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.
Scientists are very analytical people, in general. This is not surprising and is an easy assumption to make, but many novice life science marketers over-interpret this analytical nature. They presume it to mean that life science marketing should be relatively dry and that it should only provide information. While I admit that life scientists are exceptionally good at sniffing out marketing, and greatly prefer information to gimmicks or catch phrases, that’s not to say that your life science marketing communications need to be boring. What they should do is have an understanding of what is important to your audience and the psychology of your audience. Regardless of the market segment that you are targeting, one thing that you can be reasonably certain of when marketing to any type of scientists is that they will be highly curious and inquisitive, and this is something that you can leverage to your advantage.
The challenge, then is piquing that inquisitiveness. How can you use your audience’s natural scientific curiosity to your advantage? Is your technology interesting or complex? Perhaps you can offer to explain it to them and / or show them how it works. Are you claiming that your company / product / service / technology performs better than that of competitors? Perhaps you can show them why. If your market is extremely niche, or there are a limited number of ways to use a product that you are marketing, you can often draw an even closer link to the underlying science and / or methods, and this close connection with the science can be a powerful draw on scientists desire to learn.
Regardless of the specific technique used, so long as the message stays relevant to the interests of your scientific audience, you can captivate your scientific audience while providing them with information that shows off the benefits of your product or service. The curious scientist will then be much more receptive to further marketing and / or information, is more likely to act, and can be more easily engaged.
Not all forms of life science marketing communications should be presumed to serve the same purpose and looked at in the same manner. Indeed, the audience themselves have a tendency to view various advertising platforms differently, and treat advertising on each platform according to their views of it. There are also technical considerations which make some platforms more suitable for branding and others for lead generation. By understanding the factors which come into play and how each method is likely to be perceived, we can align our life science marketing communications to be in line with our overall marketing strategy.
Generally, there is a large gap between digital and print advertising. Digital advertising is far more capable of easily promoting immediate action by allowing the process from advertisement viewing to lead generation and capture to be wholly smooth and uninterrupted. At no point do prospective customers ever have to get up from their computers. With print, calls to action are effectively asking customers to actively go and do something, be it make a phone call, go to a website, etc, and therefore are less effective for lead generation due to that additional motivational barrier. There are exceptions to this, however, as well as things that can do to augment any particular platform’s effectiveness at each. Print advertising, for example, can be made far more effective at lead generation by offering captivating promotions that provide additional incentive to take up a call to action. Digital advertising can be made more effective for branding through providing higher-value messages, such as in content marketing, and by increasing the quality of the advertisement itself (think along the lines of “production value” for movies). Social media marketing is an example of an exception to the rule. The rules of social media are different from most digital marketing and SMM is far more based around content, engagement, and other activities which are usually not geared towards short-term lead generation. Indeed, life science social media marketing efforts too heavily focused on traditional marketing and / or advertising are doomed to failure.
This understanding of various marketing platforms and their fit for different marketing purposes must then be reflected in the marketing communications across each platform. If we are looking for short-term revenues then we want to target platforms more amenable to lead generation and capture and design our marketing communications appropriately. For example, such marketing communications should have a strong call-to-action and, when possible, be directly actionable themselves (such as by being hyperlinked). If you are looking to improve your branding, then the marketing communication should make a broader, more generally positive sentiment about the company or product line, or provide value to the customer in ways that compliment and highlight a company’s competencies and products / services.
While not a dichotomy, many marketing platforms can be scaled based on their utility for lead generation or branding. By understanding the unique advantages of various marketing platforms, life science companies can better utilize those platforms to achieve their goals.
We have previously discussed how word-of-mouth marketing (also known as referrals) is limited in a life science environment because of the segregation of customer populations. That doesn’t mean that the opinions of your customer can not or should not be used in marketing. In fact, scientists can provide you with some of your best marketing ammunition. Since word-of-mouth marketing is not sufficient to rapidly grow sales, it becomes your job to spread the sentiment of your brand and product “evangelists”, and there are plenty of tools to do so.
The easiest and most simple ways of leveraging positive customer sentiment is through testimonials. This is a two-part process that bridges marketing communications and customer relationship management. First, customer sentiment needs to be obtained and recorded. This can be done manually by visiting, calling or e-mailing your customers or automatically by using a CRM system with e-mail capability (which most have). Side bonus: proactive engagement of your scientist-customers by your support team to see how they like your products and if they have any feedback or issues frequently improves their opinion of your customer service and support. Praise can then be used in testimonials – most useful on your website, in e-mail marketing, and in social media marketing, but sometimes usable in more traditional digital and print advertising. While the influence of unknown scientists will be less than that of known colleagues, properly used testimonials can still go a long way in earning the trust of life scientists. Feel free to get creative with testimonials as well. Audio and video testimonials, while far more difficult to convince users to send (there are techniques to overcome this), will provide a more tangible and humanized testimonial and have a greater impact.
Another way you can “stretch” word-of-mouth marketing is by using highly satisfied customers as references. If a sale is becoming difficult, having the prospective customer speak directly to a satisfied current customer can be a highly valuable process. Referrals also tend to be self-replicating, as those customers who have requested or been put in touch with a referring customer prior to purchase will very often agree to be used as referrals themselves (so long as they are satisfied with the product, of course).
There are other ways of leveraging customer sentiments in marketing, and even ways of leveraging the sentiment of scientists who aren’t yet customers in order to generate high-value marketing materials. Such non-customer scientists are often wholly impartial, and techniques that generate marketing materials from their sentiment can be some of the most high-value marketing material for a life science company.
While the structure of the life science research landscape often prevents the fluid and open communication necessary for word-of-mouth marketing or scientist-to-scientist referrals to be effective as a stand-alone marketing tool, there are plenty of things a company can do to use positive customer sentiment and product / brand evangelists. Such means can provide a significant boost to marketing efforts across many channels, and customer sentiment should be obtained and used in order to realize this improved marketing effectiveness.
I just was on a life science tools company’s website (not a clients’, and the company will remain anonymous) and this company seemed to describe every one of their products as an “industry standard” in the first sentence. This pains me.
Scientists aren’t stupid. Catch phrases like “industry standard” or “market leader” are readily identifiable and dismissed by a generally intelligent and analytically-minded scientific audience. Such statements also don’t provide any of the information that customers are looking for. If your product really is an industry standard or is a market leader, don’t just state it and expect them to take your word for it. Explain it. Say “more researchers use X than any other product for [purpose]”. It’s a stronger, more definitive statement that at least looks like you’re attempting to provide meaningful information. Just stay away from the cheap catch phrases, especially if you can’t back them up.
One of the worst things that you can do in life science marketing is not fully understand why you’re marketing. In other words, each time you publish an advertisement, change content on your website, post an article on twitter, or do anything else related to marketing communications, it should have a purpose and you should know what that purpose is ahead of time. Your message and marketing content should then be designed to successfully fulfill that purpose.
The reason I’m bringing this up is because of the disjoint between intention and execution that I so often see in life science marketing. I’m certainly not one to say what other people are thinking, but it seems that a lot of marketers get caught up in trying to be creative and / or make the marketing materials look pretty, or simply don’t ask themselves the right questions when designing their marketing. Some of the disjoint may also be ascribed to a lack of understanding of scientist behavior (or consumer behavior in general). Marketers often simply fail to think about how the audience will think of something rather than how they want them to think or what they want them to do. They ask themselves “does this contain the message we want to convey?” and forget to ask if the message as its presented will actually be effective. Simply adding a call to action to a marketing message, while a good idea in most situations, neither gives it purpose nor ensures effectiveness.
You should be able to answer: why is this marketing going to be effective? If you don’t have a concrete answer for that question, then you either didn’t care enough (surprisingly common) or you didn’t ask yourself the right questions (more common). If that is the case, ask yourself some of the following questions then revisit any marketing communications in question:
- What is the ultimate goal of this marketing communication? What do we want the customer to do or think?
- What is the message that we are trying to convey? How do we know that is the right message given our target audience?
- What will the customer be doing when they our marketing message? How will that affect their behavior and perception of the message? Given those things, are they likely to be receptive to this message?
- Does this marketing material engage the customer? Will it be compelling to them?
This is a small sampling of potential questions that could be asked to help ensure the execution of your marketing communications are in line with your intentions and will actually be effective. If you find a problem area or have difficulty answering one of these questions, let that lead you deeper to more questions until you have a better understanding of how to match purpose with function and / or have a better understanding of your audience. Retaining the lessons learned from asking these questions will help both current and future marketing campaigns, and the improvement in effectiveness and ROI will be well worth it.
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