What It Means for Brands to Truly Be ‘Consumer-First’ | Entrepreneur

Terms like “user-friendly,” “consumer-first” and “customer-centric” have become buzzwords across industries in recent years. From pharma to fashion, today’s great brand leaders all understand that taking an audience-first approach to developing and selling products and services is critical to their company’s success. Consumers are becoming savvier when it comes to selecting the items they need in both their personal and professional lives; they are not only carefully vetting specific products and services, but also the brands behind them.

Despite all this, I’ve observed that the bridge between consumer-first rhetoric and action is still not always as strong as it needs to be to sustain long-term brand loyalty. With that in mind, I’m sharing three tips from my company’s “consumer playbook” that I believe can benefit all brand leaders. While the industry I’m in — life sciences — is obviously quite a different business model than retail, for example, lessons learned from our industry are still applicable to others. In fact, due to all of the rules and regulations governing health care, we arguably have to work even harder than other sectors to create meaningful connections with consumers.

Throughout this piece, I’ll use the biopharmaceutical sector — which is ripe for disruption and in need of new and innovative ways to connect with consumers — as a case study from which leaders in other industries can draw. Biopharma is a great example, because while we’re very lucky to have robust drug development in the U.S., drug makers themselves have historically had a fairly negative reputation among Americans — that is, if they’re on consumers’ minds at all.

The pandemic effect

As happened in so many industries, Covid-19 fundamentally changed the way consumers view biopharmaceutical manufacturers. For the first time, people started thinking about the brands that develop the medicines they take. Those receiving a Covid-19 vaccine asked one another, “Moderna or Pfizer?” For people who couldn’t see their loved ones, go to the grocery store or return to work, getting vaccinated represented getting back to life. For many of them, this experience also created instantaneous brand loyalty with vaccine makers.

This scenario isn’t unique to biopharmaceuticals. Many brands across industries innovated to add value and comfort to consumers’ lives during a time characterized by fear and isolation. By adapting offerings or creating totally new products and services to meet the specific needs of this unprecedented period (think of how grateful we are for the services provided by companies like Uber Eats and Doordash, FedEx and UPS, and Amazon and Zoom), they too were rewarded with exceptional brand loyalty.

The question today then becomes, “How do you bottle that brand loyalty into an ongoing consumer experience and sustain a relationship post-Covid?”

Tip #1: Respect your customer’s ongoing appetite for information and provide transparency about how your products and services are created

This means communicating updates, optimizations and improvements in our foundational technologies so that consumers understand the potential value and safety profile of the medicines we are making — and not just for fighting Covid-19, but for preventing and treating a number of other conditions. When Moderna’s mRNA technology is used to develop a new vaccine, that’s like an updated product release. We can expect improvements for each vaccine as we optimize our whole platform, and we need to communicate to our customers just as Apple would with an iPhone update.

This heightened demand for transparency is true across industries. A recent Nielsen report around food transparency found two-thirds of shoppers (64%) say they would switch from a brand they usually buy to another brand that provides more in-depth product information, beyond nutrition facts. Consumers today want to know exactly where their products and services are coming from and how they are made.

Tip #2: Go deeper than market research

Consumers today have a heightened awareness of what they’re putting in their bodies as well as a desire to understand — and approve of — how these products are made. We bring consumers along to understand how mRNA teaches the body to fight and prevent diseases. This is similar to an operating system with updated “apps” or in the case of mRNA, new therapeutics and vaccines.

To better leverage market research, we cannot start with assumptions. We need to find nuance in what consumers want, especially when it comes to areas of innovative technology that fundamentally change how consumers interact with a product or brand. Artificial intelligence applications across industries, for example, need to be broached carefully on a case-by-case basis and surrounded by clear communications. Ensuring your brand is going beyond general market research results to understand specific, unique circumstances will be critical in the coming months.

Tip #3: Look at reputation not as a reservoir of goodwill, but as a river of growing loyalty

Historically biopharmaceutical companies treated reputation as a buffer for tough times or bad news. Instead, we need to bolster loyalty around a pipeline of products, like Nike, for example. We can do this by creating brand experiences outside of products that help consumers learn about the company’s mission and values. Athleta, a popular women’s athleisure brand, continues to tap strong female athletes as brand ambassadors, recently forming “the Power of She Collective,” which has a mission to empower women and girls — their core consumer audience.

My team is leaning into, not out of, the halo effect of our enterprise brand and continuing to grow it through interconnected consumer experiences beyond any one product or milestone. I urge other brand leaders and entrepreneurial innovators to do the same, as we can all benefit from doing the work it takes to build mutual trust, earn loyalty and create more “get back to life” moments for the consumers we serve.