The art of infusing personality into a stodgy category
In the serious business of blood and urine testing, you might not expect to find a brand with a distinctive personality, let alone one that celebrates “control freaks.” But that’s exactly what Utak, a California-based maker of chemicals that labs use to calibrate their drug testing machines, is counting on to help distinguish the company and drive growth.
And in doing so, Utak provides a potent reminder that regardless of the category, job number one for every CMO is to have the courage to differentiate his or her brand.
For Utak CMO Matt Kopp, the idea of “control freaks” had been floating around the company for years but it wasn’t until recently that they elevated it to the primary brand story. Since these chemicals are called “controls,” and it takes tremendous precision to make them and use them, this is an onion of rallying cries, ripe with layers of meaning. In our interview, Kopp, who also goes by the title Chief Control Freak, shares how Utak has infused this idea into every form of communication to great effect.
Where did the idea of Control Freaks come from?
'Control Freaks' is actually something that's been around for a long time, and it even goes back to when I first started with the company 11 years ago, and we always used it like a mantra, as far as our tribe. It's been something that people really connect with, whether they're in the clinical world, where there’s not a lot of personality and everybody's pretty buttoned up, or in the forensic world, where everybody actually wants to cut loose a lot more. So, ‘Control Freaks’ identifies with both groups perfectly. But until recently it wasn’t a main focus or the central marketing piece.
As a company that makes “controls” there’s a lot going on in those two words, right?
Yes. Control freaks definitely fit our business. Obviously, we’re doing quality control and playing off that, our company and our people really want to take ownership of their processes and are control freaks about it. And every customer sees that tagline, reads it on a shirt, or sees it on our website, where we say we're a different type of control freak.
How do you get your employees on board with this idea?
I think it has to start with the culture. It's not just being control freaks for our audience, or just that nice tagline, it's about really embodying the control freak, taking ownership of everything that we do on the daily, no matter t task it is—if it's in manufacturing, which is extremely complex and dealing with drugs and all the mathematics and chemistry, or processing orders through our ERP system, or just shipping a box out. We’ always focused on really being a control freak about that process, double checking work, looking at stuff, making sure everything’s perfect.
So, you’ve got your brand statement and internal buy-in—now what?
For us it was the digital space. We understand that the digital area is something that everybody utilizes, and we were doing control freaks through some literature at trade shows, but we weren't blasting it out using either social media or SEO, and all these things. With Gina Boersma, who's my right hand here when it comes to marketing, and does our advertising and promotions, we decided to really focus on how we can take control freaks and put it in the digital space. In the past, we had a little bit of a presence: digital ad campaigns, banner ads, things of that nature. But to really actually make it more prevalent, we started working on SEO, improving our language and our keywords. That means multiple audits on our site, getting rid of dated language or old pages, documentation of any language that we use, and organizing it and ensuring it was consistent everywhere.
How is this working out so far?
We’ve definitely seen a huge uptick in different types of web traffic. After that, 2018 was our best year in company history. We were up 11 percent, and while it's tough to attribute each activity to the component ROI, we have no doubt there’s a correlation between the increased traffic and our sales growth.
How does Control Freaks play out at events?
We operate in a clinical world with a lot of stodginess. As a small company that's always fighting for position, you have to make yourself stand out. At our trade shows, having “Control Freaks” in bright green or bright blue, which are our booth and brand colors, pops out because everybody's got subdued colors, nothing super aggressive. We put a “control freaks welcome” on our booth and people will walk by and stop. That's what you want. It gives you an opportunity to welcome them. It's an icebreaker. I think face-to-face is one of the most powerful things in the world, and that's being lost with the next generation. But at a trade show, when you get to see somebody, and you connect with them and have a conversation—there's nothing better than that.