Why Brand Matters in Life Sciences
As a brand agency, we dabble in words and images all day, and if we’re honest, the words “life sciences” feel like an opaque block of lettering. That term does conjure up images, yes, but images of pipettes and Petri dishes, laboratory shelves where germs fear to tread, maybe a microscope slide or the title of a 7th-grade exam booklet. Not exactly visions of inspiration or stirring narratives that people love to sink into. The thing is, though, the work that the life sciences sector does makes the rest of our jobs look mind-numbingly dull. In only the last few years, these fine folks have been cloning monkeys, making snow through cloud seeding, and creating a 3D map of the universe. They also found time to develop migraine prevention drugs, and they may have gotten one step closer to identifying universal cancer treatments.
The life sciences, in sum, are life-changing. But the public’s never going to care about medical progress or paradigm shifts in biotech if your scientists speak to them the way that you speak to each other—you know, with all that talk about clusters of methyl groups and calcitonin gene-related peptide receptors. (Snooze.) Branding your life sciences expertise, however, can help you speak more directly to your audience, as well as hire the right people, protect your IP, and streamline mergers and acquisitions. So let’s analyze a few of the benefits of branding that can differentiate your company from the competition.
Branding Makes Your Messaging Feel Human
One of the pitfalls that life sciences companies risk stumbling into is that while they excel at developing complex and esoteric technologies—how many people have heard of cell viability analyzers, multimode microplate readers, or laser capture microdissection systems?—they can get so product-focused that they forget about their own customers. True, they frequently sell to hospitals and medical device makers, all of whom have heard of those technologies. But a brand-focused life sciences company that understands the core values it delivers to its customers will likely have a better sense of which of its products benefit patients versus researchers versus their own sales team(s).
A company that seems too clinical—even if what you do is by definition clinical—might feel cold and distant to consumers. That impression, in turn, can create a lamp-under-a-bushel effect: You may be helping people recover from debilitating diseases and raising the world’s standard of living, but if no one knows about it, the progress that you’re making is, in some sense, stalled. So shine a light on your operations.
- Promote earned media to spread positive word-of-mouth about yourself.
- Talk to a brand agency so they can talk about what you do in plainspoken terms. (Remember, a buzzword does not a brand make.)
- Start a podcast on the latest trends in your industry. Ever heard of More Perfect or Hidden Brain? They tackle subjects that could be dry—like Supreme Court decisions, or how our personal decisions are rooted in our subconscious—and turn them into fascinating episodes. (People love learning, so pack your episodes full of information, but make them eminently listenable.)
All these tactics can help you communicate the emotional tug of why the work that you do matters, which may assist in attracting funding opportunities for healthcare apps, life-saving therapies, diagnostic software—and launching new scientific products.
Branding Speaks to the B2B Space, Too
Sometimes you need to translate jargon into straightforward conversion copy so that the public understands what you do. But sometimes the sale is more intricate—or it’s not really a sale at all. In the previous section, we marketers were telling you scientists how to appeal to a broader customer base. Yet we also recognize that companies often need to speak straight to the scientists themselves. In that scenario, bear in mind who your audience is.
Scientists, you see, are not necessarily interested in bottom line results or benefits-forward language. These are not your WIFM-oriented, instabuy consumer types who got into research to make squillions of dollars. They trust in the scientific method. They view skepticism as a strength. They respond to evidence, data, and optimal test conditions. And they tend to avoid risk, in part because the spigot of grant money is not exactly free-flowing.
Point being, businesses that sell protein sequencers or mass spectrometers need to know how to adapt their content marketing to speak to scientists in ways that don’t come across as glib pitches. We’re talking data sheets, white papers, infographics, testimonials from other scientists about the efficacy of a certain product—collateral that feels more faction than fiction. Position yourself as the brand of the scientists, for the scientists, by the scientists, and you’ll be able to create inbound marketing strategies that net results because you respect the emphasis that your niche consumers place on intellectual investigation—rather than on the quarterly report—while they trust you to speak to them on their own terms.
Branding Attracts the Right Candidates
Another perk of branding that merits mention: Attracting the right employees. The life sciences industry has been surging of late, clocking a whopping 93% spike in investment in North America between 2018–2020—from $36 billion to $70 billion. (With 2021 expected to rake in $90 billion in total.) All that capital sloshing around the sector has opened up jobs aplenty for skilled hires—and you need to hire them first, or else another company will.
According to stats from 2018, 69% of all job candidates consider an employer’s “brand strength” before accepting a position. So bolster your brand strength as it relates to hiring:
- Make the careers page on your site easy to find and easy to read.
- Write job descriptions that convince every individual candidate that they should work for you. Even in these copy-paste times, reusing the same phrases across multiple role descriptions feels lazy. Address professionals like professionals—tell them how they’ll grow their skill-set in each job that they apply for.
- Never keep candidates in abeyance while you review their materials. Sure, making decisions takes time, but if applicants have been through a few rounds of interviews, have the propriety to text or email them with updates. (“Thanks for applying, but this role has been filled.” “Give us a few more weeks to make a determination.” “We’ll keep you in mind for future openings.”) Nearly nothing makes people in a workplace context quite so mad as a lack of communication, so remember that job seekers may consider disappointing news preferable to no news at all.
Believe us when we say that the researchers who you’re trying to hire are doing their own research on the companies that want to hire them. They’re reading your Glassdoor reviews. They’re scoping out your LinkedIn presence to make sure you’re real—or even that you’re a leader in your industry. And they are taking a peek into your workplace culture through the lens of your other social media, because they want to see if they’d be a good fit with you. (Even if they bring a wildly different style to how you run meetings or set work hours.)
Use your social channels, then, to show what the day-to-day is like inside your company. You don’t have to lead with photos of the staff going to baseball games together or brainstorming over brews and BBQ at somebody’s house. If you’re a corporate culture that takes its upscale-casual dress code seriously, be that corporate culture. If you’re all about data panels and lab efficiency, own it. Your job here is not (exclusively) to market yourself for the sake of lead generation. Rather, it’s to broaden your brand awareness and streamline the recruitment process so that the right candidates find you—and you retain their talents for the long term.
Branding Helps You Claim Your Intellectual Property
As we’ve argued before, branding can help businesses stake out what distinguishes them from their competition. But for life sciences companies, branding can also provide opportunities to safeguard their most innovative ideas and technologies. Granted, anyone who wants to secure a patent has to pass through the labyrinth of filing with the USPTO—and these dedicated public servants do not whisk you to the front of the line just because your brand is better-known than the next applicant’s.
But the larger point is that a brand is a consolidation of your company’s principles and vision. Consumers respond to, say, a logo because it serves as a beacon of familiarity in a market landscape—and the rubber-stamp of legitimacy that guarantees a certain caliber of service. Similarly, investors who see that a brand upholds a portfolio of intellectual property could be more willing to fund the launch of your products. Defining the parameters of your IP can help keep competitors from infringing on your innovations—confusing customers into thinking that it was you who gave them that subpar experience.
Finally, branding tends to focus a company’s operations. Life sciences businesses that come out the other end of some soul-seeking realizing that their culture is premised on innovation may be more willing to shift money into R&D. They also may be more inclined to spend on life sciences marketing—informing the public or key industry stakeholders that they were the first to harness fusion, map the genome, or save bananas before they go extinct. (Can you imagine?)
Bragging about your accomplishments may get tiresome, but being too humble about your inventiveness can have its own consequences, as well. Ever heard of a “Maurice Hilleman”? No? Well, you should have heard of him, because Mr. Hilleman pioneered vaccines for measles, mumps, chickenpox, hepatitis A and B, and a host of other global viruses. But you haven’t heard of him, because Hilleman—a forceful personality, but a modest man—named exactly zero of his discoveries after himself. According to some estimates, Hilleman’s vaccines save about 8 million lives a year. Yet few of us who take those vaccines realize that he deserves a place in the pantheon of medical history next to the likes of Louis Pasteur or Jonas Salk.
Fame isn’t for everyone. But fame can help life sciences companies secure the patents, grants, and copyrights that they need to pay the oncology researchers or environmental scientists in their employ to (for example) save lives or rid our waterways of pollutants. For their sake alone, use your marketing strategy to do some humblebragging.
Branding Plays the Game of Brands
So far, we’ve talked about “branding” as if it were some monolithic structure—a sign above an archway through which employees and customers pass into the stronghold of your company. But brands beget sub-brands, which themselves parcel into mini-brands and smaller products. At first blush, all those org. chart levels might seem like they add up to corporate gigantism and a zeal for reinventing the wheel. Yet a brand architecture, if constructed correctly, can serve as a force multiplier—a few umbrella brands doing the work of hundreds of smaller trademarked brands. In that sense, then, a smart brand architecture staves off business bloat, allowing life sciences companies to group all their products under a few defined categories.
Have you ever gotten a letter from an insurance agent that took over the agency you used to work with who bought a new auto policy for you because the old insurers are pulling out of your state—but nobody told you any of that, until you got this letter? In a situation like that, there’s, like, four or five players all swapping around policies, so when you receive notice of these shenanigans, you might feel like someone’s spamming and scamming you. Well, you might feel similarly weirded out when you encounter a strange brand that’s tied to a larger brand who you’re kinda-sorta familiar with. ‘Who owns who, who’s selling me what, and how do I know they’re legit?’—customers are wondering this all the time. That’s why big brands make it easy for them to understand their brand architecture (or, at least, they should).
The FedEx Corporation owns FedEx Express, FedEx Ground, FedEx Freight, FedEx Custom Critical, and FedEx Trade Networks. That setup’s known as a “branded house,” where the firm (in this case, the FedEx Corporation) is the brand. Consumers see “FedEx” in each sub-brand and think, ‘Okay, it’s FedEx, so it’s not a scam, and each of those subsets is a different wing of their operation.’ But Procter & Gamble—an international life sciences company—errs on the side of a “house of brands” organizational approach, as they own a range of products like Tide and Bounty and Pampers that aren’t stamped with Procter & Gamble’s brand design. Shoppers might not know that Tide has a parent company, but once they realize who that parent company is, they’ll think, ‘Okay, it’s P&G, so it’s not a scam, and each of these subsets is a different wing of their operation.’
Brands put their houses in different orders depending on the objectives they want to achieve. Branded houses tend to be more sound when the company name is well known. (“Google Mail / Google Play / Google Drive / Google Hangouts” or “Amazon Fresh / Amazon Alexa / Amazon Prime / Amazon Kindle.”) Whereas a house of brands is built to mitigate risk in certain product areas—since those products are often better known than the company name. (“Procter & Gamble” sounds like something staid and official that you’d see in a headline about the NASDAQ. “Tide” is laundry detergent. Most of us recognize Tide better than P&G because we all do laundry, but we don’t all have money parked in the NASDAQ … or have any clue how it works.)
Here’s our point to all this: Branding should be important to life sciences companies because it controls sprawl. P&G owns Tide. Tide offers multiple products. But no matter if we’re talking about Tide Berry Blossom or Tide Spring Meadow Scent or Tide PODS Coldwater Clean, those products are all grouped under one trademark.
Can you imagine the logistical nightmare of filing trademarks for hundreds of products across a portfolio of 20 sub-brands? Can you envision the cost of maintaining trademarks for every product and ensuring they were using the correct one for each piece of marketing collateral? And can you conceive of the confusion and the gnashing of teeth—the legendary vituperation of the public—that you’d be subjecting yourself to? You’d need that migraine prevention pill on the market yesterday to steel yourself through the behemoth headache that awaits you.
‘Ah, but this quandary doesn’t apply to me,’ you may be thinking. ‘We’re one of those small life sciences companies that only has one brand.’ You might be right about that now—but the life sciences is quite the acquisitive sector. You know what we’re talking about: Johnson & Johnson recently bought Momenta Pharmaceuticals. Merck recently bought VelosBio. Biotech startups are getting hoovered up, too, and mergers and dealmaking just seem to be how business is done in this industry. C’est la guerre.
Whether you’re the buyer or the buyee, merging with someone else will be a lot easier if both parties have already done all of the brandwork involved in defining their values and deciding which departments or service levels or even the more intangible aspects of their cultures should be integrated and which should be scrapped. You’ll save money now on the market capital of your brand value—and you’ll save money later if customers continue to trust in a newly acquired brand because its personality has stayed consistent even under new ownership.
Branding Equips Companies with Tools
The tools at the disposal of a life sciences company—robotics that improve precision surgery, or maps of patient genome features that help personalize medicine—may appear to be the diametrical opposite of the tools that a brand agency uses, the images and words that we wield all day. But those branding tools can help stencil forth the spark of invention that excites you about your own work, showing the world the vividness of your insight and imagination. We love working with pathfinders and visionaries, so reach out to us today and let’s chat about your brand. Who knows? It could be vital to your success.