We talk so much about content on a conceptual level that I thought it might be helpful to offer some more practical advice. Luckily for me, there’s a lot of knowledge out there to work with. In this post, we’ll look at two studies that surveyed B2B buyers on their preferences for content.
A study published by the CMO council this past summer asked a lot of useful questions. I’ve summarized some key insights below:
The 5 most trusted types of content:
- Research reports or white papers from professional associations – 67%
- Research reports or white papers from industry groups – 50%
- Customer case studies – 48%
- Reports and whitepapers from analysts – 44%
- Independent product reviews – 40%
The 5 most valuable sources of content in purchasing decisions:
- Professional associations and online communities – 47%
- Industry groups – 46%
- Online trade publications – 41%
- Seminars and workshops – 41%
- Trade shows – 35%
(These results hint at who can help you amplify your voice most effectively)
The 3 most valued characteristics of content:
- Breadth and depth of information – 47%
- Ease of access, understanding and readability – 44%
- Originality of thinking and ideas – 39%
The 3 most disliked characteristics of content:
- Too many requirements for download – 50%
- Blatantly promotional and self-serving – 43%
- Non-substantive / uninformed – 34%
The above data is largely self-explanatory so I’ll save a long-winded explanation.
Salesforce Pardot also had some interesting information in its “State of Demand Generation 2013” study, most notably on the legnth of content. They asked B2B buyers how long content should be and gave three choices: under 5 pages, over 5 pages, or as long as it takes to inform them. 70% stated that they prefer content to be under 5 pages and only 2% stated that they prefer content to be over 5 pages (the remaining 28% said “as long as it takes”). We generally advise to make your content as long as it takes, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend sacrificing quality for brevity, but given these results it may be worthwhile to re-evaluate long pieces of content to see if you could either be more concise or break the content up into multiple discrete units.
The Salesforce Pardot study also found that about 3 in 4 B2B buyers prefer different content at each stage of the research process. That’s not particularly surprising, considering that informational needs change over the course of the buying journey. However, it is a good reminder not to keep dangling the same piece of content in front of your prospects.
Take all of this data with a grain of salt, as every industry is different. However, the information can serve as general guidance in the creation and / or publishing of content.
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.
It feels like every week I see or learn something that reinforces just how valuable content is to life science companies. For instance, I was recently discussing some sales dilemmas with the founder of a young, small CRO. Let’s call him Greg. Greg’s CRO performs a well-differentiated and valuable research service. However, Greg was lamenting about the “commoditization” of contract research – how his firm can’t seem to compete on quality and all anyone cares about is price.
Knowing what his CRO does, I was a bit disturbed by this. There are such things as commodities, sure, but the whole reason commodities become commoditized is because there is no difference in quality. Even coal fetches different prices based on, among other things, how clean it burns. If someone can mine better coal and get a better price for it, surely his CRO should be able to get a better price for their superior service. … I dug deeper.
Greg used a current problem he was having to illustrate his larger problem. He had drafted a proposal for his contact at a pharma company. That person reviewed his proposal, along with a number of others, then handed it to his boss to make a decision. According to Greg, the boss would then just choose one of the cheap ones.
Now there are times when budgets are tight and price is simply the most important factor, but this was a recurring problem. So what was really the big problem?
Greg’s CRO is young and small. He has built a rapport with his contact. He has not, however, built a rapport with the decision maker, which he does not have access to. So the person making the decision only knows Greg’s CRO from the information that is available about them on their website and with a quick internet search. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, but Greg’s CRO has no educational content. Unless the decision maker happens to know Greg or someone on his team, there is no reason for him to believe that they are capable of producing the higher-quality output they claim to be able to. Compared to the more established and lower cost CROs, selecting Greg’s CRO would be a high-risk endeavor!
To lower the perceived risk, and therefore increase the likelihood that their proposal is selected, Greg’s CRO needs to demonstrate their knowledge through content. Content can, at least to some extent, mitigate the inability to demonstrate knowledge through person-to-person content. It could help provide the confidence that may lack if Greg’s CRO cannot provide many reputable customer references. Instead of only knowing Greg’s CRO as a proposal, at least they would be able to build some degree of positive brand image.
Content is an extremely multifunctional marketing tool that can assist organizations in numerous ways. Content can aid in sales support, as with the case of this CRO, it can generate leads, it can help drive inbound search traffic, it can improve your brand. There’s so much that content can do, and it contributes to so many aspects of marketing, that content marketing should really be a default. Especially in knowledge-intensive sectors like contract research and life science tools, content should be a centerpiece of the marketing effort for most companies. Content marketing is simply too valuable, and valuable in too many situations, to ignore.
What do you think?
What would you do if you were Greg? Would you invest in content marketing? Would you take another approach? Join the discussion on LinkedIn and share your thoughts.
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.
Technology provides scientific salesmen with great tools. Perhaps the best example of this in recent history, at least in terms of visibility and adoption, are salesmen’s use of tablet devices to deliver sales presentations, product information, and other marketing content to prospective customers. Advances in technology, however, are often underutilized, especially in smaller life science companies. While general-purpose adoption is often good, these companies often fail to realize the full potential of such technology.
Too frequently, small life science companies (and sometimes larger ones as well) adopt new sales technologies by retrofitting the last generation of content for it without ever considering what benefits the new technology offers that could be leveraged to actually improve content delivery. In doing so, only a portion of the total potential benefit is realized. Let’s go back to the example of tablets. Sales presentations used to often require binders full of product information, salespeople would have to carry around brochures and other product information to leave with potential customers, and all of this created a lot of bulk that was heavy to carry around and could be clumsy to dig through on the spot. Companies also incurred the costs of printing, storing, and supplying such materials to their sales reps. Furthermore, customers could easily misplace a few pieces of paper and these materials were not readily shared and disseminated with labmates or other colleagues. Tablet computers were seen a way to solve these problems, and many companies and independent reps have adopted this technology. However, few examined how they could further improve their content delivery beyond alleviating these obvious issues. They simply retrofitted their previous content for electronic delivery via tablet (through pdf, powerpoints, word documents, existing web content, etc).
Now think about what could be possible if these companies thought about creating content that took advantage of the improvements in technology. Think about all the ways that various content could interact. Think about how content could potentially be created that is dynamic and allows salespeople to respond to expressed customer needs with specialized information that is more pertinent to those specific needs (the “landing pages” of next-gen content delivery). Think about how content delivery could become both more fluid and functional. These kinds of questions represent some of the forward thinking that needs to be done in order to truly leverage advances in technology to improve life science sales.
Technology is constantly changing, evolving, and improving. In order to maintain a truly up-to-date and highly effective sales force, life science tools companies need to not only adopt these technologies, but escape the paradigms created by previous technologies in order to create new and better ways to perform and support sales.
I saw a post on one of the LinkedIn groups I’m a member of for a webinar that was of interest to me. Long story short: it was terrible. So you don’t make the same mistakes that this company did when you’re creating life science webinars, I thought I’d share a quick tip.
Remember that a webinar (or an in-person seminar for that matter) is a form of content marketing. The lure is the promise of information that is valuable to the user. In order for your webinar to be a success, you must deliver on that promise. The content that you provide needs to address the reason that people are attending your webinar – the topic of the webinar in the first place. If your title and abstract don’t match the presentation, you’re going to hurt your reputation, not help your marketing effort.
Also, you need to balance the amount of content with the marketing message as is appropriate for your webinar. It is possible to have a webinar strictly about a product or service, and there’s nothing wrong with that and such webinars can have value to individuals who are seeking more information about such products and services, but if that is going to be the focal point you need to be up front about it. If you’re creating a webinar on “best practices in high-throughput nucleic acid purification”, for example, attendees are going to expect to learn something of value about high-throughput nucleic acid purification. If you make too much of a marketing pitch and don’t provide enough valuable information on the topic, you’re going to hurt your reputation, not help your marketing effort.
Life science webinars can be useful tools to gather an audience and positively project your brand image and services, but you have to do it correctly. Align the webinar with the desires of the audience to create value and you’ll find success.