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Customers of Content

Scientists have many things competing for their attention.Social media, blogs, social bookmarking, RSS, e-mail… There’s so much competing for scientists digital attention these days. When a scientist (or anyone) is in front of a computer they have a purpose in mind, and be it leisure, education, or work, their time there is limited. Simply engaging in content marketing is no longer enough. Your life science company’s content is competing for the attention of your audience, and it has to meet the needs or desires of the audience better than any other content they have access to, or else they simply won’t view and absorb it. Scientists aren’t just customers of your products anymore, but are customers of your content as well.

Your customers pay for your content marketing “product” with their time and attention. They could be viewing anyone else’s content, or simply doing something else. There are near-limitless sources vying for their time and attention, and you have to have a content product that is sufficiently valuable for them to give you their time in exchange. You also need to behave yourself in trying to “sell” your content. Just as you would readily unsubscribe from a vendor who sent e-mails every hour, or get quite angered with a merchant at a market who followed you down the street screaming for you to look at his wares, your customers will get quite annoyed if you don’t moderate your content. You need to balance quality and frequency. Consistently high-quality content can be posted more often. Lower-quality content should not be. (Wondering how to determine the quality of your content? Ask us.) Just as your customers reward high-quality products with repeat purchases and word-of-mouth referrals, they also reward high-quality content with return visits and by sharing your content with others.

Your content behaves as a product, and should be treated with the much of the same respect given to your products or services. With a well-designed content marketing strategy and similarly well-executed content marketing plan, you’ll be able to target and attract future [paying] customers even when they’re not in the traditional buying cycle (and give your SEO a nice boost in the process).

"Looking to improve your life science content marketing? If not, you should be. Content marketing plays a very important role in both retaining new customers and attracting new customers when they’re not even in the traditional buying cycle, and can be a great asset to your SEO and branding as well. Contact us and we’ll discuss ways for you to extract value from content marketing through improved brand loyalty, better search engine rankings, and more."

Marketing: When & How

Life science marketers most often ignore a critical phase of the buying cycle - when scientists aren't in the buying cycle at all.What I’m about to tell you isn’t anything groundbreaking. It’s not new, it’s not innovative, and you may even say that it’s obvious. It is, however, dramatically and consistently overlooked by the overwhelming majority of life science companies. It’s something that any plan to generate demand should be built around: a consumer’s behavior when looking for a solution to a problem (and in our case, a scientist’s behavior).

It goes like this:

  • Phase 0 – Steady State: The scientist has no recognized need for your type of product(s) / service(s), and is effectively not in the buying cycle
  • Phase 1 – Realization: Realization of the need to solve a problem, or realization of an opportunity to improve his / her work in some way. This can happen independently, or be induced by presentation of external information.
  • Phase 2 – Exploration: The scientist is acquiring information about the need or opportunity and looking for potential solutions.
  • Phase 3 – Analysis: The scientist is evaluating the information collected and is attempting to create a short list of viable, desirable solutions.
  • Phase 4 – Decision: The final decision is made to use a particular solution or to ignore the need.

  • Note that these steps are not entirely serial, but rather overlap somewhat. In particular, exploration and analysis commonly overlap significantly, as scientists look for solutions and, to at least some extent, evaluate those solutions as they find them, then continue to do so as they find more solutions. What we’re calling the “steady state” and realization may overlap somewhat as well, as problems and opportunities are not always obvious and may be slowly discovered over time.

    That seems both simple and logical, right? So where do companies go wrong? They forget that most of their target audience, at any given point in time, is NOT in the buying cycle! They ignore phase 0!

    Most life science companies simply attempt to pitch their products over and over through traditional channels using traditional methods, most often focusing on features / benefits. The underlying concept is that even if a scientist isn’t ready to buy (either in the buying cycle currently or can be induced into the buying cycle), that this strategy will build product and / or brand awareness. While this concept is true, it does not build brand value, which is much more highly correlated with how likely a customer will be to return to you when considering a purchase.

    What life science marketers should be doing is seeking to add value regardless of the buying cycle phase that the scientist is in, or even regardless of whether they are in the buying cycle. This is done through content marketing. Content marketing allows the provision of information valuable to your scientific audience at any time. While not nearly as effective as traditional, outbound marketing when a customer is analyzing potential solutions to a problem, at all other times it provides more value. We therefore argue that content marketing (or similar value-added marketing efforts) should be the default and not more traditional feature/benefit-based marketing approaches. Traditional marketing approaches should be limited to channels in which customers are likely to be actively looking for or evaluating products, or in situations when it is likely that scientists could be induced into the buying cycle.

    Companies need to ensure that they are leveraging more useful content marketing tactics and integrating them effectively with their traditional marketing tactics such that they can effectively engage the needs of their target audience regardless of whether or not they’re in the buying cycle, or what phase of the buying cycle they are in. Doing so isn’t simple, and there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for it, but those companies that succeed in doing so are building strong foundations for long-term success.

    "Marketing to scientists isn’t always easy, but you shouldn’t let it weigh down your company. If you have products that you feel aren’t meeting their potential, give us a call. We’ll help you analyze your situations and help you define and execute a plan to improve your sales, create strong, sustainable growth, and meet your goals. At BioBM, our passion is helping life science tools companies to succeed."

Market Where Others Aren’t

Get more from your life science advertising dollars by marketing through underutilized channels and with underutilized methods.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.

"Is your life science tools company looking to get more bang for its marketing buck? BioBM can help. We manage marketing campaigns that reach customers less expensively than “traditional” methods, increasing marketing ROI and allowing you to reach more customers without increasing your budget. Curious what BioBM can do for you? Contact us."

Product Lines: Breadth or Depth

Should your life science tools company focus on breadth or depth in your product portfolio?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.

Branding

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.

"Are your product development efforts producing the results your life science company wants? Is your pipeline optimally aligned to deliver on future goals? Cut out the guesswork. Call BioBM Consulting and we’ll make sure your product development gives you the best opportunity to succeed."

Building Online Communities

Building online communities can be exceptionally rewarding for your business, but the difficulty in successfully doing so should not be underestimated.Perhaps inevitable given the popularity of content marketing, the long-established importance of branding in the life sciences, and the growing propensity of companies to look for novel ways to create social marketing-style engagement, online communities are becoming all the more popular. Manufacturers, services provides, and distributors in the life sciences can’t be faulted for finding them all too appealing. They can be easy to create; a savvy web designer can have a branded, albeit basic, forum up and running in a few hours. The rewards are clear, especially to companies who already perform content marketing; an online community can provide a far larger audience for your current content marketing efforts and can build brand value through topic leadership / thought leadership. They’re also potentially great for SEO – lots of content. They can also be very easy to manage; a vibrant online community will grow and monitor itself with little effort from the sponsoring company. With so many benefits, why wouldn’t a life science tools company want to start an online community?

. . . Because it’s difficult at best.

People like to rhetorically benchmark against big, successful brands. All too many people who’ve built an online community want it to be the Facebook of [whatever]. That’s a recipe for failure. There already is a Facebook, it’s pretty darned good at this whole social thing, and just because you have a community that’s branded to target a niche demographic, that doesn’t mean that people will use it. It’s also a bad idea to assume that because some megacorp did it that you can, too. Fortune 500 consumer brands have tens or hundreds of millions of customers – many times more customers than there are life scientists in the entire world. To reach the critical mass necessary to create a vibrant online community they need 0.01% of their customers to use it. As a small or mid-size life science tools company, you probably have well under 100,000 customers. Although you can try to reach out to more than just your customers, the difficulty inherent in doing so will likely render you marginally successful in that effort at best. For your community to be successful, you need a much higher participation rate, and therefore your community has to be that much more compelling.

I hate calling companies out publicly, but to give my point some gravitas I’m going to do it here. If you need any proof that an online community is difficult to build and sustain, look no further than EpiExperts. New England BioLabs, a great company with a reasonably large customer base as far as our industry goes, set it up last year as “a scientific social network for epigenetics experts” with the “hope that [scientists] will use E3 as a communication platform to aid progress in the frontier of epigenetics”. It’s been around for about 10 months now. Aside from an NEB employee and a freelance writer who have the paid job of blogging, the site is pretty much dead. They still get a trickle of new sign-ups coming in, but no one feels compelled to do anything. The forum is effectively unused. People can form groups, but there’s only one created. You can add others as “friends”, but the overwhelming majority haven’t done so. Profiles have walls that people can post to, but almost all are devoid of any posts. The worst part about all this is that when someone goes to a community site and sees that it’s unused, that’s a disincentive for them to use it, so that makes it even harder to turn around the community into a vibrant one.

It’s a shame, really. There’s no reason EpiExperts shouldn’t have been successful, except that there’s no reason that it should have been.

Asking people to join a community is asking them to devote a piece of their life to it. In other words, the community that you create needs to have enough value that scientists are willing to repeatedly spend time on your community’s site rather than doing anything else with their time. In order to do that, your community, just like your products or services, have to be differentiated. In fact, it’s even more important that your community be differentiated on value than a product because an online community can’t be differentiated on price since it’s free. Before you decide you want to build an online community, you need to many similar questions that you would in product development, and more:

  • What needs do our scientist-customers have?
  • How will this community address those needs?
  • Will this community be sufficiently differentiated?
  • How will we create continuous value for the users? (so they keep coming back)


So how do we create success when building online communities? Thoroughly answer the above questions and you’ll be pointed squarely in the right direction. This post, however, is already too long so we’ll have to take the topic up more another day. Feel free to use the contact form below if you have any questions or you feel like I left you hanging.

"Looking for new ways to engage your customers? Want to find ways to make your brand more respected and recognized? No matter what your marketing needs, BioBM’s expert life science marketers are here to help. Just send us an e-mail or give us a call and we’ll see what we can do to improve your situation and grow your revenues. Contact us today."

Google Wants You To Plus

In what’s probably half designed to make search results more personalized and half an encouragement for people to use Google+, Google implemented changes to its search algorithms recently. Google+ users who are frequently signed in while performing searches have likely already noticed, but Google+ results and pages that have been +1’d or shared by a connection are now given a massive boost in the search, usually to the front page.

Click the image blow for an example. Note the areas that I’ve highlighted in red, green, and blue, which each indicate different Google+ results.
Google's new search algorithm strongly favors Google+ content.

Say your company sells PCR primers. If you mention PCR primers in your Google+ profile or in a post or other content on Google+, and a scientist that you’re connected to on Google+ searches for PCR primers, your post will almost guaranteedly display near the top of the results (assuming the person doesn’t have lots of other connections also talking about PCR primers). Likewise, based on information that Google compiles about a user, it will have “recommended” connections and content from recommended connections get a similarly high-profile

Of course, this type of simplification ignores the difficulty of growing a following on Google+. Unlike Twitter and more similarly to Facebook, Google+ doesn’t let companies follow people who aren’t following them back. Facebook at least partially makes up for it by allowing you to have high customized pages which you can use to incentivize engagement. Google+ has no such capabilities, so building engagement can be somewhat more difficult.

Another thing about the change is that it places a huge premium on social content – posts, links, videos, images, everything. Have pictures of the team from the last conference? Put it on Google+. Was there a news article about your company or products? Put it on Google+. While you’re at it, write search engine optimized descriptions; just keep in mind that people will read them so don’t go overboard.

With that one change, social media marketing for companies with Google+ went from kind of pointless to extremely worthwhile. Just know that like any social media marketing it’s a slow process with long-term rewards, so be patient, provide good content, and do your best to build your network.

Also, expect that Google will continue to try to integrate Google+ into search, so long as they don’t do anything that creates a massivle backlash. The past few days there have been reports of google asking searchers if they’d like to ask their Google+ connections about their search. Not sure if that particular feature will stick, but it’s certainly an indication of the direction Google’s trying to go…

UPDATE: Between the writing of this and its posting, we noticed another change. Google now integrates social results from your Google contacts. This means that if someone in your gmail contacts or from a synced android phone shared something, it will also show up in the new “personal results” section and receive greater visibility, even if you’re not signed up with Google+. Furthermore, if you have a website listed in your Google or Google+ profile, Google’s search well respond as if you’e shared all pages on the site, even if you haven’t actively done so. The screenshot below is taken from a search where I was signed into Google on an account that does not have a Google+ account.
Google's new search results show results from Google contacts as well.

"If you’re looking for a company with practical experience in life science social media marketing without the “pie-in-the-sky” promises and without the unjustifiable costs, you’ve come to the right place. We can build a social media solution for just about any budget and need. Want to learn more? Just ask us."

Cause Marketing: Underutilized?

Cause marketing offers opportunities for life science marketers.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.

"Looking for new ways to reach your customers? Want to explore innovative opportunities to reach life scientists that aren’t already saturated by your competition? Then BioBM is the partner for you. Our life science marketing experts blend the practicality that your company needs with the creativity that it desires to reach customers in ways that increase marketing effectiveness while limiting cost. Sometimes, the best place to be is where your competition isn’t. BioBM will help you find that place. Contact us and we’ll get started."

Don’t Just Tell, Show

In our last post, we discussed differentiating your life science marketing. In large part, we focused on the need to use unique marketing messages and make unique claims in order to convey the value that your products or services offer. Now it’s time to take the next step. Now that you’ve communicated your marketing message you need to validate it.

One great way of validating your marketing message is by actually showing it to your audience. Short of actually getting in front of them for a demonstration, you need to use your existing media channels to provide evidence to back up what you say. There are many creative ways to do this but for now let’s focus on one simple example that is relevant to just about anyone – data.

Showing data is one way to validate and strengthen your life science marketing messages.I’ll use a real example of a juxtaposition of two sequencing instruments (which shall remain anonymous). Now, how compelling is it if I simply tell you that sequencer X had an average predicted quality score of almost double that of sequencer Y over a 125-bp read. That sounds pretty good, but it’s easy to dismiss and I’m not really backing it up with anything – I’m making you take my word for it. On the other hand, I could show you the figure at right. Now you can see the very stark difference between the two. The message becomes more clear and tangible, and in the process become more believable as well. The customer will be more likely to accept, process, and act on this stronger, validated marketing message. (Disclaimer: it would have been better if the company compared actual quality scores rather than predicted quality scores, but it still serves as a useful example.)

One of my favorite examples of marketing claim validation, albeit outside the life sciences, comes from Blendtec. Blendtec is a manufacturer of high-end, high-powered kitchen blenders. They created a website, willitblend.com, where you can see the founder of Blendtec, garbed in a lab coat and safety glasses, blend all kinds of things – iPads, golf balls, and other things that you wouldn’t imagine would blend (nor would you want to find out on your own). This brilliant, highly entertaining form of marketing message validation actually went viral for a while some years back.

When you are making a claim in your marketing, be sure to ask yourself if you have sufficiently validated that claim. If not, figure out what you can do and what you need to do to provide the necessary validation. If you have, then you’re probably well on your way to crafting an effective marketing message.

"How effective is your life science marketing? Are you getting the ROI that you want? If you have doubts, now is the time to contact BioBM Consulting. We’ll help you build marketing campaigns that create customer demand, increase marketing ROI, and drive the success of your business."

Differentiate Your Marketing

Differentiation of your life science marketing message can be the difference between success and failure.Your marketing message is what communicates the benefits of your products and services. It is the tool that life science companies must use to convey value. Just like you must differentiate your products and services to create potential value, you must also differentiate your marketing message in order to communicate and thereby realize that value.

Think about some common claims that are made by life science companies. I’m sure we’re all heard companies claim that their product or service is one or more of the following:

  • faster
  • better
  • an “industry standard”
  • high quality
  • reliable
  • high-value
  • more consistent
  • “the best _____ available”


You know what all of those claims say? Almost nothing. Those claims are virtually worthless because they’re not differentiated. Are your competitors not going to claim that they’re fast, or high quality, or reliable? In rare situations, maybe not, but otherwise you’re both saying the same thing and you’re gaining no advantage from making similar claims.

So what must you do to differentiate your message? Obviously any life science company has to make claims and convey benefits. What can you say? Well, you can say all of the above things – you just can’t say them in that way.

Let’s take the the first and perhaps the most simple example on that list – “faster”. “Product X is faster” in and of itself means nothing. It gives no indication as to how fast something is. To use it effectively, we need to at least put it into perspective. “X is faster than Y”. Getting better, but we still don’t know how much faster. “X is 50% faster than Y”. 50%? That’s far more impressive. Why didn’t we say that the first time? Let’s keep going… We’ve put things in perspective but I still don’t know how fast X is, at least not in absolute terms. “Product X performs this function in just 1 hour, half the time that it takes using product Y”. Now we’re starting to get fairly compelling. The prospective customer would have a good grasp on how fast the product is and knows how much it outperforms the competition in that regard. Because of this, assuming speed is in fact important to the target market, they’ll be much more likely to take action than if you simply said “Product X is faster”.

Through differentiation of your marketing message, you’ll be able to more clearly and effectively convey the value your products have to offer. The end result will be more leads and more sales.

"Have a great life science product or service that just isn’t selling like it should be? Your marketing message may be the culprit. Contact BioBM Consulting and we’ll help you analyze your marketing campaigns to determine what needs to be done to get your sales to where they should be."