Lessons Learned: Evolving from a strong product to a loved brand

Oliver Kohlhaas
Written by
Oliver Kohlhaas

These are the last days of winter. Days lengthen and the transition from winter to spring is soon upon us.

Before the flowers pop out of the ground and the birds reappear in the sky, I also take a moment to get some spring essentials for Calypso, my dog. When tick season starts, he already wears a SerestoTM collar because I know that he will be protected without me having to remember to treat him every now and then. But why do I choose SerestoTM? I am the Head of Marketing for Bayer Animal Health, so I make a rational decision based on complete information. I choose it because SerestoTM kills fleas and repels and kills ticks quickly, works for up to eight months, and is waterproof. I also have the privilege to know a lot more about the product, data on the prevention of transmission of vector-borne diseases, product safety and the high level of user satisfaction and peer recommendation. All that data supports my decision, even if we do not use or share it for promotion. After all, I choose SerestoTM because it is a great product. But is that enough?

When SerestoTM first went on the market in 2012 as a product it slowly and steadily found its way into the minds of veterinarians and the hearts and homes of pet owners around the world. Six years later, it is a market leader for protection against fleas and ticks for cats and dogs, being a known and respected brand in more than 60 countries around the world.

Oliver Kohlhaas with his dog Calypso
Special moments with Calypso

During those years, our world and the expectations of our customers have changed rapidly. SerestoTM, like many other products and brands, is continuously challenged to keep abreast with this speed. We must understand the needs of pet owners, the world they live in and provide solutions that are relevant to them. We also must work to connect with them today, tomorrow, and every day for the next ten years.

In 2017, the SerestoTM Global Brand Team started on a journey to meet the needs of customers in the changing world and I would like to share our learnings of this journey.

The Why

Brand purpose is more than just corporate jargon. It’s more than the latest buzzword among marketers. It is more than a phrase thrown around in a conference room. Brand purpose is where the commitment of the brand meets the intrinsic value of its customers.

At Bayer Animal Health, we define brand purpose as the reason WHY a brand exists; a people serving aim that gives a higher meaning and value to the customer beyond the offer of the brand.

The latest marketing theories also refer to this as the “brand ideal” or “the reason why.” While this isn’t a new concept, as it was first defined and identified in a 1996 Harvard study by Collin and Porras, research has proven that brand purpose is the differentiating factor between a reasonably successful business and a highly successful business. Our definition of brand purpose is closely built on the methodology of Jim Stengel.

The How

This year SerestoTM will become the largest brand in the history of Animal Health at Bayer. While these long lasting flea and tick collars are an innovative and successful product with a unique feature, we saw the potential for it to become a great brand that was driven by a clear and powerful purpose. Research has shown that SerestoTM outperforms our competitors in many key areas that are important to pet owners, but there was comparatively low brand awareness. The animal health industry is rapidly moving to provide veterinarians and ultimately consumers with the knowledge they need to make the right decision for their pets. It became essential to identify a strong purpose that resonates with customers to drive the continued success of the brand.

The timing could not be better either. Customers are looking for brands that are transparent in what they stand for and connect with the values they hold true. SerestoTM is in a tremendous position in the market for pet owners. But rather than relying solely on the past success of the product, our team chose to take advantage of this opportunity to take a strong brand and transition it to a leading, global brand that aligns with the core values to pet owners.

We worked to surface what SerestoTM really stands for and the reasons why our Global Brand Team believed the product exists. The journey that our team embarked upon leverages the knowledge and strength of our largest markets and worked collaboratively to identify what SerestoTM really stands for and how it makes a difference in the lives of pet owners around the world. 

As a result Seresto´s Brand Purpose has been articulated as follows:

“We exist to prevent anything from getting in the way of those special moments of shared happiness that brighten every day."

This unified brand promise serves as a compass for our team on how to expand in the future and how to remain focused on the customer.

SerestoTM is there for the little moments in life, not just the big and adventurous moments that Instagram portrays. SerestoTM isn’t only for the times when you are hiking through the Alps with your beanie cap and flannel jacket. It is for the strolls to the end of the driveway to collect the morning newspaper with your dog. It is for the hectic dinner time rush when you are cooking for your family and the cat is weaving between your legs at the stove. It is for the world that we all live in and allows us to take time to appreciate the small things we can do together.

Oliver Kohlhaas with his dog Calypso
Shared happiness at work

Key Findings and Lessons Learned

Many hours were spent breaking down, tearing apart, and building up new thoughts and ideas for SerestoTM. During this time, our team has learned a lot about the process of building a strong brand promise.

Lesson 1: Brand Purpose development requires a clear and globally aligned brand positioning.

We’ve seen with the example in SerestoTM that while starting with unlocking a greater, more emotionally engaging idea, we eventually shifted the entire brand equity. Starting with a clear, global understanding of our brand’s equity was a helpful prerequisite to developing a brand purpose.

Lesson 2: Purpose territories are not brand exclusive.

Purpose territories include the five areas of fundamental human values as identified by Jim Stengel. In early research, we confirmed that the purpose of SerestoTM was relevant to the product category, but not to the brand specifically or the customer segment. It is important that the purpose territory may not be “unique” based on product features like a “Unique Selling Proposition” would be. The Brand Purpose needs to be tied to the brand and credibly brought to life in order to own it as a brand, not differentiated within the category.

Lesson 3: Brand Purpose needs to drive action.

A successful brand purpose must exist outside of a workshop and the sentences written on a piece of paper. The brand purpose must be brought to life in an authentic way. To see examples of how our brand purpose is brought to life, read more about the work we are doing with Rhino Anti-Poaching Dogs, Mine Detection Dogs, and Diabetes Alert Dogs.

Lesson 4: Transcending category purpose.

A Brand Purpose doesn’t need to reside too narrowly to the product category. However, the further you go from this “home territory” the more effort it takes to connect the brand in the mind of the customer.

Lesson 5: Leadership must buy in.

To ensure that the brand purpose will sink into every arm of the company and further on in the broader community, it needs to be driven and supported by the executive level. In Bayer Animal Health, the entire leadership team has endorsed the positioning and the brand purpose of SerestoTM.

My morning walks with Calypso are no longer in the dark and the harsh winter weather will soon move on. I really appreciate every little moment with him and I am looking forward to spring time when I will once again be reminded that SerestoTM is more than just a livelihood. It is a way to share happiness with my four-legged family member and enjoy these moments that brighten every day.1

  • 1. Seresto Disclaimer: Seresto® collar for cats and dogs: Two compositions: One collar for cats and dogs up to 8 kg body weight (38 cm length) and one collar for dogs over 8 kg body weight (70 cm length) contains 10 % imidacloprid and 4.5 % flumethrin as active substances; excipients: titanium dioxide and iron oxide black. Indications for use: Cats: For the treatment and prevention of flea (Ctenocephalides felis) infestation for 7 to 8 months. Protects the animal’s immediate surroundings against flea larvae development for 10 weeks. Collar can be used as part of a treatment strategy for the control of flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). The product has persistent acaricidal (killing) efficacy (Ixodes ricinus, Rhipicephalus turanicus) and repellent (anti-feeding) efficacy against tick infestations (Ixodes ricinus) for 8 months. It is effective against larvae, nymphs and adult ticks. Ticks already on the cat prior to treatment may not be killed within 48 hours after collar application and may remain attached and visible. Therefore, removal of ticks already on the cat at the time of application is recommended. The prevention of infestations with new ticks starts within 2 days after application of the collar. Apply collar before the beginning of the flea or tick season. Dogs: For the treatment (Ctenocephalides felis) and prevention of flea (Ctenocephalides felis, C. canis) infestation for 7 to 8 months. Protects the surroundings against flea larval development for 8 months. Collar can be used as part of a treatment strategy for the control of flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). Persistent acaricidal (killing) efficacy against tick infestations (Ixodes ricinus, Rhipicephalus sanguineus, Dermacentor reticulatus) and repellent (anti-feeding) efficacy against tick infestations (Ixodes ricinus, Rhipicephalus sanguineus) for 8 months and effective against larvae, nymphs and adult ticks. Ticks already on the dog prior to treatment may not be killed within 48 hours after collar application and may remain attached and visible. Therefore, removal of ticks already on the dog at the time of application is recommended. The prevention of infestations with new ticks starts within 2 days after application of the collar. The product provides indirect protection against transmission of the pathogens Babesia canis vogeli and Ehrlichia canis from the tick vector Rhipicephalus sanguineus, thereby reducing the risk of canine babesiosis and canine ehrlichiosis for 7 months. For treatment of biting/chewing lice (Trichodectes canis) infestation. Ideally, the collar should be applied before the beginning of the flea or tick season. Contraindications: Do not treat kittens less than 10 weeks of age. Do not treat puppies less than 7 weeks of age. Do not use in case of known hypersensitivity to the active substances or to any of the excipients. Special precautions for use: The product is water-resistant; it remains effective if the animal becomes wet. However, prolonged, intense exposure to water or extensive shampooing should be avoided as the duration of activity may be reduced. Studies show that monthly shampooing or water immersion does not significantly shorten the 8 months efficacy duration for ticks after redistribution of the active substances in the coat, whereas the product’s flea efficacy gradually decreased, starting in the 5th month. As with any veterinary medicinal products, do not allow small children to play with the collar or to put it into their mouths. Pets wearing the collar should not be allowed to sleep in the same bed as their owners, especially children. People with known sensitivity to the ingredients of the collar should avoid contact with the collar. Wash hands with cold water after fitting the collar. Adverse reactions: Occasionally slight pruritus and/or erythema may be observed in animals that are not used to wearing collars on the first few days after fitting. Ensure that the collar is not fitted too tightly. Slight hair loss and mild skin reactions may occur at the application site which usually recover within 1 to 2 weeks without the need for collar removal. In single cases, a temporary collar removal may be recommended until the symptoms have disappeared. In cats, initially, slight and transient reactions as depression, change of food intake, salivation, vomiting and diarrhoea might occur in rare cases. As in other topical applications, allergic contact dermatitis might occur in hypersensitive animals. Laboratory studies with either flumethrin or imidacloprid in rats and rabbits have not produced any effects on fertility or reproduction and showed no teratogenic or foetotoxic effects. However, the safety of the veterinary medicinal product has not been established in target animals during pregnancy and lactation, and in the absence of available data, the product is therefore not recommended in pregnant and lactating bitches or queens. No interaction with other medicinal products and other forms of interaction are known. Due to the nature of the collar, overdosage is unlikely and signs of overdosage are not to be expected. An overdosage of five collars around the neck was investigated in adult cats and dogs for an 8-month period and in 10-week-old kittens and 7-week-old puppies for a 6-month period and no other adverse effects were observed. In the unlikely event of oral uptake of the collar, mild gastrointestinal signs (e.g., loose stool) may occur. Withdrawal period: Not applicable. Marketing authorization holder: Local Bayer affiliates. Advantage® Spot-on solution for dogs and cats (UK).
Oliver Kohlhaas
Written by
Oliver Kohlhaas