As mentioned last week, the ideal brand position can be thought of in formulaic terms; it is all the “valid” brand positions, less the positions that are occupied strongly by competitors, less those that are unimportant to your target market(s).
So how does one go about solving that equation?
Start with determining all of your company’s valid brand positions. To do this, you need to answer the question: “What are all the positions which we could validly claim?” The answer is dependent on a multitude of internal factors – everything from company vision and mission, company culture, down to the details of how you do business. This process therefore requires a holistic internal investigation, usually gathered via internal documents and from team members. It should be structured like a market research project with a qualitative and quantitative component and both primary and secondary research. Qualitative secondary research is a good place to start, where you can assess things like mission and vision as well as company processes that might give insight to potential differentiators. Qualitative primary research is generally next, with interviews of influential employees to get their opinions of what the company or brand means to them. A quantitative survey of a larger set of internal participants (presuming the organization is large enough to merit it) is helpful to validate and clarify the results of the qualitative research.
Next, look to see how your competitors are positioned. Start with analyzing how they are attempting to position themselves. At most basic, this could be done with an attribute analysis using their publicly available brand messaging. (More details on how to perform an attribute analysis can be found here.) If you want to dig even deeper, put yourself in the customers’ shoes and try to interact with your competitors to determine how they present themselves. This is difficult to do impartially by yourself, so it’s best to have neutral participants interact with the competitors on your behalf and report their experiences to you. Ask yourself: how does it feel to interact with the competing companies? What kind of experiences are they providing and directing customers towards?
After determining the competitors’ projected position, you also need to determine their actual position. This asks the question: “How are our competitors perceived by the target market?” If your market is large enough there may be data on the competitors in published market studies, but generally this requires your own primary market research. Qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys will provide the data to analyze your competitors’ actual positions.
Lastly, you need to determine which of the valid brand positions are actually relevant and important to the target market. Similarly to determining the actual competing brand position, this requires speaking with the target markets. To save on cost and time, these two questions can be answered simultaneously. As with any market research project, what questions you ask and how you ask them is extremely important such that you obtain unbiased answers.
With all the values on the right of the equation known, you can now complete the equation and determine your ideal brand position.
The next step is to translate the results of this equation into tangible elements which will align with the desired position. We’ll discuss this in our next post.
Branding is an abstract concept, and a lot of marketers have different ideas of what the act of branding really means from both a strategic and tactical perspective. At BioBM, we have a very clear vision of the role of corporate branding efforts, and we want to share that vision with you so you can move towards improving your own brands.
One quick note: For the purposes of this discussion we’ll refer to corporate brands only, with the understanding that divisions or product lines can have their own brands as well, and that everything we mention here applies to any such brand.
First, we need to understand what brands and brand value really are. A brand is basically the abstract notion that is your company. It is all of the things which the perceptions of your company are effectively attributed to. Brand value (which is distinct from brand equity – how much your brand is worth in money) is the collective opinions of your brand. It is the resulting sum of all the experiences which customers and / or other stakeholders have had with your brand. Given these definitions, we can see that on an individual level, the brand and brand value can differ from person to person. There can be no singular thing that is the brand in its entirety. It is therefore also useful, in various situations, to consider the brand or brand value from the standpoints of different groups of stakeholders. For instance, your target market may have a different perception of your brand than do your employees or the public. For the purposes of this conversation, we’ll assume that you, like most marketers, are primarily concerned with the perceptions of the target market.
Considering that the brand value is held externally, and that it is a matter of perceptions, marketers cannot create brands in the way that they create other marketing assets (a brochure, for example) or the way that your company might create a product. What we CAN do is try to influence those perceptions, and corporate branding efforts should be seen as an effort to do just that.
When marketers think about “creating” a brand, what they really need to do is think about brand positioning – aligning the brand for the maximum probability of success. Successful brand positioning requires two things. The first is differentiation. If your brand is not differentiated from competitors, then it will have a difficult time demonstrating comparative value and, therefore, outcompeting the competition. The second is alignment. Your brand needs to be aligned with your vision and values, and it also needs to be aligned with the customers’ values and goals. If your brand is not aligned with your own values, then you will have a difficult time staying true to the brand positioning and providing experiences that reinforce it. If it is not aligned with the customers’ values, then your claimed position will not contribute any perceived value to your brand.
To understand what your brand’s ideal position is, you need to understand three things. First you need to understand what brand position you would like to claim and could validly claim independent of any external considerations. This requires an understanding of your vision, your goals, your core competencies, and other company-centric factors. We then need to understand competitors’ brands: both their desired brand positions and ACTUAL brands. In other words, we want to understand both how they want their brand to be perceived and how it actually is perceived by the markets in question. Lastly, we want to understand the customers within your target markets. What are their goals and values? What do they value in a company?
Where your potential brand positions overlap with the customer values with minimum competition from other brands, you can identify your most opportune brand position!
Your brand, therefore, isn’t something that should simply be conjured up by locking a few creative types in a room for a few days. Your ideal brand positioning can be expressed as a [non-quantitative] mathematical equation! It’s a rational endeavor in addition to a creative one, but the rational elements of positioning are arguably more important, as they’ll inform you how you need to be positioned in the first place.
Next week, we’ll discuss how to determine the three necessary “variables” in order to to solve this equation.
Captivating your audience should be priority #1 for high-level marketing communications. Before you get into the details of whatever it is you want to say, you need to make sure that you have the audience’s attention, will maintain it for as long as possible, and that they’re in a mindframe that’s most conducive to a positive outcome. Unfortunately, very few life science brands actually do so.
The most common statement type of introductory statement made is a “what” statement. Companies explain what they, their brands, or their product lines do, then get into how they do these things. That makes for a very drab and uncompelling introductory statement. Instead of initially focusing on what you do, focus on why you’re doing it. (You can find some examples of “what” statements and “why” statements pertaining to brand messaging in a previous post here.) It’s far easier for people to psychologically buy into a reason than it is for them to buy into a thing.
Frame your reason – your “why” – as a statement which the audience can agree with. You want them to think – consciously or otherwise – “I agree with this.” That will start the audience off on a positive note which will make them more receptive to subsequent messages. Presenting a statement which indicates that your goals or values are aligned with those of the audience can be a good method of doing so, but it is certainly not the only method.
For that additional kick which will really make your message powerful, frame your message in a way that can draw sincere emotion from the audience. This can be a difficult task and one that requires considerable creative talent. It’s more of an art than a science, but understanding the underlying motivations of your target audience is an important starting point. You need to frame the message around something that they care about.
Off the top of my head, I can recall one good example within the life sciences – certainly in no small part because it was in the Boston metro stations for a while, but also because it was a genuinely powerful message. It was an Ion Torrent advertisement and it read “Everyone Deserves a Chance to Break Through.” This meets the three criteria explained above. It is a “why” statement; it tells you that Ion Torrent is doing what they’re doing to provide people with the opportunity to make scientific breakthroughs. It prompts agreement; If you agree that everyone does deserve that chance (a fair assumption on Ion’s part) then you can get behind the idea. Lastly, it is emotionally powerful. It might invoke slightly different things for different people, but the underlying idea is one of scientific success – the empowerment to make groundbreaking scientific discoveries. Unfortunately, I don’t think Ion used this much beyond their initial ad campaign. Their current slogan – “Sequencing for All” – doesn’t have the same power to captivate (largely because it lacks that critical third factor – emotion).
By making a compelling “why” statement, making it something the audience can agree with, and making it emotionally powerful, you’ll be able to heighten your audience’s receptiveness to your forthcoming messages, increase their effective attention span, and begin to create brand value right from step one. Use these statements as centerpieces of your high-level marketing communications and watch your marketing effectiveness improve.
Creating quality content takes a good deal of effort. When marketers endeavor to create marketing content, it is generally created for a particular purpose. That’s usually out of necessity – marketers identify a need for content then design the content to fill that specific need. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, to increase the returns on your hard work creating it, marketers should try to maximize the value derived from any piece of quality content. There are a number of ways to extract more value from your content, and here are a few ideas:
Think about different ways your audience might want to consume content. Just because you packaged a great idea into a compelling article or paper, for instance, doesn’t mean that everyone wants to read it. Perhaps you could package it into a short, instructional video. (Videos are more frequently engaged with than documents anyway.) Perhaps you could host a webinar when you’ll discuss the idea but also allow for Q&A with the audience. Or, if your paper is fairly long, perhaps you could cover some of the same content across a number of blog posts. By repackaging content, not only are you creating more opportunities for your audience to be presented with the underlying idea, but you’re accommodating more of your target audience’s preferred content consumption methods as well.
Don’t publicize it only once. Pushing your content more than once is perfectly okay, especially if you can safely assume that a large portion of the audience is not seeing any particular post and / or the method of promotion is non-intrusive. With social media, for instance, and especially with Twitter, most people only see a small percentage of what gets posted. If you post the same content a few times, chances are that few people will actually see the post more than once. In interruptive formats such as email, you can get more mileage from your content by using it in different ways. For instance, you might promote a piece of content in a newsletter, but also send it out as a follow-up in a drip campaign to leads who have shown interest in the topic. Or perhaps a topic that was a headline in one newsletter would be a footnote in a later newsletter on a similar topic.
Consider using media publishers to reach a larger audience. Publishers understand the value of content, and many welcome contributions to their publications. If you have content that would be relevant to certain publications, and those publishers have an audience which would be relevant for your company, then reach out to those publishers. Contact the editor and see if they would print your content. Many times they will, since this is a win-win scenario. They get free content and you get free publicity. Just note one thing: if you have already published your content elsewhere (for instance, in a white paper or your blog) then be sure to tell the editor that. Some publishers won’t accept content which has been published elsewhere, and failing to disclose that can ruin your relationship (or worse).
If you’re generating quality marketing content, you’re almost guaranteed to be putting lot of effort into it. See that your efforts are better-rewarded by getting more value from the every piece of quality content that you create.
When considering where to advertise, marketers frequently – and rightfully – consider how targeted / relevant the audience is. However, marketers often fail to consider the commercial intent (or “intent to purchase“) of the target audience within that channel. Because of this, you end up with a lot of advertising campaigns that are ineffective, deliver a poor or negative ROI, and are often not tied to results.
A subjective, qualitative measure of commercial intent (which is usually all that is required) can be easily determined by considering the likelihood that a viewer will be considering a purchase at the time of viewing the ad. For instance, someone who has just searched for a product is far more likely to intend to make a purchase than is the average person reading an article on a news website, even if it is a highly relevant, sector-specific one.
We see this mis-targeting most frequently in demand generation campaigns, particularly “awareness” campaigns. Awareness campaigns seek to target as much of the target market as possible in order to, for all effective purposes, tell them your product or service exists. These campaigns are highly ineffective because they neglect the commercial intent of the target audience. (Side note: They also tend to be uncompelling, unoriginal, and unmemorable.) The implied message is: “We have this product / service. Please go buy it.” However, the channels used for awareness campaigns, which are typically print and / or digital display ads through relevant publishers, have a low commercial intent. People who are not in the market for your product / service will forget about your advertisement long before any future recognition of needs develops.
These described channels, which are highly targeted but have low commercial intent, are far better suited for brand-building campaigns. For audiences who may have a need in the future, you want to make a positive, lasting impression such that your brand will be viewed favorably when a need does arise for the customer, therefore making the customer more receptive to your messages and more likely to favor your solutions. (Focusing on creating experiences is one such way to do this.) In other words, with channels having low commercial intent, you need to play the “long game.”
Conversely, for channels with high commercial intent, you want to play the short game. If a customers are imminently considering a purchase, they are actively filtering information for relevance in search of information to guide them through their buying journey. Campaigns designed to build brand value are likely to be filtered out and, even if they are not, may not have time to make enough of a collective impression on the customers to influence their purchasing decisions (the latter point is more true for products with a short sales cycle than those with long ones). For those customers, you want to present a message about their need and / or your solution in order to demonstrate relevance to their buying journey.
The next time you’re developing an advertising campaign, in addition to the relevance of the audience consider commercial intent. Remember the following:
• Channels where the audience has a high intent to purchase are good for demand-generation campaigns.
• Channels where the audience has a low intent to purchase are good for brand-building campaigns.
You’ll end up with more effective campaigns.
A lot of focus goes into optimizing marketing activities. That focus is important and very helpful in numerous ways, but all the A/B testing and conversion optimization in the world gets flushed down the drain as soon as a customer actually contacts your company. Not nearly as much effort goes into improving customer contacts. Perhaps this is because person-to-person interaction inherently has some degree of variability, or because sales and support staff are expected to be highly competent at customer interactions, or because people don’t realize that customer interactions can be optimized. Regardless of the reason, life science companies need to realize that customer communications can be improved, and there are a number of definite (and often relatively easy) ways to do so. We discuss some below.
Improve Response Times
There have been many studies which have shown that lead qualification rates drop off massively over time. Even a matter of seconds has been shown to have a significant impact in qualification rates. A study of lead response behavior found that 36% of inquiries were not responded to at all within a two-week time frame. Yet response times are something which companies have direct control over.
Technology can be used to assist to some extent. Automated lead distribution – and in particular automated lead distribution to multiple agents simultaneously – has been shown to have the greatest impacts on conversion rates, with rates over twice as high as when there is no automation to assist in lead distribution.
If it really comes down to it, hire more people. Considering that leads which are contacted within an hour are 7 times more likely to be qualified as those which are contacted even one hour later, the cost / benefit ratio seems to be well worth it. Seven times more qualified leads not only means about 7 times as much business (or at least something in that ballpark) but it also means that your sales staff’s time is seven times more efficient when contacting leads.
It’s not only about sales, however. Support inquiries are equally as important, as they contribute significantly to overall customer experience which in turn affects customer loyalty. This should not come as a surprise.
Arm Your Customer-Facing Employees with Information
Too often, the quality of a customer interaction is most directly related to the experience of the person the customer is interacting with. Newer employees are often less knowledgeable and therefore are often not as well suited to assist the customer. Training can only help so much.
To combat this problem, ensure that you maintain a well-curated body of knowledge for your sales and support teams. Having ready access to information, such as past issues and their solutions, will your customer-facing employees more efficient, reduce the time it takes the customer to get a good answer, and improve the customers’ experiences when interacting with your company.
Provide Consistent Experiences
Although not as important in terms of short-term demand generation, the consistency of customer experiences plays strongly on brand perception. Inconsistent experiences, even if they are largely positive, can have a disruptive effect which conflict with each other rather than building on each other. To some extent, customer interactions should reflect a degree of branding.
I’m not recommending that life science companies take it to this much of an extreme, but a great example of branded customer interactions comes from Mailchimp, which has voice & tone guidelines for customer interactions. While I find the Mailchimp example to be a bit much – certainly far more defined than what many life science companies would need – it’s both reasonable and practical to set general voice and tone guidelines while also ensuring consistency in finer details such as email fonts.
When thinking about optimizing your marketing, think beyond the standard channels and consider improvements in actual customer interactions. While these activities may traditionally be the sole responsibility of the sales and support business areas, they may not often take as structured an approach to improvement as marketing commonly does, especially when considering aspects such as customer experience and branding. By making improvements to actual customer interactions, customer satisfaction, customer retention, and opportunity conversion will all increase while delivering positive brand value as well.
Take a look around – at the marketing efforts of your company, your competitors, and others in similar life science markets. I’m sure you’ll still find a lot of marketing efforts centered on building awareness. Quite frankly, efforts to simply build awareness are a waste of your audience’s attention. Awareness only imparts one very basic form of knowledge: the knowledge that something exists. You can do so much more with your audience’s attention.
Awareness campaigns are almost inherently neutral. Sure, you may be offering a solution that someone needs, but aside from the facts contained within the communication there is nothing positive or negative about it. Instead of focusing on building awareness, focus on creating experiences. Experiences can be used not only to impart knowledge, but also to build confidence. They leave a positive feeling with your prospective customers that translates into positive brand value for your company.
Experiences can be simple. Focusing on experiences does not necessitate any additional complexity in your communications. To upgrade an awareness communication to an experience, give some thought to the emotion you want to invoke within your scientist-customers and craft your communications with that emotion in mind. Don’t simply focus on what you are doing, but why you are doing it.
Ideally, customer experience will be something which is defined and shaped across all your customer touch points. Any experience is more effective when it is in harmony with the other experiences that your company provides. Considering that your brand is, in effect, the sum of all the experiences that it provides to others, those experiences need to be planned and defined to ensure that they build on each other rather than conflict with each other. In the race to win customers’ hearts and minds, the brand which consistently provides the best experiences will win. The next time you need to create awareness for your company or its products and services, think about how you could instead create an experience for your potential customers. The result will be more effective communications.