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Yearly Archives: 2012

The Customer’s Perspective

In most life science companies, marketing and product development work in somewhat close contact. Marketing (as well as sales) frequently relay customer needs to product development and help them to understand those needs and adopt a customer perspective. When it comes to their own craft, however, life science marketers often fail to follow their own advice and adopt that critical customer perspective. Instead, marketers tell the tale of their products, focusing on why the product is great rather than how it fulfills a need.

A while ago, we posted about the end of solution sales; how customers typically will be 60% of the way to completing their purchasing decision before ever contacting a supplier. This means that solution sales are becoming less effective. At 60% of the way through the buying journey, customers know what their problem is, what their needs are, and already have (at least superficially) evaluated a number of options. A sales rep who tries to work through all that all over again with the customer is wasting their time. However, earlier in the decision cycle the customer is far less certain about the nature of their need. In these early stages, customers generally seek information from colleagues or the internet (an unpublished BioBM study showed about 45% of scientists turn to colleagues first when considering a product and about the same number perform an internet search first). Marketers therefore need to engage in a sort of “solution marketing”, helping the customer to frame their own problem and needs and, in the process, showing how their products or services can fulfill those. Simply discussing your product’s technology, features, and benefits does not adequately do that job. Instead, marketers need to take on the perspective of the customer and frame their products and services around their needs.

To help guide you in creating customer-centric communications, ask yourself these questions:
• Does this communication ever address the customer? (with second-person language – “you” “your”)
• Did we clearly address the needs of the customer? Would our statement of this need still be valid if removed from the context of our product / service?
• What do we define first? The product / service or the customer’s problem that we are trying to solve?
• Did we clearly state how our product / service solves the problem? Do we offer specific solutions or simply general ones?

Product-centric marketing leaves a disconnect. The customer has a need, and the product provides a solution, but the customer is left on their own to decipher how (and how well) the product would meet their needs. Customer-centric marketing does that math for them by framing your product or service from the perspective of how it provides value and fills their needs. By adopting the viewpoint of the customer and creating customer-centric marketing communications, life science marketers can generate more demand.

"Is your life science company looking to generate more demand? Contact the life science marketing specialists at BioBM Consulting. We’ll diagnose your current marketing efforts to find areas for improvement in order to grow your market share and your revenues. Give us a call any time."

Using the Right Metrics?

Much of marketing is about measurement: be it in determining the success of that recent promotional campaign, determining how to divvy up ad spending, or making the case for your share of next year’s budget. The inherent problem is one that executives often cite: the difficulty in tying specific marketing activities to revenue generation. While “big data” analytics and bulky, expensive CRM and / or ERP software can sometimes be used to get a better handle on overall marketing ROI, such solutions still do a poor job of teasing out contributions of individual activities and are most often beyond the capabilities of small companies to meaningfully manage or to afford. We must therefore pick and choose how to measure success in life science marketing, and meaningful measurement means choosing the right metrics.

Quick note: There was an excellent article in October’s Harvard Business Review on the topic, albeit from the perspective of measuring overall corporate financial performance perspective rather than marketing performance (subscribers can read it here).

There are three common reasons why you may be using the wrong metrics. The first is overconfidence. Perhaps you’ve been seen a metric be strongly predictive in the past or have been told of its importance by a respected peer. If you get it in your head that the metric is important then it’s easy for that thought to stick, regardless of whether or not there’s a basis in fact. The second is availability. Quite simply, we tend to use those metrics that are easily obtained, that we frequently encounter, or that simply come to mind quickly. The last is because use of a particular metric is the status quo: it’s either what you’ve been doing or what you know everyone else does.

In order for a metric to be valuable, it needs to be predictive (there is a causal relationship; a change in A causes change in B) and persistent (the causal relationship is reliably repetitive over time). In marketing, you often will not have troves of various companys’ data to sift through; you merely have your own company’s data. You may be able to use historical data to determine if a metric is persistently predictive of the desired outcome, but for young companies or those who have not been measuring marketing metrics, there may not be enough data to reliably determine which metric is the best to use. Even then, however, you can still take steps to ensure you use the right metrics.

First, you need to specify what your goals are. What are you trying to change? In marketing, this may be sales, it may be leads, etc. Secondly, using either past data or, barring the availability of sufficient data, a subjective best guess, create a theory of what metric(s) will drive the desired change. Third, identify the specific activities that you can undertake to improve your metric in order to create that desired change. Lastly, evaluate your decision. Did the metric perform as expected? Was it both predictive and persistent? Were you able to control (read: “improve”) it by undertaking specific actions?

In order to reliably improve marketing performance, you first need to know what to improve. By using metrics that are predictive and persistent, you’ll be able to set a clear path to achieving your marketing objectives.

"What are you doing with your marketing data? Have you been measuring marketing performance? Are you sure that specific actions are generating the desired results? If your life science company is having difficulty measuring marketing performance or collecting and analyzing marketing data, contact BioBM Consulting. Our life science marketing experts will help you collect, analyze, and turn marketing data into actionable insights. Call us today."

Focus on “Why”

While a large part of a company’s brand is controlled by what a company does, this is not a compelling corporate image to project. It would be far more beneficial to life science brands to focus on why they do it, as “why” is simply an inherently more compelling proposition than “what”.

As an example, I’ve taken the first self-defining statement from five life science tools companies’ about pages and anonymized them. This is what I came up with:

  1. “[Company] develops and manufactures innovative scientific instruments and systems that exploit digital imaging technology for a range of disciplines.”
  2. “We believe in the power of science and appreciate its rigorous discipline. That’s what drives our passion for innovation, leading to transformative offerings that support endeavors throughout the world.”
  3. “[Company] develops, manufactures, and markets a wide range of laboratory instruments, apparatus, and consumables used for research in functional genomics, proteomics, and food safety.”
  4. “As a global technology leader, [Company] is taking action to harness the power of insights and transform them into knowledge to deliver innovative, differentiated solutions for our customers.”
  5. “Established in [date] as a cooperative laboratory of experienced scientists, [Company] is a world leader in the production and supply of reagents for the life science industry.”


Of those five, three (1, 3, and 5) are extremely straightforward definitions of what the company does, one (4) is a description of how a company does what they do, and only one (2) is a description of why they do what they do. Did you notice any particular one being more compelling that the others?

Your reason for existing can actually be a very compelling driver for both new customer acquisition as well as customer loyalty. Not only can it improve your current business, but also enable you to more easily enter new marketplaces. Furthermore, integrating this reason for existence into your company can motivate your employees and make you more productive and successful. I don’t mean to make it sound like a magic bullet, but your company’s reason for existing can and should be a powerful driver for both internal and external stakeholders.

There’s a great TED talk on the subject:

"Are you using your “why” to motivate your market? If you would like to leverage your company’s beliefs to help grow your following (not to mention your market share), contact BioBM."

Most Popular Paper Updated

BioBM’s first and most popular white paper, “Life Science Marketing on a Low Budget,” has been updated and improved. The paper addresses means of campaign execution that are low-cost, scalable, and allow for a high degree of targeting, thereby offering the potential for very high ROIs. It incorporates new data, expanded considerations for choosing marketing channels, and information on quasi-free marketing opportunities.

To request a copy, please visit: http://biobm.com/idea-farm/reports-papers/

Reduce the Risk in Buying

Life science marketers often hold many simultaneous viewpoints on why customers purchase products. Frequently, the attributed reasons include a hodgepodge of quality, price, ease of use, suitability for their application, adoption by others, various performance metrics and many other reasons that may be general or product-specific. All that gets a bit confusing, and is a bit over-defined if you ask me. I prefer to start from one attribute and then elucidate from there: life scientists make purchasing decisions based on risk.

Considering the scientist as a purchasing decision-maker, risk has two main components: financial and utility. Financial risk can be represented as price, although a more accurate representation is total cost of ownership (TCOO). If a product is very expensive, that makes the purchase more risky since there will be less resources to devote to other important endeavors and also since there are more sunk costs if the product doesn’t perform to the customer’s expectations. Utility risk pertains to the product ability to perform the functions that it is expected to by the customer. In other words, from a customer-centric standpoint: “In my particular application(s), how likely is this product to meet my expectations?”

The risk-based view can answer a question that leaves a lot of companies scratching their heads: why free samples are used so infrequently. It’s common for life science consumables companies, especially smaller companies, to give out free samples when a product is first launched in order to get people to try it. Most often, unless the brand is highly trusted, free samples fail their purpose and are left unused on the shelf. This is because giving away the product only serves to reduce one of the two main components of risk: financial risk. It does nothing to mitigate utility risk.

What life science tools and services companies should aim to do is reduce overall risk by lowering utility risk as much as possible such that financial risk does not need to be reduced and they therefore do not need to discount their product (or perhaps can raise the price on their product!) This gets to the heart of conveying value to the customer – that value should, as much as possible, be something that is experienced rather than something that is simply told. This becomes clear if you ask yourself: “What can we do to minimize utility risk?” Simply claiming that your product works would be pretty far down the list.

If you’re still not convinced, go out and ask a few scientists which of the following they would be more likely to purchase: 1) a product that claims to have better performance but you are unsure if it will work for you, or 2) a product that has lesser performance but you are certain it will work.

Performance metrics are undeniably important, and scientists have different reasons for purchasing different products. At the end of the day, the product with the lowest risk will be able to capture a greater market share than its competition.

"Looking for more insights on how your life science company can capture market share and accelerate revenue growth through improved marketing? Talk to BioBM. Our life science marketing experts can help your company identify opportunities, develop strategies to capitalize on them, and execute activities to capture value from them."

Simplify Your Message

Last week, I discussed the importance of positioning statements in crafting and delivering marketing messages. Today I’ll discuss a similar topic: making your life science marketing more effective by keeping your marketing messages simple. First, let me explain what I mean by “simple”.

Having a simple marketing message does not necessarily mean that it should be short, that it should contain only a small amount of information, or that you should stay away from technical information, data, or other things that may by some definitions seem “complex”. Instead, a simple marketing message is one that focuses on the customers needs, your products core claims to value, and little else. It is a message that isn’t diluted with a long list of relatively unimportant attributes that detract from your core message.

It may not be immediately clear how this is related to the positioning statement. The positioning statement should be rooted the customer need that your product or service is solving as well as how yours is differentiated from other offerings. It is concise and to the point. If this is the starting point for all of your marketing messages, then you will be starting with a message that is highly targeted and focused on the key value proposition. From that point, all you have to do is resist diluting your message.

This isn’t to say that you should only ever focus on one single value proposition. Indeed, different attributes may have different perceived value to different customers and there also may be two or more value propositions that are almost equally important to a large segment of your audience. However, the focus of the message should be on the most important value propositions and put the others on the back burner. To do this, life science marketers need to have a very clear understanding of how their product or service creates value. Without such an understanding, there will be the temptation to propose value in as many ways possible, which in turn dilutes the value propositions that create the most value.

Life science tools and services create value for their customers in a wide variety of ways. Chances are, however, that a select few of those value drivers are by far the most important to your customers. By focusing marketing messages on those key value-creating attributes. life science marketers can more effectively generate demand for their products. Using a positioning statement as the basis for your marketing messages helps to achieve this.

"Looking to generate more demand for your products and services? BioBM Consulting helps life science companies create and deliver powerful, compelling marketing campaigns that drive breakthrough sales results. To start improving the efficiency and effectiveness of your marketing, contact BioBM today."

Positioning Statements

Over the 2+ years that BioBM has now been in business, we’ve had the pleasure of working with a wonderful diversity of life science tools companies and contract research organizations. One thing that we’ve been consistently surprised about is how many small life science companies lack positioning statements for their product lines and services. Positioning statements should be central parts of any marketing strategy. Even for the more pragmatic life science marketers who may eschew strategies for every product line, positioning statements should still be central to their marketing. They not only help form the basis of marketing messages, but ensure consistency in the message. Without them, marketing messages often degrade into uncompelling feature / benefit statements.

Such that life science marketers can more effectively create positioning statements, we’re going to give a quick lesson and offer some tips to help make the statement more powerful and help marketers avoid common pitfalls.

How a Position is Stated:

I’ll use a close approximation of Geoffrey Moore’s version from his book Crossing the Chasm (a great read, by the way): For [target customer] who [statement of need], the [product name] is a [product offering] that [statement of key benefit]. Unlike [primary competitive alternative], our product [statement of primary differentiation]. As you notice, there are a number of “variables” in this.

The target customer should be defined specifically. Keep in mind the target customer is NOT a market. “The pharmaceutical industry” or “environmental labs” are not customers. People are your customers. People make purchasing decisions, and you should state what people you need to speak to. There should be at least one noun that represents people (for example: “scientists,” “lab managers,” “analytical chemists,” etc.)

The statement of need cuts through your target customer to get to your customer segment. Of your target customers, what need will identify which will see value in your product? Ensure that you’re realistic. No matter what the situation, you will never achieve 100% market share so don’t pretend that you will. If you define the need too broadly, your targeting will be weak, leading to your messages not reaching the right people (and not being as effective when they do) and therefore decreasing the efficiency of your marketing communications.

The product offering should be a factual description of your product. There’s no place for terms like “revolutionary” or “breakthrough” in your product description. If you have fluff here, you’ll end up with fluff in your marketing messages, so be honest, be specific, and avoid exaggeration and hyperbole.

The statement of key benefit addresses how your product meets the aforementioned need of your customers. This statement should be specific and factual. Descriptors like “best” “reliable” or “high quality” should not be used. Also, benefits and specifications are not always interchangeable. If you use a specification or feature in your statement of key benefit, be sure to ask yourself if the benefit that feature / spec conveys would be obvious from the perspective of your audience. Furthermore, the focus should be on the single most valuable benefit; this is not a laundry list. Choosing one benefit is often not simple, but you either need to make the tough decision or reconcile multiple benefits in order to present them as one unified benefit. Lastly, note that the key benefit does not have to be your primary differentiator. That comes later.

The primary competitive alternative is not necessarily another product or service (although it often is). You want to address how most of your audience with your stated need are currently fulfilling it.

The statement of primary differentiation should summarize how your product or service provides value in ways that no other competitor can claim. It may be related to your statement of key benefit, but does not have to be. Remember: the key benefit is what provides the greatest value to the customer. The primary differentiators are what distinguishes you from other competitors. (Side note: the best differentiator should be determined by market analysis.)

A strong positioning statement is something that life science marketers can and should refer to in order to develop messages that are consistent and on target. To keep your marketing focused and ensure you target the most opportune audiences, have a positioning statement for all your product lines and service categories.

"Positioning is an art, and the best positionings are not simply drawn up arbitrarily but have their basis in information about the product, the customer, and the competitive landscape. If you are launching a new product or service (or recently launched one) and would like to improve your success through positioning, contact BioBM. We’ll help you define a strong positioning that’s based on data and empowers your marketing team to deliver value – both to your customers and for your company."

RSS Feeds & Publicity

To get your life science company's news more widely distributed, have a meaningful RSS feedLet’s face it: all companies love free publicity. However, many life science tools companies, especially small companies, don’t take full advantage of industry press. It’s certainly not for lack of news. Life science tools companies are constantly developing new products, expanding distribution networks, collaborating with academia, getting grants, and doing lots of other potentially newsworthy activities. They simply do not do a great job of disseminating their news. One very helpful step in getting your company news picked up is setting up a meaningful RSS feed.

Simply publishing your company news on your website is not sufficient to ensure it gets distributed. It is not realistic to assume that relevant members of industry media will routinely check your website for updates. Even if you are publishing your press releases through major PR outlets, such as PR Newswire, your releases may not be easily found by more focused industry press. In contrast, an RSS feed allows your news to easily be delivered to industry news media.

Simply having an RSS feed isn’t enough, though. You need to treat journalists as if they will be customers of your news content. After all, they will have many different sources of news competing for their attention. You therefore need to ensure that your feed is of high value to them. Your feed needs to be interesting and relevant. As a litmus test for any particular piece of news, try to think from the perspective of a general member of your industry and / or target market. Landed a big customer recently? It might be important to your company and maybe your investors, but the industry in general probably doesn’t care much. There are many other such examples.

Everybody loves free press, and for good reason. Spreading the accomplishments of your company can build your reputation and brand. It can raise awareness within your target markets. It can help attract investment. It can even have a very positive effect on SEO. To ensure that your company gets the most free publicity possible, ensure that you have a company news feed that is relevant, interesting, and easily disseminated to members of industry news media via RSS.

"Are you looking to package your company news into compelling press releases and news articles that get your company positive publicity? BioBM has public relations services for life science tools companies that will get your company the attention it desires. If you’re currently writing press releases, feel free to sign up at LifeSciPR and post them for free!"

Product-Unrelated Value

At BioBM, we often advocate that companies find ways to create what we call “product-unrelated value” (we first discussed it publicly in a blog post last month). Note that when we say product-unrelated, we don’t mean “has nothing to do with your product” but rather “is not intrinsically linked to your product”. Product-unrelated value should still be something that is relevant to your products, services, or market, but the delivery of value to the customer, as well as the realization of value by the customer, should be completely independent of purchase or use of your products. Product-unrelated value can build trust and strengthen your brand without requiring the user to have participated in the purchasing cycle. Still, many companies scoff at the notion of spending resources to develop value that isn’t intrinsically linked to a product.

It’s good to know that some of the top thinkers agree with our philosophy, though.

Bill Lee, the president of the Customer Reference Forum, Executive Director of the Summit on Customer Engagement, and frequent contributor to the HBR blog network, recently wrote: “It’s always a good idea to look for new ways to create value for customers. But focusing only on doing so through your product or service is entirely one-dimensional. The hard reality is that your product or service, however great it is — however much it helps your customers get a job done or provide an enjoyable experience — is likely just not that important to their lives in the grand scheme of things.

Companies exist because they are able to provide value to their customers. Companies that cannot do so cease to exist. Life science tools companies, and indeed companies across all industries and sectors, need to realize that they need to focus on creating value for customers in more ways than just through their products. Those that argue that product-unrelated value doesn’t help their bottom line are being shortsighted. Product-unrelated value builds the critical trust and brand value that allows a company and a brand to succeed in the long-term. This is especially true with a highly skeptical audience such as scientists.

"Is the value that your company provides effectively building your brand and growing your market share? If not, it’s time to contact BioBM. We’ll help you determine what can be done to improve your brand and fuel demand for your products."

User Testing & Conversion

Price comparison of Amazon Supply vs. other large life science distributorsI did a small study earlier this week to compare prices across six major US life science distributors (you can read about it here). Because of that, I had occasion to go through those companies’ websites and look for products. All of these companies are, by industry standards, fairly large companies, and all of them sell online. For some of them, online sales is a very significant portion of their revenues. I would bet that for most it’s their fastest growing sales channel. Yet most had glaring problems in their website. One had search results that blinded the user with bright yellow highlighted terms all over the page. Another had a high percentage of products that were not identified by their model number. Yet another had an annoyingly persistent “featured product” box that showed up front and center in the search results but never had anything in it. There was a search that seemingly only used “OR” logic for every word in the term – the more terms you added, the less relevant the results became.

These are glaring errors that hurt user experience, and they could be easily identified if these companies did user testing. This is an important point, as anything that takes away from the experience of using your website decreases your competitiveness by driving users away from your website (and likely to your competitors websites).

For those who may not be familiar with it, user testing involves someone who is within your target demographic and recording their interaction with their website. You usually give them a generic task to perform on your site and they speak their thoughts as they perform the task. The output comprises a series of screencasts with voice recordings which are then analyzed to find problems with the user experience or more generally find things that users like and don’t like (there are other techniques and tools that can enhance the output as well).

User testing is very common in many markets, but seems to be relatively uncommon in the life sciences. That may, in no small part, be due to the inherent difficulty in getting a group of scientists to sit down and do a user test, but we find that to be more of an excuse than a reason. User testing may simply not be in the culture of life science marketing, contrasted to it being fairly prevalent in B2C markets. Whatever the reason that it isn’t used, there is no good reason that it shouldn’t be used.

Anything that adversely affects user experience will have a negative impact on the purpose of the website – be it lead generation, sales, or simply progressing users through the purchasing funnel. User testing, especially in conjunction with website analytics, can be a powerful tool to improve user experience and the overall performance of your life science company’s website.

"Even if you have a new website, it’s important to gauge user feedback of it in order to improve user experience and increase conversion. User testing allows you to do just that. Contact BioBM and we’ll help you acquire and analyze feedback from scientists that will help you improve your web properties – and your sales."