Not all forms of life science marketing communications should be presumed to serve the same purpose and looked at in the same manner. Indeed, the audience themselves have a tendency to view various advertising platforms differently, and treat advertising on each platform according to their views of it. There are also technical considerations which make some platforms more suitable for branding and others for lead generation. By understanding the factors which come into play and how each method is likely to be perceived, we can align our life science marketing communications to be in line with our overall marketing strategy.
Generally, there is a large gap between digital and print advertising. Digital advertising is far more capable of easily promoting immediate action by allowing the process from advertisement viewing to lead generation and capture to be wholly smooth and uninterrupted. At no point do prospective customers ever have to get up from their computers. With print, calls to action are effectively asking customers to actively go and do something, be it make a phone call, go to a website, etc, and therefore are less effective for lead generation due to that additional motivational barrier. There are exceptions to this, however, as well as things that can do to augment any particular platform’s effectiveness at each. Print advertising, for example, can be made far more effective at lead generation by offering captivating promotions that provide additional incentive to take up a call to action. Digital advertising can be made more effective for branding through providing higher-value messages, such as in content marketing, and by increasing the quality of the advertisement itself (think along the lines of “production value” for movies). Social media marketing is an example of an exception to the rule. The rules of social media are different from most digital marketing and SMM is far more based around content, engagement, and other activities which are usually not geared towards short-term lead generation. Indeed, life science social media marketing efforts too heavily focused on traditional marketing and / or advertising are doomed to failure.
This understanding of various marketing platforms and their fit for different marketing purposes must then be reflected in the marketing communications across each platform. If we are looking for short-term revenues then we want to target platforms more amenable to lead generation and capture and design our marketing communications appropriately. For example, such marketing communications should have a strong call-to-action and, when possible, be directly actionable themselves (such as by being hyperlinked). If you are looking to improve your branding, then the marketing communication should make a broader, more generally positive sentiment about the company or product line, or provide value to the customer in ways that compliment and highlight a company’s competencies and products / services.
While not a dichotomy, many marketing platforms can be scaled based on their utility for lead generation or branding. By understanding the unique advantages of various marketing platforms, life science companies can better utilize those platforms to achieve their goals.
We have previously discussed how word-of-mouth marketing (also known as referrals) is limited in a life science environment because of the segregation of customer populations. That doesn’t mean that the opinions of your customer can not or should not be used in marketing. In fact, scientists can provide you with some of your best marketing ammunition. Since word-of-mouth marketing is not sufficient to rapidly grow sales, it becomes your job to spread the sentiment of your brand and product “evangelists”, and there are plenty of tools to do so.
The easiest and most simple ways of leveraging positive customer sentiment is through testimonials. This is a two-part process that bridges marketing communications and customer relationship management. First, customer sentiment needs to be obtained and recorded. This can be done manually by visiting, calling or e-mailing your customers or automatically by using a CRM system with e-mail capability (which most have). Side bonus: proactive engagement of your scientist-customers by your support team to see how they like your products and if they have any feedback or issues frequently improves their opinion of your customer service and support. Praise can then be used in testimonials – most useful on your website, in e-mail marketing, and in social media marketing, but sometimes usable in more traditional digital and print advertising. While the influence of unknown scientists will be less than that of known colleagues, properly used testimonials can still go a long way in earning the trust of life scientists. Feel free to get creative with testimonials as well. Audio and video testimonials, while far more difficult to convince users to send (there are techniques to overcome this), will provide a more tangible and humanized testimonial and have a greater impact.
Another way you can “stretch” word-of-mouth marketing is by using highly satisfied customers as references. If a sale is becoming difficult, having the prospective customer speak directly to a satisfied current customer can be a highly valuable process. Referrals also tend to be self-replicating, as those customers who have requested or been put in touch with a referring customer prior to purchase will very often agree to be used as referrals themselves (so long as they are satisfied with the product, of course).
There are other ways of leveraging customer sentiments in marketing, and even ways of leveraging the sentiment of scientists who aren’t yet customers in order to generate high-value marketing materials. Such non-customer scientists are often wholly impartial, and techniques that generate marketing materials from their sentiment can be some of the most high-value marketing material for a life science company.
While the structure of the life science research landscape often prevents the fluid and open communication necessary for word-of-mouth marketing or scientist-to-scientist referrals to be effective as a stand-alone marketing tool, there are plenty of things a company can do to use positive customer sentiment and product / brand evangelists. Such means can provide a significant boost to marketing efforts across many channels, and customer sentiment should be obtained and used in order to realize this improved marketing effectiveness.
I just was on a life science tools company’s website (not a clients’, and the company will remain anonymous) and this company seemed to describe every one of their products as an “industry standard” in the first sentence. This pains me.
Scientists aren’t stupid. Catch phrases like “industry standard” or “market leader” are readily identifiable and dismissed by a generally intelligent and analytically-minded scientific audience. Such statements also don’t provide any of the information that customers are looking for. If your product really is an industry standard or is a market leader, don’t just state it and expect them to take your word for it. Explain it. Say “more researchers use X than any other product for [purpose]”. It’s a stronger, more definitive statement that at least looks like you’re attempting to provide meaningful information. Just stay away from the cheap catch phrases, especially if you can’t back them up.
In this edition of our blog mini-series on life science distribution, we’ll be discussing the use of contractual terms to help motivate distributors. Previous posts were on improving the performance of existing distributors, distributor selection, and using contractual terms to improve distributor performance.
Replacing distributors is often a difficult task. Similar to firing an employee, it’s something we often don’t want to do, but circumstances arise when the business case is clear – the distributor must be replaced. On the other hand, things can go the other way as well and you may find the relationship being terminated by the distributor. While replacing a life science distributor can be a difficult process, there are certainly many things you can do, both before and during the process, to make it easier on both you and your business.
The time to start planning for the potential need to replace a distributor is before an agreement is ever made. Before contracts are signed, or even before you begin to approach distributors, you should develop a contingency plan. Know in advance that the relationship may not work out and that you’ll may be in the position of needing to replace the distributor some day. When determining what life science distributor(s) you want to partner with in any particular region, identify your top 3 or 4 choices, not just your #1. Know who they are and maybe even who to contact in your second and third choices so you can make contact and initiate negotiations quickly if need be. If you have a distribution contract, make sure that the terms won’t prevent you from effectively transitioning between distributors, either. If you’re providing a distributor with exclusivity, it’s a good idea to have the exclusivity automatically revoked if they fall well below target sales and / or if they remain below target sales for an extended period of time. Non-exclusive distribution agreements are the best thing for life science suppliers when replacing a distributor, as you can transition while your original distributor is still in place.
If the time comes when you feel like you may have to replace a distributor, critically analyze the situation. If the issue is sales-related, make sure that replacement really is the best option. Are there other ways to motivate the distributor to increase sales? Is the drop in sales temporary, due to a factor beyond the distributor’s control, and / or due to a reason that may be unknown to you? A good distributor-supplier relationship should be open and honest, so talk to your distributor to get a better idea of what the problem may be. Lastly, identify the other life science distributors who would potentially replace the one in question. Assess their capabilities and be sure that they have sufficient reach, are a good fit, and would likely pay sufficient attention to your product lines. Even through a distributor is under-performing, if there are no other distributors who would be a good fit or can match the capabilities of your current distributor, it is wholly possible that replacing the distributor may actually result in lower sales.
If the situation cannot be reasonably rectified and there are better options available, then it is indeed time to make the transition to a new life science distributor. If the distributor had exclusivity which is now revoked and you will be engaging a new distributor while the old distributor is still under a non-exclusive agreement, be straightforward with them. It will be far better if you tell them that they’re going to have competition than if they find out themselves. If you don’t have the benefit of being able to sustain a non-exclusive distributor relationship, try to engage another distributor far in advance. This will give the new distributor time to prepare to market, sell, and support your product lines so they will be better able to hit the ground running, so to speak. This can be done by signing a distribution agreement that takes effect at the same time the existing distributor’s contract expires.
We all enter supplier-distributor relationships hoping they work out, but unfortunately that can’t always be the case. With sufficient planning, however, you can minimize the disruption to your business caused by a transition to a new life science distributor.
There is a recent article in Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News discussing large life science tool companies and how recent growth (and by “recent” I mean the past half decade or so) of these large companies can be largely ascribed to acquisition. David Green, the president of Harvard Bioscience, was quoted as saying that “The average organic growth in the life science instrumentation industry, with the exception of sequencing-based businesses, remains a modest 3–6%.” I can only presume he’s speaking about public companies, which are generally much larger than the average company and therefore more constrained in terms of their potential growth.
This, I argue, is not surprising at all. Larger companies are simply better suited to buy than develop. Given that various granting agencies (for example, the NIH) pump billions upon billions of dollars a year into life science research, wouldn’t it be expected that the more common option for large companies would be to eat up the newly formed companies that are so often a product of that investment?
Now this is not the case in all fields. The technology that moves forward some sectors of the life science tools market are far less frequently products of grant-funded research. In these sectors, R&D spending is necessary and there will often be fewer start-ups to acquire. Companies in these sectors may be limited to the number of viable acquisitions possible or reasonable and therefore must find ways to grow organically.
Regardless of the sector, this is good news for small life science companies founded on solid, promising IP that are looking to get bought out. It seems there are plenty of behemoths with deep pockets who are willing to throw plenty of money around for the right opportunity. However, for those who don’t have that killer technology, whose product portfolio doesn’t fit excellently into that of a much larger company, or who simply wish to remain independent, you have no option but to grow organically. That, my friends, is a topic for another day.
One of the worst things that you can do in life science marketing is not fully understand why you’re marketing. In other words, each time you publish an advertisement, change content on your website, post an article on twitter, or do anything else related to marketing communications, it should have a purpose and you should know what that purpose is ahead of time. Your message and marketing content should then be designed to successfully fulfill that purpose.
The reason I’m bringing this up is because of the disjoint between intention and execution that I so often see in life science marketing. I’m certainly not one to say what other people are thinking, but it seems that a lot of marketers get caught up in trying to be creative and / or make the marketing materials look pretty, or simply don’t ask themselves the right questions when designing their marketing. Some of the disjoint may also be ascribed to a lack of understanding of scientist behavior (or consumer behavior in general). Marketers often simply fail to think about how the audience will think of something rather than how they want them to think or what they want them to do. They ask themselves “does this contain the message we want to convey?” and forget to ask if the message as its presented will actually be effective. Simply adding a call to action to a marketing message, while a good idea in most situations, neither gives it purpose nor ensures effectiveness.
You should be able to answer: why is this marketing going to be effective? If you don’t have a concrete answer for that question, then you either didn’t care enough (surprisingly common) or you didn’t ask yourself the right questions (more common). If that is the case, ask yourself some of the following questions then revisit any marketing communications in question:
- What is the ultimate goal of this marketing communication? What do we want the customer to do or think?
- What is the message that we are trying to convey? How do we know that is the right message given our target audience?
- What will the customer be doing when they our marketing message? How will that affect their behavior and perception of the message? Given those things, are they likely to be receptive to this message?
- Does this marketing material engage the customer? Will it be compelling to them?
This is a small sampling of potential questions that could be asked to help ensure the execution of your marketing communications are in line with your intentions and will actually be effective. If you find a problem area or have difficulty answering one of these questions, let that lead you deeper to more questions until you have a better understanding of how to match purpose with function and / or have a better understanding of your audience. Retaining the lessons learned from asking these questions will help both current and future marketing campaigns, and the improvement in effectiveness and ROI will be well worth it.
As a general rule we don’t do this, but given the breadth of this topic I wanted you to be able to access me personally with any questions you may have. If you want to ask a question and fill out the contact form below it will go to my inbox and you’ll get an answer straight from me.
In this edition of our blog mini-series on life science distribution, we’ll be discussing the use of contractual terms to help motivate distributors. Previous posts were on improving the performance of existing distributors and distributor selection.
Distributor relationships start from the moment you first make contact with them, and the things you do in the process of signing a life science distributor are almost as important as the things you do after they are signed. A well designed distribution agreement alone doesn’t ensure that the relationship will be successful, but a poorly designed contract can single-handedly ensure the distributor-supplier partnership fails. The terms of your agreement can go a long way in motivating your distributors to perform and greatly help your sales in the process.
The first thing you need to do is understand why a distributor wants to sell your products. By understanding what their motivation is you’ll be able to create ways to motivate them further. Is your product a great fit for the distributor’s current line? Do they think the product would be an easy sell to their existing customers? Is your product a new and promising technology that they appreciate and are excited about? Perhaps they lost the distribution rights to a similar product and want to fill the gap in their product offering? On the other hand, maybe their motivations aren’t as ingenuous. Do they just want to scoop up as many products under exclusive agreements as they can, or simply have a huge catalog of products? Do they have a customer or two that have expressed interest and simply want to sign as fast as possible to get a discount so they can make a quick profit? Even if you have actively sought out a potential distribution partner, don’t be afraid to ask why they would potentially be interested in selling your products. The answer is important.
By definition, everyone is in business to make a profit. Before discussing other contractual terms which may motivate a life science distribution company, we need to consider what financial terms would motivate the distributor while being appropriate and fair to all parties, potentially including your other distributors. Think about what both of your financial goals are and how you can motivate the distributor to reach them. For example, tiered discounts based on performance can be a great motivator. For example, basing discount in the following period off sales figures in a previous period, or increasing the discount as sales targets are hit within a period. A similar discount system can be based on the order volume, although I’m personally not as big of a fan of this system since while it encourages the distributors to keep inventory, I don’t believe it to be as good a motivator in achieving higher sales overall. There are many other methods of offering financial incentives for performance as well. Despite which financial incentives you choose, they need to be explicit and achievable in order to effectively motivate the distributor.
Financial incentives are certainly not the only type of contractual considerations you can use to help motivate your life science distributors. Perhaps the best example of a non-financial motivator is exclusivity. Knowing that they are the only distribution company in their territory that will be able to offer your products is a great boon to the company. They will often put far more effort into marketing and sales if they know that they won’t have competition. However, giving away such benefits freely is often too kind, not to mention shortsighted. Exclusivity tied to performance is an excellent motivator. Marketing assistance can likewise be added to a contract and tied to performance. Guaranteed technical support, or even just the assertion of responsibility for tier 2 and / or tier 3 support, can make your products more attractive for distributors to sell. Again, figuring out exactly what is important to your distributors will be instrumental in determining what the best terms may be. Don’t lay all your cards on the table, so to speak, but don’t hesitate to ask questions and inquire as to what a distributor values in the supplier-distributor relationship.
The right contractual terms can go a long way in helping to motivate a life science distributor. Know their motivations, understand what is important to them in the relationship, and use that to craft appropriate terms that effectively motivate the distributor, financial and otherwise. By using the right terms, you’ll be moving towards a mutually beneficial relationship with your new distributor. Even if you already have a mature and / or complete distribution network, it’s never too late to renegotiate the terms to better incite performance.