Nothing is better for customer retention than great products. As marketers, however, the quality of the product is at least somewhat out of our control. The easiest tactic that the marketer has to improve retention is, ironically, one of the ones that can most easily turn customers off: email.
The occasional newsletter or promotional email will help so long as you don’t overuse it. Simply reminding customers of your brand will have a positive effect. Sending emails with great content will help even more, and is something that provides more value to customers and which fewer life science companies do. However, there is one thing that few companies do and large companies are often particularly bad at…
The surprise personal email. The surprise personal email should be from a person and be highly personalized. (Note that this does not mean it cannot be automated; using email automation for this is fine.) The more information you use about the customer the better; referencing their application is great, but at minimum you should refer to them by name and reference the product which they purchased. This email could be sent soon after a purchase where personal contact would not necessarily be expected (a low-cost consumable, for instance) or months after the purchase of something where follow-up would be expected. Generally, the surprise personal email should inquire about the customer and offer support. You want to show that you care and you’re accessible. Response rates will vary based on the nature of the product and the timing, but response rates as high as 20% are not uncommon so be sure you can take the time to tend to the responses which you may receive. It will be worthwhile; not only will you be helping your customer retention but you’ll also get a lot of useful feedback about your product or service.
Email is often overused in ways that underperform for the life science companies that leverage it. At the same time, it is the easiest way to improve customer retention. By seeking to provide value to the customer, email will better serve that purpose. Ensure that your emails provide value to the customers and demonstrate commitment to them and your scientist-customers will reward you for it.
Content marketing is no longer a novel tactic among life science tools and services companies. Truly effective content strategies, however, are still rare. Many life science marketers approach content marketing too superficially, with an “if I write it, they will come” mentality. There are two common problems in most content marketing campaigns that are epidemic to the life science tools industry, although both are usually rooted in lack of a meaningful content strategy.
The most common problem is publishing content that you want the viewers to see rather than content that they would be interested in. This problem most frequently manifests as an excessive amount of company-centric and / or product-centric content. This content is often overtly promotional and may consist largely of new product announcements, sales and other deals, highlights of publications using the company’s products / technologies, company news, events the company will be exhibiting at, and similar content. This content marketing tactic is lazy and self-serving, but most often fails to accomplish the desired effect of increasing demand for its products. Being overtly promotional, the content is not readily trusted and may actually create skepticism among the audience, causing them to disengage from the company’s content and potentially limit the effectiveness of the company’s other marketing efforts.
The other common problem is publishing content that you believe the viewers want to see but which is content that they do not want to get from you. This content is often generic and could be readily obtained elsewhere. It may be easy to take the most interesting and relevant content from Nature News, your favorite scientific journals, and other sources, but the content generally becomes diluted in rewriting / reposting and chances are the scientists already have better sources for such information. You’re probably not going to become the Nature News of your field – at least not without a herculean effort or unless your field is extremely niche.
This begs the question: what kind of content should be published? The content must be customer-centric. It must be content that holds unique value for the audience while adding value to your brand and / or products. To get yourself started in creating a content strategy that meets these criteria, ask yourself the following questions:
- What content can we create that our audience cannot get elsewhere or could only get from a very limited number of sources?
- What kind of content would the audience like to see specifically from us?
- How can we use content to enhance the value of our products / services in a way that is educational and will be appreciated by the audience rather than fueling skepticism?
- What knowledge do we have that is of value to the audience and can be used to demonstrate leadership in our field?
Remember that scientists are customers of your content – they are “paying” for your content “product” with their time and attention. Your content needs to be sufficiently engaging to be worth their attention, but it also needs to be relevant and valuable enough to reflect positively on your brand.
It’s also worth noting that many companies get into the habit of thinking: we need to make X number of posts per [unit time]. While these time-constrained content goals are good to have, they should serve as guidelines rather than rules. Having something valuable to say is more important than saying something according to a set minimum schedule. If you don’t have something valuable to share, don’t share anything at all. It’s better to consistently have high-value content which is published on an inconsistent basis than to have content of inconsistent value published consistently.
Content marketing is not something to take lightly. If you lack strategy or execution content marketing can be an easy way to waste a whole lot of time and effort. The rush for many life science companies to “start doing content marketing” should be tempered by the need for a coherent strategy in order to create the desired outcomes. Done correctly, content marketing can take your brand and position it as a leader in your field.
Many small life science companies have their preferred advertising / marketing channels. This approach, limited and highly focused, works well for demand generation campaigns (and, to a lesser extent, branding initiatives) in which reaching a large proportion of the target market is not necessary; when reaching just a subset of the target market is acceptable. However, when companies want to reach an entire market, it is critical that a wide variety of marketing channels are considered. The concept also applies to dissemination of content – a large amount of content channels need to be targeted if a large amount of the target market is to be reached. This is because people have preferred channels for finding information and consuming content.
As a data-supported example, take consumer behavior for consumption of digital media. As the Harvard Business Review discussed in its October 2012 article “Why Digital Media Require a Strategic Rethink“:
[pullquote_left]Most customers choose their channel before choosing a product, and they’re unlikely to jump channels. […] For example, in December 2007 NBC removed its content from the iTunes Store, causing an 11% increase in piracy the following month—and no increase in DVD sales. Conversely, after ABC added its content to Hulu, in 2009, piracy of its shows dropped by more than 20%, while TV viewership remained essentially unchanged. And in 2010, when a major U.S. publisher stopped providing Kindle editions, it saw no increase in hardcover sales.
This translates into ways in which people look for information and products as well. For instance, some scientists may use BioCompare almost all the time when looking for a product. Others may not use BioCompare at all. Others may use it only when they are having difficulty finding a product or making a decision. However, very few are likely to migrate between those groups at will. Another example: many scientists do a Google search first when looking for a chemical or reagent, but many others go straight to Sigma and search their site. There are probably very few who randomly do both. When looking for scientific news, some scientists may gravitate to Nature News. Others may go to their favorite journals (either print or digital – but unlikely both).
For those of us that don’t have scientific backgrounds, think about your own searches for information different types of products. You probably have a preferred method and channel(s) to look for various types of products. When you want to read the news, you likely have one or a few preferred websites, newspapers, or periodicals. The way in which scientists look for information or products is not very different.
Because scientists have preferred sources and channels, advertising or publishing content across a single channel or a small number of channels is often an ineffective way of reaching a large proportion of any particular target market. To ensure that your campaigns have reach, focus on the many different channels which scientists may prefer.
Lab Manager Magazine routinely publishes surveys, often multiple per month, which briefly assess scientists’ utilization and preferences with regards to a particular laboratory technology. These surveys basically amount to free market research. They don’t go terribly in-depth, but if you’re looking for some basic information (such as feature preferences) about a particular type of instrument, they are a wonderful resource. Here at BioBM we archive them for in-house use and have a bookshelf lined with the physical magazines, but we thought this would be a good resource to share with everyone. Since Lab Manager doesn’t have an easily sortable list, we created one for you here. Every Lab Manager product survey from January 2011 to today is included, and we’ll be coming back periodically to update the table.
This resource has moved. You can find it here: https://biobm.com/resources/list-of-lab-manager-surveys/
From a marketing standpoint, most small life science companies live in the dark. There is a near-complete lack of meaningful information; it is rarely collected and when it is, it is rarely analyzed in a meaningful way. Even those who look at their marketing analytics every day gain very little useful information from it. Unsurprisingly, this limits the marketing effectiveness of the afflicted companies. Many small companies rely heavily on inbound marketing and it would be relatively easy to gain a very good understanding of their marketing effectiveness, but even those leave far too much to guesswork and undervalue information.
Analytics does not need to be complicated. It is not synonymous with “big data” and it doesn’t need to be expensive. On the contrary, analytics is one of those things that pays for itself. It allows you to make many of your other marketing efforts more effective. Done right, it clears out the fog created by “vanity metrics” and provides the information that you need to make decisions that improve actual business metrics.
Let’s say your company is like most small companies: you do a lot of marketing, a lot of it is digital, and most of it revolves around your website. You might have an email campaign, a search engine marketing campaign, and let’s say you do a bit of print advertising as well. If you market like most small life science companies, you have Google Analytics installed on your website and you either check it infrequently or obsessively. All that marketing you do points back to a few different pages on your website. Analytics tells you what is coming from paid or organic search, but the rest is mostly just direct traffic. You’re not really sure what comes from your email campaign vs. your print advertising vs. people bookmarking a page and coming back to it later. You definitely don’t know where your conversions are coming from. If you change something on your website, or add another email to your nurture campaign, you might have a hunch of how it affected conversion but if you’re trying to optimize a few things at the same time you definitely don’t know what is causing changes in performance. You use analytics, but you don’t really understand your analytics in a way that helps you make meaningful marketing decisions. You want to know more, but you don’t really have a budget for it.
So what can you do? Without a budget, you certainly can’t implement marketing automation which would keep good track of multi-platform campaigns, but your marketing probably isn’t so complex that you really need to do all that and you can still take a big step forward with Google Analytics alone.
For starters, implement event tracking for key actions on your website. Event tracking will help you answer questions such as “Did this new content increase my website conversions?” or “How many people are downloading the brochure for our main product?” You can also see how visits with events, or with a particular event, differed from overall visits (using “advanced segments” which you can read about here). So, for example, you’ll know whether those form submissions are coming mostly from organic traffic, referrals, or somewhere else.
Secondly, utilize query strings and / or redirects to better segment where traffic is originating from. You probably noticed that some websites will have a URL that ends something like this: […].html?source=twitter (content-centric websites like news sites like to do this the most). Everything after the question mark is a query string – it doesn’t effect navigation at all but it provides additional information. You can use query strings to differentiate the links that you post so you can more easily tell sources of traffic apart later. Also, say you post something on Twitter that gets shared on a different site. If you later get a conversion because of that shared link, chances are it will still have the unique query strong that you added so you’ll know that conversion originated because of a Twitter post rather than a seemingly random referral from a website for some unknown reason.
Lastly, if you’re using Google AdWords or Google Product Ads, be sure to use conversion tracking. It’s relatively easy to implement and it will greatly help you determine the ROI of your paid search campaigns.
There are a number of other things which you can do to better analyze your marketing effectiveness using Google Analytics and little else, but the above three things will dramatically improve your understanding of your marketing efforts compared to the average small life science company. They will also allow you to wean yourself off of “vanity metrics” – metrics such as monthly visitors which make you feel good when they go up but aren’t strongly tied to your bottom line – and instead focus on the factors that genuinely impact your business.
Without a significant budget, or even with no budget and just a bit of time, small life science companies can gain a much more comprehensive and meaningful view of their marketing. The inability to make data-driven decisions amounts to guesswork; it forces you to make decisions based primarily on instinct. Such decisions increase risk and decrease the likelihood that your marketing will be successful – both now and in the future. Luckily, there are analytics that are easy enough to implement and robust enough to provide you with sufficient data to make informed decisions. That’s why analytics will save you.
Last week, we discussed how the key to a distributor successfully selling a given product line (from the supplier’s standpoint) is how motivated they are to carry, promote, and sell the line. There is simply no substitute for effort. The responsibility for maintaining the motivation to put in that effort, however does not fall solely on the distributor. As we mentioned last week: “The effort that distributors will give to a product line is not solely dependent on the distributors themselves; the supplier’s distributor manager is responsible for keeping the distributors motivated as well.” So, what can (and should) a manufacturer do to help motivate their distributors and keep them selling?
Of course, this question has some obvious answers such as price / discount rates, exclusivity, etc., but it’s the less obvious answers, and therefore the less commonly diagnosed and remedied problems, which we are interested in.
Previously we discussed how distributors should play a role in executing suppliers’ marketing strategies but suppliers should not shift too much marketing responsibility to distributors. By treating marketing as a collaborative effort between supplier and distributor, you are actually creating an excellent opportunity to improve distributor motivation over a long time frame. By providing marketing support to your distributors you will both achieve more holistic and better integrated marketing campaigns and also demonstrate that you are committed to the success of your distributors.
Another often overlooked tool for motivating your distributors is fostering relationships between them. Highlighting the success of some distributors will demonstrate that distributors can successfully sell your products, and creating and fostering channels of communication between them will help them learn from each other, increasing the effectiveness of your entire distribution network.
The implementation of a system to enable and foster easy collaboration on both of these levels does not need to be time consuming nor expensive. While there is existing channel management software, it often focuses too much on the supplier-distributor relationship and not sufficiently on fostering communication between distributors. So long as you do not require that a system to manage this process is integrated with many other enterprise systems, an effective solution can be constructed relatively inexpensively using mostly free, open-source tools.
Life science tools manufacturers need to take an active role in fostering the success of their distribution networks; “set it and forget it” type strategies are very rarely effective. Improving distributor performance does not need to be difficult, but it is the distributor manager’s job to ensure that the distributors stay motivated. By enhancing collaboration and communication with distributors, suppliers are investing in their distributors’ long term success while helping to ensure their own.
We find that life science companies have very different ideas of what qualities are most important when looking to partner with a distributor. Some focus on the size of the sales force, some focus on technical / scientific expertise, some focus on complementary products (or lack of competing products) in the distributor’s product offerings, some focus on the extent to which a distributor has existing customers that would fall into the supplier’s target market … the list goes on. All of these focuses are reasonable and should be given focus, but I would argue that they overlook the most important quality that any distributor could demonstrate: the desire to sell your product and the willingness to put in the effort to properly promote it.
I should mention that this doesn’t apply to situations where you’re using distributors solely or primarily for local fulfillment capabilities. In those situations there is very little effort required by the distributor as you’re not relying on them for marketing or sales. They just warehouse the products, ship orders and collect payment. I also don’t mean to play down the importance of qualities which, in certain situations, may be a hard requirement; an example of this may be repair and / or maintenance capabilities for certain kinds of instruments.
That said, the importance of the willingness to sell your product cannot be understated. In most circumstances, a distributor which is otherwise a poor match – one that does not have the right scientific expertise, does not sell complementary products, and does not have a large sales force or existing customer base – but which has a strong desire to sell your product and puts in the effort to do so will sell more than a distributor who looks like a perfect match on the surface but does not prioritize your product and puts in little effort. I have witnessed one-person distributors who had practically no existing customer base outsell far larger and more established companies which have over 20 outside salespeople. This kind of performance is admittedly the exception, but it illustrates the value of desire and effort. Of course, a distributor that demonstrates a genuine willingness to put effort into promoting and selling your product and also is a good match in all of the other important ways would be ideal, but such ideal matches rarely occur.
Determining the level of effort that a distributor will put into promoting and selling your product line is very difficult to do in advance. It is most often ineffective to directly ask how much effort a distributor will put in, as most will either exaggerate in an effort to impress the supplier or will not want to verbally commit to any particular courses of action. Responsibilities should be discussed in advance of an agreement and this will help, but expected levels of effort are rarely written into distribution agreements and are almost never binding. Discussions must be had which allow the supplier to gauge the interest of the distributor indirectly, as these discussions will be more telling than asking directly.
The effort that distributors will give to a product line is not solely dependent on the distributors themselves; the supplier’s distributor manager is responsible for keeping the distributors motivated as well.
When recruiting distributors, identifying distributors who will place an appropriate effort into the promotion and sales of your products is invaluable. More than any other distributor quality, the effort put forth by the distributor will determine the level of success your products will have in a particular geography.
We’re avid fans of search marketing for demand generation-focused campaigns (both search engine marketing and search engine optimization). Even as other platforms begin to offer enhanced levels of targeting to match the capabilities of search engine marketing, and even in situations where one can identify specific customers (through data mining, for instance), we believe that for most life science companies SEM & SEO offers superior value for demand generation. Why? When properly targeted, searchers have the greatest amount of commercial intent. In other words, they are more likely to be looking for information to help them make a purchase than are scientists targeted via other channels.
As a bit of a case study, I’ll use a recent scenario. I was discussing marketing with the owner of a small life science company who does a reasonable amount of sales through e-commerce. He was complaining about the cost of CPC advertising on Google AdWords. The company does a lot of blogging, and the blogs were disseminated quite broadly to many large life science-focused groups on LinkedIn. He bragged that the traffic resulting from blogging was extremely inexpensive (the effective CPC was probably 5% – 10% of the CPC through AdWords), the unique viewers per month was very high for a company of its size and traffic was still increasing at a good clip (most traffic was a result of the blog). Sales, however, weren’t where he felt they should be.
This case illustrates two points. 1) unique visitors is a vanity metric – it doesn’t mean anything unless you can convert those visitors to sales at a satisfactory rate. 2) Not all marketing channels will produce viewers with the same commercial intent. In fact, the intent to make a purchase can vary wildly across channels. Simply reaching your target market with just about any message is usually good for the purpose of awareness (although awareness is useless if the audience doesn’t have a reason to remember you and you don’t regularly re-engage them) but for demand generation you need to reach the audiences that have the intent to purchase a product, and specifically a product such as yours. Targeting anyone in your target market often doesn’t do the trick, especially if your target market isn’t extremely well defined.
If you think about what customers do when they are considering a purchase, it makes sense that search is the medium of choice for demand generation campaigns. They either a) have a brand in mind already and go directly to that brand, eschewing shopping around, b) ask a colleague for a recommendation or c) look for information through search engines. These three behaviors encompass almost every scientist when considering a purchase. There is only one of those things that you can have a significant effect on in the short-term and that is making sure you show up where they search. You can try to create a positive and memorable overall brand experience to influence the brand preferences of the scientist and his / her colleagues, but that isn’t something that can be done over the short term and often requires that customers have a significant degree of experience with your company in the first place (hence why attempts to generate demand via brand-building alone are something of a catch-22).
Small life science companies often don’t have the finances or time to wait around for campaigns to pay off in the long-term. Most need to see an ROI in the short-term to stay afloat. To generate those shorter-term revenues your campaigns need to focus on the places where you can target not just your target market, but the members of your target market with commercial intent.