Life science companies, and indeed companies in many industries, often get caught up in thinking about their products or services in terms of their features and benefits. Customers are often grouped by demographics. This type of thinking, however, often doesn’t lead to the best solutions for your customers needs.
There is a common saying that circulates among business and marketing aficionados (that I believe originated from a Harvard business professor) that no one wants a quarter inch drill – they want a quarter inch hole. If there was a tool to perform the task of making a quarter inch hole that was better suited to the job than a quarter inch drill, people would use it. Despite that, most companies selling drills focus their marketing on the drill, not the holes that the drill produces. When not focusing on the tool, many marketers focus on the customer or the market – trying to segment them into demographic baskets based on any of a wide number of criteria.
What doesn’t get the necessary amount of focus is the job that needs to be done. While life science companies actually do a better job of this than companies in many other industries, many life science marketers still lose sight of the purpose of the tool. No scientist has an inherent need for a thermal cycler. What the scientist needs is more copies of a genetic sequence. The thermal cycler manufacturer that will be positioned to have the highest ROI is the one that understands that and focuses on the job that needs to be done – amplification of DNA.
I won’t spend any more time on this topic because I don’t believe there is an epidemic lack of focus on the jobs that life science tools are meant to perform. However, there are many exceptions, and there have been many instances when a life science marketer or an entire company lost focus on the job that needed to be done and placed a highly disproportionate amount of focus on the product or the customer. Be sure you’re not the one that loses focus. Ask yourself on occasion what the jobs are that your products and services are being “hired” to perform. If you don’t have a solid answer, or if you’re not basing decisions on that answer, then it may be time to refocus.
I’ve heard a lot of talk among certain groups of life science marketers recently along the lines of rethinking who the scientist really is. Specifically, that scientists are complex people just like anyone else, and that marketers who try to target them need to realize and embrace that (as if anyone thought that they were really just single-minded laboratory robots). I think this conversation is going far enough to risk derailing the necessary relevance of life science marketing.
A lot of this conversation is based around scientist-led efforts to redefine who scientists are. For example, the “This Is What A Scientist Looks Like” tumblr blog, or the ongoing #IAmScience movement that culminated in this video.
Of course scientists are more than just lab robots, but being scientists and pursuing scientific endeavors is the commonality that binds them together into a group of like interests and traits. There is a large difference between understanding your scientific audience and attempting to appeal to them as something other than scientists. If you put aside the scientific ties that bind them, you now have a giant undefinable group of wildly varying anybodies, and that’s not targetable.
The fact is we’re not selling them solutions for outside the lab. We’re selling them solutions for the lab. An analogous example: Xerox doesn’t portray people doing extracurricular activities outside the office because that’s not what they sell solutions for. They find innovative ways of portraying the problems of office life, such as accountants asking the Michelin Man to crunch numbers for accounts receivable while he throws tires are a giant gas station fuel dispenser monster. Xerox isn’t trying to redefine their audience, they’re trying to find innovative ways of portraying the problems they solve.
You don’t have to sacrifice relevance to gain appeal, and if you try to do so you will ultimately fail.
Consider this: the life science advertising market is similar in functionality to a stock market or the market for any good or service. People want to maximize the return on their investment. In a perfect market, the ROI of all channels would become equal because those that provided a higher ROI initially would become more expensive and / or more crowded until the ROI dropped, and those providing a lower ROI would lose advertisers and the demand would decrease, thereby lowering prices and competition through that channel and increasing its ROI. In reality that’s not the case. A lot of life science marketers have a tendency to turn to “traditional channels” for ad placement and marketing communications. Even those who consider a broader spectrum of possible channels than those considered “traditional” often limit themselves. This creates an imperfect market, and imperfect markets create opportunity.
How can you take advantage of this imperfect market? Consider marketing where others aren’t.
One approach: Look for the channels that may be underutilized. For example, Quertle, a semantic search engine for scientific journals, was offering a $1 CPC ad rate a while ago. If expected traffic quality was poor this wouldn’t be a big deal, but the opportunity for targeting on Quertle is fantastic. Imagine how many life science tools companies were likely throwing money into Google AdWords haphazardly when they could have received equally good traffic for $1 per click! The imbalance caused by underutilization is most almost entirely due to life science marketers’ lacking sufficient information on all the channels available to them.
Another approach: Look for the marketing methods that may be underutilized. We recently discussed the apparent underutilization of cause marketing. There are certainly other methods for marketing communications that may be useful but are underutilized – guerrilla marketing is likely another such example. There are certainly others, and they create a similar opportunity to increase your life science marketing ROI. In the case of underutilized marketing methods, the imbalance is most often caused by a lack of creativity or aversion to risk.
By marketing where others aren’t, you can decrease the cost of your life science advertising while increasing visibility, thereby greatly increasing your ROI. Look for the opportunities that underutilized channels and methods present, and consider whether they would be effective tools to reach your audience.
UPDATE: Between when this post was written and when it’s being posted, another great example of leveraging an under-utilized marketing medium appeared. Ion Torrent went and built a mobile lab on a bus and they’ll be driving it around to major research centers and conferences. You can see it on their YouTube channel.
An article in the Journal of Consumer Research, recently discussed in the Harvard Business Review, found that while brands have priming effects slogans often have reverse priming effects. In other words, brands often influence consumers as intended but slogans often cause the opposite effect.
Quoting the HBR article…
[pullquote_left]After participants were exposed to brands associated with luxury (such as Tiffany and Neiman Marcus), they decided to spend 26% more, on average, than after they were exposed to neutral brands (such as Publix and Dillard’s). After they were exposed to brands associated with saving money (such as Dollar Store and Kmart), they decided to spend 37% less than after they were exposed to neutral brands. The brands had the intended “priming” effect.[/pullquote_left]
[pullquote_right]But when it came to slogans, the same participants exhibited the opposite of the desired behavior. After reading a slogan meant to incite spending (“Luxury, you deserve it”), they decided to spend 26% less than after reading a neutral slogan (“Time is what you make of it”). When a slogan invited them to save (“Dress for less”), they decided to spend—an additional 29%, on average. The slogans had a “reverse priming” effect.[/pullquote_right]
The research suggests that this is a result of behavioral resistance to perceived attempts at persuasion. While consumers do not view brands as an attempt to persuade, slogans are viewed as an attempt to persuade and therefore exert the opposite effect. This effect, which was measured in general consumers, is most likely heightened amongst a highly rational and critical scientific audience.
Quick note to our readers: do NOT take this result as an indication that you should use reverse psychology in your slogan. Simply be careful in selecting what your slogan will be and don’t be afraid to get creative.
Why do scientists buy any given laboratory products? How do they make their purchasing decisions? That’s the magic question that all of us seek to answer. While there is no one answer, and what answers we can attribute are dynamic, there is something that holds true. To sell life science tools and other lab products, there needs to be value, and this value can come from many places, such as:
- Quality – value that comes from the product itself. The product may be more reliable, easier to use, technically superior to other products, etc. Scientists almost always desire reliable products that work on the first try and product consistent results. Building a great product is a big piece of the value equation.
- Service & Support – value that comes from your company. This is an ongoing effort to make sure your customers have everything they need to successfully use your product. For best results, your support to the customer should not only be reactive, but should include proactive support as well, especially to customers who are using a particular product or product line for the first time. While perhaps not as important as the quality of the product itself, this is another highly important piece of the value equation for laboratory tools. In a study performed by BioBM, over 60% of scientists reported having refused to order a laboratory product because of a previous experience with the manufacturer or distributor selling it.
- Marketing – perceived value created in the minds of scientists. The thing about value is that it either has to be experienced or communicated in order to be effective. Marketing is the communicator of that value, and how well you communicate that value will directly effect the perceived value of your products, especially for customers that have never used your products or dealt with your company before. If you haven’t communicated your product’s value, or if someone else hasn’t communicated it for you, scientists won’t recognize the value and therefore won’t buy your product.
If you fall short in one area of value creation, you can sometimes make up for it in another. For example, an imperfect product may be perfectly acceptable to a scientist so long as it is well-supported. Even if your product and support aren’t top-notch, but you make a compelling value proposition in your marketing and communicate it to a wide audience, your value will be understood and you’ll still get sales. (Note that the previous statements referring to lower value products be interpreted as lower value relative to similar products and not in absolute terms. Truly negative impressions of quality or support are difficult to overcome and you cannot be successful long-term if a high percentage of your customers are not satisfied.) The total perceived value is then weighed against the price and the customer’s price sensitivity when making the final purchasing decision.
Value comes from many places, and overall value is ultimately the driver of purchasing decisions made by life scientists. Understanding how to create and communicate value will make your laboratory research products, and your company, more successful.