Lessons from the Garden: Care and Feeding Needed to Grow Great Biotech Brands

—David Winigrad, President
—Maureen Winigrad, VP, Marketing & Strategy

The 1979 film “Being There” is the memorable story of Chance the Gardener, portrayed by Peter Sellers, who becomes a national sensation by discussing great questions of the day in the context of gardening–the only world he knows. His simple ideas about nurturing growth resonate because of their fundamental universality–Chance’s listeners instantly translate his concepts into their individual areas of reference. Chance–the ultimate innocent–becomes recognized as something of a modern-day prophet because of the wide applicability of his ideas. In the movie, Chance ventures forth from his garden into the world of politics. His analogy stands up in many other instances, including biotech. Let’s put some of his quotes to the test in the context of biotech marketing to assess what Chance the Gardener can tell us about growing great brands?

A biotech product needs three things to grow into a great biotech brand: focus, creativity, and consistency.

“As long as the roots are not severed, all is well.”
The converse is also true: sever the roots and the garden will fail. One of the reasons the “garden” of big pharma is not exactly flourishing these days is because its “roots”–the discovery and development labs that feed its pipeline–while not exactly severed, are certainly suffering. Many big pharma companies are concerned with the lack of promising compounds in their portfolio. Biotech’s roots, on the other hand, are very healthy, with the proof lying in the many bio drugs on the cusp of approval by the FDA.

That sounds great for the biotech industry, but it is actually a mixed blessing for individual companies. A robust pipeline is great, of course, but biotech’s ascent means that each company is competing for attention–from the media and from potential investors. Each company’s garden may be ready to flourish, but so are those of most of the 1,500 other biotech firms out there. Companies not only have to perfect their science, but also find ways of differentiating themselves from the competition.

“In the garden, growth has its seasons.”
For the biotechnology industry, the growing season is now. As Business Week said last June, “Biotechnology has finally come of age.” But even under the most favorable of conditions, no garden will flourish without a few essential ingredients: sun, water, and nutrition from the soil being the most important. Similarly, a biotechnology brand will not flourish without care and feeding.

Specifically, a biotech product needs three things to grow into a great biotech brand:

  • Focus: A biotech company has to articulate its vision for brand.
  • Creativity: A biotechnology company has to find a way for its brand to break through and be noticed; not with one idea, but with an abundance of them.
  • Consistency: A biotech company has to align itself to messages that it can sustain over time. It must communicate promises–and make good on them.

 “All is well…and all will be well…in the garden.”
“Chance the Gardener could say this with confidence, because he knew he had the skills, experience, and dedication it took to successfully nurture his garden. He knew, of course, that untended gardens do not flourish. In the same way, potentially great brands will wither and die on the vine unless they receive the care and sustenance they need to grow to greatness.

 To succeed, brands need to be nurtured by a marketing methodology that:

  • Aligns science with goals
  • Helps create a unique story and the company’s promise
  • Illuminates and distinguishes a company and its vision with stand-out creative executions and marketing messages
  • Helps discover and use nonfinancial assets–and attract more investors
  • Defines the promise of the science

Growing greatness requires many steps. The roots of brand greatness are being tended to by research and development teams. But, unfortunately, the brand must someday leave the protected laboratory environment and try to grow to greatness in a crowded, competitive marketplace. And it can’t do that without the nurturing of skilled “brand gardeners.” The care and feeding of a biotech brand is not something that can be left to chance.


Original publication date: April, 2006; VIEW on Biotechnology
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