Are commercial success and controversy mutually exclusive? If you go by P.T. Barnum’s (attributed) quote “There is no such thing as bad publicity,” then all types of public attention are good and welcome. Ask a PR expert and they will almost certainly disagree with this statement (see here). Publicity in any form essentially puts the spotlight on a company. What that company does with all the attention, and how it responds, are perhaps what really determines whether the outcome will be positive or not.
The same holds true for brands. You simply cannot have breakthrough success without any controversy. It’s been often said that great brands repel as much (or even more) than they attract. Meanwhile, there is a widely held misconception that a brand can be all things to all people and therefore universally liked. When a brand or product seeks to become universal and appeal to everybody, that is the day when it becomes formless, generic, bland. Identity and personality are defined as much by what they aren’t as what they are. In life, people have to take stances on certain topics and issues. It’s called making choices. Ever met (and liked) a person who has no opinions on anything and doesn’t take any stance on issues? The same applies for brands. Seeking to appeal to everybody (without risking alienating anyone) is a fool’s errand and, from a marketing point of view, rather pointless and a waste of resources. After all, if you don’t stand for something, then you stand for nothing in the customer’s mind.
This is especially true for companies in traditionally conservative industries. Take healthcare for example. Health is universal and therefore health and wellness companies should appeal equally to every customer or patient. At least that is the conventional thinking. Many traditional healthcare firms are instinctively suspicious of marketing innovations like social media, fearing that they may attract negative attention or invite unwanted controversy with customers and especially with investors. “We don’t need any rogue or maverick marketers” seems to go their thinking. Their greatest fear is upsetting internal stake-holders, going against tradition & guidelines, or alienating portions of the (theoretically universal) target audience. After all, healthcare companies aim to provide safe, effective and affordable solutions for everyone. Right? A strong personality or brand identity, however, risks reducing the size of the target audience. But is that always such a bad thing? For a growing number of both small and large companies, the answer is increasingly “No!”.
“You are fear-driven when you live every day like you have more to lose than to gain.”
Companies in conservative or highly fragmented industries (especially market share laggards) must attempt to break out of their fear-based approach to marketing. I’ve seen too many brochures, advertisements, and campaigns which were so generic & bland that you could easily swap the company name/logo without anyone batting an eyelid. This is especially true for companies in traditionally conservative industries like Healthcare and Finance. For many of these, Marketing is seen as a necessary (costly) function full of potential prima donnas and cowboys who need to be controlled if not muzzled. Their only attributed purpose is to transfer clinical /technical innovations into the hands of Sales, using scarcely “original” launch campaigns that don’t alienate anyone, satisfy all the insiders and won’t ruffle any feathers. The trouble is that hungrier emerging rivals are happy to address key customer segments in innovative and more compelling ways that larger (universal) players simply cannot or refuse to.
What do you Stand For?
Another common misconception is that if you stand for something, you naturally ignore (or are perhaps against) something else. However, there are plenty of examples of highly successful brands that have developed a broad appeal by successfully espousing a particular cause, style, vision, marcom language or political stance. Think: Audi, Lumber 84, Anheuser-Busch, Lyft, etc… What healthcare needs more of is companies that clearly stand for something and are willing to creatively appeal to some audiences more than others. You can find your “voice” and embrace your difference(s) by adopting any of the following 6 strategies :
Bottom Line: Be different. Be relatable. Be real. Above all, don’t automatically retrench to the “old ways” the minute you run into a hint of controversy or turbulence. In fact, worry if you aren’t generating a minimal amount of controversy or if everybody feels 100% comfortable with your new marketing/branding campaign. Those are telltale signs that you haven’t pushed the envelope far enough.
“Discomfort, unease and trepidation are natural emotions that almost always accompany real, meaningful change. “
That being said, nobody is endorsing irresponsible behavior or taking wholesale risks just for the thrill. Stretching beyond your comfort zone requires taking calculated risks with frequent (small scale & controlled) experiments and accepting failure as a natural by-product of exploration.
Andrew Hyncik is an International Strategic Marketing & Product Development veteran with 20+ years of experience in the Medtech, Healthcare, CPG and Pharma industries. For more Medtech insights, original articles or expert services, visit www.MedtechMojo.com
Andrew Hyncik and Pascal Malengrez are International Strategic Marketing & Product Development leaders who amplify classical medtech marketing with digital startup thinking.