Life science companies rarely speak with their customers as often or as deeply as they should. You can make the common excuse about scientists being distant and antisocial (which I would like to go on record as saying is complete nonsense) but many companies actually start out being good at speaking with customers but then lose that trait as they grow. Why? Simple – taking the time to speak with customers isn’t something that’s easily scalable. It’s easy to view large amount of customer interaction as unnecessary and cut it in the name of efficiency. Or a company might just become large enough that it makes a lot of financial sense to automate the heck out of everything. While marketing automation and customer relationship management automation are very powerful tools that we strongly advocate, they should not displace real conversations with your scientist-customers, for a number of reasons.
1) Customers love good support.
Nothing says “we don’t care about you” like a robotic confirmation email sent from a DO-NOT-REPLY email address. While you can still do better without actually speaking with the customers, your customers will appreciate getting an email from a real person (or at least what looks to be an email from a real person) with the ability to reply to that person and ultimately get a response. It shows that you care enough to give them some of your time, if they want it. And while some customers may abuse the privilege, most will not and it gives you the opportunity to create a lot of goodwill. It’s great for your brand and great for customer-retention.
Of course, you don’t need to wait until after the sale to have a conversation or to demonstrate great support (but we’ll address that in a minute).
2) You WILL learn things.
Want feedback on your product? Want MORE and BETTER feedback? Want to learn what the customer is thinking when they’re contemplating a purchase or perusing your website? You could fire off an email asking them to take a survey to try to win an iPod, and that might be useful if you’re dying for quantitative data to perform some large-scale analysis, but in most situations you’ll be better served and you’ll almost always get a better response from just striking up a conversation. Have an actual person type an email to a few people who bought your product three months ago and ask how things are going. I’m sure most of you would be genuinely interested in how the customer feels about your product, so let that interest shine through. Show them that you have an interest in them and you care about what they think and how things are working out.
Of course, you don’t need to wait until after the sale to have a conversation and learn about your audience (almost there…)
3) It can be great for conversion.
You know those live chat boxes that you occasionally see popping up asking if you want to chat with a representative? Or the popup-like “lightbox” that appears after you’ve been on a website for 10 seconds where you’re asked if you’ll take a 4-minute survey? Those both seem pretty silly and useless and they often are, however their failure is more due to design than their intention. Customers will speak with you during their buying journey, and you can effectively prompt them to do so on your website (or just about anywhere else). Whether you’re making use of live chat or simply encouraging users to call or email, try to start a conversation as early as possible without being forceful or gimmicky about it. Not only will you help your conversion by answering questions and helping to simplify the customer’s buying journey, but you’ll also learn a lot about how they make their buying decisions and demonstrate good support all at the same time.
It’s very easy to get out of the habit of having meaningful conversations with customers. By ensuring that you take the time to speak with the customers you’ll be doing a valuable service to your company and helping your scientist-customers at the same time. There’s simply no substitute for real conversations.
We’re no stranger to scientific conferences, myself especially. I’ve attended scientific conferences on all sides – as a scientist, as an exhibitor, and as a business developer targeting the exhibitors. From all this experience, I am certain that one thing, above all else, will determine your level of success if you are at a conference for sales or marketing purposes. This one thing will sound simple. It will sound obvious. But look around at the next conference you attend and see how many people aren’t doing this one thing. So… What is the “magic bullet” for conference success?
Speak with everyone you can.
A conference is a numbers game. There are a fixed amount of scientists at any given conference who will be within your target market. The more people you speak with, the more of those scientists that you’ll identify, and the more leads you’ll generate.
It doesn’t matter how pretty your booth is. You could have a massive, open, wildly elaborate booth or just a table in front of a curtain. Those elaborate, expensive booths don’t do much more to reel scientists in than a large bag of candy dumped into a bowl. All you need is to capture enough of their attention to be able to gracefully say hello and ask them what they work on.
Being successful at a scientific conference really is that simple, yet at least three quarters of the company representatives at the average conference fail to come close to being as successful as they could be because they neglect to be outgoing. If you, or someone in your company, is going to be exhibiting at a conference, be sure to take to heart that one key element for a successful conference: speak with everyone you can.
About a month and a half ago we wrote an article about times when search advertising isn’t worthwhile, focusing on the results of a study by eBay Research Labs. However, that study highlights just two specific instances when search advertising isn’t profitable; there are many more instances when search advertising would not be able to play an effective role in demand generation for life science marketers, and we discuss these here.
The most obvious example is when your product isn’t simply something that scientists aren’t looking for. This is most common with services and software, but sometimes occurs with other products as well, especially those which are non-essential to life science research. You can attempt to expand your targeting to include ancillary terms (for example, if you manufacture an accessory to a product then you might advertise for the terms related to the main product). However, this often leads to a low clickthrough rate, which both increases cost-per-click and decreases the frequency that your ads will be shown, which may lead to lackluster campaign performance. Additionally, if search volume for a given term is too low, most SEM platforms (AdWords, Bing Ads, etc.) simply won’t show any ads.
Another example is when the people doing the searching aren’t the people you need to sell to. For example, in the situation of suppliers of very high-end equipment, most of the search traffic may come from lab techs but the decision-makers may be director-level individuals. It may be that this ultimately doesn’t matter – it may still be worthwhile to advertise even if only 1 out of 100 clicks is relevant – but this can dramatically increase the cost per conversion, which is a much more meaningful metric by which to measure ROI.
Chemical / biochemical companies often face a unique problem with search marketing. Depending on the substances they sell, they need to take care to not be flagged as an “online pharmacy” by ad platforms, which can result in account suspension.
Additionally, for low-cost items it is often the case that search engine marketing isn’t profitable on the initial sale, especially for distributors and for manufacturers of lower-value products who often operate on fairly thin margins to begin with. In order for SEM to have a good return in these situations, it is imperative that life science suppliers continue to re-engage with customers in order to drive repeat sales.
As we said previously, search engine marketing is a fantastic tool and can work wonders for lead generation but we should not blindly expect results from it. Regardless of the situation, SEM should be carefully monitored and coupled with appropriate analytics and CRM such that results can be measured, informed decisions can be made, and campaigns can be improved over time.
One of the newer trends in website design, which has actually existed for quite a while but is just now becoming more popular and easy to implement, are single-page websites where the content is accessed via anchor links which trigger dynamic scrolling. (In case you’re not sure what I’m talking about you can find a whole website of examples here.) While single-page design can add a lot of character to a life science website and be visually captivating without sacrificing user flow, a single page website almost always sacrifices SEO.
The reason is quite simple: Fewer pages means fewer URLs, fewer page titles, and fewer high-on-page header tags. Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Muller explained on the Google Webmaster Central forum:
Quote from Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John MullerI’d generally recommend a more traditional site format. It’s complicated for search engines to understand a “one-page” site like that, given that there is so much information on a single page. It’s much easier for our algorithms to focus on individual pages with content that matches the same context. Additionally […], it could be extremely confusing to the user to see basically an empty page when they expect to find content based on a search that they’ve made.
John raises another excellent search-related point that addresses a UX flaw in single-page websites. Even if you do manage to optimize for content that is farther down the page, Google doesn’t index anchor links. Therefore, the search results could indicate the page being relevant to the search due to content well below the fold, but a user who clicks the link will land at the top of the page and not at the relevant content.
Does this mean you can’t use all those nifty scrolling effects on your site? Not at all. It’s possible to use the same type of single-page design and the same effects while still having multiple pages – for example by using a static nav bar header with “real” links as opposed to anchor links but making on-page content accessible via anchor tangs with dynamic scrolling. Another solution is to use landing pages to target additional keywords then link back into the dynamically scrolling page(s) – or just capture leads right on the page by leveraging more highly targeted content, which is the purpose of most landing pages. Landing pages are generally not well cross-linked with other site content and are outside the normal site hierarchical structure, however, and therefore often require additional off-site SEO effort to achieve a high rank for competitive terms.
Ultimately, if you want scientists to be able to easily find your products via search engines, it’s probably best to have a traditional site format.
Your life science company could have a stellar new product or a unique new service. It could be wonderfully differentiated and offer your customers a unique value. If you fail to effectively communicate that differentiation and value, however, than your marketing is still going to flop.
As we’ve discussed before, life science marketers often resort to facile claims to describe their products, and in most cases that not only leads to messages that are devoid of real meaning but also leads to messages that are not unique or differentiated. Even when meaningful claims are made, competing products / services tend to describe themselves in the same ways, using similar attributes. Your product may be differentiated, but if your messages are largely the same then how can scientists tell that your product is better than the competition? They can’t, which is why it is so important to not only differentiate your product, but convey a unique positioning in your marketing message as well.
One of the best and easiest ways to make sure that your positioning and value claims are unique is to perform an attribute analysis. An attribute analysis is a market research technique that determines how competing products / services are outwardly positioned* by looking at their marketing communications and seeing how they are defined.
To perform an attribute analysis, first list all the competing products or services and collect references which you will use for the attribute analysis. Webpages and pdf brochures are generally the best options in terms of content and accessibility, however product manuals and other more technical documentation may be used, as may marketing materials that are generally less accessible such as webinars or email blasts. Have at least two references for each product whenever possible, although more is better. Secondly, collect all the attributes that are used for each product. Note that attributes should be counted – you want to know how many times each attribute is used rather than simply if it is used. Attributes can include descriptive terms, features and specifications. The list of attributes can easily become larger than is valuable, so basketing similar terms is recommended (for a basic example, “fast” “rapid” and “quickly” could all be basketed under one attribute, and you could assign ranges for specifications such as “read lengths between 200 and 300 base pairs”) as is ignoring unimportant specifications or features (example: for many products, few people may care about weight). Once attributes are counted, you can group them into categories as well. You then have laid out in front of you a numeric map (or a visual map, if you plot the attributes) of the positioning of competing products and services. The data can be analyzed in various ways.
Having performed the attribute analysis, you will be able to see what claims are commonly used and which are uncommonly used. You can combined this with market knowledge of scientist needs to find positioning opportunities; positions that align with customer needs but which are not used by competitors.
*I use the term “outwardly positioned” because many companies do not have their positioning formalized or do not effectively translate their positioning into effective marketing messages. This erroneously leads to different outward and inward positions, where the company believes the product has a certain positioning but the positioning communicated through its marketing is different. You could also call these externally-facing and internally-facing positions.
Many life science companies have problems converting website traffic to qualified leads. There are two common causes for this; either the quality of your traffic is poor (in other words, you’re attracting an audience that is either irrelevant or has no need and no intent to make a purchase) or your marketing is poor. With regards to the issue of poor website-based marketing, an extremely common cause is that the life science company’s website is company-centric or product/service-centric. The overall gist of the message on these website is: “This is who we are,” or “This is what we sell.” Unless a customer is ready to make a purchasing decision then and there (few are, in general) then these styles of messages will most often fail to resonate with the potential customer and simply fall short, failing to get the customer to engage further with your company and marketing as they progress through their buying journey.
To illustrate my point, let’s look at a generic website design. Most website designs are something like this:
The logo is on the upper left and the nav bar consists of an “about” selection, “products” and / or “services”, perhaps something akin to “industries”, and “contact”. The homepage content consists of an overview of the company and / or its major products and services.
Before we get into what should be on your website, it is worth explaining why your website content doesn’t need to simply be a summary of what you do. Your website is not a brochure or flier that you may distribute to people who have no prior knowledge of your company and lack sufficient context to figure it out what it does. In order for someone to get to your website they must do one of a handful of things, and in all situations you can assume that they either have an idea of what you do or have sufficient context that you don’t need to introduce yourself as you would to a stranger. They either 1) heard about it somewhere and went to it directly, 2) searched for a term in a search engine and clicked it, 3) clicked on an ad, or 4) clicked on a link on another website. All of these things either provide context or require that the person has a degree of knowledge beforehand. Therefore, the “brochure” style homepage isn’t necessary.
Instead, life science websites should be designed to be customer-centric. Instead of putting the company and the products first, you should adopt the customer’s perspective and show them that you understand their problems and needs. By focusing on the product or service, you’re effectively beginning the engagement with what the product is before they have a reason to care. By focusing on their needs you’re relating with them and getting their attention, setting yourself up to show how your products fulfill those needs.
But how can marketers create life science websites that are more customer-centric? A good place to start is with user stories. User stories help you escape the mind-frame of thinking about the customer and begin to think like the customer. In user stories, the marketer attempts to understand the motivations behind the customers actions and desires in order to fill the gap between the need and the solution. A typical user story is structured like this:
User Story FormatAs a [role] who is [situation], I want [need / desire] such that [benefit].
The use of user stories certainly do not guarantee that marketers adopt the customer’s perspective, so care should be taken to ensure that the situation is not defined simply to provide the intended benefit of the product. The situation should, however, be defined to create the need that your product is looking to solve. Starting with your target markets, consider all of the situations that could arise which would create the need that you are looking to solve. Then try to view the problem through the customer’s eyes and see what their desires are. If you find that your are simply defining the desire as your product or service, then you are not adopting the customers viewpoint.
Let’s illustrate this with some examples. The following would be a good user story:
User Story Good ExampleAs a biologist who is working with small model systems and imaging many 3-dimensional, fluorescently labelled samples, I want a faster, hands-off method of imaging my slides such that I can image more slides in less time and with less effort.
The next user story tells the same story, but is poor because it fails to elaborate the customer motivation and ends up framing the need in a product-centric manner:
User Story Bad ExampleAs a microscopist who has too many samples to image, I want an automated system for slide handling and imaging such that I can process slides more quickly.
User stories can be created for a number of situations and customer types. Once the user stories are written and compiled, you will have a much better understanding of what the customer is looking for from their own vantage point. You can then use this information to target content to groups of similar customers, create or optimize your website’s user flow and navigation, and improve the value propositions you present to the prospects.
Regardless of who you are or what you’re looking for, one of the most common ways to look for products and services is the mighty internet. An unpublished BioBM study found that among life science researchers, 45% will turn to search engines first when looking for a product or service – roughly the same amount as will ask a colleague first – and almost all scientists will perform an internet search at some point in their buying journey. Given the near-ubiquitous prevalence of search as a tool to find products and services, search engine marketing just seems to make logical sense. If you have a product, and someone is looking for that product, then put up an ad, they’ll click on it, and bingo – for a few bucks you’ve targeted a highly relevant member of your target market who is even looking for product information right now! Simple, right? Not always…
There are, in fact, multiple scenarios in which search engine marketing can fail. One of those reasons, however, is a bit more difficult to detect and can actually cost you a lot of money.
eBay Research Labs recently published a study where they set out to determine if brand keyword search ads, in other words keywords that contain the brand name of the company, were worthwhile. Unsurprisingly, they found that such advertising was not effective; in these circumstances people were using Google as a navigational tool and when paid search was turned off, and therefore paid traffic dropped to zero, their organic traffic increased by roughly the same amount.
The much more interesting question that they asked was: “What would happen if we simply turned search advertising off altogether?” The answer to this may seem obvious. If someone searches for “used Gibson Les Paul” (an example they use in the paper) a number of guitar resellers appear in organic search prior to eBay. As this is also the case for many other product-specific terms, eBay’s search ads help direct traffic to eBay when they would otherwise be directed to other sellers / resellers, and thereby increasing eBay’s business. It seems to make logical sense.
eBay wasn’t satisfied with that assumption, however, so they took a sampling of United States geographies and turned off all search ads, leaving search ads in the rest of the country on as a control. What happened to their sales? Largely, nothing. Looking at the sales and advertising data in conjunction with customer data, they found that search advertising is only cost-effective on the least active customers; those whose last eBay purchase was not recent and who made few purchases in the past year. However, eBay is a very popular company and those infrequent purchasers constituted a small percentage of searchers. Therefore, when cost effectiveness was calculated, search advertising had an astonishing -75% ROI. In other words, for every dollar they spent in search advertising, they got back only 25 cents!
Most life science companies, however, as with most companies in general, do not have the kind of brand recognition that eBay does. You probably don’t have to remind scientists that Sigma sells chemicals or that Illumina sells sequencers, but these are the exceptions rather than the rules. So what’s the takeaway for smaller companies? First, while search engine marketing is a fantastic tool and can work wonders for sales or lead generation, we shouldn’t simply expect it to do so. Secondly, testing and analytics are extremely important – not just for search marketing but any advertising campaign and most marketing endeavors. While it may be more difficult to draw accurate conclusions from smaller sample sizes, most of the experiments that eBay ran to test their hypotheses could be done by any company.
What do catalogs, websites, and many other general-purpose marketing tools have in common? There are a lot of possible answers to that question, but the answer of the day is that they all contain information on a large amount of offerings. Surprisingly frequently, the order in which these are presented is due to factors such as newness, alphabetical order, legacy documents, or some type of semi-arbitrary organization that seems to make sense to the person creating the document. These layouts do not adequately serve the company.
When creating marketing documents highlighting multiple offerings, be sure to give the most important ones the best “real estate”. While your company may define importance in its own way (it is often measured in profit potential, but may also be based in part or in whole on how central an offering is to the core business, potential for new customer recruitment, or other factors), be sure those most important products and services receive the attention which they merit.
This may seem obvious (it is) and it may seem easy to do (it is) but if you go back and look at any marketing documents your company has which describe many offerings you may be surprised at just how buried some important offerings are.
It is of critical importance that the layout of the document makes sense for the user, but life science marketers should be able to easily divert attention to important offerings while still having a logical flow of information. You should be able to simultaneously prioritize and organize your life science communications with relative ease.