I want to take you on a trip into the future of life science marketing, not because I’m some kind of prophet (I didn’t come up with these ideas, nor did anyone in our industry) but because if the predictions of many marketing futurists come true, and if trends continue, the future will catch you by surprise and it won’t be a pleasant experience. It just could threaten your entire ability to be successful as a marketer.
Before we go into the future, to give us some perspective, let’s take a very quick look at where we are today and how we got here.
How we got here…
Once upon a time there was no internet and everything was print. (Last time I checked, CROs and manufacturers of lab equipment weren’t advertising on TV or the radio, so we can ignore those.) Then there was the internet, and marketers saw that it was good. They could easily reach large audiences at very low incremental costs. There was email marketing and banner advertising, and those were very successful tools for a long time. We could put ourselves directly in front of our target audiences, seemingly at will. Marketers got fat and happy, feeding off the plenty that the internet provided for them.
But customers got tired of interruptions. They responded with spam filters and ad blockers. They became numb to the constant barrage of ads and learned, consciously or not, to tune out the ads that marketers were throwing at them.
Marketers sought to save their valuable channels, and came up with new ways of increasing ROI. The rich media ad was born, as was the native ad. Clickthrough improved, and marketers breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Email was never the same. Marketers couldn’t keep up. Where unsolicited email was once extremely popular, now most marketers use double opt-in lists. List sizes shrunk precipitously.
…and where we’re going
We’re in the midst of the death of unsolicited email marketing and opt-in email marketing is by no means future-proof. Display advertising is threatened as well. What comes after native? Maybe there are more evolutions of display (and / or text) advertising to come, but we can’t just keep filling webpages with junk. The audience – especially our well-educated and knowledgeable audience of scientists, will find a way to take back and protect their valuable attention. So what happens when they do so to an extent that the traditional marketing-by-interruption approaches are no longer effective?
Email and display advertising goes away. You can’t go back to print: we already know that’s not effective, and who actually reads things on pieces of paper anymore? Content marketing is valuable, but that doesn’t solve the problem either – it may help keep the audience’s attention but you still need to get their attention in the first place. Conference attendance is steadily declining and an opportunity that only comes once a year isn’t enough to prop up a marketing program. So what’s left?
Barring new channels being invented between now and then, it leaves search and social media.
The value of search is abundantly clear to most marketers, and while its value increases as it becomes more difficult to reach people through other channels, search won’t necessarily enter a new paradigm because of it.
Social media marketing, on the other hand, changes immensely. Social media essentially becomes your new permission-based marketing. It’s a group of people who you can actively reach out to with your marketing messages. You expand your list disseminating valuable, share-worthy content. The rules and best practices of social media won’t change so much, but its role without your marketing program will transform. That’s why it’s so important to start building your audience now, while you can still pull people to you with advertising.
Growing an audience organically takes a lot of time and effort. Right now you can “cheat” with social advertising, but how long will it be until that becomes ineffective as well? Start growing your audience now and you’ll be prepared for the future of permission-based marketing.