Carroll and Paul share their thoughts on the world of branding,
marketing and design.

Be True to Your Brand

January 5, 2010 | Author:

We spend a lot of our time creating clear and compelling brands for our clients. We develop the positioning and craft the messaging and design. We work with our clients to launch their brand and develop the tools necessary to be sure that the it’s implemented consistently. Recent developments in the news demonstrate how fruitless it all is if the company does not live up to the brand promise that it makes.

Whose brand was more finely crafted, and more tightly managed than Tiger Woods? It was crystal clear what the Tiger Woods brand stood for — Excellence. Character. Determination. Discipline. That’s what we were sold and that’s what we believed. Then it all went wrong. But why is his story so much worse than the countless others we have heard?

Professional athletes are in the news on a regular basis for a broad range of indiscretions, but rarely does it have the impact on their career as this recent scandal has had on Tiger Woods. Is that because of the nature of the “crime”? Many athletes have cheated on their wives, and many have done far worse. Yet nearly all manage to return to their sport with a clean slate. It seems there is no offense that cannot be overcome with a tearful apology in front of TV cameras and of course, a loyal wife sitting quietly by their side. The reason we are so quick to forgive is that we are not surprised. In fact, an athlete misbehaving is being true to their brand. An athlete cheating on his wife is about as surprising as a rock star on drugs.

I believe the power of the Tiger Woods story is not so much in the acts themselves, but in the fact that they are in direct opposition to the Tiger Woods brand that we had been sold.

And the lesson for those of you who live in the B2B world is to make sure that the brand promise you make is one you can deliver upon. Nothing is more damaging than to make a claim that proves not only to be wrong, but to be in direct contradiction to the truth. If you claim to be committed to service, make sure your service operation is top notch. If you stake out a position as an innovator, you better have a pipeline full of innovative products.

Branding is only effective when it is true.

Broken English

June 3, 2009 | Author:

The English language is broken. I’ve been planning to blog on this topic for some time and as I was working on my next article for Designochology, I ran into it again.

Nearly every positioning assignment I work on presents challenges because of the misuse, or overuse of a particular word or phrase within the client’s market. It seems when it comes to marketing and advertising, the dictionary definition of a term is not good enough. We need to create our own definitions.

A couple quick examples:

Integration. For some companies, integration is an important issue. Whether it’s integrating various hardware platforms, service offerings or applications, it’s important for many companies that they provide an integrated solution. The problem comes when you research the marketplace and find that every company in that space that claims to provide an integrated solution has applied their own definition, one that coincidentally matches their own particular set of offerings. That’s fine, but it means that companies in that space cannot use integration to differentiate themselves. The term has been rendered meaningless.

Automatic. Another word that has been lost is “automatic”. My client may have the only truly automatic solution, but they can’t say that because for years, companies within that market have used the term, and every possible variation of the term, to define their own products. There are automatic, semi-automatic, highly automatic and really, really automatic solutions. So, even though my client’s product really is the first fully automatic solution, the word has lost its value.

Branding. And we’ve done it to ourselves too. The term “branding” probably has more unique definitions than another other word in the English language. Everybody does it and everybody has created their own definition. For the record, here’s mine. A brand is the collective perception of a company and/or product which is created as a result of every interaction that an individual has with that product and/or company.

Push/Pull Marketing. This is the one that just sent me over the edge. The article I’m writing is on Social Media, and how it fits into a company’s marketing plan. And just to be accurate, I thought I would look up the true definition of Push and Pull Marketing. So, with the help of Google, in no time I had 577,000 search results to choose from for a definition. I tried the first 10 and found 10 completely unique definitions. It’s going to take me a while to sort through the other 576,990 sites.

Invest in Your Brand

May 11, 2009 | Author:

At a recent event held by The Medical Development Group (MDG), a panel of speakers spoke to device startups about the state of M&A activity in 2009.

Daniel Lepanto, Managing Director of Mergers and Acquisitions for Leerink Swann spoke about the availability of investment money to make deals. Amarpreet Sawheney, PhD, President and CEO of I-Therapeutix spoke from the entrepreneur’s perspective on how to make your company more attractive, and generate competition among suitors. And Don Haut, PhD, Senior VP Strategy and Business Development for Smith and Nephew Endoscopy spoke from the buyer’s perspective about what exactly takes place behind closed doors during a deal, and why it takes so long.

The panel presented a compelling picture of the dynamics involved in an acquisition, but my interest is in branding and marketing, so you might think there was little to take away from the presentation. Two points were made that speak to the importance of branding.

1. In this market, there are just not that many companies looking to buy and those who are are in a clearly advantageous position. Dr. Sawheney cautioned entrepreneurs not to simply jump at the first offer, and in fact, to be prepared to go back and continue to build the business. To me, that not only means research and development, it also means that companies must continue the work of positioning and branding their products.

2. As someone personally responsible for acquisitions for Smith and Nephew, I asked Dr. Haut whether or not the state of a company’s brand is taken into account when determining its value. He replied, “A company with a strong brand is nearly always more valuable than one without a strong brand.”

It seems that branding is one of the last things that young companies think about. And who can blame them with so many other pressing issues on their plates? But companies who get it right add real value to their business.

Branding is an investment that will show real returns whether the company chooses to take their device to market, or whether they ultimately find themselves in a position to be acquired.

The World Changed. Now What?

May 6, 2009 | Author:

In the April issue of our newsletter, Designochology, I discussed the impact that the “gift ban” regulations will have on the marketing of medical devices.

Volumes have been written about the new state and federal regulations, and how they’re changing the sales process for medical device companies. Doctors are less receptive to seeing representatives and device companies are struggling with how to support physicians CME needs while staying within the letter of the law(s). 

I’ve seen much less written on the impact that new regulations will have on the marketing mix that device companies choose to employ. Will they turn more and more to online tools like Webinars and social media, or do traditional marketing tools play an even more important role considering the limitations on personal contact with physicians?

One trend has been noted that’s worth watching. In the MDD Exec report, Selling Devices and Diagnositcs: The World is Changing, 150 medical device and diagnostic executives were surveyed and data showed that a shift is happening in the buying process within hospitals. Physicians have traditionally been the key decision makers for any new device purchase. And though the physician was identified as the key customer by 57% of respondents, almost a third identified the patient, the payor or hospital administration as the key customer.

This fact is worth considering when developing your value proposition. The economics of your solution may need to take a more prominent role in your messaging, and the movement toward Direct to Patient (DTP) communications means marketing messages can’t get so wrapped up in the technology that they forget the diagnostic and therapeutic benefits that patients need to hear.

A Welcome Addition to the Medical Device Market

April 27, 2009 | Author:

A new web-only publication MassDevice.com was recently launched to serve the Massachusetts medical device market.

You might ask, do we really need another publication to serve the life sciences industry? But the problem with nearly all of the currently available sources is that coverage tends to be dominated by pharma and biopharma news. And though they’re often linked together by the media and by governing bodies, there are important distinctions between the pharmaceutical and medical device industries.

Massachusetts’ medical device companies deserve the focus, and the resources that this new site intends to give. Not only is the state the center of the medical device universe (a $8.3 billion industry in the state, according to MassDevice.com), it now must operate under the nation’s most restrictive regulations governing industry payments to physicians. 

Best of luck to MassDevice.com. We’ll be watching.

Banned from Branding

April 20, 2009 | Author:

The term “I like…” should be banned from the business of branding. It’s fine to use the word in our personal lives — to like pizza, or to like a particular song, or like blue more than green. But when evaluating a brand design or a corporate position statement, judgement needs to be based on more than whether the proposed solution is liked.

In no other part of the medical device industry does subjective taste matter. You will get funding if the product is viable and able to turn a profit. You’ll sell the product if you can prove it’s better than the available options. You’ll succeed as a business if revenues outpace expenditures. But for some reason, when it comes to developing one of the company’s most valuable business assets — your brand — logic and reason are often overlooked in favor of personal preference. 

Taste is subjective. Effective communication is not. Color, shapes, words and images communicate particular messages, and they need to be chosen properly to achieve the objectives. Good creatives understand the principles behind the decisions they make and should be able to explain their reasoning.

The use of the phrase “I like” is a habit — just as a teenager uses the word “like” to start every sentence… or someone uses “ummm” to fill every pause. But it’s a habit with consequences. The decisions you make regarding your company and product brands will have a significant impact on their success or failure. 

So, next time someone is evaluating creative — whether it’s a logo, a position statement, or an ad campaign — encourage everyone to replace  “I like it because…” with “It works because…”. This forces everyone to verbalize their reasoning, and consider whether the proposed solution achieves the stated objectives.

Putting Things in Perspective

April 16, 2009 | Author:

Recently, I visited a family member in the hospital who had had complications with childbirth. As I waited for my opportunity to visit, a stream of doctors and nurses came and left. I paced back and forth from the hospital room to the nursery where the newborn was gamely battling an infection. Through the nursery window, I could see the baby boy connected to an automatic IV drug dispenser and surrounded by state-of-the-art monitoring equipment. Countless medical device carts were scattered along the hallway, ready to be deployed — an AED, blood pressure monitors, ECG monitors, numerous laptops fired up, and ready to go. Though there was nothing I could do to help the mother or the baby, it was mildly comforting to know that what I do for a living was, in a very small way, connected to the efforts that were going on there. By helping good companies get the best devices into hospitals, maybe I’ve done all I can.

"Me Too" is Not a Brand Srategy

March 31, 2009 | Author:

Working in the medical device industry for as long as I have, it’s not hard to see tendencies as I look at corporate brands. It’s fascinating to me to see companies who are developing the most innovative medical products, devices that are literally changing the world of health care – failing to differentiate themselves in any meaningful way in their marketing materials.  

These companies have dared to challenge conventions, looking at old problems in new ways. They’ve launched companies on a shoestring and a road show, living on that fine line between spectacular success and monumental failure. Then, when the time comes to position the product and develop its brand, this company suddenly reverts to the tried and true, boring and blue. In fact, so many companies use blue as a corporate color that the world renowned experts on color, Pantone, created an entirely new color matching system, largely due to the need to have more blues for corporate identities. That’s not working outside the box, that’s just making the box bigger.

Branding is all about developing an impression that is true to the company and the product, an identity that is different than others. One sure way to differentiate yourself in the medical device market is to pick a corporate color that is anything but blue.