There’s been a lot of negativity in the life science tools market recently, at least with regards to the economic outlook. European government austerity, a possible US sequester, and cooling Asian economies have given a lot of people a sense of unease (or downright fear) about sector growth. Over the past two months, however, there’s a bunch of data that says things probably aren’t going to be so bad after all.
Back in late February, a MarketsandMarkets study projected the life science and chemical instrumentation market to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.4% from 2011 to 2016. Morgan Stanley analyst Daniel Brennan then noted in early March that commercial sales of publicly traded life science instrument companies had been stronger than expected and is less vulnerable to the economy than many had feared. A DeciBio study released last week projected that the life science tools market will grow by about 4% per year over the next 5 years. Sure, 4% isn’t a great growth rate, but it’s certainly enough to sustain the industry. Last Thursday, Goldman Sachs analyst Isaac Ro said that company performance in the life science tools industry for the first quarter of 2012 “appears to have trended better than initially expected” and noted that academic spending trends have improved.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we’re in the clear, and there are certainly still hurdles the industry faces moving forward, we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief. The life science tools market isn’t in nearly as bad of shape as many had feared.
Life science market research can be a tricky, and often expensive, endeavor. You need to find a suitable population that meets your study requirements, recruit individuals to actually participate in the study, and building the survey. You have to worry about introducing bias, sufficiently powering your study, ensuring your population is representative, and many other factors. However, there is one tool that can, in many situations, make your research easier, faster, and cheaper: AdWords.
Yes, that AdWords. Pay-per-click Google Adwords.
AdWords has many desirable qualities that one would want in a market research platform. It has a huge audience, and our in-house research has shown that it is overwhelmingly the search engine of choice within the life sciences. Google is used by a billion unique individuals every month. The audience is easy to segregate (albeit in limited ways: by keyword or by geography). It’s easy to reduce both population bias and question bias. With market research via AdWords, you often don’t have to even ask a question – the question is implicit rather than explicit since the unwilling participants are looking for information, products, services, or content. While you’ll be limited by language, in most places English is the language of science and users select themselves by using relevant keywords.
That said, AdWords is obviously not designed for market research and its capabilities as a life science market research platform are understandably limited. You only get to “ask” each participant a single question. The types of information you can gather are relatively limited. You can’t segregate the audience by job title or other useful demographic information.
Still, you can get insights on a surprising amount of questions. For example, the following information can often be reasonably obtained using AdWords:
• The relative popularity of a basket of products or brands
• Which prospective name for a new product would be better
• What method are researchers using more often
• What nations are most frequently using a particular method or type of product
• An attractive price for a particular laboratory product
• A fair deal more…
Note that some of the above information would require the use of Google Analytics (or similar) in conjunction with AdWords.
While not a fully capable replacement for traditional market research studies, a lot can be done with Google AdWords for as little as $0.10 per participant ($0.10 is the minimum cost-per-click in AdWords). Next time you’re looking for market data, especially if the data you’re looking for isn’t terribly complex, you may be able to save your life science company a lot of time and money by turning to the reliable old pay-per-click advertising platform.
We work with all sorts of life science company websites for a multitude of purposes. One thing strikes us over and over and over again. A lot of life science websites seem to be designed without a well-defined purpose in mind. Companies (and the life science marketers working for them) seemingly treat their websites like a chandelier – they want really pretty websites that you can’t really do much with. Likewise, a lot of designers know that an eye-catching, flashy site will earn the rubber stamp of the executive who needs to sign off on it, regardless of whether or not it’s particularly functional. That’s simply no good.
If you don’t know the purpose of your website, you are most likely losing lots of money because of it.
The first thing I ask our clients when designing sites is “what is the purpose of this website?” It seems like a simple question, but a lot of people don’t have a straight answer for it. Those that do often have a simple answer such as “provide information about our company and our products” or a vague answer such as “project our brand identity.” That’s not good enough.
The purpose of your website should be centered around the customer.
Ultimately, your company exists to sell a product or service to scientists and / or clinicians. What is it that your website is doing that is moving them closer to a purchase? Is it doing as much as it can? For example, if you want your website to sell your products, then ask yourself how you intend to sell your products and design your website with that in mind. Do you need them to contact a distributor? Are most of your customers going to want to talk to an application scientist? Can they purchase on-site? … Your website needs to provide prospective customers with everything they need to take the action that you want them to.
How good it looks is not the metric that measures the quality of a website. Sure, everyone like an attractive website, but at the end of the day your website is there for a purpose. How well your life science website serves that purpose is the true measure of its quality, and defining and understanding that purpose is critical. (P.S. – Don’t forget to measure how well your website is performing!)
Somewhat recently, another life science marketing agency (who shall remain anonymous), wrote that “No one ‘peruses’ websites from the homepage anymore. Sites need to be optimized to have an infinite number of ‘front doors’.” They’re largely correct on the first part – many users today will find your web content via search or other avenues which will lead them to an entry point that is not your homepage. However, the claim that every page should be a “front door” is flat-out wrong. If you’re not controlling the entry points to your website, you need a good dash of … SEO.
SEO, despite its name, isn’t all about simply ranking our website higher in the search engine rankings. Another crucial component of SEO is controlling which one of your website’s pages will show up highest for any given search term. Life science companies need to not only assess what terms they want to optimize for, but what content they want searchers for those terms to find. The best SEO plan is the one that executes on both of these factors.
The most basic tool for life science SEO is the landing page. Landing pages are single web pages that are designed to provide highly targeted content for a particular purpose. In the context of SEO, landing pages are often “one-way” pages designed to be content-rich on a particular topic, pulling in searchers for that term. Targeted audiences might be for a particular type or class of product, researchers using a particular type of sample or organism, or scientists looking to perform a specific type of analysis. Often the content of landing pages is too specific to make sense having on the more general sections of your website, but provide information that is highly relevant to your audience.
Landing pages are just one tool in the life science SEO toolbox, however. There are many other methods to control entry to your website, and not all of them even occur on your own site. For example, there are ways of “donating” SEO from one page to another. There are ways of creating super-effective landing pages outside your main website, then using those to drive traffic back to your site. The list of tools in the toolbox goes on…
Your website is not simply at the mercy of the search engines. Search engine optimization can be used to not only improve search rankings, but also to channel search traffic through specific paths and optimize how viewers interact with your website. Your website is your most important internet marketing tool, and controlling entry points is a key factor in wielding that tool properly.
Life science companies, and indeed companies in many industries, often get caught up in thinking about their products or services in terms of their features and benefits. Customers are often grouped by demographics. This type of thinking, however, often doesn’t lead to the best solutions for your customers needs.
There is a common saying that circulates among business and marketing aficionados (that I believe originated from a Harvard business professor) that no one wants a quarter inch drill – they want a quarter inch hole. If there was a tool to perform the task of making a quarter inch hole that was better suited to the job than a quarter inch drill, people would use it. Despite that, most companies selling drills focus their marketing on the drill, not the holes that the drill produces. When not focusing on the tool, many marketers focus on the customer or the market – trying to segment them into demographic baskets based on any of a wide number of criteria.
What doesn’t get the necessary amount of focus is the job that needs to be done. While life science companies actually do a better job of this than companies in many other industries, many life science marketers still lose sight of the purpose of the tool. No scientist has an inherent need for a thermal cycler. What the scientist needs is more copies of a genetic sequence. The thermal cycler manufacturer that will be positioned to have the highest ROI is the one that understands that and focuses on the job that needs to be done – amplification of DNA.
I won’t spend any more time on this topic because I don’t believe there is an epidemic lack of focus on the jobs that life science tools are meant to perform. However, there are many exceptions, and there have been many instances when a life science marketer or an entire company lost focus on the job that needed to be done and placed a highly disproportionate amount of focus on the product or the customer. Be sure you’re not the one that loses focus. Ask yourself on occasion what the jobs are that your products and services are being “hired” to perform. If you don’t have a solid answer, or if you’re not basing decisions on that answer, then it may be time to refocus.
Consider this seemingly obvious statement: the reason your life science company can sell products or services to scientists is because they have needs. These needs, in turn, create demand for solutions. Life science marketing is the tool by which we identify those needs and pair them with the solutions we offer. However, scientists don’t want you to solve any old problem, they want you to solve their problem. The closer you can get to conveying a solution to an individual scientist’s particular problem, the closer you’ll be to generating a lead and / or making a sale.
Yet how close to solving specific problems are life science marketers really getting? It is very common to see the same message sent repeatedly across different channels to different audiences. Even on life science company websites, where it is very easy to customize lots of content for specific needs, we most often see an incredible lack of targeting. While non-targeted messages still drive product and brand awareness, they do ensure that prospective customers will think of your products or brands on their own when a need is recognized (some more information on that topic can be found here). Therefore, a lot of marketing is effectively going to waste because it’s not the right message, and in many cases not delivered at the right time. The right message is the one that matches needs with what you have to offer.
Only a certain amount of market segmentation is practical. With too much segmentation, you end up tailoring messages and solutions to extremely small, niche audiences and going beyond the point of diminishing returns. However, few life science marketers have that problem. The far more common problem is leaving too much on the table – not segmenting the audience enough.
For example: If you’re going to be growing a cell line, ultimately you don’t care how well an arbitrary cell line grows on a given surface. You want to know if your cells, or at least highly similar cells, grow well on that surface. Life scientists do a ton of cell culture. The research component of the cell culture market (as opposed to cell therapeutics) is estimated to be worth about $600m, and we estimate the plasticware component of that alone to be almost 60% of that. That means about $350m are being spent by research laboratories just on cell culture plastics. That’s a very large market – about half the size of the market for sequencing instruments. And while there are many cell lines, there are certainly a lot of popular cell lines out there. But even for those popular cell lines, go around to the websites of manufacturers of cell culture plasticware and see how many provide information on the use of the popular cell lines with their plasticware. Look for application notes, data, protocols, anything. Chances are you won’t find it.
Scientists don’t want to waste their time trying solutions that may have worked for someone else who has a different application. They want solutions to their specific problems. The closer you come to demonstrating that your products will solve their particular problems, the closer you’ll be to generating a lead or a sale.
I’ve heard a lot of talk among certain groups of life science marketers recently along the lines of rethinking who the scientist really is. Specifically, that scientists are complex people just like anyone else, and that marketers who try to target them need to realize and embrace that (as if anyone thought that they were really just single-minded laboratory robots). I think this conversation is going far enough to risk derailing the necessary relevance of life science marketing.
A lot of this conversation is based around scientist-led efforts to redefine who scientists are. For example, the “This Is What A Scientist Looks Like” tumblr blog, or the ongoing #IAmScience movement that culminated in this video.
Of course scientists are more than just lab robots, but being scientists and pursuing scientific endeavors is the commonality that binds them together into a group of like interests and traits. There is a large difference between understanding your scientific audience and attempting to appeal to them as something other than scientists. If you put aside the scientific ties that bind them, you now have a giant undefinable group of wildly varying anybodies, and that’s not targetable.
The fact is we’re not selling them solutions for outside the lab. We’re selling them solutions for the lab. An analogous example: Xerox doesn’t portray people doing extracurricular activities outside the office because that’s not what they sell solutions for. They find innovative ways of portraying the problems of office life, such as accountants asking the Michelin Man to crunch numbers for accounts receivable while he throws tires are a giant gas station fuel dispenser monster. Xerox isn’t trying to redefine their audience, they’re trying to find innovative ways of portraying the problems they solve.
You don’t have to sacrifice relevance to gain appeal, and if you try to do so you will ultimately fail.