May 9, 2023
We caught up with Bob, who is busy structuring Spectro’s strategic portfolio, to hear his thoughts on the importance of brand building and visual branding language in the life sciences sector. He has spent almost 30 years leading the US and global marketing and business development functions for Oxford Instruments, ThermoFisher, and Ametek.
Loft: You have led multiple companies through times of rapid market expansion. Strategic acquisitions can generate lots of synergies and growth opportunities, if managed successfully. When companies merge, they may have different design languages that can create confusion and inconsistency in the offering. Share your thoughts on best practices to manage these transitions.
Bob: The unique aspect of small to medium sized companies in the life sciences sector is that they mainly grow through acquisition. Lots of innovation in the industry comes from what I like to call professor companies. Scientists develop a technology and address a market niche with a single product. The initial growth scales to around $10 - $15 million in sales. Many of these companies then grow through agglomeration by private equity or aggregation within coprorations. You end up with a product line that has a completely disparate visual brand language (VBL), if there even is a VBL. It is really important, in my experience, as you are building a company's brand, that the VBL of the products reflects that brand, or at a minimum has some kind of cohesiveness to it to help elevate the brand image in the eyes of customers. The other aspect is that in small companies, the product development efforts tend to be driven by engineers, whose last concern is the cohesiveness of the product line, as they are more focused on solving customer problems. One of the few patents I hold is actually for the application of the “ornamental design” of a product. The wording is rather ironic and superficial, but I believe the application of that “ornamental design” to a product is essential to reinforce the brand and ensure consistency.
Loft: How important is a strategic visual brand-building approach in the life sciences sector? Some may argue that technical instruments used by highly trained professionals don't require a brand or design identity.
Every user, even when 100% focused on the technical aspects of a product, can't help but be influenced by the visual appearance of a product. The consumer market has trained our brains to think this way, even about highly technical products.
Bob: Every user, even when 100% focused on the technical aspects of a product, can't help but be influenced by the visual appearance of a product. The consumer market has trained our brains to think this way, even about highly technical products. It's also important to understand that the market is very inefficient, especially as we are moving to more remote places in the world, the reach of a marketing department relies heavily on digital communications such as the brand website. So having a brand message that extends from the visual brand language of the products to the website is very important. Some customers will base their decision more or less on the fact that your product looks like a market-leading product; this actually happened to me the other day. We were talking to our local sales team in Asia, and a local customer was making assumptions about a competitive product line that they considered to be a market leader based on the appearance of their website and products.
Loft: Design standards documents should be easily accessible and understandable for all relevant teams, including marketing, design, manufacturing, and sales. How important is socialization to ensure that a VBL is implemented properly and can stay relevant as the company grows and changes priorities?
Bob: Like any other aspect of product development, it is always easier to make sure the VBL of a product is written into the requirements documents of a product before it is designed. It's easier to design the VBL in from the beginning rather than to try to apply it after the fact. A key to good design language is to understand the customer's perceptions of the brand. A VBL needs to be relevant in the context of the brand, otherwise, it becomes very confusing for the customer.
Loft: How important is ongoing brand maintenance? Regular reviews and updates to the VBL can ensure it remains relevant and consistent with the brand's goals and values.
Bob: Ongoing brand maintenance and reviews of the brand language should be on the same time horizon, in most cases 3-5 years, as the strategic marketing goals for a company. The brand and VBL efforts need to be synchronized to ensure maximum strategic alignment.
Loft: Terrific! Thanks for your time and insights!
May 9, 2023