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Kristiina Tolvanen

Kristiina Tolvanen is Head of Content Studio at Nightingale Health, a cutting-edge biomedical company based in Finland, transforming healthcare and research through its blood analysis platform. She joined Nightingale after working with some of Finland’s leading international brands as a communications consultant. She has previously conducted academic research on native advertising, worked in award-winning agencies and led marketing and communications for international events in Helsinki and Shanghai.

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ITL #240 Blood test results: brand is more than a company’s DNA

2 weeks, 3 days ago

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There are lessons for brands in the approach taken by life sciences companies. Survival may depend on adaptability. By Kristiina Tolvanen.



There’s a commonly held belief that a company’s brand is its DNA. In theory, this analogy makes a lot of sense – DNA molecules are the chemical building blocks of life and together they form an inherited set of instructions for a person’s characteristics. A company’s brand, just like the coded instructions in DNA, resonates across an organization’s departments to stakeholders, customers and beyond.

Understanding your brand means knowing your heritage and values. It enables companies of all sizes to speak clearly with one voice and is present in every action. A brand is the life of a company, it’s the cornerstone that directs the corporation towards what it wants to achieve and how it will achieve it. 

Just as we have taken inspiration from life sciences here, there are further lessons from the same field that can help us to undertake fresh approaches towards branding. 

Brands don’t just instruct, they speak

In today’s business world just having a service or product is not enough. As brands have gained more significance and become widespread in our lives, so too have the expectations that they will play an active role in contributing towards society.

Far more than before

Companies now need to demonstrate that they are fully transparent, driven by moral responsibility and are accountable for their actions. Brands that are not prepared to go beyond a traditional focus on sales will not last long.

At the heart of modern branding, communications play the most vital role of all. Consumers and stakeholders unconsciously demand that a brand is actively engaged in a constant dialogue with them, available 24/7, and provide them with valuable content. A brand is no longer something a company decides on behind closed doors, but rather, it constantly manifests itself through daily communications with stakeholders.

What can life sciences teach us?

We at Nightingale Health use cutting-edge technology to measure and analyze health information gained from blood, and are an example of a new generation of companies developing so-called “metabolomics” tools.

Omics technologies

The field of metabolomics is part of a new life sciences movement called “omics technologies” that are shaking up the research world. The human body produces thousands of different chemical molecules every second as products of chemical reactions that we call human metabolism. Metabolomics is the science of measuring and identifying these molecules (also called “metabolites”), in an attempt to unravel the underlying processes that determine health.

Metabolomics tools are used to monitor the overall picture of a person’s health; for example, Nightingale measures 220+ different metabolites to provide researchers and clinicians with data from a single blood test.

Ideally a person would have their blood tested regularly to check that their metabolite levels are healthy. If levels are found to be too high or too low, an “intervention” can be made to help prevent a major health problem before it occurs. 

Brands can learn a lot from this approach. If used in isolation, the old analogy of a brand being like DNA (an instruction book handled down as copies to all departments) is outdated.

If branding is set in stone early on, a company will be slow to react to sudden changes in the market or rapidly evolving events in its operating environment. There are regular examples of companies falling prey to this type of behavior. Typically, it starts off with an incident of negative press on social media (either ignored or poorly handled by a company’s PR), and rapidly escalates in the absence of an adequate response.

Often, the company’s refusal to deviate from a “Brand = DNA” philosophy and control-based working style results in an extended delay. Before it can act, PR needs to consult with other departments before it can respond. Meanwhile, whilst the company works on rewriting these guidelines, the PR situation worsens. Before it has realized it, the company has developed a “disease,” a significant communications issue that will require a major act of contrition to resolve and “cure.”

Baseline monitoring and small interventions  

Metabolomics takes into account current changes in a person’s environment and offers us a novel approach to branding that can avoid the pitfalls of using a large set of restrictive instructions. If we view a company’s brand as a baseline that we want to maintain in equilibrium, we can monitor it proactively – adapting and developing as and when required.

For example, monitoring can mean drawing insights from stakeholders and issue arenas (where topics related to the company are discussed). Interventions on the other hand, could include actions such as providing flexibility to a community manager to reply to a customer directly on social media, enabling them to resolve trivial issues before they snowball into something more substantial.

Only by combining traditional and modern approaches (utilizing brand instructions alongside monitoring and interventions) can brands truly reflect a company’s mission. In this example, the community manager is equipped with knowledge of the “DNA” but given room to let the brand manifest itself through communications with stakeholders. 

Life sciences continue to provide inspiration for how companies can effectively manage and improve their communications. As in life sciences, combined approaches are more likely to work best for branding and PR issues. 

The concept of a brand as a company’s DNA is not obsolete, but there also needs to be room to evaluate its status according to the current environment. By combining heritage and business tools to regularly monitor progress and taking the initiative to make small course corrective actions, brands can become more adaptable and meet rapidly changing expectations.


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