Most life science companies still have a product focus, and many can get away with it because our industry, along with many other B2B industries, is a bit behind the marketing curve. Many companies place a very high priority on operational efficiency and building better products. Those things are undeniably important, but in many circumstances they’re not sufficient for winning markets anymore. There are plenty of products which were incremental improvements, or even significant improvements, and were offered at equal or lower products than their mainstream competitors but still failed. While there are many ways to fail in marketing a product, one of the largest is marketing a product. (Yes, you read that correctly.)
If You’re Only Marketing Products, You’re Doing It Wrong
Lets think about scientists for a minute. What are their goals? Maybe they’re trying to discover the next big drug. Maybe they’re trying to understand some burning scientific question. Whatever their goals are we can be reasonably certain that they are not to purchase “X” type of product. The need for a product is a low-order need. The experiment that the product will be used in is even a subordinate need to the ultimate goal. The point is that your product is relatively far from the thing that the scientist really cares about. Yet life science companies are trying to create competitive advantage in a manner which is almost entirely product-centric. That doesn’t make any sense.
We’ve seen symptoms of this shift from product to customer for a while. Personalization, for instance, tries to provide value by making the customer’s decision easier. Content marketing, when done well, tries to arm customers with knowledge. Companies are, whether conscious of it or not, being pulled into a more customer-centric viewpoint. But being pulled behind your competitors doesn’t create sustainable competitive advantage.
For a long time, companies looking to innovate would ask themselves “What else can we make and sell?” The question that you need to shift yourself to asking is “How can we provide value to our customers?”
Making the Shift
The most central facet of a customer-centric shift, especially since we are still talking about marketing products, is framing the product according to the needs of the customer. By that, I don’t just mean focusing broadly on customer needs, but rather focusing on specific customer segments’ purchase criteria and your products’ position relative to them. You don’t need to have a better, faster, or smarter product than your competitors. You need to have a product which more closely aligns with the needs of a specific customer. A Tesla is not claiming to be better than a Cadillac. They are simply meant for different audiences, and each segment is loyal to their brand in part because the brand focuses on their particular needs and desires (even if these desires are situational and therefore subject to change).
Think about how you can leverage network effects to your advantage. Most people think about customer data in the light of providing personalized promotions, knowing what company-created content to send to whom, or understanding a users’ purchase history. Get past that. Think about what information your customers have to share with each other and how you can help spread that information. This can be as complex as community-building or as simple as curating customers’ questions. Whatever the implementation, this information creates advantage over those who cannot provide such value. Network effects build on themselves and can be difficult to replicate.
On a non-product level, don’t forget to consider the brand advantages which drive scientists to your products in the long-term. Creating superior experiences for your customers imparts brand advantage for your company that manifest in improved customer acquisition and loyalty.
Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean product innovation, and customers are no longer making purchasing decisions solely based on the features of the product. Product-based advantages are becoming ever more tenuous, and competing effectively and creating sustainable advantage requires shifting focus to the customers. Provide superior value to them based on an understanding of their needs, and you’ll win their business.