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Branding—It’s not just for promotion

Developing scientific identities to shape conversations in medicine

The conventional understanding of branding goes hand in hand with product promotion. This can be seen when everyday household products become interchangeable with their brand names, like Tylenol for acetaminophen or Kleenex for tissues. But the potential of branding is multifold. A nuanced understanding of what branding can do reveals much broader applications for the branding toolkit. Sci-dentity is one such application.

Today, a product’s survival may depend on its ability to stay afloat amid the tidal wave of information washing over consumers at an astonishing and ever-increasing rate. In this context, a brand is a life boat. By creating a shorthand for comprehending a product’s value, branding ideally formats and simplifies information for those with limited time to process it.

But product awareness is challenging in the information age. The crushing weight of messages, facts, and data is ubiquitous. No field is exempt from this trend. To wit, the medical field may be among those hardest hit by the explosion of new information. In a stunning example, an average of nearly 1 million new records were added to PubMed annually over the last decade—including >1.6 million added in 2020 alone.1

It is incredibly difficult for healthcare professionals (HCPs) to keep up, and 84% of doctors say that the volume of clinical information being produced and the number of sources available make it difficult to prioritize research that may affect how they practice medicine.2

Infographic depicting 1.6M new biomedical literature records added to PubMed and 84% of doctors being overwhelmed by new literature

As new concepts emerge—whether they are technologies, disease pathways, or therapeutic mechanisms—the medical community needs to develop shorthands or shortcuts to make this information comprehensible. In this environment, something similar to branding has organically occurred.

Take for example the class of drugs known as biologics. Independent of any single pharmaceutical product, the concept stands alone as a pillar of therapeutic innovation. Biologics span disease states and indications. Yet, even with such broad usage, the term provides a unified understanding of what these drugs are and how they work. Now, the medical community has expanded its understanding of medication to make room for this previously unknown category. To simply say “It’s a biologic” conveys a wealth of information in a shorthand way.

“Biologic” has become the medical equivalent of a household name. Similarly, clinical trial end points that were once novelties or abstractions—molecular remissions, progression-free survival—have been adopted as standard. Terms that were unfamiliar now dominate the conversation: immunotherapy, telemedicine, accountable care, bispecific antibodies, precision medicine, targeted treatment, personalized medicine. The common thread between these terms is that once upon a time they didn’t exist, and today they convey big ideas with little effort.

In short, the medical community has branded its big trends and breakthroughs without intending to. But intentional or not, this branding process has power.

The terminology that rises to the top shapes the discourse and changes how people think and talk about medicine.

What if you could take the reins of this process to define a new niche within the medical discourse, to accelerate the broad uptake of new buzzwords? More than branding a product, what if you could brand science, thereby shaping the conversations people are having in medicine? This is the objective of MedThink’s proprietary Sci-dentity process.

Defining your scientific niche

In the Sci-dentity process, the first step toward defining your scientific niche is understanding the preconceptions that exist around it.

Like everyone else in the world, medical professionals are susceptible to cognitive biases. No amount of advanced training can fully untrain the circuitry of the human mind. In particular, HCPs have a confirmation bias in the disease states in which they specialize. Their preconceptions drive to certain conclusions that fast-track decision-making. By creating a framework to interpret and integrate new information, preconceptions can be a helpful cognitive tool.

But preconceptions also can be limiting. For example, preconceptions may put boundaries on the treatment goals in a disease state, defining what’s acceptable to aim for and what’s unrealistic. Preconceptions may decide what compromises HCPs are willing to make, whether an adverse event is considered manageable, or what factors play into assessing a patient’s suitability for a treatment. In general, these judgments are based in fact. But in some cases, the magnitude of these preconceptions outsizes the evidence supporting them.

Overturning preconceptions requires a multipronged communications effort. That’s because these preconceptions, whatever form they take, make up the basis of a brand. It may not be a brand in the conventional sense because there is no product, no promotion, no competitor marketing effort. But for all practical purposes, the mental shorthand these preconceptions hardwire into customers operates like a brand.

When a conventionally understood brand—a product—goes up against these more nebulous, organically derived “brands,” the playing field is not level. A product can challenge a competitor product. But when challenging a narrative, a common understanding, or an interpretation of facts, a product is not well equipped to compete.

This is where cultivating a Sci-dentity—a marketing apparatus distinct from but complementary to a brand—offers a path forward. As part of a Sci-dentity effort, the objectives are tailored to address the competitive threat posed by “brands” that are not brands in a conventional sense, but are cognitive frameworks for interpreting information.

Ask yourself what you could accomplish if you could differentiate your brand in a way that helps you:

Icon of a hand holding two conversation bubbles

Engineer the conversation to make room for your new technology

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Amplify the appreciation of your brand’s unique feature or process associated with a therapeutic category

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Standardize the terminology used to describe your unique product class, benefit, or mechanism

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Normalize and reframe a new clinical end point, test, or biometric to your advantage

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Challenge the status quo by reshaping expectations, goals, and values

At MedThink, we work with you to identify the challenges your product faces, uncover your essential differentiator, and help you shape the conversation around it.

Realizing your potential to reshape the conversation

The challenge that Sci-dentity overcomes is to create a new frame of reference. Just as you would shore up a product’s messaging to defend against competitors, Sci-dentity defines the framework and then competes with existing narratives about your area of medicine.

First, how do we define branding? At a basic level, branding is a name, a symbol, iconography, or an association of concepts. A brand is a closed ecosystem curated with elements both abstract and concrete. Logos, taglines, color palettes, and fonts may comprise the foundational elements. Ideas, expressions, and evocations round out the canopy. Applied to a product, branding creates a differentiating identity—an ownable intangible that follows a product throughout its lifetime. Its purpose is ambitious but simple. Branding cuts through the clutter and makes an impression.

The foundational element is a compelling premise or narrative. Around this, we develop a proprietary lexicon and a visual identity, which is then validated with key opinion leaders (KOL) in your field. In essence, we apply the branding toolkit to an area where “branding” has previously occurred organically (in the form of cognitive shortcuts and shared understandings, shaped by chance). Step by step, our method involves:

  1. Data collection and insight generation
  2. Strategic analysis and formulation of a Sci-dentity hypothesis and narrative
  3. Creative conception and KOL/HCP validation
  4. Finalization and launch

The desired outcome is to prime your audience with a new vocabulary and frame of reference. This allows them to interpret facts differently than if this terminology did not exist, was not standardized, or was not developed in opposition to the prevailing frame of reference.

Imagine if every branded conversation about immunotherapy had to incorporate an explanation of what immunotherapy was, how it came to be, or why it might be appropriate for a patient. Now imagine how much more is accomplished when “immunotherapy” can be taken for granted. Instead of derailing a conversation with basic questions and assumptions, a framework already exists to aid understanding. Furthermore, this framework may increase the scientific capital of the brand in discussion, linking it to greater innovation or prestige.

By realizing your potential to shape the conversation, you may see numerous opportunities to apply Sci-dentity to your marketing goals:

  • Pre-launch: Prime the market to appreciate the solution your product offers
  • Post-launch, or in advance of a competitor’s launch: Raise consciousness of aspects that differentiate your product
  • Enhance Performance-Driven Medical Education™ (PDME) by identifying a gap in education, deepening the importance and relevance of that gap to your audience, then creating more PDME value for your branded efforts
  • Standardize terminology to enhance the clarity, familiarity, and searchability of your product’s features
  • Build trust in your product by seeding familiarity with clinical end points, patient demographics, modes of administration, or therapeutic mechanisms

MedThink and your Sci-dentity

Harness our Sci-dentity process to differentiate your science and build a durable concept that becomes an accepted, familiar, and credible shorthand for the value of the product itself in the minds of your target audience.

Sci-dentity is just one of MedThink’s capabilities. This unique service is well integrated with our overarching approach to healthcare communications, PDME, which puts the HCP at the center of an education “ecosystem” designed to optimize every interaction through targeted messaging, compelling creative execution, and omnichannel delivery. Your Sci-dentity may be a linchpin element of this education ecosystem, which is designed to make the most of limited HCP interactions and drive attitude or behavior change.

As both a scientific and creative agency, MedThink is distinctly able to integrate the expertise of scientists, creatives, and digital strategists. A full spectrum of media and analytics capabilities both optimizes and validates our strategic solutions.

With a multidisciplinary team, we deliver:

  • The scientific knowledge to develop content that professionals will find valuable
  • Creativity to translate that educational content into ownable, memorable media
  • Media and analytics capabilities to optimize omnichannel delivery and measure performance over time

For marketing solutions that are performance-driven, transcend the ordinary, and apply innovation to proven approaches, reach out now.


1. PubMed search results, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/?term=1800%3A2100%5Bdp%5D. Accessed March 25, 2021. 2. The Doctor's Dilemma. Aptus Health. http://t.go.univadis.com/webApp/APP167#1. March 2019. Accessed March 25, 2021.

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