A major healthcare manufacturer of hospital supplies introduced a new kind of device for surgical closure: a liquid suture. It had significant advances over thread sutures: it was just as strong, healed in 30 seconds, left no scar, and formed a waterproof barrier so the patient could shower easily. Surgeons loved the concept. However, after 1 year on the market, it had only a 3% share. They tested and re-arranged the sales material and still failed to capture greater share. The eventual answer to the dilemma surprised everyone, and the branding agency was called in to solve the riddle.
Belief in a brand is not always about the product
There are three types of beliefs:
Every healthcare marketer seeks out It beliefs as a matter of routine. What do you like/dislike most about it? What will It replace in your toolkit? How often will you use It, and with whom? These questions—while good for promotional and sales material—are often inadequate to discover deeper reasons at work in the dynamic between It and the user.
Discover why doctors went into their chosen field
In addition, one must account for the type of specialist that will engage with the brand. Surgeons fancy themselves as a breed apart from doctors. They command a team. They like being the conductor of the orchestra (some even choose their own music to play during operations). Their tools are an extension of their self-identity. When the company initially introduced the liquid suture, they conducted only It-belief research with surgeons, and got the answers to the questions they asked, but not the questions that actually mattered.
Different types of questions yield Me and Them beliefs
Instead of asking doctors about the brand, first ask questions about them; they enjoy the topic. Why did you become a doctor? A surgeon? What’s the difference between a doctor and a surgeon? How do you view closure? And so on. Secondly, conduct perceptual exercises that don’t ask direct questions. One such exercise is a simple projective technique that outlines the complexity behind their choices. We separated a focus group of 12 surgeons into two sub-groups (the surgeons ranged from generalists to specialists). One sub-group was assigned thread sutures, and the other sub-group the liquid suture. Their task was to answer this question: if your brand were a mode of transportation, what would it be and why? The thread sutures sub-group chose a steam locomotive. They felt it was strong, part of an enduring heritage that could be used for many people, and also reliable—very little could go wrong to derail it. The liquid suture group chose a Vespa. They said it had no power, limited utility, and they would never be caught dead riding one. The beliefs came into clear focus: surgeons use thread sutures because they want to be seen as powerful, reliable practitioners that belong to a special group of pioneers. The liquid suture sub-group were embarrassed to be seen using the brand because they were afraid it was weak (the closure wouldn’t hold and word would get around—a Them belief), and because it looked like crazy glue or a crayon, and not the shiny steel tools on which their reputations rest. However, they did admit that the Vespa was environmentally responsible, and great in tight spaces—both Me beliefs.
How to apply the lessons of Me and Them beliefs
The course of action became clear.
So, the next time you wish to discover deep insights about your brand, make sure to check in with the end user. You’ll save time, money, and perhaps avoid offending a few egos.