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Seen but not heard

Can your message be heard above the 'noise' of other brands already assaulting the customer?

From the moment we get up in the morning we are all recipients of assertive communications demanding we reappraise the basis on which we make our decisions - primarily, those decisions regarding how to spend either our own money or our budget.

Audible and visual messages assault us, selling the latest and best development, service or product. They come at us in vivid colours with subtle, and not so subtly positioned, words via the post, computer, telephone, television and poster sites.

A huge variety of attention-demanding packaging calls out from products lurking in our bathrooms, fridges, on kitchen shelves and supermarket aisles.

Advisory leaflets, product literature, video links and email banners all continually seek to redirect our thoughts. This communication assault comes at us in our homes, our workplace and even when we try to escape from it into the outside environment.

For those of us involved in marketing, we seek to thrust yet greater volumes of communication at the consumer with the honest intention of making sure the products and services we champion, or the organisations we represent, receive the majority share of attention when it comes to our target audiences. Let us never forget that the healthcare professional is as much a consumer as anyone else.

Just how do we succeed at being heard over the clamour of brands? How do we get seen among all these bright lights? And how do we ensure we are the ones that get the healthcare professional's attention?

If you have ever stared at a shoal of fish, a flock of birds or bed of flowers, then you will know that after a while, without any conscious effort, we start to pick out patterns. It is what the mind does naturally: it starts to sift, to impose order and arrange the information. We pick out and recognise patterns.

This natural capability is something that as marketers we can turn to our advantage by ensuring our messages adhere to recognisable patterns.

In fact, the volume of visual and audible `noise' from all this communication is now so loud our time-starved target audience has become adept at filtering out anything not directly relevant to their own business or interest.

Creating a recognisable pattern in communications has become critical if we want our organisation or brand to be noticed or indeed heard at all.

To maximise our chances of being seen and heard we must ensure every encounter with our organisation or its brands counts. Our product campaigns must reflect the corporate body's positioning and the corporate positioning must provide a springboard for the product brands.

We must develop a consistent pattern belonging, because of its distinctive style and appearance, only to ourselves.

To paint a consistent picture, we must first agree the parameters. For many of us, that means post-rationalising a collection of products and services already in existence and finding some common factors that have their roots within the overall parent organisation. This is the way most corporate guidelines are developed.

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Brand hierarchy
The foundation of any good identity and communication process lies in a well-considered brand hierarchy: a clear identification of an organisation's roots, its purpose, its direction, and its structure, combined with the features, benefits, values and the essence of the individual brands.

In our sector, we think about enhancing human life. This is why, loosely, enhancing life is bound to be one of the parameters, the frame to our picture.

Of course, there will be a particular take on it. For example, Pfizer specifically positions the company as pioneering and informing: `We dedicate ourselves to humanity's quest for longer, healthier, happier lives, through innovation in pharmaceutical, consumer, and animal health products.

To achieve this purpose and mission, Pfizer affirms the values of integrity, leadership, innovation, performance, teamwork, customer focus and respect for people and community.' This is part of Pfizer's pattern.

The full picture will take into account the organisation's personality, values, tone and style of language. This picture will typically be presented in the form of corporate communication guidelines to provide the foundation blocks for product and campaign communications. Good guidelines will:

  • Explain an organisation's overall purpose and roots

  • Provide broad visual guidance as to how things should look

  • Set parameters with regard to the tone and style of messages.

In other words, at the heart of developing a recognisable pattern lie the common factors that stem from the corporate body and provide the base from which more specific product and service campaigns can grow, all aiming to generate communication consistency across markets, services and products.

However, this is just the place to start. After all, you might recognise all the consistently coloured yellow birds in a multi-coloured flock, but no more so than the red or green ones. Consistency alone is not going to get us heard, seen or paid attention to. It will only allow us to be easily picked out.

There has to be something about the pattern we present that warrants more than a cursory acknowledgement of existence. If we are to make the most of integrated communications then we have to think about what our yellow bird stands for.

Effective storytelling
All humans respond to stories, we collect stories and we build up our opinions and constructs about how the world is based on those stories. It is arguable that great brands - brands that stand out whether corporate or product based - are those that have the best collection of stories layered upon them. For example, the Johnson & Johnson credo has been the foundation block of many of the stories relating to the pharmaceutical company: `We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services,' and so on.

The credo ensures there is a consistency to everything said about J&J. But more than this, it is the quality and distinctiveness of the story that helps ensure the brand reaches out to its
audience. Our mothers trusted J&J and, therefore, so do we.

Great brands, product or corporate, seek to find a target audience they can identify with and find the means to spend time within that target audience's mind. The quality of the story associated with that brand carries that relationship. It is relatively challenging when dealing with the corporate body of an organisation, but generally, there is only one identity.

When it comes to the product level, it becomes a lot more challenging. To reach a target audience, a product brand must evolve around a story relating as much as possible to this audience and, with sales at stake, it must do this as uncompromisingly as possible. This often means a product brand ends up with its own unique and highly distinctive personality. The risk is that this will clash directly with the corporate image or, indeed, look like it has absolutely no relationship with its corporate source.

The balancing act that must be pulled off will take into account the need to reach a specific audience, while understanding the benefits of broader pattern recognition.

So how can we develop an overall consistent picture while allowing a product brand to compete in its chosen market?

A corporate identity is base level, low key, foundation stuff with broad brush stroke tone and style. Ideally, it will not inhibit the personality of specific products.

Well-known brands exposed to the audience's discerning eye and ear develop rigorous branding and messaging hierarchies. They map the relationships between the corporation, its story, its look and feel and its messaging. They map it across divisions, franchises, services and products. They decide what distinctive marks and messages must remain consistent and what elements should be flexible. They plan it, communicate it internally and use it skilfully.

Greatest access to the collective mind is gained through an integrated and consistent pattern of communication. For this reason, marketers are increasingly insisting on working with integrated teams of writers, medical advisers, public relations and medical education experts, art directors and designers, all working as one team to an agreed and heartfelt brand strategy.

It is no surprise, therefore, that the brands we recall and recognise, and the ones that we use in examples of how to best communicate, are those that appear in our customers' minds with messages that resonate with their own beliefs and needs. They are built with well-organised, well-planned branding hierarchies and create patterns their audiences will tune into, recognise, believe and adopt.

So, maybe your corporate organisation really does understand your market and brand after all.

The author
Martin Ellis is chairman and managing director at Medicom Group and Stephen Page is managing director of Medibrand

12th February 2007

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