Small companies often have trouble with gaining traction for their new products. Researchers in the life sciences are notoriously hesitant to change brands or adopt new technologies. Once a lab has a tried and tested method and tried and tested products, good luck getting them to change anything. Furthermore, large life science companies with huge marketing budgets and well-established and trusted brand names add to the difficulty of market entry in many markets. With these factors stacked against you, and compounded by having a limited marketing budget to work with, how can you compete and gain a significant market share? The key to doing so is often not what a business owner or product manager wants to hear, but it often the best way of proceeding – be patient and think small.
The Pitfall of Impatience
Let’s be both frank and realistic for a moment – your marketing budget isn’t unlimited. In fact, if you’re a small life science company entering a new market your budget is very likely far smaller than that of at least some of your competitors. Canvassing a large market or advertising in highly visible, broadly targeted media (by, for example, running print ads in Nature) is very expensive and can quickly drain a limited budget. Even for a product that would have broad appeal and for which that might seem like a reasonable strategy, it is usually less efficient than other methods since in more mainstream media your marketing messages are still effectively trying to go toe-to-toe against those of your entrenched competitors. In short, trying to market your new product to everyone at once is a good way to burn through your marketing dollars with little return. If you do go that route, you better have some extraordinary benefits that you can convey extremely well, or have very deep pockets.
While you may think of a new product’s lack of market penetration as a curse, you also need to be able to view it as a benefit. You don’t need to protect a vast swathe of the market from competitors and you can pick your battles (read: you can pick the battles that you can win). Think about a certain market that your product would be more suited for than the competition. Does it have a certain set of features that would make it more suited for use in a particular method? Does it more easily integrate with certain equipment or processes? If not, can you design something in that would give in an advantage in a particular niche? Even if your product design has no niche focus, can you draw on the benefits of the product to show how these advantages could be leveraged by a particular audience? The answer to the last question is almost always yes (if it’s no, you’re probably just not giving it enough thought – call me and I’ll help).
Once you’ve determined a target market to focus on, you can market to that audience specifically. This will be more effective since you’ve tailored your marketing (and maybe even your product) to that audience, and will also be a good deal cheaper. Don’t forget to foster the ever-important customer interactions and feedback that any early-stage product needs. Chances are your entrenched competitor will not want to fight it out in the trenches over a niche market, and your product will gain significant market share within that niche. From that niche, your product will then be in a much better position to roll out your product to other segments of the life science research market.