does not become a shared map for your entire team. Your archetype is a perfect vehicle to help this sharing process; I find that an introduction to your archetype and the ways to use it helps foster substantial understanding of and alignment around your life science marketing strategy across your internal teams.

Some clients have created a video for internal consumption, one that clearly defines the attributes of the selected archetype and shows how this should take expression in various life science marketing touchpoints. Video can be a great tool to communicate complex ideas quickly.

Step 9: Build your touchpoints

Now (finally!) it is time to create the life science marketing touchpoints that will convey your new position by expressing your brand-story. The first two touchpoints typically created are your web site (because of its importance and reach) and your tradeshow booth (because of the importance of a particular show on the calendar). Sales collateral and email campaigns soon follow. Of course, the steps and the order will depend upon your individual situation. The first two touchpoints typically created are your web site (because of its importance and reach) and your tradeshow booth (because of the importance of a particular show on the calendar). 

I urge you to add your sales presentation to the list of life science marketing touchpoints that you develop early. Keep in mind that updating your sales presentation does not involve only swapping your old title slide for a new one. Your sales presentation is where your new brand-story will be revealed to your primary audiences in a non-anonymous way. (This is unlike your website, which will be introduced to a wider audience, most of which will be hidden behind the anonymity of the Internet.) Your messages, your tone of voice, your archetype, and your unique value, encapsulated in your position, should come through in your sales presentation loud and clear.

I’ll be writing about sales presentations in a future issue, but here is one tip: don’t start your presentation with a recitation of company facts, figures and history. You should start by inspiring your audiences with a compelling statement or story that focuses on benefits. The story you choose to tell and the resulting benefits should be tailored to the individual circumstances of the prospects sitting at the table with you. You can weave company facts and figures into your presentation as you go, but you’ll lose your audiences’ attention and drastically decrease the effectiveness of your presentation if you begin with a company history—most of them are boring and your audiences just don’t care.

No matter which life science marketing touchpoint you’re working on, your brand-story will be the common element throughout. You need to ensure consistency, and this is where the documents that you prepared in the previous step will come in handy.

Step 10. Introduce your rebranding to your audiences, internal and external

Now that everything is ready, it’s time to introduce your new position and brand-story to the world.

You should introduce this to your internal team first. This is really your most important audience. If you don’t get them aligned, your internal team will be conveying inconsistent messages to your external audiences, and it will be impossible to present a clear position and brand-story to the marketplace.

Introduce your life science marketing strategy first. Don’t confuse the introduction of your new position (the core strategy) or brand-story (the articulation of that strategy) with the introduction of new touchpoints (the expressions of your brand-story). Introducing and creating alignment around your strategy is Don’t confuse the introduction of your new position (the core strategy) or brand-story (the articulation of that strategy) with the introduction of new touchpoints (the expressions of your brand-story much more important than introducing some web site or tradeshow booth. Many of your internal audiences just won’t care about your new trade show booth (most employees don’t go to trade shows, after all). But they will be very interested in the strategy and the core of what your organization stands for. And they’ll be even more interested when you point out that in today’s marketing environment, every employee might play a role in communicating to one or more of the different audiences that every company has. Given that they play such an important role, it is crucial that everyone is aligned around a common strategic vision.

Both your life science marketing introduction plan and your introduction activities should separate the presentation of what you stand for (your position and your brand-story) from the act of starting to use your new touchpoints.

It’s possible that the two will be separated in time—in fact, you don’t need to have any of your touchpoints complete before you introduce your new position and brand-story.

You could, for example, introduce your new brand-story with only a new corporate identity. Hold an “all-hands” meeting with employees, project your new corporate identity on a large screen, and talk about what this identity stands for and how it represents your position in the marketplace, which is part of your unique value.

Then discuss the expressions of this idea by revealing the schedule for rolling out the touchpoints. “We’ll have new business cards in three weeks, the new web site is going live in eight weeks and of course, we’ll make a big splash for the public at the tradeshow in three months.”

The introduction of the core life science marketing strategy to your internal audiences (“Here is what we stand for, and here is how that takes shape in our public-facing corporate identity, messages, tagline and touchpoints”) is the important thing to convey—much more important than the introduction of new touchpoints (“Hey, sales can now use a new brochure, and by the way, we’ve got a new tradeshow booth”).

As long as you introduce your strategy clearly, you can choose the timing relative to the introduction of your new touchpoints. Your touchpoints might not be ready yet (as in the example above) or they could be ready and be revealed all at once, simultaneous with the strategy. The latter way is harder to manage (in part because you’re trying to keep everything secret as you prepare all the different components) but makes more impact. The former makes less impact, but individual components will be ready for introduction sooner.

Look back and reflect on your life science rebranding efforts.

The introduction of a new brand-story and new touchpoints can be a very busy time. Before you get completely caught up in life science marketing implementation, it’s worth taking just a moment or two and considering the following questions: What did you learn? What surprised you? What would you do differently if you were going to do it again?

When I’ve asked that question of life science marketing teams, the answers tend to form two clusters. First, respondents indicate soon after they launch their new position and brand-story that they wish they had conducted more research to better understand their markets and their audiences’ acceptance of their messages. More research lowers your risk of getting your position and brand-story wrong. Most people who have been through the rebranding process indicate that they wish they had done two things differently: first, conducted more research and second, taken more care in introducing their new brand-story to their internal team. 

Second, they indicate that they wish they had taken more care in introducing their efforts to the internal team. This second answer doesn’t tend to show up for several weeks, which isn’t really surprising. It will take a while for your internal team to start to use the new position and brand-story, and this is where any lack of training will show up as inconsistencies in usage. Take it from me: it’s easier to take a little time and train them right the first time than it is to go back and try to retrain them, after they’ve already started to (mis-)use your carefully crafted elements.

I urge you to learn from these answers. Don’t scrimp on research or on the effort necessary to introduce your internal team to your new position and brand-story.

If resources are constrained, where can you cut your life science marketing rebranding efforts?

If you’re operating on a limited budget, and you have to cut something from your life science marketing rebranding process, skip step 2 (understanding the market sector) rather than step 7 (message testing with your audiences). Of course, skipping either step brings risk with it. If you skip step 2, you run the risk of not understanding your markets completely before you begin your repositioning and rebranding efforts. If you skip step 7, you run the risk of going to market with an unproven position and message.

In essence, the message research you do in step 7 can act as a partial replacement for the general research you would have done in step 2. Having been involved in hundreds of rebranding projects over the decades I’ve been in business, I believe that most organizations have a better understanding of the general aspects of their sector than they do of the specific attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of individual audience members. For most organizations the risk of skipping step 7 is much higher than skipping step 2.

Conclusion

Over the last six issues, I’ve tackled one of the most important topics in life science marketing: rebranding.

In Vol 7 No 1, I examined the terminology of branding and rebranding. The word “brand” has four contradictory definitions; I used the Marketing Mechanism of Action to provide clarity on this and other terms: position, brand-story, touchpoints, image, and campaign. I pointed out that in most instances, life science organizations need to refine their position before they refine their “brand.”

In Vol 7 No 2, I discussed the many causes that would give rise to a conversation about repositioning or rebranding a life science organization. These can be categorized according to the components of the Marketing Mechanism of Action (environment, audience, touchpoints, brand-story and position). There are a few factors that should give rise to a conversation about repositioning and rebrand, but typically don’t. I discussed the benefits of repositioning and rebranding.

In Vol 7 No 3, I outlined the steps to take when assembling a rebranding task force, and stressed that it is important to drive the conversation upstream when discussing rebranding and repositioning by focusing on strategy rather than tactics, and benefits rather than features. I outlined two simple questions that you could ask your employees to help determine if repositioning was necessary. After considering attributes and roles of team members, I discussed timing, and concluded that if you are going to reposition and rebrand, there are very few valid reasons to delay.

In Vol 7 No 4, I outlined the repositioning and rebranding decision process by providing a flow chart to guide you through the topic, “Is it time to rebrand?” A series of questions guides you to one of five endpoints of varying complexity, from “no action is needed” to “you should first reposition and then create a new brand-story.”

In Vol 7 No 5, I outlined the first 5 steps in the repositioning and rebranding process.

And in this issue I complete the list by detailing the final 5 steps.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series on rebranding in the life sciences, and as always, I welcome your feedback, your questions and your comments.