When considering where to advertise, marketers frequently – and rightfully – consider how targeted / relevant the audience is. However, marketers often fail to consider the commercial intent (or “intent to purchase“) of the target audience within that channel. Because of this, you end up with a lot of advertising campaigns that are ineffective, deliver a poor or negative ROI, and are often not tied to results.
A subjective, qualitative measure of commercial intent (which is usually all that is required) can be easily determined by considering the likelihood that a viewer will be considering a purchase at the time of viewing the ad. For instance, someone who has just searched for a product is far more likely to intend to make a purchase than is the average person reading an article on a news website, even if it is a highly relevant, sector-specific one.
We see this mis-targeting most frequently in demand generation campaigns, particularly “awareness” campaigns. Awareness campaigns seek to target as much of the target market as possible in order to, for all effective purposes, tell them your product or service exists. These campaigns are highly ineffective because they neglect the commercial intent of the target audience. (Side note: They also tend to be uncompelling, unoriginal, and unmemorable.) The implied message is: “We have this product / service. Please go buy it.” However, the channels used for awareness campaigns, which are typically print and / or digital display ads through relevant publishers, have a low commercial intent. People who are not in the market for your product / service will forget about your advertisement long before any future recognition of needs develops.
These described channels, which are highly targeted but have low commercial intent, are far better suited for brand-building campaigns. For audiences who may have a need in the future, you want to make a positive, lasting impression such that your brand will be viewed favorably when a need does arise for the customer, therefore making the customer more receptive to your messages and more likely to favor your solutions. (Focusing on creating experiences is one such way to do this.) In other words, with channels having low commercial intent, you need to play the “long game.”
Conversely, for channels with high commercial intent, you want to play the short game. If a customers are imminently considering a purchase, they are actively filtering information for relevance in search of information to guide them through their buying journey. Campaigns designed to build brand value are likely to be filtered out and, even if they are not, may not have time to make enough of a collective impression on the customers to influence their purchasing decisions (the latter point is more true for products with a short sales cycle than those with long ones). For those customers, you want to present a message about their need and / or your solution in order to demonstrate relevance to their buying journey.
The next time you’re developing an advertising campaign, in addition to the relevance of the audience consider commercial intent. Remember the following:
• Channels where the audience has a high intent to purchase are good for demand-generation campaigns.
• Channels where the audience has a low intent to purchase are good for brand-building campaigns.
You’ll end up with more effective campaigns.
Take a look around – at the marketing efforts of your company, your competitors, and others in similar life science markets. I’m sure you’ll still find a lot of marketing efforts centered on building awareness. Quite frankly, efforts to simply build awareness are a waste of your audience’s attention. Awareness only imparts one very basic form of knowledge: the knowledge that something exists. You can do so much more with your audience’s attention.
Awareness campaigns are almost inherently neutral. Sure, you may be offering a solution that someone needs, but aside from the facts contained within the communication there is nothing positive or negative about it. Instead of focusing on building awareness, focus on creating experiences. Experiences can be used not only to impart knowledge, but also to build confidence. They leave a positive feeling with your prospective customers that translates into positive brand value for your company.
Experiences can be simple. Focusing on experiences does not necessitate any additional complexity in your communications. To upgrade an awareness communication to an experience, give some thought to the emotion you want to invoke within your scientist-customers and craft your communications with that emotion in mind. Don’t simply focus on what you are doing, but why you are doing it.
Ideally, customer experience will be something which is defined and shaped across all your customer touch points. Any experience is more effective when it is in harmony with the other experiences that your company provides. Considering that your brand is, in effect, the sum of all the experiences that it provides to others, those experiences need to be planned and defined to ensure that they build on each other rather than conflict with each other. In the race to win customers’ hearts and minds, the brand which consistently provides the best experiences will win. The next time you need to create awareness for your company or its products and services, think about how you could instead create an experience for your potential customers. The result will be more effective communications.
We’re big advocates of content marketing, and we’re glad to see that content marketing is rapidly being adopted by life science companies. However, as content marketing becomes more popular, we’re seeing more companies creating content simply for the sake of creating content without much regards to strategy, customer, or value. While content marketing is highly valuable when done correctly, it can actually be detrimental if done carelessly.
To understand why, we need to step back and revisit the concept of a company’s brand and understand that the brand resides in the mind of the customer. It is the result of the customers’ cumulative experiences with the company. Everything the company does influences the brand, content included. A strong, positive brand elevates all of the company’s marketing and sales efforts. It improves the level of trust that your customers extend to you. It makes your communications more likely to be not only received by your audience, but digested. It can even make closing sales far easier. The opposite is also true – having a weak or negative brand makes virtually all marketing and sales endeavors that much more difficult.
Well-written content that is educational, helpful, or otherwise valuable to the audience reflects positively upon the company. Trivial, meaningless, or irrelevant content can reflect negatively. Even if superficial or poorly written content is helping you attract more eyes, if those eyes are not part of your target audience they are worthless. Even worse, if they are part of your target audience and are not impressed with your content, they could leave with a negative impression which hurts your company. Just because your target market is exposed to your brand doesn’t mean that it’s helping you. (Side note: This is also why no marketing analytics effort should place too much value on views.)
This is also why content should not be thought of one-dimensionally, especially if you’re making it publicly accessible. When you make content public, you’re losing some element of control over who views it and for what purpose. If you’re posting content for a particular purpose, it may be consumed by others who have a different purpose. To use a simple example, if you’re posting content for SEO, which by necessity is publicly accessible, you still need to address the needs of your audience. Similarly, if you’re disproportionately posting content which is relevant only to a particular segment of your audience, you may turn off other segments of your audience.
For most life science companies, content can enhance many areas of marketing and sales and should be central to the marketing effort. Content marketing needs to be taken seriously and be approached strategically. Haphazardly creating content which is of questionable value is not only a wasted effort, but it can actually hurt you.
I think the concept of emotionally appealing to scientists gets taken to extremes. There are people who think that B2B scientific sales are largely emotionless and that customers in this sector make decisions using reason; therefore, emotional appeals have little merit. On the other hand, there are those that see emotion as underused in life science marketing; a hidden opportunity ripe to exploit.
I fall somewhere in the middle. I think that life science marketers shouldn’t neglect emotion, but that emotion should be built largely through user experience and branding (in other words, through the sum of customer interactions with a company) rather than through the kind of emotionally-charged creative that we see in TV commercials for cars or pharmaceuticals, for instance.
Along these lines, I took interest in the results of a recent poll from Harris Interactive (you can find it summarized here on Wired). I wasn’t so interested by the findings that Amazon is the most respected company in the states, but rather that on a 100-point scale they ranked as having the highest emotional appeal (defined by Harris as trust, admiration and respect). They beat Disney by five points. Keep in mind that Amazon is a company which most people only experience through a website and a number of brown cardboard boxes.
These results speak to the value of user experience in establishing emotional appeal, which in turn creates value through establishing brand preferences and driving customer loyalty. To all those who think you need impassioned communications to create emotional appeal, and also to those who think that life science companies can not be effective at creating emotional appeal, look at what Amazon has done with an e-commerce site and cardboard.
While a large part of a company’s brand is controlled by what a company does, this is not a compelling corporate image to project. It would be far more beneficial to life science brands to focus on why they do it, as “why” is simply an inherently more compelling proposition than “what”.
As an example, I’ve taken the first self-defining statement from five life science tools companies’ about pages and anonymized them. This is what I came up with:
- “[Company] develops and manufactures innovative scientific instruments and systems that exploit digital imaging technology for a range of disciplines.”
- “We believe in the power of science and appreciate its rigorous discipline. That’s what drives our passion for innovation, leading to transformative offerings that support endeavors throughout the world.”
- “[Company] develops, manufactures, and markets a wide range of laboratory instruments, apparatus, and consumables used for research in functional genomics, proteomics, and food safety.”
- “As a global technology leader, [Company] is taking action to harness the power of insights and transform them into knowledge to deliver innovative, differentiated solutions for our customers.”
- “Established in [date] as a cooperative laboratory of experienced scientists, [Company] is a world leader in the production and supply of reagents for the life science industry.”
Of those five, three (1, 3, and 5) are extremely straightforward definitions of what the company does, one (4) is a description of how a company does what they do, and only one (2) is a description of why they do what they do. Did you notice any particular one being more compelling that the others?
Your reason for existing can actually be a very compelling driver for both new customer acquisition as well as customer loyalty. Not only can it improve your current business, but also enable you to more easily enter new marketplaces. Furthermore, integrating this reason for existence into your company can motivate your employees and make you more productive and successful. I don’t mean to make it sound like a magic bullet, but your company’s reason for existing can and should be a powerful driver for both internal and external stakeholders.
There’s a great TED talk on the subject:
Brian Millar of Sense Worldwide wrote an interesting article for Fast Company Design arguing that talking a lot about branding isn’t actually helping companies. It got a lot of criticism, so he then wrote a follow up. One of the key points was that brand value is imaginary – it’s only in the mind of the consumer, will be unique to every consumer, and will be based on a culmination of all of the actions of a company, so why try to manipulate it? Millar argues that we should not focus on branding and shouldn’t discuss our brands but rather take that effort and give it back to all the other efforts of the company.
In short, I disagree.
Life science tools companies are constantly making important product development decisions, and almost all of these decisions involve making a tradeoff. Should your company focus its limited product development resources on entirely new lines, expansions to existing lines, or improvements to existing products? Much of this decision-making, especially for smaller companies, boils down to choosing between breadth and depth in the product portfolio. So what are the benefits of each, and when should each be given focus?
It’s certainly no easy question to answer generally. Without question much of the answer will depend on a company’s positioning and the opportunities that present themselves (a SWOT analysis is often good for helping to make such a determination), however there are many considerations that are less variable and can be discussed in a more general context. Let’s discuss a few of those.
Risk / Reward
To an extent, the 80/20 rule, or at the very least the rule of diminishing returns, comes into play in product development. A few key, highly differentiated products in any area are likely to make “80%” of your revenues in that area, assuming that you have such a product to begin with. Expanding on products in that area, or continuing to build on that key product through features, etc., will produce a far lesser return than did the development of the original product. Indeed, as more and more features are added to the key products, or more and more related products are added to the related product line, each improvement or addition will likely capture fewer and fewer customers. If the opportunity exists to build a disruptive product in another market, that will generally offer a much greater opportunity to build sales.
The risk of expanding into new markets, however, is much greater. Developing an entirely new product often involves the development or acquisition of new technology, and the cost is often much greater. It will involve markets that your company is less familiar with, and you may misjudge the market. Customers also gravitate towards holistic solutions, and if your offering doesn’t have the product support within your own line to stand alone, that may be viewed with significant negativity. Additionally, and this will lead us into the next point of discussion, if you don’t have a strong focus in any area then your company’s brand won’t be recognized as an authority in any area.
Having too narrow of a product line is a risk in and of itself as well. If you’re entirely invested in one market, and a competitor brings a highly disruptive technology into that market, you could be out of business. While building around a highly successful product line may be seen as risk-averse, small companies with limited product development resources still need to diversify to some extent.
If you have many great but unrelated ideas, continuously going after the “80%” may seem very tempting, but it does have its drawbacks. Not being known for any one area could have negative effects on your company’s brand. Especially if customers in a market have varied needs, you won’t be known as a go-to source for any of the types of products that you offer, even if you have that one standout product. If your product line is all over the place, having disparate, eclectic products with having a well-rounded offering for any particular need, customers won’t think to look to your company for anything, and that can certainly be problematic.
On the other hand, having a deep product line can help establish you in that area, again assuming your products are sufficiently differentiated. It also helps you focus brand-building marketing efforts, or at the very least makes them easier.
It’s worth repeating that there is no right answer or formula to follow that will tell you where you should focus your product development efforts. The decision must be dependent on your situation, risk tolerance, opportunities, and more. Align your company’s product development goals with your overall goals, carefully analyze your situation, and you’ll know what the right decision is.