There’s a lot of noise coming from some fairly reputable sources extolling the virtues of publishing as the next generation of content marketing (I’m sure you’ll be very familiar with this if you follow the Content Marketing Institute at all). For instance, let’s take a look at a recent article from the Harvard Business Review website – “Content Is Crap, and Other Rules for Marketers” – which makes some great points, but misses some equally if not more important points.
To begin, let’s summarize his 4 rules, which are all extremely valid points…
Rule 1 – Recognize that content is crap. This is best highlighted by the author: “We never call anything that’s good ‘content.’ Nobody walks out of a movie they loved and says, ‘Wow! What great content!’ Nobody listens to ‘content’ on their way to work in the morning. Do you think anybody ever called Ernest Hemingway a ‘content creator’? If they did, I bet he would punch ‘em in the nose.” He goes on to state that marketers need to be more like publishers.
A bit of a side note before we move on. The author is appealing to emotion a bit and is forgetting that content is a somewhat technical term – no one says they drink “dihydrogen monoxide” either. What this is more illustrative of is the mentality of many content marketers. What’s important isn’t, for example, that the people who watch great movies don’t refer to it as “content” but that the producers, writers, directors, and actors who set out to make a great movie don’t refer to it as content. It’s the mentality of content – making “stuff” that begs for attention – which gets people stuck in a losing paradigm and it’s a paradigm that needs to be dropped.
Rule 2 – Hold attention, don’t just grab it. “Marketers need to build an ongoing relationship with consumers and that means holding attention, not just grabbing it. To get people to subscribe to a blog, YouTube channel, or social media feed, you need to offer more than a catchy slogan or a clever stunt. You need to offer real value, and offer it consistently.” The author argues that publishing solves this problem.
Rule 3 – Don’t over-optimize metrics. It’s too easy to confuse measurement with meaning. He uses the example of Buzzfeed, who no longer uses clickbait titles as they’ve realized that they optimize for pageviews, which are just clicks, but betray the reader’s trust. By under-promising and over-delivering, you create more engagement with the content and make it more likely that the reader will return to read another article later. It’s the long game vs. short game conundrum. You can make the numbers look good if you pretend not to care about your numbers a year from now.
Rule 4 – Understand that publishing is a product, not a campaign. In brief, the author makes the point that one of the keys to being successful in being more like a publisher is to treat it with more permanence and seriousness.
There are some great points here… Content is not enough. You can’t simply interrupt your way to success; you need a way to build an audience. Ensure your metrics are effectively measuring value creation. And publishing has serious merits, but the answer is bigger than publishing.
The Inherent Problems With Publishing
Yes, publishing is often superior to more basic forms of content marketing, but it’s not for everyone. Not every company has some amazing, inherently compelling story to tell, and not every company has the resources to continually deliver pieces of that story through carefully crafted content consistently over a long period of time. That’s a massive effort. Assuming publishing is a magic bullet ignores reality and ultimately falls victim to the same problems plaguing other iterations of content marketing: if it becomes well adopted, it’s very quickly going to become much more difficult to do effectively.
The audience’s attention is inherently limited, and while publishing tries to occupy more of that attention, it doesn’t solve the attention problem and it falls into the same trap as more “generic” forms of content marketing. It’s actually a natural response to the lack of supply of customer attention which follows basic economic principles: If the supply of something is limited and demand increases the result is an increasing cost. As more and more content competes for limited attention the “cost” of the customers’ attention increases, meaning you need higher quality content to obtain it. Treating content marketing more like publishing doesn’t change that fact, it simply throws more resources at the problem so higher quality content can be produced – a necessity to continue to compete for customers’ attention in an environment where it is in ever-increasing demand. It’s not like audiences couldn’t do things such as subscribe to blogs almost two decades ago, it’s simply that it takes a better content effort to grab and hold attention than it used to.
Should You Be a Publisher?
Publishing cannot be the answer for everyone. It is literally impossible for 100% of brands to be successful publishers because the audience does not have enough attention to go around. How can you tell if you should be a publisher? Answer these two questions:
- How interesting are you? Take a good honest look at your brand and figure out how interesting you are. Some have great stories to tell. Some do amazing things. Some would make highly impactful thought leaders. Others simply aren’t so captivating. If your brand simply isn’t all that interesting compared to others in your space, you might want to consider something else.
- Can you – and will you – sufficiently resource the effort? Putting out top-quality content on a regular basis is no easy job by itself, and publishing requires more than that. The amount of time and resources that will need to go into planning, editing, graphic design, etc., will be significantly greater. At the same time, publishing still won’t provide a short-term payoff. Do you have the resources and the necessary leadership buy-in to be a publisher?
The Real Focus
If you’re not in the upper echelon of brands with regards to your ability and willingness to be a publisher, all is not lost. After all, being a publisher is not the goal. The reason that taking on the role of publisher is being touted as superior to content marketing is because it’s more effective at delivering meaningful value to customers. That’s also the underlying reason why it better holds the audience’s attention. At the end of the day customers gravitate to value, and there’s a lot more ways to provide value than just being a publisher.
Shift your paradigm from thinking about content to developing actual resources that solve genuine customer problems. Ask yourself what problems customers are having that they might not pay for a solution to, but are readily solvable with a bit of time and effort. Analyze them, prioritize them, and solve the most critical ones that provide the best opportunity for long-term value creation and evolving the customer relationship beyond a transactional one.
Double down on customer experience. Make it easier, faster, and simpler for customers to obtain value from you. Look at some of the juggernauts of tech – Google, Facebook, Uber, Amazon – they didn’t get to where they are because of content marketing. Most of their content marketing efforts aren’t even on people’s radar. What they do is solve problems quickly and simply. You know what’s a great experience? When you can type a question and an answer appears, when you press a button and a cab simply shows up, or when you can instantly be connected to any of your friends. There’s are myriad examples out there, and while it may be easier to do in tech than in the life sciences, it’s certainly not impossible in any industry.
If you’re existing content marketing efforts are becoming less effective, one option is certainly to hunker down, take it more seriously, and spend the resources to become a highly effective publisher. But that’s expensive, difficult, and only delays the onset of many of the underlying problems plaguing content marketing. Publishing treats the symptoms, not the disease. Rid yourself of all paradigms but the one which relies on this one fundamental truth: customers will favor those brands which contribute the most value to their lives. Let that reality guide your actions and you’ll soon find your audiences flocking to you.
I’ve heard a number of manufacturers say that online sales are “a race to the bottom.” That’s a bit like hearing a dinosaur tell you that being warm blooded is overrated. While online sales certainly aren’t right for all types of products, e-commerce often provides a superior experience for purchasers – usually because it’s easier and faster. Research from Forrester has shown that 49% of B2B buyers have intended to buy a specific product then purchased another product because it was easier to buy online. 88% of executives purchase products online. $1.1 trillion of B2B sales are projected to move online by 2020. This will likely only accelerate with generational change, as younger purchasers are far more likely to make B2B purchases online.
There is, however, a legitimate concern that e-commerce, with its much more public pricing, causes downwards pressure on prices. This is strongly exacerbated when selling through distribution – particularly if you have multiple distributors in the same country or who sell in the same currency. Especially in the United States, there is an endemic of discount, online retailers who add little to no value while encouraging price competition and therefore decreasing margins and disincentivizing other distributors from spending on marketing or support. They are effectively leeching off other distributors and, if domestic, off the supplier itself. This creates a situation where pricing is no longer based on value (which has been proven to capture more value) but rather based on cost, with distributors selling at the lowest margins they are willing to accept regardless of the magnitude of the discount the supplier provides. Low margins erode your distributors’ ability to spend on marketing and provide quality support.
Fortunately there is one simple solution to all of these issues; One that prevents the “race to the bottom,” disadvantages distributors who cannot add value to the sale, and potentially allows suppliers to recoup value for themselves. That solution is a strong and enforced minimum advertised price policy. We strongly encourage minimum advertised prices any time where there is competition between sellers of the same product, be it distributor-distributor or supplier-distributor.
MAPs: Encouraging Good Competition
A minimum advertised price (MAP) policy is either a contractual or informal agreement not to advertise products below a specified price. (We strongly recommend that MAP policies be written into distribution agreements to increase their ability to be enforced.) The MAPs may be individually specified for each product or they may be a fixed percentage of all product prices. Distributors who are found to violate the policy are usually given notice and have a specified amount of time (set in the agreement) in order to bring their advertised prices in line with the MAPs. Those who do not may be subject to a range of penalties, varying from reduced discounts to immediate suspension of the distribution agreement.
An enforced MAP policy protects distributor margins, enabling spending on marketing and support, which help drive demand and improve customer experience. It disadvantages distributors who are not adding value to the sale, since by eliminating price competition it forces distributors to compete based on customer experience. These improved customer experiences are positive not only for the customer but also for the brand, since an improved experience will lead to increased overall satisfaction with the brand.
If your distributors are giving deep discounts in the absence of an MAP policy, that probably means you’re discounting more than necessary to begin with, and therefore throwing away value. If you are confident that your pricing is competitive, there should be no need to discount. By discounting, your distributors are affirming that they have more margin than they need. You can therefore reduce distributor discounts and retain more value, or institute a higher MAP and give more value to the distributor, thereby encouraging sales. As most suppliers advertise their own list prices by default, any distributor discounts in areas where you sell direct potentially allow your distributors to undercut you. (We’re big proponents of setting competitive list prices then having MAP set to the list prices.)
Competition based solely on price is detrimental to the distributors, the supplier, and the supplier’s brand. By establishing and enforcing a minimum advertised price policy, you’ll largely eliminate bad competition and replace it with good competition that elevates the brand by requiring competition be on the basis of enhanced customer experiences. You’ll reward your best distributors, discourage the discounting “leeches” who don’t add value, and potentially be able to claim more value for your own company as well.
Content marketers in the life sciences have reached a critical point. The traditional paradigm of content marketing is becoming ineffective. Content marketers have endeavored to create, publish, share, and then repeat this cycle to the point where there is far too much noise. It is becoming ever more difficult to win the battle for attention. Quite simply, content marketing is no longer enough.
We need to shift from a simple content marketing paradigm to a resource marketing paradigm. We need to stop thinking about creating more stuff and start thinking about how to build things of utility that meaningfully help solve our audiences’ problems.
It’s not just the life sciences that are experiencing this, either. It’s everywhere. This is a pandemic problem across almost all industries. We have recently been honored to have our solution, as elaborated by BioBM’s Carlton Hoyt, recognized by the Content Marketing Institute. You can read about how to take your content marketing program beyond the traditional paradigm and start creating transformational value for your audience which will both captivate them and build genuine value for your brand in the CMI article “Stop Thinking Content, Start Thinking Resources”
Having compiled quite an extensive amount of published life science market size data, we’ve noticed a lot of very optimistic growth rates. That led me to wonder if that optimism is warranted, given overall growth in life science R&D, or if there’s something about published market reports that cause them to overstate growth rates.
As I’m sure many of us realize, life science R&D spending isn’t exactly skyrocketing. According to the Battelle and R&D Magazine “2014 Global R&D Funding Forecast” life science R&D spending has only rose from $184.2 billion in 2011 to $201.3 billion in 2014. This equates to a 3.00% compound annual growth rate. All else being equal, we should expect to see published life science market growth rates hovering around that, with the exceptional outlier for high-growth markets. It stands to reason that growth in the markets for life science tools and services should be in line with the growth in overall R&D spending.
To determine if the published studies hold to this, we took our list of published market size data and cleaned it using the following criteria:
- Only global market size data were considered. All regional market size data were removed.
- All studies not listing a growth rate were removed.
- All studies publishing data from 2008 or earlier were removed. We only wanted to look at fairly recent data, roughly in line with the time frame of the R&D spending data from Battelle.
- Only the newest study of a particular market from any given publisher was included. If XYZ Reports had a study of the cell culture market from both 2011 and 2013, only the 2013 report data was included.
- If there was data for a directly related market and sub-markets from the same publisher, only the overarching market was taken. For instance, if data for the cell culture market and for the cell culture media market existed from XYZ reports, we would ignore the cell culture media market data in favor of the broader cell culture market data.
This data cleaning still left us with quite a large amount of data – 104 studies. These studies projected an average growth rate of 11.2%, far higher than the 3.00% increase in life science R&D spending. Weighted by the value of the market size estimate, the weighted average was still 10.4%, again far greater than life science R&D growth. In fact, the lowest growth rate from those 104 studies was 4.0% (a 2012 BCC Research study of the electrophoresis market and a 2013 Decibio study of the Life Science Research Tools Market). Even the lowest published growth rates are higher than the growth in life science R&D spending. This makes absolutely no sense.
There are a few potential ways in which our analysis may be flawed, either by bias or by failing to consider all realities. For instance:
- The data we compile only includes studies that make public the market sizes and growth rates. This excludes a number of market research companies operating in the life sciences space. While our analysis included 104 studies, these studies all came from only 7 companies. Still, there is no evidence that these growth rate estimates are far higher than the estimates from any other companies.
- Some of these market sizes may include growth from outside the life science R&D sector, such as diagnostics or life science (pharma / biotech) manufacturing. While this may be true in part, it does not explain the size of the disparity. With the exception of certain high-growth sub-markets, such as biosimilar manufacturing, IVD and manufacturing growth rates are both generally predicted to be in the mid single digits.
- Companies which publish research may be focusing on “hot” markets and more likely to release studies on those high-growth markets. This is potentially a source of bias, however there are many very well-established markets included in this analysis (cell culture, research antibodies, chromatography, electrophoresis, microscopy, etc.) and even those markets have growth rates higher than the overall life science R&D market. The same can be said for market studies that analyze the life science tools and services markets at a very broad level, such as “Life Science Research Tools,” “Life Science & Chemical Instrumentation,” “Laboratory Equipment,” and “Preclinical Outsourcing.”
- Decreases (or deceleration) in life science R&D funding may be disproportionately applied across R&D costs. It may be the case that spending on products and services tends to be more resistant to budgetary contractions than personnel, infrastructure, and other sources of cost. We do not believe this to be true, however, as much equipment and service spending is far easier to cut than staff or space.
In conclusion, we believe that it is very likely that life science growth rates are overstated in published reports, perhaps by as much as a factor of two. While we can’t be certain why such overestimates exist as we do not know how the studies were performed, we do know that they are not remotely in line with overall life science R&D growth rates and the discrepancy is very unlikely to be explained by other mitigating factors. The next time you use a commercially sold study to gauge growth rates, you may want to take them with a grain of salt and assume that they are an overestimate.
The fear of loss is stronger than the desire for gain.
This is a scientific fact. Here’s the first paper that describes it, but there are a lot more which confirm it. It’s known as loss aversion, and it makes both us and our customers irrational.
Loss aversion is, for instance, why challenger marketing works so well. Lots of companies talk about benefits – what customers have to gain by using your product or service – but customers respond better if you can convince them that the way they are currently doing things is wrong. Tell them that they are currently experiencing loss and they’ll more likely act in your favor. (Don’t just take it from me – you can ask the Corporate Executive Board.)
Challenger marketing is underutilized, however. Why? Simple. Loss aversion. Most marketers are scared of being negative. They think – without any proof to support it – that communicating a thought which could be perceived as negative will turn customers off and cause a blowback on their brands. They are afraid of making people upset more than they desire gains. This persists and directs action even in spite of evidence that being negative at times can provide positive results.
An even more critical and fundamental area where loss aversion cripples marketers is in positioning. Marketers, and the corporate honchos that preside over them, love to cast wide nets. They just love to pretend that everyone is a potential customer. When that becomes the default scenario, we find ourselves in a dangerous position. Loss aversion makes us scared to cut out pieces of the market, that’s not what makes positioning an effective tool. Wide nets don’t win.
Positioning is about defining who is and who isn’t a target customer. We want to maximize the chance that we’re going to close opportunities. We do that not by casting the widest net, but by resonating with those our net is designed to catch. Those are the people we should want to sell to – not the masses who will suck up our marketing dollars and sales efforts but have little chance of converting. That requires putting your loss aversion aside and cutting out your true piece of the market – that which you are realistically and effectively able to capture.
Loss aversion is a powerful tool for marketers, but the same thing that makes it so useful can be harmful when it manifests in ourselves. Don’t just understand the psychology of your scientist-customers, but understand your own psychology as well. You’ll make better decisions as a result.
We recently cited some newly released findings from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) stating that “display retargeting from paid search ads can deliver a 40 percent reduction in CPA.” It was met with some hesitation from Mariano Guzmán of Laboratorios Conda, who stated:
“[…] when I have clicked on a [life science website] what I have experienced is a tremendous amount of retargeting for 1 month that I have not liked at all as an internet user, and I do not feel my clients would as well”
Being me, I like to answer questions with facts as much as possible, so I dug some up. This one’s for you, Mariano!
To directly address Mariano’s concern, I found some studies on people’s opinions on retargeting. A 2012 Pew Research Study found that 68% of people are “not okay with it” due to behavior tracking while 28% are “okay with it” because of more relevant ads and information (4% had no opinion). I’m a little skeptical of the Pew study because they were priming the audience with reasons to “be okay” or “not be okay” with remarketing. In a sense, these people are choosing between behavior tracking + more relevant ads vs. no behavior tracking + less relevant ads. However, when users actually see the ads the ads don’t say to the viewer “by the way, we’re tracking your behavior.” Are some users aware of this? Certainly. Might some think it consciously? On occasion, sure, but nowhere near 100% of the time. However, 100% of the Pew study respondents were aware of it.
A slightly more recent 2013 study commissioned by Androit Digital and performed by Toluna asked the qusestion in a much more neutral manner (see page three of the linked-to study). They found that 30% have a positive impression about a brand for which they see retargeting ads, only 11% have a negative impression, and 59% have a neutral impression.
The Pew study and the Androit Digital study did agree on one thing – remarketing ads get noticed. In both, almost 60% of respondents noticed ads that were related to previous sites visited or products viewed.
Now to the undeniably positive side… The gains a company stands to make from remarketing.
In addition to the 40% reduction in cost per action cited in the aforementioned BCG study, a 2014 report from BCG entitled “Adding Data, Boosting Impact: Improving Engagement and Performance in Digital Advertising” found that retargeting improves overall CPC by 10%.
A 2010 comScore study evaluated the change in branded search queries for different types of digital advertising and found retargeting had provided the largest increase: 1046%.
In a 2011 Wall Street Journal article, Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst at Forrester Research, stated that retail conversion rates are 3% on PCs and 4% to 5% on tablets. According to the National Retail Federation, 8% of customers will return to make a purchase on their own. Retargeting increases that number more than three-fold, to 26%.
There are many more studies that sing the praises of remarketing, however I wanted to stay away from case studies that investigate only single companies as well as data collected and presented by advertising service providers.
Here are my thoughts on the matter: Do some customers view retargeting unfavorably? Certainly, but that’s the nature of advertising. No matter what form it takes, some people will object to it. Considering that there is nothing ethically wrong with retargeting, we can’t give up on something that is proven to be a highly effective tactic because some people have an objection to it. In the end, it’s our job as marketers to help create success for the organizations we serve.
I don’t think I need to tell anyone just how readily reachable customers are these days. We have an incredible amount of channels and tools at our disposal to reach a target audience. Advertising opportunities get continually more targeted. Want someone’s contact information? You can certainly dig it up. Want to target senior scientists working in genomics labs in pharmaceutical companies? You could easily do that with LinkedIn, or if you prefer otherwise there are a ton of publishers and websites who can help you target such an audience via advertising, email, or just plain old print.
So is it really necessary that life science companies spend tens of thousands of dollars (or more) creating conference exhibits, then tens of thousands more any time they want to exhibit at a conference? The costs are genuinely enormous – conferences are often the single largest line item in B2B companies’ marketing budgets. A 2014 study from Forrester Research put the percentage of marketing budget going to in-person events at 20%; almost 50% more than the second largest category, which was all digital advertising combined. That same study, however, found that while overall B2B marketing budgets were increasing, more marketers were planning on decreasing spending for in-person events than increasing spending for them.
A 2013 study from InsideSales.com (summarized nicely here by MarketingProfs) found that conferences were rated as the 4th most effective method for lead generation as well as the 4th most effective method for driving brand awareness by B2B marketers and salespeople. Considering that they found lead generation quantity and quality to be the #1 and #2 top marketing challenge cited, with product and service awareness third, perhaps conferences are still worth the cost after all. (FYI – lead generation has ranked the top marketing challenge in study after study for a long time. Not to excavate the internet, but here’s an example from 2013 published by IDG Enterprise and another from 2011 by MarketingSherpa) To add some more recent sentiment on the effectiveness of in-person events, a 2015 study from Regalix (summarized here by MarketingCharts) asked CXOs what online and offline marketing tactics they found to be effective. The #1 answer, with 84% of respondents citing them as effective, was in-person events.
There is one question that different people in the life science industry seem to have different opinions on that we can settle using data: are conferences falling out of style? We took a basket of North American conferences and got attendance data for the last 5 years to see if we could spot any clear trends. Full disclosure for the nitpickers among us, unfortunately they’re not truly random – they’re just the ones we thought of first and could obtain attendance data for.
|American Association for Cancer Research||12,254||11,761||12,415||15,794||16,500|
|American Chemical Society*||17,455||15,178||17,396||14,353||18,754|
|American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB)||7,440||5,606||7,484||5,138||5,758|
|American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG)||8,430||8,484||8,376||7,502||7,259|
*The American Chemical Society meetings are biannual. These numbers reflect a total attendance for both Spring and Fall meetings.
From this data, which admittedly is far from comprehensive, it seems that conference attendance is relatively steady, at least in recent years. Unfortunately that doesn’t help us answer our burning question: are conferences worth it?
None of those aforementioned studies say anything about ROI, they are all based on qualitative responses, and we all know something can be effective without being efficient. We’re also not just B2B. We’re life science. Maybe for us it’s different. Maybe the legendary scientific skepticism makes conferences not worth the cost?
We’re going to tap the collective knowledge of the market and see what you – life science marketers and salespeople – think. We’ll share the data we collect so we can see exactly what direction conferences are heading. Are they effective within our industry? Please take the survey. It has 23 questions and should take about 6 minutes. If we can get 100 respondents by the end of April we’ll create a resource listing scientific conferences with attendance, dates, costs, and location.