Across multiple interviews with a diverse slice of the life sciences marketing world, my guests on Life Science Marketing Radio echoed the importance of emotional connections as part of your marketing.
Nowhere is this more true than in branding.
“Brands have personalities, and there are people behind every brand, and there’s a mission and a vision behind that brand and what that brand wants to be. So try to tap into […] the bigger story. How do you manifest that brand into a story? What do you want people to feel?” – Joanna Rudnick
A brand is far more than a logo. A brand is the entire foundation of a company – its personality, its reason for existence, its mission, its people, its story, its goals, its connection with customers. Oh yeah, and its products. But, like the logo, a company’s product is an expression of the brand, not the brand itself. A formalized brand is helpful both internally and externally to guide whatever it is that you plan to accomplish (presumably, selling a lot of great product).
Many of you reading this work at a company with a brand already in place. I hope you’ll stick around anyway. This is about “establishing” a brand and using it both at the early stages of a startup, and as a mature company. If you’re reading from the context of an older company, use this as a chance to review your brand and your understanding of it. Maybe substitute “establish” with “clarify.” You might see there are areas where your brand could be refined, or new ways to express your brand.
“Why should somebody fund their product? Why does it matter? [Founders] have to be able to give the answer to that first in order to create a brand that builds legitimacy and trust.”
Karan was talking about pitching investors with a story around your product, rather than just pitching the product itself. The same holds true at any stage, whether it’s a first angel investment from a rich aunt, or selling a third-generation widget to a CRO ten years later.
“[O]ne of the best things that the formalization of a brand can do for them is to create that narrative that is essential when they hit the market seeking funding. If they can’t talk what it is that they have in a concise and compelling way, it’s going to be really hard for them to pursue any sort of business strategy. I think with this, what a brand does for any organization, is to build legitimacy and trust.”
There’s that word again: “narrative.” Brands need a narrative because it gives people a point of connection with the company. A good brand creates a detailed image of what the company is about, then presents that image to people with empathy so it fits their lives. Only then will people really care enough to get involved by writing a check or sitting through a demo.
Joanna Rudnick of the Linus Group took this further in our conversation:
“Brands have personalities, and there are people behind every brand, and there’s a mission and a vision behind that brand and what that brand wants to be. So try to tap into […] the bigger story. How do you manifest that brand into a story? What do you want people to feel?”
You might object to this emphasis on feelings in that it’s squishy, better suited for Gerber baby food or even Budweiser than scientific reagents and equipment. Nevertheless data has shown, and if you look closely you can see, that emotions are an essential part of any decision you make. That doesn’t mean folks are completely illogical. But a person has to care about something to make a purchase.
Joanna pointed to one of her clients, GE, as another brand building (and maintaining) a brand through storytelling. The company expresses its personality and goals through documentary filmmaking, telling people both what products are available and how GE perceives its role in the world. That’s branding. You can do a lot worse than look to GE as an example in content marketing and brand storytelling.
The key to this is, of course, knowing what (authentic) story is going to move your intended customer. This is where personas come in to play. I’ve written on buyer personas before so won’t go into too much detail here. In fact, I’ll leave it to Karan to summarize:
“[A] big portion of us building a brand for someone is creating an image of [the customer] beyond the basic demographics of age and regions and cultural differences, but really thinking about what is their knowledge base. [A]s you’re thinking about the content that you are creating […] you are thinking about that person. You are going back to that persona and looking at all of their biases and how they might be skeptical about what you are saying.”
In other words, the other person is a key ingredient of your brand.
Copywriter Bob Woodard, who has worked with companies to build their brand through words for years, said:
“the whole thing starts with the connection with the person – where they know it has something to do with their life. […] It has to be so relevant to them that they are drawn into it. This could be on any of the continuum from blockbuster innovations all the way to something that’s just going to save somebody a few minutes in a day. If they know it’s for them, I think they will be drawn into the story.”
Think about it like this: Picture the academic researcher who, as of 2013, was still making his grad students, post-docs and techs do plasmid minipreps by hand. No Qiagen kits, all reagents from scratch. If you were a brand trying to sell him based on convenience, you wouldn’t have any luck because that clearly wasn’t (always) a priority.
If, on the other hand, you found a story that focused on critical thinking and developing the next generation of scientists, you might have a chance. Simplicity wasn’t relevant to him, learning was. This is an exceptional case, but it demonstrates the possibility of telling a differentiated story.
Another way to think about this is the idea of provoking your audience, as Joanna pointed out. Designing a brand that will succeed requires finding that uncomfortable spot on your customer’s back that he can’t quite reach to scratch. Joanna’s agency, the Linus Group, runs on the idea of “persuading scientists.” (Also the name of founder Hamid Ghanadan’s first book.) To do that, Joanna said,
“[…] we think a lot about […] the psychology of that customer and how do you go out with a provocation and an insight that somebody cannot ignore? To me, that’s what storytelling is, ultimately, is if I don’t provoke you in the right way, and I don’t tell you something you want to hear, you’re going to go right by me. You’re not going to be interested to hear the story.” (Emphasis mine)
What is it about you that your target market cannot ignore? What is the story about your company that you’re going to tell that will force them to pay attention because it means so much to them?