CMO profile: Playing the long brand game at Monash IVF

Monash IVF's marketing chief talks through the new brand positioning and marketing strategy she's employing to drive category leadership and engagement

Fiona Allen
Fiona Allen

Keeping one eye firmly fixed on the long game while securing incremental wins – and executive trust – is the best way of describing Monash IV chief marketer, Fiona Allen’s, approach to the fertility service provider’s marketing strategy.

Appointed as chief marketing officer in July 2019, Allen had the benefit of nearly nine months of prepatory work on Monash IVF’s fresh brand positioning before the COVID-19 global pandemic struck and shut down fertility services across the country. As she tells CMO, while initial months of the crisis were challenging, it’s proven a perfect storm for building awareness, demand and engagement in this highly emotive category.

“What happened is people thought about what’s important in life and fertility as a category had a higher interest level than it had seen for years. Since we reopened, the ongoing demand has been incredible,” she says.

“It’s been a very interesting period of time I don’t think we will see again. There was an all-time high in terms of interest and demand at a time the advertising industry was softer than it has been for a long time. You had to work out how to respond in this environment and shift the whole marketing strategy and look at different strategies to adopt.”  

Helping Allen and her team navigate the constant changes was a commitment to making Monash IVF the brand of choice by better educating consumers around fertility health, removing the taboos around discussing reproduction, and providing services that support it.

The CMO mandate

Allen’s remit upon joining the organisation was to revisit the marketing strategy. She’d spent the previous year consulting to Medibank and came with a wealth of senior marketing experience across brands such as Simplot, Medibank Health Solutions, GE and Bank First.

“I saw this incredible opportunity to differentiate the brand in a category that is largely undifferentiated,” she says. “A lot of the competitors in this space look the same, offer the same services and there is not a lot to set one provider apart from another. Coming in, it was about looking at how we change this and make sure Monash IVF is the brand of choice in each of its key growth markets.”  

Adding impetus was the fact the world had changed since the original Monash brand was launched. “We have seen people having babies who are single, more same sex couples having children. Yet there’s still an amazing lack of information in society about reproductive health and incredible amounts of taboos about miscarriage and infertility,” Allen says.

“We saw that opportunity to take a leadership role in this category and a social cause approach to try and normalise infertility. We thought we could do that by starting to remove the taboos and de-stigmatise the issues surrounding infertility, as well as move forward the legacy of the brand, which has also been about pioneering, but in a very contemporary way.  

“The brand future positioning was therefore about taking the leadership role and exploiting those opportunities to drive earlier awareness of reproductive care, promoting conversation about fertility, and providing more product and fertility health services.”

Allen says the ambition is to both educate and empower. “The reality is one in six people have a fertility issue. No one is talking about it and a lot of patients feel alone – they feel embarrassed and feel they are the only ones. The truth is it’s a much broader issue in the population,” she continues.

“There was an exciting opportunity for us to bring forward a brand and market strategy that would begin to drive the conversation and allow people to start talking about it. That has influenced in all the elements of our strategy and new brand positioning.”  

Laddering into action

These insights came through an initial discovery process with patients, employees, GPs and specialists. “It was a long stakeholder piece of engagement that provided the core foundation pillar for the new brand positioning, which led to the identity,” Allen says.

“Once that was in place, the marketing strategy followed. We reviewed advertising, creative channel marketing for both B2B and B2C, we strengthened our digital marketing and data analytics capabilities as well as our comms program and launched a new website. All these end-to-end elements, including the patient experience vision for the business, have been reassessed and a future state and vision set for each.”  

The work required rebuilding the capability mix in the team in a way that brings together “the left brain and right brain”, Allen says. “It was about strong creative and intuition and matching that with the data-driven, performance-based mentality,” she says.

“We’re now at a level of analysis and transparency of our performance where we understand the entire patient pipeline and can see where we still have opportunities across that funnel we can optimise further.”  

What was also clear to Allen was that the organisation had done an “exceptionally good job of driving performance-based marketing” but lacked brand investment. “The shift we have made now is to try and invest in that longer-term brand investment as well as performance so we can build price elasticity, loyalty and market share,” she explains.

“We were getting short-term results and when we advertised, we were getting a response, which is great. But we weren’t getting that longer-term brand multiplier effect because we weren’t investing and didn’t have the differentiated brand to do that.”  

In addition, creative was rational and direct response oriented. “We have now moved to longer-term, emotive campaigns, and we’re investing in brand as well as performance media,” she says.

Allen agreed like most CMOs, she’s had to prove up the long-term business case by showing results along the way.

“Over the last 18 months, we have had to do that incrementally. We’d get the support and empowerment to go in small increments and to go test-and-learn, then bring back those results and demonstrate how the science of marketing can deliver these results,” she comments. “Going in and talking to senior stakeholders about the 90 per cent correlation between extra share of voice and marketshare is all very good in a conversation, but it’s about showing it. That’s what we have been able to demonstrate that over time and build confidence and trust slowly but surely.”

Crisis innovation

Monash IVF had already developed the new advertising strategy and creative, and brought in its new skills mix, before COVID-19 struck. The new brand positioning was also on its way.

A fresh advertising and channel marketing strategy launched in May, just after elective surgery suspensions were lifted. Kicking things off was the ‘Let’s be brave together’ campaign from SDWM, which aims to start conversations about the emotional requirements of the IVF process using real-life patients. The new brand positioning was then officially launched in November.

Nevertheless, channel marketing had to be completely reinvigorated and reimagined as COVID-19 transformed engagement largely to online channels throughout 2020. Face-to-face events, for instance, historically a big part of Monash IVF’s tactical approach, went digital and webinars, both with patients and with GPs and specialists, became the norm.

Allen describes it as a time of hefty innovation. “Bringing the new creative into those channels extended our reach considerably. The extension of the brand moved from hundreds to thousands overnight,” she says.

“Being digital is more private in a way – you can dial in and get all the information you need from your couch. The accessibility of information improved and requests for applications improved as a result.”  

A particular innovation Allen highlights is Monash IVF’s ‘virtual fertility retreats’ on everything from nutrition to smoking cessation, menstrual health and the LGBTI+ community.

“Keeping our patients and potential patients engaged during lockdown and being able to come out with innovative ways to do that when you can’t see patients at all is a huge milestone,” she adds.

Measuring impact

While early signs are encouraging, Allen is in no doubt realising Monash IVF’s brand vision is going to take time. “Making the shift from someone coming to you when they have a fertility challenge, to someone being proactive in taking care or their reproductive health, is not a quick strategy,” she says.

“But I think the insights and way into those approaches have become much clearer for us, even through collecting data, the Q&As in webinars and questions people ask and topics they’re interested in and being able to trial topics in that continuing reproductive care space to see how early you can go in that conversation.”  

Achieving the long-term game will require a combination of traditional marketing and informative content as well having the supporting service and experience proposition to back it up, Allen says. One program of work underway is bringing proof points around early prevention and proactive management to life through earlier care services.

“With regards to content, we have things like the ‘Ready Set Baby’ program, which is not about fertility challenges but about one day wanting to have a family and the things you need to think about. These could include lifestyle management, drinking, smoking, ovulation tracking, your level of eggs and whether to preserve your eggs,” Allen says.

“That’s the education and content piece, but then also what are the other services that help you assess and proactively manage your health?”  

Helping gauge success is measurement across the patient funnel, from the point of spend to response and conversion at every stage. Key indicators include number of inquiries, website visitors, how many requested and had an appointment, and so on.

“That transparency around performance we now have has allowed us to work out how those different channels and content is converting through commercial outcomes,” Allen says. “The ultimate test is marketshare. I’m pleased to see it’s changing.”  

For Allen, the brand positioning has plenty of runway in terms of how Monash IVF evolves its social cause agenda. While the first iteration was having real patients talking about their personal fertility journeys to get the conversation started, the next part is making sure people understand how broad an issue infertility is.

“There are many elements to unpack around education,” Allen says. “What we have learnt so far is the brand is resonating better than the old brand. We’re getting better clickthroughs, conversion and marketshare results. Now we need to continue to monitor those indicators as we evolve the brand story to the next stage.

“Every category is different as to how you measure performance. But the pipeline in IVF can be made very transparent and you can get a strong handle on the levers of how to drive growth.”

Next priorities

As a very emotive, high-involvement category patient experience also becomes ever-more critical. “You need both the physical and emotional components to delivery. That has to bake through how you think about execution, strategy and process,” Allen adds.

As a result, product and service proposition development is the next big cab off the rank, followed by CRM investment both from B2B and B2C perspective.

“Getting better at lifecycle management, personalisation and ongoing engagement isn’t new, but needs emphasis,” Allen says. “Our beautiful nurse inquiry team are amazing and as part of the marketing team, do a phenomenal job of managing inquiries on a day-to-day basis. But we need a better technology platform.

“You just can’t do everything in the first year – you can’t afford it and things come in a natural sequence, but you have to build trust as well.”

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