Consider this: the life science advertising market is similar in functionality to a stock market or the market for any good or service. People want to maximize the return on their investment. In a perfect market, the ROI of all channels would become equal because those that provided a higher ROI initially would become more expensive and / or more crowded until the ROI dropped, and those providing a lower ROI would lose advertisers and the demand would decrease, thereby lowering prices and competition through that channel and increasing its ROI. In reality that’s not the case. A lot of life science marketers have a tendency to turn to “traditional channels” for ad placement and marketing communications. Even those who consider a broader spectrum of possible channels than those considered “traditional” often limit themselves. This creates an imperfect market, and imperfect markets create opportunity.
How can you take advantage of this imperfect market? Consider marketing where others aren’t.
One approach: Look for the channels that may be underutilized. For example, Quertle, a semantic search engine for scientific journals, was offering a $1 CPC ad rate a while ago. If expected traffic quality was poor this wouldn’t be a big deal, but the opportunity for targeting on Quertle is fantastic. Imagine how many life science tools companies were likely throwing money into Google AdWords haphazardly when they could have received equally good traffic for $1 per click! The imbalance caused by underutilization is most almost entirely due to life science marketers’ lacking sufficient information on all the channels available to them.
Another approach: Look for the marketing methods that may be underutilized. We recently discussed the apparent underutilization of cause marketing. There are certainly other methods for marketing communications that may be useful but are underutilized – guerrilla marketing is likely another such example. There are certainly others, and they create a similar opportunity to increase your life science marketing ROI. In the case of underutilized marketing methods, the imbalance is most often caused by a lack of creativity or aversion to risk.
By marketing where others aren’t, you can decrease the cost of your life science advertising while increasing visibility, thereby greatly increasing your ROI. Look for the opportunities that underutilized channels and methods present, and consider whether they would be effective tools to reach your audience.
UPDATE: Between when this post was written and when it’s being posted, another great example of leveraging an under-utilized marketing medium appeared. Ion Torrent went and built a mobile lab on a bus and they’ll be driving it around to major research centers and conferences. You can see it on their YouTube channel.
Life science tools companies are constantly making important product development decisions, and almost all of these decisions involve making a tradeoff. Should your company focus its limited product development resources on entirely new lines, expansions to existing lines, or improvements to existing products? Much of this decision-making, especially for smaller companies, boils down to choosing between breadth and depth in the product portfolio. So what are the benefits of each, and when should each be given focus?
It’s certainly no easy question to answer generally. Without question much of the answer will depend on a company’s positioning and the opportunities that present themselves (a SWOT analysis is often good for helping to make such a determination), however there are many considerations that are less variable and can be discussed in a more general context. Let’s discuss a few of those.
Risk / Reward
To an extent, the 80/20 rule, or at the very least the rule of diminishing returns, comes into play in product development. A few key, highly differentiated products in any area are likely to make “80%” of your revenues in that area, assuming that you have such a product to begin with. Expanding on products in that area, or continuing to build on that key product through features, etc., will produce a far lesser return than did the development of the original product. Indeed, as more and more features are added to the key products, or more and more related products are added to the related product line, each improvement or addition will likely capture fewer and fewer customers. If the opportunity exists to build a disruptive product in another market, that will generally offer a much greater opportunity to build sales.
The risk of expanding into new markets, however, is much greater. Developing an entirely new product often involves the development or acquisition of new technology, and the cost is often much greater. It will involve markets that your company is less familiar with, and you may misjudge the market. Customers also gravitate towards holistic solutions, and if your offering doesn’t have the product support within your own line to stand alone, that may be viewed with significant negativity. Additionally, and this will lead us into the next point of discussion, if you don’t have a strong focus in any area then your company’s brand won’t be recognized as an authority in any area.
Having too narrow of a product line is a risk in and of itself as well. If you’re entirely invested in one market, and a competitor brings a highly disruptive technology into that market, you could be out of business. While building around a highly successful product line may be seen as risk-averse, small companies with limited product development resources still need to diversify to some extent.
If you have many great but unrelated ideas, continuously going after the “80%” may seem very tempting, but it does have its drawbacks. Not being known for any one area could have negative effects on your company’s brand. Especially if customers in a market have varied needs, you won’t be known as a go-to source for any of the types of products that you offer, even if you have that one standout product. If your product line is all over the place, having disparate, eclectic products with having a well-rounded offering for any particular need, customers won’t think to look to your company for anything, and that can certainly be problematic.
On the other hand, having a deep product line can help establish you in that area, again assuming your products are sufficiently differentiated. It also helps you focus brand-building marketing efforts, or at the very least makes them easier.
It’s worth repeating that there is no right answer or formula to follow that will tell you where you should focus your product development efforts. The decision must be dependent on your situation, risk tolerance, opportunities, and more. Align your company’s product development goals with your overall goals, carefully analyze your situation, and you’ll know what the right decision is.
Corporate social responsibility has been all the rage for years now. Corporations in many fields are almost expected to prove that their interests are one with the common good and that they’re not just money-grubbing, profiteering institutions. Corporate donations have always been popular, and get companies a tax write-off, but that doesn’t really do much good to the company. Performing feats of goodwill that benefit both the cause and the company (and often create more social good in the process) is encompassed in cause marketing.
Being in the life science tools industry I was surprised when I read a recent Harvard Business Review article that referenced some numbers on the prevalence of cause marketing from a 2010 a PRWeek/Barkely PR cause marketing survey. As of 2010, two-thirds of all companies reported engaging in cause marketing, and 97% of marketing executives believed cause marketing to be a valid business strategy! If you look around the life sciences that certainly doesn’t seem to be the case. Given, simple self-reporting that your company engages in cause marketing is a low target as it doesn’t require that the cause marketing effort be of significant size or visibility.
Regardless of the reasoning for the survey numbers, it lead me to think that cause marketing is indeed under-leveraged in the life sciences. I know of only a handful of such efforts across the industry – the first one that comes to mind is Labnet’s manufacture of Susan G. Komen branded pipettes (which don’t even seem to be available anymore). In a way it does strike me as odd. Certainly there are many charitable or non-profit organizations funding compelling biomedical research that would be great cause marketing partners for life science tools companies. Think about it: How compelling would it be to a life science researcher to be able to purchase a product or buy from a company that supports life science research, maybe even research in their own field? There are certainly many potential opportunities to do just that … but not many laboratory tools companies seem to be making the effort.
While I wouldn’t suggest diving into cause marketing head first because of my admittedly anecdotal musings, it does seem that cause marketing may be an opportunity ripe for the picking by life science tools companies.