A little while ago we discussed the importance of adopting the scientist-customer’s perspective in your marketing to create communications that have a customer-centric viewpoint – showing an understanding of their wants and needs and offering a solution – rather than creating product-centric (or service-centric) communications. Having spoken to a number of companies about this point, I see a misunderstanding that commonly arises and it merits further discussion.
When bringing up this topic, the common response from a company’s marketers or executives is “But we already are thinking about our customers and their needs!” Simply thinking about the customer is still not optimal, however. Marketers should consider the needs of the scientists from the perspective of the scientists. You need to think like the customer! When you truly adopt their perspective you will be able to create communications that convey value in a manner that is sync with their own thought processes. In other words, you’ll be able to eliminate the gray area between their needs and your product / service. You will be able to clearly demonstrate value in a way that is meaningful to the customer rather than leaving them to “connect the dots” and try to understand the value proposition on their own. (A beneficial side effect of this approach is the ability to create better user experiences based on understandings of the mindset of the target scientists.)
It should be noted that your ability to adopt the scientists perspective will be limited by your understanding of the customer, so it is critical to speak directly with the customers to get a feel for their opinions and their mindset. Quantitative market research data can help, but speaking with your target market provides many more insights and allows you to better get a feel for scientist sentiment.
By truly understanding life scientists, and adopting their perspective when crafting marketing messages, you can create marketing communications that are more effective from the start.
One of the most timeless lessons in the art of persuasive communication is about 2350 years old and written by Aristotle. Rhetoric, and particularly the second book of Rhetoric contains fundamentals which every life science marketer with a role in marketing communications should understand and adhere to. In this book, Aristotle discusses what he believes to be the three essential elements of persuasion: ethos, logos, and pathos.
Aristotle takes ethos to comprise wisdom, virtue, and good will, however these can more generally be summed up as credibility. The speaker needs to establish credibility before he can successfully be persuasive. Aristotle’s composition of ethos actually breaks down how marketers can do this quite nicely: we can show our wisdom and have the audience therefore trust in our expertise, and we can show virtue and good will and thereby have the audience believe that we genuinely want to help them and put their best interests first. Life science marketers should aim to do both, although the former is generally an easier sell.
Logos is logic, plain and simple. (Etymologically it’s not so simple – its usage by Aristotle means something more akin to “reasoned discourse” – but that’s not really relevant to this conversation). In order for you to be persuasive, reasons Aristotle, you must think logically and effectively communicate your logic to the audience. Logos is probably the easiest and most direct element for science marketers, however understanding what you need to explain and effectively explaining it are two different beasts. Many still fail at the latter.
Pathos is an appeal to emotion. Aristotle claimed that emotions have specific causes and effects and therefore one can understand how to invoke emotion in the audience and utilize that one can effect how they render their judgments. To be optimally effective, you cannot simply reason with your audience, but you must create an emotional connection that will help drive your desired action. This is often the least straightforward element of persuasion as it pertains to marketing. Many marketers do not even attempt to leverage emotion in their communications, but the most powerful messages almost always inspire emotion.
To create more effective marketing communications, utilize Aristotle’s three elements of persuasion: demonstrate credibility, clearly explain the logic behind your perspective, and appeal to the audience’s emotion. By incorporating all three elements you’ll more effectively persuade your audience to adopt your viewpoint.
Previously on this blog, we discussed why a number of commonly-used claims are meaningless (such as “high-quality” “reliable” “improved” and “consistent”) and also how marketers need to validate their marketing messages in order for them to be effective. However, life science marketers continuously cling to these facile attributes and fail to validate their messages. Many marketers who resort to the use of facile attributes want to make compelling, validated claims but fall into that pitfall anyway. In this post, focus on common reasons why facile attributes get used.
Reason 1: Poorly Differentiated Products / Services
It’s hard to make your marketing stand out if your products or services do not. Even if your products could stand out, if you don’t have a defined positioning it can be a difficult an imprecise process to determine what messages and product attributes to highlight. Without such an understanding, marketers often fall to facile claims. If the product really doesn’t have much going for it, this can be the fault of the product rather than the marketer, as vague claims are often the only ones that can be made in such a circumstance. What can be done? If you have not created a positioning statement for your product or service, do so. This will give you a better idea of how your product creates value and will therefore help you elaborate it. If your product really just lacks meaningful differentiation, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate your product line.
Reason 2: Lack of Market Segmentation
Different attributes are often important to different market segments. If your marketing isn’t targeted to distinct groups, or if your product / service tries to be everything to everyone, then marketers often resort to using facile claims as these are the most general and broadly applicable (albeit least effective). What can be done? Cut your market into segments based on application, need, position, etc. – any segmentation that meaningfully effects how they would view your product. Create different marketing messages for each segment. If your product isn’t focused, especially if it is not widely adopted by the market, pick a segment which you can provide superior value to and tailor it to that market first. Use that foothold to expand into ancillary markets.
Reason 3: Marketing Laziness
Sometimes poor marketing is simply the fault of the marketing copywriter. It’s very tempting to fall back to facile attributes. They seem generally appealing (who wouldn’t want a “high quality” product?), do not require much thought, and make the marketer’s job quick and easy. What can be done? Proofread. Look for facile claims and “weasel words”. If you find them, think about how you can be more specific in order to make a more compelling claim.
Reason 4: Lack of Marketing “Ammunition”
It’s difficult to make specific, compelling claims if you don’t have anything to validate your messages with. How can you show that your product yields 40% more protein in 25% less time if you don’t have any data to show for it. How can you reasonably say that you offer the most mouse models of disease of any CRO if you’re not willing or able to discuss the lines? If you’re going to make meaningful, validated claims you need something to validate them with! What can be done? Work with your application scientists, talk to your customers, ask product development to do some testing, or get data any way you can. In addition to hard data, gather testimonials, form case studies, or gather customer feedback however possible. Other types of validation may be optimal depending on the product or service and the situation or claim being made, so determine what “marketing ammunition” you need on a case-by-case basis. In certain situations the gathering of marketing ammunition may seem very difficult, such as when marketing a new service, but rise to the challenge and get creative to validate your messages. If you’re a life science marketer, that’s part of your job.
In order to convey value beyond that of your competitors, your marketing messages need to be differentiated. If you find yourself making non-specific, general claims, figure out the reason why you’re doing so and you’ll be well on your way to fixing the problem and creating compelling, meaningful messages.
In most life science companies, marketing and product development work in somewhat close contact. Marketing (as well as sales) frequently relay customer needs to product development and help them to understand those needs and adopt a customer perspective. When it comes to their own craft, however, life science marketers often fail to follow their own advice and adopt that critical customer perspective. Instead, marketers tell the tale of their products, focusing on why the product is great rather than how it fulfills a need.
A while ago, we posted about the end of solution sales; how customers typically will be 60% of the way to completing their purchasing decision before ever contacting a supplier. This means that solution sales are becoming less effective. At 60% of the way through the buying journey, customers know what their problem is, what their needs are, and already have (at least superficially) evaluated a number of options. A sales rep who tries to work through all that all over again with the customer is wasting their time. However, earlier in the decision cycle the customer is far less certain about the nature of their need. In these early stages, customers generally seek information from colleagues or the internet (an unpublished BioBM study showed about 45% of scientists turn to colleagues first when considering a product and about the same number perform an internet search first). Marketers therefore need to engage in a sort of “solution marketing”, helping the customer to frame their own problem and needs and, in the process, showing how their products or services can fulfill those. Simply discussing your product’s technology, features, and benefits does not adequately do that job. Instead, marketers need to take on the perspective of the customer and frame their products and services around their needs.
To help guide you in creating customer-centric communications, ask yourself these questions:
• Does this communication ever address the customer? (with second-person language – “you” “your”)
• Did we clearly address the needs of the customer? Would our statement of this need still be valid if removed from the context of our product / service?
• What do we define first? The product / service or the customer’s problem that we are trying to solve?
• Did we clearly state how our product / service solves the problem? Do we offer specific solutions or simply general ones?
Product-centric marketing leaves a disconnect. The customer has a need, and the product provides a solution, but the customer is left on their own to decipher how (and how well) the product would meet their needs. Customer-centric marketing does that math for them by framing your product or service from the perspective of how it provides value and fills their needs. By adopting the viewpoint of the customer and creating customer-centric marketing communications, life science marketers can generate more demand.
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:
Last week, I discussed the importance of positioning statements in crafting and delivering marketing messages. Today I’ll discuss a similar topic: making your life science marketing more effective by keeping your marketing messages simple. First, let me explain what I mean by “simple”.
Having a simple marketing message does not necessarily mean that it should be short, that it should contain only a small amount of information, or that you should stay away from technical information, data, or other things that may by some definitions seem “complex”. Instead, a simple marketing message is one that focuses on the customers needs, your products core claims to value, and little else. It is a message that isn’t diluted with a long list of relatively unimportant attributes that detract from your core message.
It may not be immediately clear how this is related to the positioning statement. The positioning statement should be rooted the customer need that your product or service is solving as well as how yours is differentiated from other offerings. It is concise and to the point. If this is the starting point for all of your marketing messages, then you will be starting with a message that is highly targeted and focused on the key value proposition. From that point, all you have to do is resist diluting your message.
This isn’t to say that you should only ever focus on one single value proposition. Indeed, different attributes may have different perceived value to different customers and there also may be two or more value propositions that are almost equally important to a large segment of your audience. However, the focus of the message should be on the most important value propositions and put the others on the back burner. To do this, life science marketers need to have a very clear understanding of how their product or service creates value. Without such an understanding, there will be the temptation to propose value in as many ways possible, which in turn dilutes the value propositions that create the most value.
Life science tools and services create value for their customers in a wide variety of ways. Chances are, however, that a select few of those value drivers are by far the most important to your customers. By focusing marketing messages on those key value-creating attributes. life science marketers can more effectively generate demand for their products. Using a positioning statement as the basis for your marketing messages helps to achieve this.
Over the 2+ years that BioBM has now been in business, we’ve had the pleasure of working with a wonderful diversity of life science tools companies and contract research organizations. One thing that we’ve been consistently surprised about is how many small life science companies lack positioning statements for their product lines and services. Positioning statements should be central parts of any marketing strategy. Even for the more pragmatic life science marketers who may eschew strategies for every product line, positioning statements should still be central to their marketing. They not only help form the basis of marketing messages, but ensure consistency in the message. Without them, marketing messages often degrade into uncompelling feature / benefit statements.
Such that life science marketers can more effectively create positioning statements, we’re going to give a quick lesson and offer some tips to help make the statement more powerful and help marketers avoid common pitfalls.
How a Position is Stated:
I’ll use a close approximation of Geoffrey Moore’s version from his book Crossing the Chasm (a great read, by the way): For [target customer] who [statement of need], the [product name] is a [product offering] that [statement of key benefit]. Unlike [primary competitive alternative], our product [statement of primary differentiation]. As you notice, there are a number of “variables” in this.
The target customer should be defined specifically. Keep in mind the target customer is NOT a market. “The pharmaceutical industry” or “environmental labs” are not customers. People are your customers. People make purchasing decisions, and you should state what people you need to speak to. There should be at least one noun that represents people (for example: “scientists,” “lab managers,” “analytical chemists,” etc.)
The statement of need cuts through your target customer to get to your customer segment. Of your target customers, what need will identify which will see value in your product? Ensure that you’re realistic. No matter what the situation, you will never achieve 100% market share so don’t pretend that you will. If you define the need too broadly, your targeting will be weak, leading to your messages not reaching the right people (and not being as effective when they do) and therefore decreasing the efficiency of your marketing communications.
The product offering should be a factual description of your product. There’s no place for terms like “revolutionary” or “breakthrough” in your product description. If you have fluff here, you’ll end up with fluff in your marketing messages, so be honest, be specific, and avoid exaggeration and hyperbole.
The statement of key benefit addresses how your product meets the aforementioned need of your customers. This statement should be specific and factual. Descriptors like “best” “reliable” or “high quality” should not be used. Also, benefits and specifications are not always interchangeable. If you use a specification or feature in your statement of key benefit, be sure to ask yourself if the benefit that feature / spec conveys would be obvious from the perspective of your audience. Furthermore, the focus should be on the single most valuable benefit; this is not a laundry list. Choosing one benefit is often not simple, but you either need to make the tough decision or reconcile multiple benefits in order to present them as one unified benefit. Lastly, note that the key benefit does not have to be your primary differentiator. That comes later.
The primary competitive alternative is not necessarily another product or service (although it often is). You want to address how most of your audience with your stated need are currently fulfilling it.
The statement of primary differentiation should summarize how your product or service provides value in ways that no other competitor can claim. It may be related to your statement of key benefit, but does not have to be. Remember: the key benefit is what provides the greatest value to the customer. The primary differentiators are what distinguishes you from other competitors. (Side note: the best differentiator should be determined by market analysis.)
A strong positioning statement is something that life science marketers can and should refer to in order to develop messages that are consistent and on target. To keep your marketing focused and ensure you target the most opportune audiences, have a positioning statement for all your product lines and service categories.
Let’s face it: all companies love free publicity. However, many life science tools companies, especially small companies, don’t take full advantage of industry press. It’s certainly not for lack of news. Life science tools companies are constantly developing new products, expanding distribution networks, collaborating with academia, getting grants, and doing lots of other potentially newsworthy activities. They simply do not do a great job of disseminating their news. One very helpful step in getting your company news picked up is setting up a meaningful RSS feed.
Simply publishing your company news on your website is not sufficient to ensure it gets distributed. It is not realistic to assume that relevant members of industry media will routinely check your website for updates. Even if you are publishing your press releases through major PR outlets, such as PR Newswire, your releases may not be easily found by more focused industry press. In contrast, an RSS feed allows your news to easily be delivered to industry news media.
Simply having an RSS feed isn’t enough, though. You need to treat journalists as if they will be customers of your news content. After all, they will have many different sources of news competing for their attention. You therefore need to ensure that your feed is of high value to them. Your feed needs to be interesting and relevant. As a litmus test for any particular piece of news, try to think from the perspective of a general member of your industry and / or target market. Landed a big customer recently? It might be important to your company and maybe your investors, but the industry in general probably doesn’t care much. There are many other such examples.
Everybody loves free press, and for good reason. Spreading the accomplishments of your company can build your reputation and brand. It can raise awareness within your target markets. It can help attract investment. It can even have a very positive effect on SEO. To ensure that your company gets the most free publicity possible, ensure that you have a company news feed that is relevant, interesting, and easily disseminated to members of industry news media via RSS.
Many of you reading this may be familiar with BioBM, but for those who are not: the best one or two phrase description of what we do would be “marketing for small life science tools companies“. That being the case, we run into a lot of problems that are more common to smaller companies or start ups. For example, one of the more common issues that we run into is an improper marketing focus. A product is developed, and the manufacturer rushes to pull the advertising trigger before sitting down and thinking about the message or the audience. They focus on the channel rather than content and on their product rather than the users. They confuse an advertising plan for a marketing strategy.
When a product launch is on the horizon, the first question that needs to be asked with regards to marketing is “How?” The answer cannot be some combination of in journal X, website Y, search engine Z, and by emailing a bunch of people who really don’t want you to email them. That’s not “how”, that’s “where”. More specifically, the question that needs to be asked is: “How will we be able to persuade scientists that our product provides a superior value than alternatives?” That is the most basic question that marketing needs to ask. From that perspective, the answer “by advertising in journal X” seems both insufficient and a bit silly.
An advertising plan is not a marketing strategy. Before any life science tools company thinks about channels, it needs to address that most fundamental marketing question and, with consideration of the product or service, its competition, the behavior of the target market, and many other factors, consider the messages and content that will need to be delivered. (Side note: the positioning should have been determined long before this point.) Only then can the company start to think about how their marketing content should me delivered and how to draw people to it.