Building Brands Electronically

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At one time, brand recognition was built with advertising, direct mail, trade shows, telemarketing, and personal sales calls. A sizable portion of these tools have been replaced with banner ads, Webinars, e-mail, and blogs. What are the advantages to building brand strength electronically? What are the dangers?


At one time, brand recognition was built with advertising, direct mail, trade shows, telemarketing, and personal sales calls. A sizable portion of these tools have been replaced with banner ads, Webinars, e-mail, and blogs. What are the advantages to building brand strength electronically? What are the dangers?


E-marketing’s growing popularity arises from its response rate. A survey conducted in August 2005 by DoubleClick Inc. (New York City) found that 34.8% of all e-mail sent by business product and service companies is opened, along with 30.8% sent by business-to-business publishers. The survey also found that the click-through rate for business product e-mail was 8.6% and b-to-b publishers’ e-mail was 7.1%.

Robin Ward, vice president of marketing at Linnea Inc. (Easton, PA), likes e-marketing’s immediacy and flexibility. “The lead times from decision to press are shorter, and the message can create immediate impact,” he says. “E-marketing is highly adaptable right up to the last moment before going live, meaning that breaking news or new studies, for instance, can easily be incorporated into the message. E-marketing allows targeting of audiences, and feedback can be used to fine-tune the campaign at relatively low cost.”

Of course, e-marketing has its downside. Filters can block e-mail. Software can suppress images. Customers can change their e-mail addresses. In short, technology can make e-marketing less cost-effective.

The sheer number of Web sites is another problem. “Industry news Web sites are proliferating rapidly, and this may be diluting the audience,” says Ward. “Also, the overuse of mailing lists from the electronic media vendors may relegate supposedly targeted e-mails to spam. Even if industry professionals opt in to a list, these mailings can be reduced in their effectiveness if these professionals are receiving 20 mailings per day.”


Banner ads and Web sites are the primary tools of the e-marketer. Web banners generate brand and ingredient awareness. What’s more, they are a measurable, direct response with click through to company or ingredient Web sites. Ward sees one disadvantage. “It’s easy to get lost in a sea of banners on Web sites,” he says. “The electronic media vendors need to protect against this.”

Web sites are effective because they can be updated easily and rapidly. Their inherent accessibility allows industry partners to access data that can drive purchase decisions. “They also help to provide consumers with information, although care needs to be taken to remain in compliance with claims legislation,” says Ward.

Direct e-mail remains an effective tool for raising brand awareness. It is also effective in attracting attendees to Webinars and seminars, and to drive trade show traffic.

“But you have to have something worthwhile to say. Otherwise it becomes spam and reduces the impact of future mailings,” says Ward.

Webinars are an increasingly popular way to present scientific information to a target industry. Webinars typically offer one to three PowerPoint presentations with live speakers. The audience listens and observes from the comfort of their desktop computers. In October 2005, Linnea and Nutritional Outlook magazine conducted a Webinar to introduce HMRlignan, a naturally occurring plant lignan from the Norway spruce (Picea abies). HMRlignan, or 7-hydroxymatairesinol, is a direct metabolic precursor of the mammalian lignan, enterolactone. According to Linnea, as a direct enterolactone precursor, HMRlignan offers the health benefits of other lignan sources-such as flax lignans-in a low-cost, low-dosage, and highly bioavailable form.

Linnea chose the Webinar format to present technical information about HMRlignan to formulators and marketers. “We found the Webinar environment an extremely effective way to target-and ‘talk’ to-the trade audience,” says Ward. “The medium is especially effective for new product introductions, allowing a broad-based launch both nationally and internationally. It is a particularly efficient method of presenting the key product data to industry professionals at various organizational levels and functions. Getting ’round the table for face-to-face meetings with so many companies would have taken months.”

The Webinar was relatively easy to manage in spite of the fact that the keynote speaker, Mikko Unkila, head of drug discovery at Hormos Medical Corp. (Turku, Finland), delivered his presentation from Finland, and Ward from Switzerland. According to Ward, the technical aspects were handled by the Webinar vendor and were simple to understand and use.

Finding and getting the right audience was crucial. “Targeted pre-event promotion is critical,” says Ward. “We were pleasantly surprised by the number of attendees and that almost all attendees stayed online for the full duration of the event.”

Ward’s advice for anyone considering a Webinar: ensure the presentations are focused and to the point. “We presented a lot of new scientific data, as was right for the audience, but it is important to leave enough time to summarize the key information and benefits of the ingredient and-as an interactive event-plenty of time for Q&A.”

Feedback from the questions and answers as well as the polling questions asked during the Webinar provide valuable insight into customer opinions and thoughts. “Feedback can be fed straight back into the communications planning,” says Ward.


Given the cost involved, does branding make sense for ingredients? Definitely, in the business-to-business environment. “With novel ingredients, especially those with patent protection and clinical data such as HMRlignan, it is vital to give the ingredient a unique identity,” says Ward. “If you have something that stands out from the crowd, then it makes sense to make it stand out from the crowd. Branding is an effective tool to achieve this objective.”

Where ingredients are generic, as with some of the more traditional herbs, ingredient branding carries less value. “When marketing generic ingredients, corporate branding is more important, and in this case we try to communicate our core values as a quality Swiss company with a pharmaceutical heritage,” says Ward. “That message, while remaining important, is not as key to our HMRlignan communications. It is important to keep the core messages correctly focused in both cases.”

Ward sees a number of ways e-marketing can be used for increasing brand awareness. “Banners on newscasts from independent editorial sources, such as, have been a positive addition to our arsenal,” he says. “This is an opt-in subscription news service that builds brand awareness without the potential stigma of spam.”

Live messaging could also be an interesting medium for providing instant sales and technical support, providing quick response for formulators and marketing during product development.