Life science companies frequently underestimate the value of building a strong brand. This is perfectly understandable – very often these companies are started by scientists or engineers and simply don’t think in terms of abstract marketing principles. Branding, however, is extremely valuable almost regardless of the product or service your company offers. The benefits and value created can be truly transformational, but care must be taken to establish a brand that facilitates such value creation. In this post, I’ll briefly go over why strong branding is valuable, provide some tips and thinking points on how to build a brand, and give you a ideas to actively leverage your brand once you’ve built it.
Why Branding is Valuable
As they are in their scientific endeavors, life scientists are notoriously cautious in their purchasing. They appreciate and value methods and materials that have been tried and tested. They want tools that have been published. They appreciate antibodies that have worked for the lab next door. Not everything relies solely on prior use, however. Scientists also give a degree of trust to certain companies and product lines, and this trust can be built and retained through the creation of a strong brand. Branding is the carrier of who you are or what your product is. Having no reputation at all is almost as bad as having a bad reputation, and having an indistinguishable brand is effectively the same as having no reputation. Without reputation, you cannot have that trust and confidence that is vital to life scientists in their purchasing decisions. In order for the “I’ve [seen / heard about / used] that before” factor to kick in, life scientists need to recognize your product or company (or, preferably, both). Along the same lines, strong branding helps you attract repeat business and creates a memorable impression among your customers. Once you’ve built a reputation and captured the customer’s loyalties, you’ll be able to spend comparatively less on marketing in order to maintain your market share.
Branding also gives your company a way to stand above competition is a crowded or commoditized marketplace. I won’t get into this because we discussed this in greater depth in a post about how branding can help companies avoid commoditization of their products a few months ago.
Establishing your brand as high-value also allows you to fetch a higher price for your products. By building your reputation through consistently high quality, value-added support and customer service, knowledgeable and helpful sales staff, etc., the overall higher value to customers that your brand conveys can be captured through higher pricing. Similarly, the higher perceived value will effectively entrench you against competition with weaker branding.
Branding also is used to establish market leadership. By “market leadership” I do not mean the company with the greatest market share, but the one with the greatest influence and respect within the marketplace. Being a respected leader offers you many strategies that may not be available otherwise and improves the effectiveness of many customer and business-to-business interactions.
Building Your Brand
When building a brand, you want to do two things: 1) make sure that your brand leaves an impression, and 2) control what that impression is. Obviously you want a positive impression, but your brand can be so much more than that. Think about how can your brand stand out from the rest. Let it express who you are, what you do, what your values are, or any combination of those. Use your brand to help captivate your audience. Does Thermo, for example, have a strong brand? Of course, but don’t think that putting your name in bold red letters on your products will be captivating. Thermo has the advantage of having those bold red letters in many places in labs across the globe and being a household (or perhaps I should say “lab-hold”?) name. Small life science companies will almost never have that benefit. Stop and think about what you really want your brand to say about you and creative and interesting ways to express that.
Once you have an idea of how your branding should take form and be expressed, be sure to express it across platforms. Your logo, advertising, website, product design, packaging design – incorporate your brand wherever you can to build and carry your reputation. Just be sure to express it consistently – you don’t want to send mixed messages to your target market.
Leveraging Your Brand
So you’ve built a strong brand, or are at least on your way. Researchers in your market know who you are and you’ve gained some trust and repute. Now what? As previously mentioned, a benefit of strong branding is being able to comparatively spend less on marketing to maintain your market share, but my suggestion would rarely be to simply benefit from the cost savings (unless you really need the cash). Instead, look at ways you can utilize your brand to continue to build your market share. I have mentioned just a few potential ways below.
One such way is to cultivate brand champions. Find who your best and most loyal customers are, those who hold your company and products in very high regard, and build personal relationships with them. You can get testimonials from them, use them as referrals, ask them to beta test new products, etc., etc. Be nice to them and they’ll spread the word of your company and products to those around them as well.
Having strong branding allows you to be far more effective at crowdsourcing. Be being a trusted, reputable brand, more customers will be willing to actively engage with you. Want to know what features you should add to your next product? Ask your customers. People want to be part of something important, and a strong brand makes you look more important to the crowd.
Perhaps one of the most powerful ways of leveraging strong branding is to put your weight into determining the future of your market. If you are becoming one of the most trusted brands in your space, you get to be the pioneer. If you’re developing innovative new products or technologies, put the weight of your brand behind it. You can even attempt to define future standards (for a familiar example outside of the life sciences, you can look at how Sony almost single-handedly killed the HD-DVD when it released the PS3 with a Blu-ray player).
Building a brand is not a simple task nor one to be taken lightly. Your brand will effect how customers everywhere perceive your products and your company, and the perceptions you build in the eyes of scientists will not easily be changed. Take care to purposefully build your brand and you’ll be able to grow your market share and realize a value that is difficult for your competitors to shake.