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The power of the brand: How much does it matter?

Issue 10

What’s in a name? And does a name play a vital role in whether a dentist decides to purchase a particular product?

What’s in a name? And does a name play a vital role in whether a dentist decides to purchase a particular product?

We talked to 3M ESPE and Discus Dental, a pair of large dental manufacturers with strong corporate and product brand names, about these topics. Both companies know it’s great to be well known, but believe it is important to consistently deliver high standards in order to keep that brand going well. If someone reaches for one of your products because they know and trust that name, and that particular product does not deliver the goods, that brand can become tarnished overnight.

But when companies continue to meet expectations, their customers not only are more likely to reuse these products, but they’re also more likely to reach for that brand name when the company they know and love branches out into other areas.

3M ESPE has successfully branded its line of preventive products to include the Clinpro line of products and other related products after its acquisition of Omnii Pharmaceuticals. The worldwide, multi-faceted company also purchased Brontes Technology and then used it to launch the Lava C.O.S. digital impression system last year, deciding to stick with the brand name Lava due to its success in the dental and lab industries and its recognition as a product known for digital technology and innovation.

Discus Dental, meanwhile, is best known for its ZOOM! whitening products but made a splash into endodontics a couple years ago and recently jumped into the laser field in a big fashion by becoming the exclusive distributors of Zap Lasers.

3M ESPE brand power

Steve Bonfig, Global Communications Manager for 3M ESPE, said it is great to have a well-known respected company backing products, but also it can be a burden, in a sense, to make sure everything is just right before anything hits the market.

“It’s absolutely critical,” he said. “More important than the well-known brand name, is what’s behind it. You want to consistently, over time execute against what that brand stands for. That consistency leads to recognition and, over the long haul, hopefully that develops into trust with your customers. So when a dental professional grabs that 3M ESPE composite filling or preventive material or a crown or whatever it is, they know that it is going to work because it has that brand, again more importantly-it has everything that’s behind the brand.”

What that brand stands for, however, can quickly be tarnished if just one dentist uses your product and it doesn’t work the way it was supposed to perform. “I would say, again, absolutely correct,” Bonfig said when asked if this can place extra pressure on a well-known company to deliver every single time. “Because brand is the sum total of every experience-good and bad-that a customer or person has with you and your company. You know, you go to a Web site and it crashes, or the one time you buy a product to use and it didn’t perform quite the way that you thought it would. Those experiences can be powerful, but not in a positive way. Brand is the good, the bad, the ugly, everything. So yes, it does set the bar high in that regard.”

That’s why R&D departments at companies like 3M ESPE work long and hard to get things just right before they send products out to the market. And when they deliver on their promises, dentists are more willing to reach for their products.

“It’s consistent delivery, consistent execution against what it stands for over time. That is really the critical thing,” he said. “Again it’s because the experience a customer has already had with the brand as opposed to the brand it and of itself. I love telling this story, we’ve had folks say to us ‘You guys do your homework.’ So part of what the 3M brand stands for is the ‘homework’ that we do-we do that before we launch a product in the marketplace, not only so it works as expected the first time, but also that it works the same way every time. That’s part of doing our homework and that leads back to trust. Over time people say ‘I tried other products from them and they worked pretty well. This probably will work too.’ ”

Success stories

“One example was an overnight success, but it took two years to do it,” Bonfig said. “It’s kind of one of those stories. Literally just earlier this year we launched a sodium fluoride anti-cavity toothpaste, Clinpro 5000.

This is the first big new product that came out ‘post-marriage’ of Omnii Pharmaceuticals and 3M ESPE. It’s not an Omnii product it’s a Clinpro product. Clinpro was a pretty well-accepted 3M ESPE brand in the preventive arena.”

He said this example indicates how the industry can take a strong name like Omnii and successfully phase it out, in this case into a part of the preventive business of 3M ESPE. A similar situation came about after the company acquired Brontes. “They had a product that was well into the development stage, but it was not yet commercialized,” Bonfig said. “There were a lot, and I can tell you a lot, of conversations about what was the right brand for that…did it need to stand on its own? Did it make sense to have it be a part of an existing 3M ESPE brand?”

While the name Brontes was pretty well known by followers of dental technology, the brand Lava was strong enough itself to help make the new digital impression system a success.

“Again, from our perspective the success story here is our ‘Lava’ brand already largely stood for digital technology, equipment and materials in the dental market,” he said. “In this example we introduced another digital technology, digital impressioning. It wasn’t a CAD/CAM machine or scanner for producing crowns and bridges. But it’s certainly high-tech at the front end of an overall digitally-enabled workflow. So again we thought, natural fit, already some equity in the Lava brand itself and it seemed to fit.

“So in these examples we added products by way of acquisition and we were able to use existing 3M ESPE brands because we already had products in very similar areas.”

The red 3M logo is known around the world and 3M ESPE uses that recognition to its fullest. Bonfig said this brand awareness helps keep the company on the minds of dentists looking to make purchases for their practices.

“If you’re a purchasing customer and you’re about to purchase something, you think, what are the top three or four companies I should be looking into. So recognition of the brand, and what’s behind it, definitely helps gets you into the front-end thinking of a potential customer. You want to be in that set that comes to mind, and a good strong brand name that’s got a lot behind it helps you do that,” he said, adding, “We like to think we’ve got the best of both worlds.

"The ‘big 3M’ and the red logo stands for practical and ingenious solutions. That’s really what the 3M brand is about. By adding ‘ESPE’ hopefully we make that brand more relevant for the dental arena. So we’ve got diversified technology, and a passion to solve customer problems at the heart of the 3M brand and 3M ESPE, the dental division of 3M to deliver on that promise specifically to our dental professional customers.”

Discus wants to be known as fast, reliable

Discus Dental’s Vice President, Global Marketing , Jennifer McNally reiterated what Bonfig said about the importance of building on the existing power of your brand.

“Branding is incredibly important,” she said. “But it’s incredibly rare that you can just build a brand and people will recognize and then just buy it. Brand has to stand for something. Once it stands for something, like ZOOM! stands for the fastest way to get your teeth white…then people will look for it and understand what it means. But in terms of the long-term benefit, it is what you give to the brand after you’ve initially made it.”

McNally said a good brand can assist companies that offer other products under that brand or with that same brand name in terms of preference and maybe brand awareness, which can serve as pluses because of the experience doctors have had with the previous brand. But she added, “A brand is also a delicate thing. One disappointed customer with a loud enough voice can really take a brand down. If your brand says FAST, then wherever you apply that brand it must be something FAST. It’s an asset but you have to manage and nurture and watch it grow over time. It’s not just something that you make and then just assume it’s going to take care of itself.”

She also said a corporate brand name can be incredibly powerful, more so than just a successful product brand name. “There’s a product brand, for example everyone trusts ZOOM! An even bigger brand is if you have a corporate brand that people know and trust.”

She stated Target stores and Starbucks coffee as examples of powerful corporate brands, adding that she thinks of “cool” and “affordable” when she thinks Target, and that is she wants a cup of coffee, she really prefers it be Starbucks. “When you get your corporate brand that way it’s really such a powerful vehicle because people will be willing to consider other products from you. Even categories they haven’t been in before, because what you stand for is of value to them,” she said. “If your brand stands for the right thing the customers will give you permission to go and to get into (another area)…because of what you stand for. Discus stands for high-quality, innovative, premium products that are not at a premium price.”

She credits this brand recognition for helping Discus enter the endo market after the company acquired LightSpeed and Dental Power in 2006. The company now hopes to use both its many resources and Zap’s strong laser reputation to help it become a big player in the dental laser market.

Robert Cartagena, Discus’ Chief Operating Officer, said the company spent plenty of time and energy researching the laser industry before striking a deal with Zap this fall. He said Zap’s very popular Styla microlaser fits well with the company’s reputation as offering innovative, reliable dental products. Discus’ cordless Flashlite curing lights have been part of a popular product line and the Styla is not only the first cordless dental microlaser, but it shares a similar size and look with the Flashlite curing lights. Discus also wanted to be able to offer an economical laser and the company is offering the entire line of Zap lasers at a reduced cost.

“When you look at Zap and you look at their capabilities, they’re a small company that’s really really good at laser R&D and manufacturing,” Cartagena said. “They didn’t really have a lot of marketing and sales teams and a lot of their sales came from the trade shows. If you look at what Discus has we have everything they don’t have and they have everything that we don’t have (in terms of lasers). It’s like they have the milk and we’ve got the cookies.

“We’ve got the marketing resources and we’ve got the brand name and sales staff and the big call center and the graphics department and team. So it’s just a real perfect fit for the two companies.”

For now, Discus has rebranded the SoftLase Pro diode laser so when the device is turned on, the Discus logo pops up on the screen. The Styla laser will get similar treatment down the road.

“With the Styla we’re going to phase it to the new brand; we didn’t really want to rock the boat too much with the branding right now because Zap has built itself up a pretty good brand,” Cartagena explained. “Zap is well respected in the laser field. And our goal is a chicken in every pot-a laser in every operatory. As we do that over the next few months we’re going to rebrand all of the laser products.”

As great as Discus feels its brand name is, the company is quite content to also take advantage of the name Zap has made for itself in the laser community. After all, the most important thing still comes down to whether products do what they’re expected to do. The well-known brand name is just an added bonus once you’ve earned the dentists’ trust by consistently delivering good products.

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