Julie Charlestein: On Branding

Julie Charlestein’s Wall Street Journal-bestselling book, How to Lead Your Family Business, has been described as “a master class in working with and for family, reshaping generations-old company cultures, earning your colleagues’ respect, and more.”

Julie is the CEO of Premier Dental Products Company, the fourth-generation leader of this innovative, 110-year-old industry leader. (Full disclosure: Premier Dental is also a client of IMA Digital.) Below, you’ll find an excerpt from “Chapter 9: Envisioning a New Premier,” in which Julie talks about something close to our hearts — branding.

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One of the big changes Premier needed to make when I took charge was in the area of branding.

It was a need I realized after my husband and I got a couple of dogs—partly to please our kids, who, like most kids, were obsessed with having a pet; and partly to please my husband, who had thirteen different dogs over the course of his own childhood. What I didn’t realize beforehand was that having dogs would lead to conversations with our neighbors about their dogs, their groomers, and their choice of poop bags. (Stick with me, I promise this story is going to lead back to Premier.)

I found these dog-centered chats totally boring until one of our neighbors brought over his dog to play with ours. When I asked the requisite “What do you do?” question, he replied, “I’m an endodontist.”

Yeehaw! An endodontist is a dentist who specializes in dental pulp, tooth pain, and root canal surgery. Finally, someone that I could actually have a substantial conversation with! Being in the industry, I was sure he would react with understanding and excitement when I told him, “I work in the dental business. My company is Premier.”

His actual reaction: a long, silent pause.

“You know, Premier,” I said. “We are Traxodent. Triple Tray. Enamel Pro.”

His eyes came to life: recognition. Once I mentioned our products, he knew exactly who we were.

Which showed me the problem we had.

Premier was certainly very well known. But it was mostly known by distributors, manufacturers—even university researchers. Our main marketing focus had been on our distribution partners, the direct customers we made our sales to, using a push strategy that encouraged them to pass our messaging and products to the dentists.

What we needed was to supplement that with a pull strategy aimed at getting the dentists to ask distributors for Premier products, propelling our relevance, our independence, and our relationships.

The next day, I told my colleagues, “Premier needs to become a branded company instead of what we now are—which is a company of brands. We need to make Premier into a name that is known not just by distributors but by everybody in the industry.”

We set about making that happen. It was the first of a cascading series of strategic changes. Making Premier a branded company led to changing the way we thought about markets and made crucial business decisions. Rather than being led by the preferences of our dealer network, as we had been in the past, we had to become responsive to the wishes and needs of our customers—both the dentists who bought and used our products and the patients and consumers whose health and happiness were ultimately served.

This speaks to the current phase and Premier’s evolution. As I became CEO, and continued to learn about our company, the industry, and varied industries, I realized that both what we needed and what could eventually serve to differentiate us was data. Being customer-centered meant we needed to become a company of people who analyze the changing markets and pay close attention to what they are telling us; who looked at sales configurations, analyzed territories, and used data-driven technology. This drove a large part of our reorganization strategy, including the creation of brand-new positions that had never been considered before. The goal was to become a data-driven, consumer-led organization.

An important secondary element was that we needed to create new and different processes around bringing products to market.

For the longest time, our marketing consisted of creating one ad and placing it in journals, mailers, and dealer catalogs. There was no targeting, no messaging tailored to various audiences, no segmenting of markets. We simply crafted and delivered one message: “Here is the most awesome thing ever. Buy it.”

This actually worked really well for a really long time. But inevitably, as the world got more complex and more competitive, this strategy was sure to reach its sell-by date. By the time I became CEO, that date had arrived.

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To learn more about Julie Charlestein, and to get your own copy of How to Lead Your Family Business, go here.

To read about how IMA helps support Premier Dental’s data-driven marketing, check out this case study.

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