An article in the Journal of Consumer Research, recently discussed in the Harvard Business Review, found that while brands have priming effects slogans often have reverse priming effects. In other words, brands often influence consumers as intended but slogans often cause the opposite effect.
Quoting the HBR article…
[pullquote_left]After participants were exposed to brands associated with luxury (such as Tiffany and Neiman Marcus), they decided to spend 26% more, on average, than after they were exposed to neutral brands (such as Publix and Dillard’s). After they were exposed to brands associated with saving money (such as Dollar Store and Kmart), they decided to spend 37% less than after they were exposed to neutral brands. The brands had the intended “priming” effect.[/pullquote_left]
[pullquote_right]But when it came to slogans, the same participants exhibited the opposite of the desired behavior. After reading a slogan meant to incite spending (“Luxury, you deserve it”), they decided to spend 26% less than after reading a neutral slogan (“Time is what you make of it”). When a slogan invited them to save (“Dress for less”), they decided to spend—an additional 29%, on average. The slogans had a “reverse priming” effect.[/pullquote_right]
The research suggests that this is a result of behavioral resistance to perceived attempts at persuasion. While consumers do not view brands as an attempt to persuade, slogans are viewed as an attempt to persuade and therefore exert the opposite effect. This effect, which was measured in general consumers, is most likely heightened amongst a highly rational and critical scientific audience.
Quick note to our readers: do NOT take this result as an indication that you should use reverse psychology in your slogan. Simply be careful in selecting what your slogan will be and don’t be afraid to get creative.
Not all forms of life science marketing communications should be presumed to serve the same purpose and looked at in the same manner. Indeed, the audience themselves have a tendency to view various advertising platforms differently, and treat advertising on each platform according to their views of it. There are also technical considerations which make some platforms more suitable for branding and others for lead generation. By understanding the factors which come into play and how each method is likely to be perceived, we can align our life science marketing communications to be in line with our overall marketing strategy.
Generally, there is a large gap between digital and print advertising. Digital advertising is far more capable of easily promoting immediate action by allowing the process from advertisement viewing to lead generation and capture to be wholly smooth and uninterrupted. At no point do prospective customers ever have to get up from their computers. With print, calls to action are effectively asking customers to actively go and do something, be it make a phone call, go to a website, etc, and therefore are less effective for lead generation due to that additional motivational barrier. There are exceptions to this, however, as well as things that can do to augment any particular platform’s effectiveness at each. Print advertising, for example, can be made far more effective at lead generation by offering captivating promotions that provide additional incentive to take up a call to action. Digital advertising can be made more effective for branding through providing higher-value messages, such as in content marketing, and by increasing the quality of the advertisement itself (think along the lines of “production value” for movies). Social media marketing is an example of an exception to the rule. The rules of social media are different from most digital marketing and SMM is far more based around content, engagement, and other activities which are usually not geared towards short-term lead generation. Indeed, life science social media marketing efforts too heavily focused on traditional marketing and / or advertising are doomed to failure.
This understanding of various marketing platforms and their fit for different marketing purposes must then be reflected in the marketing communications across each platform. If we are looking for short-term revenues then we want to target platforms more amenable to lead generation and capture and design our marketing communications appropriately. For example, such marketing communications should have a strong call-to-action and, when possible, be directly actionable themselves (such as by being hyperlinked). If you are looking to improve your branding, then the marketing communication should make a broader, more generally positive sentiment about the company or product line, or provide value to the customer in ways that compliment and highlight a company’s competencies and products / services.
While not a dichotomy, many marketing platforms can be scaled based on their utility for lead generation or branding. By understanding the unique advantages of various marketing platforms, life science companies can better utilize those platforms to achieve their goals.
Branding is an important part of marketing in the life sciences, as we’ve previously discussed in this blog. The ability to shape and manage the perceptions of your company in the minds of customers is a powerful thing. Simply having strong branding will certainly help your company in a multitude of ways, but you can do even more and leverage your brand to derive even more value from it. One such way is the cultivation of brand champions.
What is a brand champion?
A brand champion is someone who feel strongly about your brand, understands its message, and promotes it to others. You could say that brand champions are the “stewards” of your brand. While brand champions can be any stakeholder, we’re going to focus on customers as brand champions. Having customers as brand champions is of particular value.
How to Cultivate Brand Champions
Every brand champion starts as an enthusiast. Find customers who like your products and / or brand and have given you good feedback or maybe who your support or sales staff have a good relationship with. Pick customers who can identify with and support your brand values and goals. Once these customers are identified, define and execute strategies that improve engagement with those customers on a personal level. Give them that little bit of special treatment. Once your enthusiasts are engaged, be sure you have communicated the brand values to them. While there are many strategies to perform any one of these steps, so long as they are performed you’ll start creating brand champions out of your customer enthusiasts.
Leveraging Brand Champions
Once you’ve cultivated your brand champions you can leverage the value that you have created in doing so. One common way to extract value from your brand champions is by encouraging word-of-mouth marketing. Word-of-mouth marketing is both free and highly effective – your marketing message will be much more readily accepted by scientists when it comes from a colleague. (Curious how you can encourage word-of-mouth marketing among your customers or brand champions? Ask us.)
Brand champions are also great beta-testers. Have a product you’d like user feedback on before a full release? Ask your brand champions if they’d be interested in trying it out. Brand champions can be trusted to provide quality feedback and not be overly negative to colleagues about any flaws or unfinished aspects of your new product.
Testimonials and referrals are also great ways to derive value from brand champions. Scientists are more accepting of other products when they hear positive things from other researchers / customers regarding the quality of the product, the services of the company, etc, and brand champions will much more readily be the customers that flout your benefits to others.
Brand champions will also help you crowdsource. When you need the opinions of your customers, your enthusiastic brand champions will be right there to help you and provide the feedback or perspective you need.
There are more ways to leverage brand champions as well. No matter how you do so, be sure that your brand champions feel good about the interaction with your company and brand. If they begin to feel like they are simply being used or taken advantage of they’ll turn their cheek to your brand and you’ll lose a loyal champion. Don’t let that happen. Be sure your brand champions feel properly rewarded.
Cultivating customers into brand champions requires effort but is highly rewarding. Brand champions can be a strategic advantage to your business and provide unique value to your company that cannot be derived in other ways.
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.