“But our product performs better than the competitors! And it performs better for almost all applications!”
This is the cry of one too many life science companies (especially smaller companies) who thought that an incremental improvement – and a bit of advertising money – would be all that’s required to outcompete their competitors. This company probably has a few loyal customers, but they’re just not seeing the market penetration that they thought they should. After all, with a superior product you should be able to capture a leading share of the market so long as the market is aware of it, right? In theory, yes. The problem is that it’s not so simple, and the real world doesn’t work like it should in theory.
Every one of us demonstrates this on a regular basis. Think about the last time you went to the grocery store. Are you absolutely certain that each brand which you’re buying is the best one? Maybe for a few kinds of items, but almost certainly not for all. The brands all claim to be the best, but not many people have sampled every brand of food which they eat, or compared them all for nutritional value and other important product attributes. Chances are you don’t even look at all the brands – you just get what you’re used to getting for many things. While it’s true that decisions for scientific purchases are more deliberate than picking up a gallon of milk, there’s still an emotional component to any purchase. Whether you know it or not, your customers are ascribing value to each brand they come in contact with (often subconsciously).
For the company in the scenario outlined at the beginning of this article, the unrecognized problem is that unrecognized, confounding brand effects may be holding them back. In other words, the company is getting “out-branded”. Even though their product is an improvement to competitors or alternatives, and from a strictly rational decision standpoint customers should be driven to their product, the benefits are not enough to overcome emotionally-based perceptions. This problem is especially prevalent for small companies and for products early in their life cycle when there may not be independent validation of the products’ value.
Causes of Brand Problems & Potential Solutions
As we’ve discussed previously, brand value is effectively the sum of all the experiences that stakeholders have had with your brand. For any given customer, it’s the sum of all of that person’s experiences. (Note that these experiences can be second hand as well; a discussion about a brand with a colleague is still a brand experience.) This value manifests itself as an emotional attachment and resulting brand preference, which may be conscious or subconscious. If the sum of the customers’ experiences with the competitors’ brands have been more positive than their experiences with your brand, they will show a preference (perhaps even an irrational preference!) for the other brand which will hurt your demand. If you’re a small company or working with a new brand, it may be that they simply don’t have enough experience with your brand. For larger companies, it is more likely to be that the customer experiences which you have provided have been poor. Each of these issues call for a slightly different approach…
For small companies / new brands, you need to give your market a reason to engage with you in the first place, and unless your product / service is truly revolutionary, the product alone won’t be a compelling enough reason due to the aforementioned brand effects. This is not a conundrum, however. Consider ways to deliver value that is not intrinsically linked to your product but still relevant to it; in other words, ways in which you can provide value to your target market that do not require buying anything from your company or using your product. Creating valuable content has become the default method of doing so, however many markets are suffering from content overload; there is simply too much content being produced considering the audience’s limited time. If that is the case, consider developing resources rather than content.
For more established companies with a larger existing reach and customer base, work on improving existing experiences. Note that “experiences” could mean anything from support to digital user experience to the actual quality of your products. Diagnosing poor customer experience within a large enterprise is well beyond the scope of this discussion, but improving customer experiences is critical for any life science company which is underperforming. While fixing the root cause of your poor experiences is critical, creating customer resources can be a helpful way of getting customers to re-engage with your company and create positive brand value.
You don’t have to do something wrong for your market to be biased against you and hurt the demand for your products. Brand value is not an absolute. It is an relative, emotional thing, and the most important aspect for your company’s performance is how well your brand value stacks up against your competitors’. By focusing on customer experience, you’ll help to grow that brand value over time and shift market preferences in your direction. Along with those preferences will come more sales.