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Forget Rebranding, Try Unbranding; 6 Exercises for Unbranding

Written by: Marilyn Cox

Last night I served bacon, eggs, and fruit for dinner. My children were shocked. “You can’t have breakfast for dinner!” I tried to explain that breakfast, lunch, and dinner were defined by the time of day you consume food, not the type of food you’re consuming. Of course, over time eggs and bacon have been classified as breakfast, sandwiches are for lunchtime, and spaghetti is preferred at dinner time. We’ve branded food based on habit. But here’s something interesting, my son always passes on scrambled eggs at breakfast time, but he gobbled them up at dinner. I didn’t reclassify them as a dinner food, simply “these are eggs and we’re eating them for dinner”. I unbranded the food.

Rebranding vs. Unbranding

Many tenured companies are working through rebranding exercises. They want to shake off the image of an out-of-touch company, or perhaps a tarnished reputation. They begin to explore new messaging, tone of voice, and logo changes. It’s important to point out that your brand is more than a logo and corporate color scheme. A brand is the idea or image of a specific product or service that consumers connect with, and yet many companies don’t work to understand what their audience’s perception is of the existing brand.

But perhaps rebranding isn’t what’s needed.

I’ve noticed a trend in many regulated industries to unbrand their content. Let’s look at the pharmaceutical space. In order for pharma companies to effectively sell into the health care provider space they must enable and educate HCPs. HCPs want access to information, key opinion leaders, and peers. HCPs cited journals as their top info source, with 64%-68% reading about new products in journals three or more times per month, followed by colleagues (52%-53%), websites like Epocrates, Medscape and UptoDate (46%-52%), apps (27%-32%) and package inserts (25%-29%). Similar numbers were seen for learning about established products . Traditionally, HCPs have not trusted the content they’ve received from pharmaceutical companies. Because of this, pharma organizations are now investing in the development of unbranded sites, content, and communities. These unbranded sites aren’t designed to be deceptive, rather to demonstrate that these pharmaceutical companies are more than the pill offered and very much a part of the wellness process. They’re focused on developing content that promotes healthy living, educates the audience about disease awareness, and stresses the importance of medication adherence.

An Unbranding Case Study

Merck is a great example of a company that has seen success with unbranding. Merck partnered with PatientsLikeMe to focus on community building. This was an effort to test how a new kind of online evidence network could inform drug development using real-world health outcomes in psoriasis, the most prevalent autoimmune disease in the US. Merck had 2 goals, to provide a tool to help improve patients’ lives, and to gain knowledge about symptoms, self care, and the lives of patients over time to more clearly discern how people use medications with a goal towards informing the development of future treatment. Using this unbranded initiative they accomplished both objectives. They drove greater patient support and resources for those patients. They also learned that insomnia was a common issue for those with psoriasis and could now work to overcome those challenges.

6 Exercises for Unbranding

So how do you unbrand? Just like rebranding isn’t simply changing the logo, unbranding isn’t just removing the logo. Below are 6 things to consider when unbranding your content.

1. If you remove the company logo, would companies recognize a corporate tone in the content, or a personal and relatable voice? Would the content provide a unique point of view, or sound like every other thing published on that topic?

2. If you placed your content in the middle of magazine, would it read like an advertisement, a best practices how-to article, or a thought leadership editorial?

3. If you remove the product name from case studies, does they story explain how the customer overcame challenges? Is the customer effort, or the product functionality the focus of the story?

4. When evaluating graphics used in your content, what percentage are corporate logos and product pictures, what percentage are stock photography, what percentage are infographics, and what percentage are of real customers and employees?

5. If you remove the corporate header does the content demonstrate validity? Do you support positioning with 3rd party data?

6. After engaging with your content, has the audience learned something of value that impacts their business, or have they learned about your products? Is your audience better off for having read your content?

Unbranding allows organizations to push past layers of mistrust to deliver helpful information. Unbranding also provides the audience with the long term sustenance required in longer sales cycles. By stripping away the corporate artifices companies can really begin to demonstrate their investment in customers. In short, the bulk of your efforts should be channeled into creating content that contains value. What unbranding considerations would you add?