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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Much of marketing is about measurement: be it in determining the success of that recent promotional campaign, determining how to divvy up ad spending, or making the case for your share of next year’s budget. The inherent problem is one that executives often cite: the difficulty in tying specific marketing activities to revenue generation. While “big data” analytics and bulky, expensive CRM and / or ERP software can sometimes be used to get a better handle on overall marketing ROI, such solutions still do a poor job of teasing out contributions of individual activities and are most often beyond the capabilities of small companies to meaningfully manage or to afford. We must therefore pick and choose how to measure success in life science marketing, and meaningful measurement means choosing the right metrics.
Quick note: There was an excellent article in October’s Harvard Business Review on the topic, albeit from the perspective of measuring overall corporate financial performance perspective rather than marketing performance (subscribers can read it here).
There are three common reasons why you may be using the wrong metrics. The first is overconfidence. Perhaps you’ve been seen a metric be strongly predictive in the past or have been told of its importance by a respected peer. If you get it in your head that the metric is important then it’s easy for that thought to stick, regardless of whether or not there’s a basis in fact. The second is availability. Quite simply, we tend to use those metrics that are easily obtained, that we frequently encounter, or that simply come to mind quickly. The last is because use of a particular metric is the status quo: it’s either what you’ve been doing or what you know everyone else does.
In order for a metric to be valuable, it needs to be predictive (there is a causal relationship; a change in A causes change in B) and persistent (the causal relationship is reliably repetitive over time). In marketing, you often will not have troves of various companys’ data to sift through; you merely have your own company’s data. You may be able to use historical data to determine if a metric is persistently predictive of the desired outcome, but for young companies or those who have not been measuring marketing metrics, there may not be enough data to reliably determine which metric is the best to use. Even then, however, you can still take steps to ensure you use the right metrics.
First, you need to specify what your goals are. What are you trying to change? In marketing, this may be sales, it may be leads, etc. Secondly, using either past data or, barring the availability of sufficient data, a subjective best guess, create a theory of what metric(s) will drive the desired change. Third, identify the specific activities that you can undertake to improve your metric in order to create that desired change. Lastly, evaluate your decision. Did the metric perform as expected? Was it both predictive and persistent? Were you able to control (read: “improve”) it by undertaking specific actions?
In order to reliably improve marketing performance, you first need to know what to improve. By using metrics that are predictive and persistent, you’ll be able to set a clear path to achieving your marketing objectives.
I did a small study earlier this week to compare prices across six major US life science distributors (you can read about it here). Because of that, I had occasion to go through those companies’ websites and look for products. All of these companies are, by industry standards, fairly large companies, and all of them sell online. For some of them, online sales is a very significant portion of their revenues. I would bet that for most it’s their fastest growing sales channel. Yet most had glaring problems in their website. One had search results that blinded the user with bright yellow highlighted terms all over the page. Another had a high percentage of products that were not identified by their model number. Yet another had an annoyingly persistent “featured product” box that showed up front and center in the search results but never had anything in it. There was a search that seemingly only used “OR” logic for every word in the term – the more terms you added, the less relevant the results became.
These are glaring errors that hurt user experience, and they could be easily identified if these companies did user testing. This is an important point, as anything that takes away from the experience of using your website decreases your competitiveness by driving users away from your website (and likely to your competitors websites).
For those who may not be familiar with it, user testing involves someone who is within your target demographic and recording their interaction with their website. You usually give them a generic task to perform on your site and they speak their thoughts as they perform the task. The output comprises a series of screencasts with voice recordings which are then analyzed to find problems with the user experience or more generally find things that users like and don’t like (there are other techniques and tools that can enhance the output as well).
User testing is very common in many markets, but seems to be relatively uncommon in the life sciences. That may, in no small part, be due to the inherent difficulty in getting a group of scientists to sit down and do a user test, but we find that to be more of an excuse than a reason. User testing may simply not be in the culture of life science marketing, contrasted to it being fairly prevalent in B2C markets. Whatever the reason that it isn’t used, there is no good reason that it shouldn’t be used.
Anything that adversely affects user experience will have a negative impact on the purpose of the website – be it lead generation, sales, or simply progressing users through the purchasing funnel. User testing, especially in conjunction with website analytics, can be a powerful tool to improve user experience and the overall performance of your life science company’s website.