“But our product performs better than the competitors! And it performs better for almost all applications!”
This is the cry of one too many life science companies (especially smaller companies) who thought that an incremental improvement – and a bit of advertising money – would be all that’s required to outcompete their competitors. This company probably has a few loyal customers, but they’re just not seeing the market penetration that they thought they should. After all, with a superior product you should be able to capture a leading share of the market so long as the market is aware of it, right? In theory, yes. The problem is that it’s not so simple, and the real world doesn’t work like it should in theory.
Every one of us demonstrates this on a regular basis. Think about the last time you went to the grocery store. Are you absolutely certain that each brand which you’re buying is the best one? Maybe for a few kinds of items, but almost certainly not for all. The brands all claim to be the best, but not many people have sampled every brand of food which they eat, or compared them all for nutritional value and other important product attributes. Chances are you don’t even look at all the brands – you just get what you’re used to getting for many things. While it’s true that decisions for scientific purchases are more deliberate than picking up a gallon of milk, there’s still an emotional component to any purchase. Whether you know it or not, your customers are ascribing value to each brand they come in contact with (often subconsciously).
For the company in the scenario outlined at the beginning of this article, the unrecognized problem is that unrecognized, confounding brand effects may be holding them back. In other words, the company is getting “out-branded”. Even though their product is an improvement to competitors or alternatives, and from a strictly rational decision standpoint customers should be driven to their product, the benefits are not enough to overcome emotionally-based perceptions. This problem is especially prevalent for small companies and for products early in their life cycle when there may not be independent validation of the products’ value.
Causes of Brand Problems & Potential Solutions
As we’ve discussed previously, brand value is effectively the sum of all the experiences that stakeholders have had with your brand. For any given customer, it’s the sum of all of that person’s experiences. (Note that these experiences can be second hand as well; a discussion about a brand with a colleague is still a brand experience.) This value manifests itself as an emotional attachment and resulting brand preference, which may be conscious or subconscious. If the sum of the customers’ experiences with the competitors’ brands have been more positive than their experiences with your brand, they will show a preference (perhaps even an irrational preference!) for the other brand which will hurt your demand. If you’re a small company or working with a new brand, it may be that they simply don’t have enough experience with your brand. For larger companies, it is more likely to be that the customer experiences which you have provided have been poor. Each of these issues call for a slightly different approach…
For small companies / new brands, you need to give your market a reason to engage with you in the first place, and unless your product / service is truly revolutionary, the product alone won’t be a compelling enough reason due to the aforementioned brand effects. This is not a conundrum, however. Consider ways to deliver value that is not intrinsically linked to your product but still relevant to it; in other words, ways in which you can provide value to your target market that do not require buying anything from your company or using your product. Creating valuable content has become the default method of doing so, however many markets are suffering from content overload; there is simply too much content being produced considering the audience’s limited time. If that is the case, consider developing resources rather than content.
For more established companies with a larger existing reach and customer base, work on improving existing experiences. Note that “experiences” could mean anything from support to digital user experience to the actual quality of your products. Diagnosing poor customer experience within a large enterprise is well beyond the scope of this discussion, but improving customer experiences is critical for any life science company which is underperforming. While fixing the root cause of your poor experiences is critical, creating customer resources can be a helpful way of getting customers to re-engage with your company and create positive brand value.
You don’t have to do something wrong for your market to be biased against you and hurt the demand for your products. Brand value is not an absolute. It is an relative, emotional thing, and the most important aspect for your company’s performance is how well your brand value stacks up against your competitors’. By focusing on customer experience, you’ll help to grow that brand value over time and shift market preferences in your direction. Along with those preferences will come more sales.
Captivating your audience should be priority #1 for high-level marketing communications. Before you get into the details of whatever it is you want to say, you need to make sure that you have the audience’s attention, will maintain it for as long as possible, and that they’re in a mindframe that’s most conducive to a positive outcome. Unfortunately, very few life science brands actually do so.
The most common statement type of introductory statement made is a “what” statement. Companies explain what they, their brands, or their product lines do, then get into how they do these things. That makes for a very drab and uncompelling introductory statement. Instead of initially focusing on what you do, focus on why you’re doing it. (You can find some examples of “what” statements and “why” statements pertaining to brand messaging in a previous post here.) It’s far easier for people to psychologically buy into a reason than it is for them to buy into a thing.
Frame your reason – your “why” – as a statement which the audience can agree with. You want them to think – consciously or otherwise – “I agree with this.” That will start the audience off on a positive note which will make them more receptive to subsequent messages. Presenting a statement which indicates that your goals or values are aligned with those of the audience can be a good method of doing so, but it is certainly not the only method.
For that additional kick which will really make your message powerful, frame your message in a way that can draw sincere emotion from the audience. This can be a difficult task and one that requires considerable creative talent. It’s more of an art than a science, but understanding the underlying motivations of your target audience is an important starting point. You need to frame the message around something that they care about.
Off the top of my head, I can recall one good example within the life sciences – certainly in no small part because it was in the Boston metro stations for a while, but also because it was a genuinely powerful message. It was an Ion Torrent advertisement and it read “Everyone Deserves a Chance to Break Through.” This meets the three criteria explained above. It is a “why” statement; it tells you that Ion Torrent is doing what they’re doing to provide people with the opportunity to make scientific breakthroughs. It prompts agreement; If you agree that everyone does deserve that chance (a fair assumption on Ion’s part) then you can get behind the idea. Lastly, it is emotionally powerful. It might invoke slightly different things for different people, but the underlying idea is one of scientific success – the empowerment to make groundbreaking scientific discoveries. Unfortunately, I don’t think Ion used this much beyond their initial ad campaign. Their current slogan – “Sequencing for All” – doesn’t have the same power to captivate (largely because it lacks that critical third factor – emotion).
By making a compelling “why” statement, making it something the audience can agree with, and making it emotionally powerful, you’ll be able to heighten your audience’s receptiveness to your forthcoming messages, increase their effective attention span, and begin to create brand value right from step one. Use these statements as centerpieces of your high-level marketing communications and watch your marketing effectiveness improve.
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.
A lot of focus goes into optimizing marketing activities. That focus is important and very helpful in numerous ways, but all the A/B testing and conversion optimization in the world gets flushed down the drain as soon as a customer actually contacts your company. Not nearly as much effort goes into improving customer contacts. Perhaps this is because person-to-person interaction inherently has some degree of variability, or because sales and support staff are expected to be highly competent at customer interactions, or because people don’t realize that customer interactions can be optimized. Regardless of the reason, life science companies need to realize that customer communications can be improved, and there are a number of definite (and often relatively easy) ways to do so. We discuss some below.
Improve Response Times
There have been many studies which have shown that lead qualification rates drop off massively over time. Even a matter of seconds has been shown to have a significant impact in qualification rates. A study of lead response behavior found that 36% of inquiries were not responded to at all within a two-week time frame. Yet response times are something which companies have direct control over.
Technology can be used to assist to some extent. Automated lead distribution – and in particular automated lead distribution to multiple agents simultaneously – has been shown to have the greatest impacts on conversion rates, with rates over twice as high as when there is no automation to assist in lead distribution.
If it really comes down to it, hire more people. Considering that leads which are contacted within an hour are 7 times more likely to be qualified as those which are contacted even one hour later, the cost / benefit ratio seems to be well worth it. Seven times more qualified leads not only means about 7 times as much business (or at least something in that ballpark) but it also means that your sales staff’s time is seven times more efficient when contacting leads.
It’s not only about sales, however. Support inquiries are equally as important, as they contribute significantly to overall customer experience which in turn affects customer loyalty. This should not come as a surprise.
Arm Your Customer-Facing Employees with Information
Too often, the quality of a customer interaction is most directly related to the experience of the person the customer is interacting with. Newer employees are often less knowledgeable and therefore are often not as well suited to assist the customer. Training can only help so much.
To combat this problem, ensure that you maintain a well-curated body of knowledge for your sales and support teams. Having ready access to information, such as past issues and their solutions, will your customer-facing employees more efficient, reduce the time it takes the customer to get a good answer, and improve the customers’ experiences when interacting with your company.
Provide Consistent Experiences
Although not as important in terms of short-term demand generation, the consistency of customer experiences plays strongly on brand perception. Inconsistent experiences, even if they are largely positive, can have a disruptive effect which conflict with each other rather than building on each other. To some extent, customer interactions should reflect a degree of branding.
I’m not recommending that life science companies take it to this much of an extreme, but a great example of branded customer interactions comes from Mailchimp, which has voice & tone guidelines for customer interactions. While I find the Mailchimp example to be a bit much – certainly far more defined than what many life science companies would need – it’s both reasonable and practical to set general voice and tone guidelines while also ensuring consistency in finer details such as email fonts.
When thinking about optimizing your marketing, think beyond the standard channels and consider improvements in actual customer interactions. While these activities may traditionally be the sole responsibility of the sales and support business areas, they may not often take as structured an approach to improvement as marketing commonly does, especially when considering aspects such as customer experience and branding. By making improvements to actual customer interactions, customer satisfaction, customer retention, and opportunity conversion will all increase while delivering positive brand value as well.
It’s part of my job to be very familiar with the life science tools sector. The need for familiarity commonly drives me to the websites of a number of different manufacturers – this has been especially true recently. However, if you were to ask me how many of those manufacturers presented me with their brand again after leaving their website, there are only a handful. Within that handful, however, I could name 100% of the companies. The rest? Maybe 25% to 50%, off hand, and only that many because I make a note of knowing my market.
This illustrates two key things. 1) Your brand (and product line) is much more likely to be remembered if you present it to your audience repeatedly, and 2) there is a surprising underutilization of remarketing within life science tools. The former is an opportunity. The latter is a problem, but could be an opportunity.
Most buying journeys in the life sciences aren’t completed in a single instance. With the exception of commodity-like items and repeat purchases, most purchasing decisions involve multiple “sessions” of consideration. In other words, scientists by and large don’t just sit down and buy something. They take time to consider and evaluate their needs and their options. A purchasing decision is more likely to last days, weeks or even months than it is minutes or hours. However, most demand generation-focused marketing campaigns are geared towards a customer taking action in a single sitting.
For instance, say a customer finds your company through search. (If a scientist is proactively looking for a product, there’s about a 45% chance that they performed a search as their first action within their buying journey.) Unless that customer is then sufficiently satisfied with where they are in the buying journey to take the next step then and there, they will leave. Without remarketing, that customer is gone. You’re left to sit and hope that the customer remembers you. With remarketing, however, that’s not a problem. You can present your brand, product, and / or message to that potential customer multiple times, reinforcing your brand and message to that prospect. This isn’t only applicable to search, however. The same could be said for any type of marketing or advertising – email, social, print, etc. – where the potential is there for the customer to go to your website, view some information, then walk away never to be seen again. If you think about it, that potential exists for just about any type of campaign.
Does remarketing sound complicated? It’s not. Remarketing does not require any fancy software or tools. Anyone with a basic knowledge of Google Analytics, AdWords, and the ability to paste a few lines of code into their website can set up remarketing. Even video remarketing with YouTube is easy to set up.
As with most forms of advertising, remarketing should be as targeted as possible given the practical considerations of audience segmentation. For instance, ads targeted to specific product lines which a customer viewed will generally more effective than a single, broad message to anyone that’s visited your website.
Most companies are letting a lot of good prospects get away. These are prospects that have shown interest through the activity of going to your website and viewing particular content. These are prospects that can be targeted, but in most cases aren’t because companies don’t know who they are. By leveraging the power of remarketing, life science tools companies can stay in front of scientists who have shown interest in their brand and products, helping to ensure that they stay in consideration during the scientists’ buying journeys and, ultimately, increasing their conversion.
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.
It’s enticing to try to close every prospect at the first opportunity. You can certainly rationalize doing so – you’re just trying to make the most of every opportunity, ASAP. Attempting to do so, however, can drive away your customers by forcing them to choose before they are ready to buy. While this may seem obvious in theory, life science marketers and salespeople routinely attempt to push their customers through their buying journey.
Your scientist-customers are risk-averse. If a customer isn’t sure that your product or service can perform the job they need it to perform, or if they don’t yet see that it is worth the price, they’ll view the purchase as being a high-risk endeavor. Asking a fresh prospect to make a purchase is a very big step for them – it involves a lot of risk since they are not yet certain about the utility and value of your product. The conversion of such a step would be very, very low.
To improve your conversion, you must allow your prospects to take smaller steps. Break up the buying journey into easily digestible chunks. For instance, a prospect whose email address you received from a conference may be sent an series of emails linked to various pieces of content. They may be invited to view a demo video, then subsequently given a demonstration. Perhaps after that there is a free trial, and only then would they be given the “hard sell”. This is merely an illustrative example, but one in which we have broken up one potentially huge step (visiting a booth at a conference → buying a product) into many smaller, less risky steps.
Marketers can also use these small steps in conjunction with marketing automation, CRM and / or analytics software to gain more insights into the customer. These insights may be subsequently fed to sales and / or used to help score the leads to help ensure that sales resources are deployed effectively.
Any buying journey can be broken up into an infinitesimal amount of steps, but we don’t want to make the buying journey too long by breaking it into an extremely large number of tiny steps – or, even worse, to decrease conversion by providing too many opportunities to drop out of the process. Additionally, not every product has the same amount of risk and will require the same amount of steps. Generally speaking, products which are more novel to the customer, products which are complicated, more expensive products, and products which are more central to the scientists’ research will carry more risk and therefore require more steps. So how do we know how many steps we might need? Consider the informational requirements of the average customer when making a purchasing decision and develop a content roadmap. This well help you determine the appropriate content which should be delivered, and the nature of the content should enlighten you as to the form it should take. Always allow the customer a direct path to purchase and contact high-quality leads directly to nudge them into making a decision.
One final note – the “small steps” notion does not apply only to the actual purchase. Asking a fresh prospect to give up a plethora of personal information right away will also lead to a low conversion. Ensure that you don’t place any obstructively large steps in your customer’s way.
In order to help determine the appropriate course of action for any given lead, such as when it is appropriate to have sales actively pursue a lead, it is important to score these leads. Generally, scoring is performed on two separate levels: profile scoring and engagement scoring. Profile scoring involves determining how closely a lead’s attributes (e.g. company, industry, job title, seniority, job function, etc.) match those of an ideal customer profile. Engagement scoring involves determining how much interest a lead has shown based on their previous actions. These could include downloading an article, visiting a website, attending a webinar, visiting a conference booth, filling out a contact form, etc. Note that both profile scoring and engagement scoring involve set but arbitrary values. It is up to you to decide what is most important and how each factor within each score should be weighted, but take care when doing so as studies have shown disconnects between what companies state their primary marketing targets are, how they allocate their resources, and what qualifications they use for lead scoring. If you find that your own scoring isn’t ideal, change it! It was arbitrary in the first place!
Leads are generally considered qualified if they cross a threshold of scoring, at which point they are pushed to sales for active pursuit of an opportunity. Don’t be too strict with your qualification criteria. According to the marketing automation platform Eloqua, less than 50% of companies have a single “perfect” lead which is in the highest scoring bracket on a profile basis and an engagement basis.
For leads which are not yet qualified, they should be nurtured via a “content drip” – a slow, steady exposure to educational and / or persuasive content designed to advance the leads through the buying journey. At most basic, this could be a series of automated emails. Ideally, if resources allow, this content drip should be based on prior behavior. For instance, if a lead is gained through a piece of educational content, then it may be prudent to first send that lead opportunities to download more educational content in support of the first piece of content, then only if they download another would persuasive content be sent.
For actionable, qualified leads it is critical to assess the value of a customer acquisition and from that point determine the appropriate level of resources to commit to each. According to a study from the United States Travel Association, face-to-face sales close 40% of prospects while inside sales close just 16%, making outside sales 2.5x more effective. However, the costs are widely different. Each contact by an outside sales rep costs about $300 – $500 whereas the average contact from an inside sales rep costs only $25 or $30, according to Mike Moorman of ZS Associates. In some cases, the nature of the product may dictate whether an outside or inside response is most appropriate, and the structure of your sales force can cause the costs of outside sales to vary widely, but don’t simply default to an inside approach because you can. You might be able to sell that $100,000 enterprise software license or that $200,000 research contract over the phone, but it may very well be worthwhile to send someone to the client site to increase the likelihood of closing the deal.
While there are certainly a number of best practices that all life science marketers should follow, there is no “one-size-fits-all” method to generating and handling leads. In determining the best strategies and tactics, an understanding of your target market and your own situation is of first and foremost importance. It is when this understanding merges with best practices that marketers can achieve truly great results in generating demand for their life science companies.