Unbuttoning a Buttoned-Up Category

Believe it or not, the toxicology quality control industry isn’t always the most interesting or lively one, at least when it comes to branding and marketing. Shocker! Typically, being tangential to crime and medicine— the industry’s marketing efforts can all be a little bland or straightforward. Utak CMO Matt Kopp saw this as an opportunity for simple, effective differentiation.

They homed in on the tagline “control freaks,” and used it to inform each and every aspect of the company’s operation. They used outlandish (for the industry) colors and language, brought an exciting energy to events and marketing materials, and have carved out a unique identity in a crowded field. Check out highlights from Kopp’s interview below and learn how they’ve let this brand story influence the company’s trajectory. You can also listen to the full episode here.

Where did the Control Freaks language 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 eleven 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.

There’s a lot packed into those two words, isn’t there?

Yes. Control freaks definitely fits 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 did you roll this out internally?

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.

Once your employees were on board, what came next?

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%, and while it’s tough to attribute each activity to the component ROI, we’ve no doubt there’s a correlation between the increased traffic and our sales growth.

How do you approach 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.

In a crowded field of big players, how have you approached being the smaller company?

The larger companies want to focus on serving the masses. Being a small company, especially family-run and operated, our customers are everything. That’s the way we view it. So, we really want to tailor everything we can do to their operations and their processes. The conversation is, ‘Can you do that?’ And we say ‘Yes.’ We’re saying ‘yes’ a lot more than we say no. And of course, we do balance the smaller-sized client interactions with a few of our much larger, global clients. Ultimately, it is really just a commitment to making our customers happy.

Can you talk about where your company was when you decided to commit more to marketing?

About 19 months ago, the company was really focused on just getting our operation, our infrastructure. The one thing we want to do as an organization is grow. And we understand the marketing is a key element to growth. There’s the sales cycle, there’s the service cycle, and it really all starts with marketing. And to really get the marketing up and going we know we had to have a good partner someone we can work with to really help us focus and really think about the storytelling and the strategy behind marketing not just printing up some shirts, or sending out an email or any of those things but on a higher level. For questions like, hey, how do you execute a strategy? How do you put one down execute a plan?

So you reached out to an agency—what was the process of collaboration like?

You might be familiar, actually… it’s called Renegade. The whole process for us was evaluating people I think it’s always good to evaluate multiple resources and potential partners because, you have to find one that works for you. It’s a relationship, it’s not just hire them and do the job. Everybody works together differently. There’s a chemistry and a dynamic that occurs, so you know after meeting with you and being introduced to some of your team. For us it was a very easy decision on who we really felt would really pull us out of our own shell get us on uncomfortable situations that really grow. Those are the uncomfortable situations that any company or any individual will grow from.

Biggest lessons learned from this experience, over the last couple of years?

I think for us, being consistent and staying true to your plan is crucial. There have been times where we started to drift away from what the plan was and staying true to it and not really resisting the urge to shift was the biggest thing I’ve learned. And we still try to you know hone ours in. Don’t drift, stay true, see it through—it’s going to take a long time and you have to follow it through, if you don’t, and you shift to something else. you never know what you’re gonna miss.

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