MERIAL LAUNCHES GROUNDBREAKING TECHNOLOGY WITH IGENITY TESTS AND SERVICES
by Bekah Reddick, Editor
In the past, livestock and dairy producers have had few tools to aid them in sorting complicated herd genetics. More than likely, time and trial-and-error methods have been the primary forces in breeding and management decision-making. Today, with new DNA tests and services, producers have a tool that provides advanced knowledge of an animal's genetic potential. Merial, a global animal health company based in Duluth, Ga., launched in September 2003 a DNA testing service called IGENITY™ that helps shape producers' breeding, managing and marketing decisions.
cattle more efficiently.
For example, a producer can now determine if a particular calf is most likely to produce large quantities of high-component milk, perfect for making cheddar cheese. Also, Tate explains that IGENITY's ParentMATCH™ test determines which progeny came from a particular sire or dam. Used by breed associations for parentage verification, it is also useful for commercial producers who can identify a herd's best and worst calves and the corresponding parent in order to make improved breeding decisions.
POSITIONING A LEADER
Creating awareness and understanding was critical for the new IGENITY brand and functional genomics category. Merial's IGENITY marketing team and its agency, Bader Rutter & Associates, felt three key areas were important foundations for a communications platform: creating a category, building a new brand and positioning Merial as the leader of this technology.
After much market research - including focus groups throughout the United States and Canada - to determine the marketplace potential and define the audiences, a comprehensive marketing communications platform was developed. To educate the marketplace and build awareness, print advertisements, collateral inserts and a variety of training and educational materials were created, coupled with an aggressive public relations effort, a strong presence at industry trade shows, and an academic symposium and industry leader meetings to discuss functional genomics. "The goals were to establish the category and help producers relate to the cutting-edge science by translating it into useful, easy-to-understand information," explains David Jordan, account executive for Bader Rutter & Associates.
The campaign began educating the entire industry, including beef and dairy producers, seed stock producers, breed associations, and A.I. companies. "For beef and dairy, we targeted national publications aggressively, but we also targeted specific breed publications to reach seed stock producers."
The combined advertising and PR effort was clearly successful. Jordan explains that more than
100 trade articles with a readership of nearly 3.7 million have been published. "Interest shown by the media is reflective of what the category means to the industry, which those publications serve." In November 2004, Scientist magazine featured IGENITY in a "Biobusiness Update," which opens the IGENITY model to a new audience and "positions Merial as a magnet for technology to help discover new tests in the portfolio," says Jordan.
The marketing team also recognized the need for an easily accessible Web site to help producers learn about IGENITY and the science behind the new category. Jordan says, "Producers who are progressive enough to adopt IGENITY technology also are savvy enough to research via the Web. IGENITY.com has been a huge part of educating and reaching producers." In addition to the site, a toll-free customer service center was established at 1-877-IGENITY to answer additional questions and fulfill product requests.
A PARADIGM SHIFT
Introducing a new and technology-driven category to the marketplace was also a challenge for Merial's sales force. Building producer awareness of IGENITY and its benefits required Merial to not only create a multi-faceted communications campaign for end-users but also educate a little closer to home.
Merial had previously marketed its pharmaceutical products directly to veterinarians or distributors. Therefore, a marketing strategy that focused on reaching the livestock and dairy producer required an internal shift in thinking. Not only was the target audience uncharted territory but the product category itself meant a change in the sales force's approach. Tate says the move was a "paradigm shift" from product-focused selling to providing a solution for the producer.
Having worked for 13 years selling animal health products and helping launch IGENITY, Tate understands the differences between selling traditional products and the IGENITY portfolio. "In technical sales, it's important to get the information across to a veterinarian and update them frequently on new research and developments. But after the initial sale, we typically relied on distribution to service the account," Tate says. "With the IGENITY platform, you have the opportunity to test an animal only one time."
To properly educate producers about IGENITY's services, specialists were instructed in and out of the classroom. Tate says the sales team had to learn the underpinnings of how the technology works as well as how to help producers understand their options after getting the information. To aid in this process, Merial made all sales materials available on a secured Web site, where rapidly changing materials could be updated in a cost-effective way. Rather than printing sales materials that would quickly become outdated, each representative customized pieces with the most recent information for each sales call. After about six months, feedback was collected, and standard sales brochures and materials were created for the team's use at the farm gate.
More and more the animal health industry will be producing information on genomics and how it relates to measurable performance characteristics on-farm or at market. Other entities are becoming involved and are helping Merial's efforts. In December 2003, USDA announced it had launched a bovine genome sequencing project together with Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Former Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman said the project would ultimately help develop breakthroughs in hunger elimination, human health improvements and dairy and beef production efficiency enhancements. This past fall, the American Simmental Association published the first Marker-Assisted Expected Progeny Differences (MA-EPDs) for tenderness, using results from the IGENITY TenderGENE™ DNA test combined with traditional data. EPDs predict the performance of future offspring of a parent compared to progeny from other parents, but have not incorporated DNA test results until now.
"Through IGENITY, Merial helps validate the impact of a specific DNA test and market the work of many scientists in one integrated platform, making this advanced technology easy for cattle producers to understand and apply to their management practices," says Tate.
As Merial continues to move DNA technology forward by working with scientists to develop tests for economically important traits, producers and consumers may ponder what this will mean for them. It could mean premium prices and less management stress for beef and dairy producers, while consumers may know their steak is tender even before taking a bite. AM