As a veteran of the medical devices and diagnostics industryon both the client and agency sides of the desk, I am always intrigued, butnever surprised, when I am asked why it’s important to make investments inbranding in a fast-changing business like medical devices and diagnostics. 

It is acknowledged as fact how important investments inbrand-building are in many other industries. For example, in consumer packagedgoods, we understand the difference between gelatin dessert and Jell-O™; and wefeel something different when we hear facial tissue vs. Kleenex™. In thehealthcare industry, we know that branding is also important inpharmaceuticals—think statin vs. Lipitor, or proton pump inhibitor vs. Nexium.And the branding axioms apply in the healthcare provider sector as well:compare hospital with The Cleveland Clinic.

Why is it important to invest in branding, includinginvestments that may feel “softer” in a sector where product innovation ismeasured many times in somewhat modest feature changes in this year’s model?For example, this year’s product model may produce a test result in 10 secondscompared to last year’s model delivering that same result to the physician orpatient in 25 seconds. Is this “speed” feature change a real benefit that anend user values? Is this a sustainable competitive advantage and point ofdifferentiation—or can a competitive product react and match or beat thisproduct feature quickly in the market? This question becomes even morechallenging when the only difference may, for example, be a model name changefrom XL 200 to XL 300 without any noticeable product feature change at all.

Investments in branding are important for the long term andstrong branding involves two key components: Branding starts with the “masterbrand,” i.e., the company name or the therapeutic area brand name for a groupof products; Then, after establishing a master brand, the product brand canalso be established over time.

There are three key principles that are worthy of study asbest practices in the first step of establishing a master brand.

1. The company name

Investments in the company name can help insulate individualproducts from bad news. In the cardiac stent category, there has been atremendous explosion in the use of drug-coated (or drug-eluting) stents vs.conventional bare metal stents. Recently, however, there is a significantdebate about whether drug-eluting stents really do provide improved clinicaloutcomes, or to the contrary, whether bare metal stents or even pharmacologicintervention may be safer and more effective for certain patients. Of the majorplayers in this category, Johnson & Johnson has obvious tremendous brandname equity, specifically in the J&J name, although arguably not thespecific stent model, Cypher.

Boston Scientific is working hard to invest in brandingefforts to communicate the company’s mission in this area, albeit with muchless of a head-start than J&J’s 100-plus years. As a matter of publicrecord, Boston Scientific has been trying to establish its strong commitment topatient safety in the form of a comprehensive patient program, comprisingeducation, compliance and loyalty, which will endure beyond the company’s Taxusstent to its future pipeline of products.

Another example is in the area of blood-glucose monitoring.Several major diagnostics manufacturers compete in this large category of homediabetes testing/monitoring. In this case, again a corporate brand and masterbrand name has been critical in not only branding a product line, but to keepthe master brand strong despite a short-term product setback. In 1999, LifeScanweathered a federal investigation of one of the blood glucose monitoringdevices. The accuracy and reliability of one of the products was challenged.Many factors including the company’s handling of the issue, the continuedexplosive category growth and LifeScan’s continued presence and master brandstrength contributed to the company’s resilience and moving forward throughthat point.

2. Exploring new channels

Investments in branding are not just focused on traditionalmedical advertising. We all understand an investment in branding that comes inthe form of a traditional print advertisement in a professional journal; aconvention booth; a face-to-face sales call in a healthcare practitioner’soffice using a printed sales aid. But, to be sure, there are other lesstraditional, but also very effective, expressions of investments in building abrand.

There are many companies that manufacture and sell surgicalinstruments, including those specifically designed for endoscopic surgery. Tohelp build its brand, the Ethicon Endo Surgery division of Johnson &Johnson has established a surgical training institute, adjacent to itsheadquarters in Cincinnati, OH, called the Ethicon Endo Surgery Institute. Whensurgeons are invited to the institute to view and participate in a procedure,the impression that is established is a strong brand connection—arguablystronger and more important than one made by the individual product names, suchas the Harmonic Scalpel. Such investment in somewhat non-traditional brandingwill become an important factor as surgeons make recommendations to theirprocurement and hospital administrations.

3. A consistent message

Investments in branding take consistency. It’s not enough tosimply create an advertising campaign. Branding runs deeper thanadvertising—although that’s a part of it—but includes a precise combination ofthe brand messages; colors; personality across ALL media; advertising; tradeconvention booths; sales materials; interactive/web space. And although aproduct manager may change, these elements of the brand should be guarded andchanges should be weighed very carefully.

Another factor to consider is that sales representatives arean expression of the brand. For example, a high-tech manufacturer of devices ordiagnostics might consider implementing tablet PC based sales materials versuspaper sales aids. Not only would this improve the functional effectiveness ofthe sales organization, but would help brand the company in a way that would beconsistent with its technology-driven image. Branding is, indeed, everywhere.And, most importantly, creating a brand takes time and consistency.

David Paragamian is a partner, worldwide executive committeemember of Euro RSCG Life and president of Euro RSCG Life LM&P, part of theglobal Havas network