Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What can NSGC learn from TV?

Last fall as a guest blogger on this blog (see entry September 21, 2009 below) and recently as a contributor to Perspectives in Genetic Counseling ( I wrote about the importance of branding an association. When the NSGC Board decided several years ago to develop an NSGC “brand”, the first step was to select a specific audience, or “target customer”. To illustrate the selection of a target customer, I look to my favorite cable television station, tbs. A TV station has many similarities to an association, as it is service-based and depends heavily on support from external parties, namely advertisers. Attracting more advertisers means investment in the programming, which attracts more target viewers, which attracts more advertisers – a television version of the circle of life.

Some of you may remember, as I do, the TBS station from many years ago when it was the “TBS Superstation” and ran a hodge-podge of re-runs and movies typical for many cable channels. If you don’t remember, you are reinforcing the reasons why TBS needed to change! At that time, the channel was not clearly differentiated from other stations as the place to go for a specific type of programming. In other words, TBS was not very memorable and potential viewers couldn’t tell whether it was the station for them or not.

TBS underwent a re-branding effort beginning in 2005, and I was fortunate to hear the brand manager speak about the effort later that same year. The first step the management took was to analyze the different possible TV viewers and place them into categories. They considered many types of characteristics such as gender, age, employment status, household constitution (e.g. number and age of adults, children, etc), hobbies, etc. Next, they identified the customer group, or target, that they could serve better than anyone: the busy adult who wants “comfort TV” that is a reliable release from daily demands of work and household responsibilities. The benefit the station thought it could provide was an escape with familiar friends on funny programs. (Think about Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, etc.)

This process of identifying a target customer and what benefits an organization or product can bring to that customer better than anyone else is the basis for creating a brand. NSGC went through a similar process. Board members determined that the best way for NSGC to serve genetic counselors was to promote the profession itself, an activity that no other organization is likely to undertake. To do so, the NSGC Board chose to target physicians, who are key gatekeepers for patients’ access to genetic counselors and repeated beneficiaries of the value genetic counselors bring to their patients. After all, who will hear about the patient’s satisfaction with having received helpful, easy-to-understand translation of genetic information to facilitate decision-making? The physician who referred! And who could potentially discourage a patient who has heard about genetic counseling and asks whether it is appropriate for her? Again, the physician – at least one who hasn’t heard from NSGC’s brand campaign yet and therefore doesn’t know the value the patient and physician both receive from a genetic counseling consultation.

Once the target customer and key benefits to that customer are determined, the next stage of branding is tactical, meaning that all the creative development occurs, such as designing a new logo and choosing colors, developing key phrases about benefits, etc. If you aren’t among tbs’ viewers, you can see an example of its creative work on its website, The tbs logo, with its casual, lower-case letters, half-circle “smile”, and the phrase “very funny”, says it all! The result is that the target customer can consistently count on finding that welcome “release” in tuning to tbs.

Did it work? The station’s management faced some initial challenges with changing to advertisers seeking its new target customer. I recall seeing an advertisement in the fall of 2005 for “The Matrix” -- very funny? I don’t think so. However, a recent, quick review of its website demonstrates a line-up of character-filled, funny sitcoms as well as original programming that suggests success and the ability to invest in further development of its “very funny” brand. Also, its advertising likely appeals to the target viewer:’s humorous online “store”, a Pinesol queen with a handsome servant, and numerous time-saving products to manage the home like Turbotax, Select Harvest Light soup, and Bounty paper towels.
What does tbs’ branding success have to do with NSGC’s recently begun branding efforts?
Branding NSGC will increase visibility and credibility for genetic counselors. This means NSGC will attract more dollars through advertisers, collaborators, membership, etc. allowing NSGC to expand and enhance member services and increase investment in critical strategic initiatives like improving access to genetic counseling services. Physicians will recognize which patients will benefit the most and refer a larger number and/or more appropriate patients. Prospective students are more likely to learn about the genetic counseling profession to potentially increase the diversity of our field.

I hope this example has helped demonstrate why NSGC is investing in creating a brand and how we will do so. I’m exhausted from writing this blog and just want to relax in front of television…I wonder what’s on tbs?

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