• Karl Schmieder

What Makes A Great Brand

In my last post, I wrote about brands and brand building. This week, THE ECONOMIST ran a story on brand building  titled “It Has Never Been Easier to Launch a New Brand.” The article explains why you’re seeing so many new brands -- Harry’s, Allbirds, Casper, among them.


Why is it easier to launch a new brand?


Because it’s never been easier to identify, target, build, and connect with an audience. The thing that differentiates these new brands from the old incumbents is their story.

Since stories are how we construct our identities, decide what we believe in, and who we are in the world, brands depend on a good story.


But what makes a great brand?


Here are six things great brands do.


1. A Great Brand Speaks Directly to You.

That means who it's talking to in your own language.


Growing up, I rode a Sims Skateboard with Sims Snake Wheels. I owned several Sims boards and was a fan of the company. Sims was based in Santa Barbara and I skated with and competed against kids on the team. When Sims advertised, it showed its products and team members -- kids that looked like me and my friends. I was one of them.

Sims was one of the first companies to introduce first wide skateboard decks for riding skateparks and pools. I had already seen and ridden those wider boards in my local park, so it was easy for me to be an early-adopter. Sims spoke directly to me.


What life sciences company is telling YOUR story?

2. A Great Brand Knows What It Stands For.

Patagonia is a well-known, very successful outdoor clothing company. The company is known for using sustainable materials, manufacturing durable products, and serving as environmental activist.


Patagonia started small. It created a few products. It pushed for less consumption, even advertising "Don't Buy This Jacket." In 2019, the company stopped putting the logos of financial firms on its ubiquitous down vests. Yet, because of its reputation and the quality of its product, Patagonia is a successful, multi-million dollar brand.


Every great brand stands for something. Patagonia stands for quality, sustainability and the environment. They're clear and upfront about what they stand for.

What does your life sciences brand stand for?

3. A Great Brand Has an Enemy.

In storytelling, there is no hero without an enemy. There’s also no story. No Dorothy without the Wicked Witch. No Luke without Darth Vader. No Ellen Ripley without the Alien(s).


Great brands not only stand for something. They stand against something: a challenge, a competitor, the status quo.


Patagonia stands against cheap, poorly made outdoor products. They also stand against the abuse of our public lands.


My friends at Opentrons stand for simplicity and accessibility. They’re making lab automation accessible by making it simple and affordable. If you look at the Opentrons site or hear them speak at a conference, they’ll talk about hours saved from the manual work of pipetting. They compete against companies that sell automation tools that cost double, triple, even ten times what their robots cost, and they are very successful.


What does your life sciences brand stand against? Who is your enemy?

4. Great brands are emotional.

We, humans, are emotional beings. As much as we might hate to admit it, emotions, not cold-logic, drive most of our decisions.


A great brand knows how to tap into your emotions. Fear, guilt, trust, value, belonging, and love are all emotions that great brands know how to incite.



Apple is a master when it comes to tapping into emotions. Apple is about imagination, design, simplicity, and innovation.


Some argue that Apple transcends most brands because its customer base so loves it. Apple fans are seen as a cult or religion.


That is the most powerful branding.

What life sciences brand is emotional? What life science brand is building a cult?

5. Great brands invent or reinvent a category. In the world of consumer brands, Apple, Coca Cola, Nike, Starbucks, and Tesla each define their category. When you say their name, people generally know the brand and what it produces and stands for. These brands and others like them, invite you to imagine how your life will be better when you're using their products. They invite you to be the hero of your adventure. When these companies first launched, they did not define their category. They had to work hard to achieve that status. In the beginning, Tesla was seen as another electric car manufacturer in a category that hadn't been defined. Today, Telsa means electric car.


Consumer brands that put biotechnology in front and center of their brand story have the opportunity to create whole new categories of products. It's my opinion that people are hungry for these stories. I want to able to say, "My leather boots were made by bacteria fed avocado waste and dyed using bacteria. When I'm done with them, I can leave them outside, and they'll fertilize my garden.

How can you reinvent your category with your life science story?

6. Great Brands Know Their Story Never Ends. It's a given that a brand needs to tell a great story. But that story has to be repeated and sustained over the long-haul. THE ECONOMIST article states incumbents have the advantage when it comes to building global brands. To me, that means upstart brands need to learn how to tell and retell their story consistently and continuously. Repeating your brand story is essential. Why? Because most people are going to swipe your story away many times before they start paying attention to you.

How do you plan to tell your life sciences story now and as your company evolves?

What Do You Think? And How Will You Do It?

I know it's a lot to take in. But in my opinion one of the easiest ways to build a brand is to help your audience.


Become the brand that finds the ways you can help your audience be better. Put yourself on their team. Notice where they can improve and make suggestions.


Brand building isn’t easy. It takes time. But I promise that if you are helpful and consistent and genuine, you can create a brand that people will talk about. I don’t believe that is hard in the life sciences.


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