A coordinated effort

Editor's note: Lawrence Cesnik is U.S. lead, global customer insights, at LifeScan Inc., Milpitas, Calif.

LifeScan is the Johnson & Johnson company that makes OneTouch, the leading U.S. brand of blood glucose monitors and test strips. In 2011, LifeScan was faced with some real marketing challenges. On one hand, we needed to reinvigorate messaging for our legacy blood glucose meter line (OneTouch Ultra). On the other, we were preparing to launch a new meter (OneTouch VerioIQ) and needed a compelling way to talk about it to diabetes patients and health care professionals. These challenges were intensified by upcoming competitive meter launches.

Several different marketing groups within LifeScan’s U.S. marketing organization were considering revamping their messaging in order to support the new product launch and legacy refresh. Each marketing group had specific objectives for message development, such as:

Launch product team (OneTouch VerioIQ): Which claims best support the new product’s core benefit of identifying blood glucose patterns for patients?

Legacy product team (OneTouch Ultra line): How can we refresh the messages that have been used for several years to support the accuracy and ease of use of our legacy product line?

Payer marketing team: What is the best way to talk about our superior insurance coverage?

Professional marketing team: How can we most effectively influence all decision makers and influencers in the doctor’s office to prescribe and recommend OneTouch?

Higher market share

The situation was ripe for a solution. Each of the marketing groups had started talking about the need for stronger messaging at about the same time. Each group’s messaging need was legitimate and actionable: stronger messaging, combined with superior share of voice, could lead to more prescribing and usage of OneTouch meters and test strips. Getting the messaging right could set us on a path toward even better customer perceptions and higher market share.

The strategic messaging study that I developed to meet this challenge was a success due to its ability to connect the dots within our organization. The first step was getting all of the marketers together in a room to show them the benefits that a strategic messaging study would bring to all. They agreed with me that a study that looked across the business would be more effective  – and more efficient – at finding the strongest messages for the OneTouch brand than multiple studies for each marketing group. As a bonus, this holistic approach would enable better awareness, communication and collaboration between marketing teams even outside of this initiative, since marketers would need to come together several times during this process.

Another success factor was identifying a passionate marketing partner with whom I teamed to drive the success of the study. She had already taken on legacy brand revival as one of her key roles and so was a natural fit to be the marketing champion of this messaging-optimization process. In addition, my marketing partner was very bright and savvy about the power of insights, was strategically focused and had strong relationships with other marketers and outside agencies. Having her partnership and support on this strategic messaging initiative would also serve as a springboard for other insight initiatives to come.

Ample helpings of resources

To become actionable, the strategic messaging study would need to be “fed” very well and the feeding would include ample helpings of resources and relationships both inside and outside of LifeScan. As we did not want to miss any opportunity to strengthen our messaging, no stone could be left unturned. My marketing partner and I began by conducting a brainstorming session with key marketers (another would follow a couple of weeks later). That ideation yielded much fruit because we went into it with focused objectives, engaged participants, a competitive spirit (even a prize or two), a good knowledge of our current messages and a frank discussion about our messaging gaps.

The output of the ideation session was a much stronger, expanded list of potential messages to test in the research. As we identified the messaging gaps, it became clear that a good way to plug some of them and drive differentiation would be to expand our team (Figure 1) beyond marketing to other parts of the organization – including health economics, clinical affairs and sales – and even beyond our organization to the creative agency.

A wide range of sources (Figure 2) was consulted for the messages, including the creative brains of our marketers, previous market research studies, clinical studies, competitor Web sites and brochures and even publications like Consumer Reports. We also tasked our creative agency with strengthening the message language with their copywriting skills. Some of the messages on the table were known (through previous work) to resonate with customers and could be substantiated; others could be substantiated but it was unknown whether they would resonate; and for others we were not sure, but they appeared to differentiate us in an increasingly commoditized category.

We then refined our growing message list using three filtering principles: (1) align most of the messages with the positioning and strategy of both our legacy and soon-to-launch products; (2) include known strong messages (and exclude weak ones) from previous research; and (3) include a range of message buckets such as value, emotional benefits, functional benefits, ease of use, endorsement/legacy and service/support.

Multiple rounds of feedback from our cross-functional team strengthened the messaging study. I always asked the team to provide their feedback from the latest message list version by a specific date. Checking in at different times sometimes uncovered the unexpected bonus, such as the ability to include new competitor messages, a newly-published Consumer Reports claim and some powerful messages written by a very talented marketer who just happened to join the team late.

Really be the strongest

I wanted to have confidence that the winning messages identified in the study would really be the strongest among those tested. First, I needed to ensure that we surveyed the relevant audiences: diabetes patients who tested their own blood sugar and the health care professionals who supported them; endocrinologists; primary care physicians; diabetes educators; office staff; and pharmacists. Second, we needed a technique that was robust, real-world and allowed us to test a large number of messages. I worked with research firm Moskowitz Jacobs, White Plains, N.Y., to design a conjoint-based message optimization approach using its IdeaMap methodology. The conjoint approach – through exposure to dozens of randomly-generated concepts – provided a clear assessment of each message’s ability to “pop out” and impact the likelihood of patients and health care professionals to switch to our products. The concepts contained a mix of new product, legacy product and “overall OneTouch line” messages and, to simulate the marketplace, even included key competitor messages.

Four principles for insight-sharing

When results came back several weeks later, I wanted to reengage the team with a concise overview of the key message opportunities for the business. Simple, colorful graphical output (green = message is strong driver; red = strong detractor; white = neutral) helped translate the conjoint results, as did the following four principles for insight-sharing:

Link study results to industry decision drivers. I quickly re-grounded the audience in the key decision drivers in our blood glucose monitoring category (such as accuracy, ease of use and value) and then structured much of the message results around those drivers.

Clearly identify gaps. The lack of “green messages” in the ease-of-use bucket marked that message category as one in which we had no message that strongly motivated switching to our products – no surprise in a category where everyone was claiming ease-of-use but one that clearly suggested that additional work was needed to differentiate ourselves (Figure 3).

Present solutions. The beauty of testing so many messages was that while we saw vulnerability associated with some of the messages tested, we also discovered avenues to overcome those weaknesses. For example, in the chart in Figure 4, the most powerful execution (Message R) risks cannibalizing our own user base, so I suggested that we could use Message U or V instead, which fared much better with competitive users.

Clearly show competitive advantages. Importantly, IdeaMap’s ability to test competitive messages allowed us to graphically show how our strongest messages fared against competitors’ strongest ones. As seen in Figure 5, there were several in which we did better!

Not be acted upon

Since the marketing teams were extremely busy with multiple priorities, after the initial presentation it began to look as if the messaging insights from this study would not be acted upon – a very undesirable outcome for this strategic study. Sensing this, I began to nudge my colleagues: first by walking around the marketing department to ensure that, indeed, it was just a busy schedule and not a lack of motivation that was preventing action. Nudge No. 2 was enlisting the support of my passionate business partner, as well as a process-excellence colleague, to drive a follow-up session to more granularly identify the biggest message opportunities across the business. Nudge No. 3 was leading two messaging workshops with the health care professional marketing team. This group was the “lowest-hanging fruit” due to their motivation to strengthen their plan of action for the upcoming early-2012 sales cycle.

The second professional marketing messaging workshop was a focused, two-and-a-half-hour session that kicked off with a quick share-out of key takeaways from this and other messaging studies. We then dove right in and rolled up our sleeves. We leveraged those key insights to identify messages that we should drop, those we should keep or modify and those we should add – with a clear rationale for each bucket. During that meeting, we had a particularly productive discussion on how this study informed the “total office call” of our sales representatives. Through this technique, we had clearly identified some messages that resonated very strongly with the doctors in the practices we called on but found there were different ones that were compelling to the nurses, medical assistants and diabetes educators in those offices (Figure 6).

Lot of progress

A lot of progress has been made since the strategic messaging study and the follow-up action workshops. Some strong messages were continued as recommended and several new promising messages were implemented. A few messages uncovered in this study were so strong that a new study was developed to substantiate them. And, we continue to use a sales-detailing effectiveness study to track the ongoing impact of our messages among health care professionals.

The strategic nature of this study allows it to live well beyond its expiration date. I have found it to be an important addition to the foundational learning toolkit within the customer insights function. Key study results and implications can be used to open dialogues with business partners and help them visualize new messaging opportunities. The conjoint approach can also help us as internal research consultants provide a real-world framework for future research initiatives large and small.

We were able to strengthen our consumer and professional messaging at LifeScan through not just a smart research approach but also through leveraging the talents and resources of our company. I look forward to reaping more benefits from this experience for years to come.

Keys to success of the strategic messaging study at LifeScan

  • Identifying a big need across marketing
  • Bringing together key stakeholders
  • Finding a passionate partner to walk the journey with the insights manager and the organization
  • Leaving no stone unturned for message ideas
  • Choosing a research method that could reliably test a lot of messages
  • Staying close to marketing and driving the process to implement actions