The scientific buying journey is fraught with skepticism. From the buyer’s perspective, this is a requirement of a good buying journey. The buyer must decide what to believe and what not to believe, determine what is meaningful and what is not, and refine their understanding of their own needs all while being blasted with marketing messages from companies that are all trying to get the scientist’s business. Skepticism is a natural and required component of these efforts. It is also the enemy of the marketer.
Skepticism is what makes overly pushy and overtly bombastic messages fail. It’s also part of the fuel for the rise in content marketing. Marketers are looking for ways to convey their messages in manners that create less skepticism. Rather than immediately jumping to validation, promotion, and flat-out selling, they first attempt to educate in a more subtly guiding manner which conditions the scientists to viewpoints that will be later elaborated on in the more traditional marketing efforts. However, promoting content to scientists is not the same as the scientists discovering content on their own, and the manner in which content is presented will, in part, determine their receptiveness to it. Additionally, taking a “hands off” approach throughout the buying journey such as to avoid skepticism would lead to overall marketing ineffectiveness due to low rates of opportunity development later in the journey.
Educational content is often necessary, but never sufficient. We therefore must consider the nature of messages, as well as how those messages are to be delivered, such that we can avoid skepticism-driven rejection earlier in the buying journey while still creating the desired effect in the later stages of the buying journey: a closed sale.
Evolving Message Types
Early in the journey, the customer is gathering information and may not even yet realize that they have a need for a product. At this stage, educational content is the way to go. You want to help them learn and discover information that will prime them to your point of view without giving them reason to be skeptical (as promoting a commercial solution would).
As they transition from discovery and exploration to analysis, they know a need exists and start to actively gather and evaluate options. Educational content is still useful, so long as it is focused on the customers’ needs. Basic background information is of little interest to the customer at this point, unless it is something so disruptive to their journey that they need to reconsider its premises. Additionally, we want to start adding validation content – content that demonstrates to them that the solution we are advocating is correct. (For example, case studies are a very common form of validation content.) This type of content will help them understand our offering as a qualified option to solve their need. If the customer has been properly educated to accept our point of view earlier in the buying journey, validation content will not raise skepticism.
As they come to the late stages of analysis and approach their buying decision, educational content should be largely avoided in favor of additional validation as well as promotions – the “hard sell,” as we call it. At this point the opportunity exists; we just need to seize it! Dancing around it with more educational content will not effectively prompt action. More direct calls to action are required.
Let me lead off with this reminder: life science marketers should always maintain a focus on their scientist-customers. That said, customer-centricity exists on a sliding scale, as most things do, and is not absolute. Changing the centricity of your messages throughout the buying journey is also necessary for optimal performance.
Early in the journey, we should have a nearly exclusive customer focus. Everything should be framed from the perspective of the customer and their needs. We should adopt their perspective as much as possible. As the journey continues, we can shed a little bit of this customer-centricity, giving room to focus more first on the technology, then ultimately on the product. We are not shifting to a product-focus. We are shifting to a customer-centric product focus. We can never focus solely on the product. Why? The product is a lower-order need and our scientist-customers will respond vastly better to higher-order needs (the reason they need your solution in the first place).
Mechanism of Discovery
The manner in which messages are delivered can raise skepticism. However, the mechanisms that raise the least skepticism are not the most effective throughout the buying journey, so shifting mechanisms of message delivery / discovery must be considered as well.
Messages that are naturally found by your audience tend to raise far less skepticism than messages that are pushed upon them. Early in the buying journey, we want to rely on mechanisms that are organic – those which allow the messages or content to be found naturally by your audience or in a manner that feels natural. They should be able to actively choose to interact with it rather than have it pushed upon them. This could include organic search, display or native advertising, and placement within third party media. In general, marketing tactics that are considered inbound would roughly overlap with organic discovery. Regardless, the customer must feel as if they are driving their own discovery.
As the customer has more interaction with your brand and consents to receive marketing, you can begin to transition from pull to push. Even with permission, you should avoid the temptation to get too pushy too quickly, as you can still very easily raise skepticism by doing so. As the customer progresses through the buying journey, you can transition more from customer-driven discovery to a more visibly active role in leading them. This more active role will be necessary; if you were to always wait for the customer to “organically” discover and interact with your content, you could very well lose mindshare to your competitors. Therefore, a careful and evolving balance is required throughout the buying journey.
While the ultimate goal of closing a sale remains the same throughout the buying journey, looking at the interim goals can help to understand both why the aforementioned transitions are necessary and how to execute them. In brief, we transition from:
- Shifting the scientists’ viewpoint without activating skepticism …
- … to convincing them that the adopted viewpoint is the correct one …
- … to persuading them to act on their beliefs and execute a transaction.
We shift from seeking to primarily avoid rejection as the customer remains open to many viewpoints, to seeking acceptance as the customer evaluates and filters their options towards an ultimate decision.
Avoiding skepticism is undeniably important, and raising skepticism with your marketing can shut your brand out of a customers’ buying journey early on. However, the approaches that we use to avoid skepticism do not make for an efficient marketing platform as the buying journey progresses. Many of the mechanisms that create skepticism are needed to close opportunities. By understanding where customers’ are in their buying journeys, and matching our approaches to it to create balance, we simultaneously limit skepticism while increasing the ultimate likelihood of a sale.