What do you REALLY want your life science content marketing to accomplish?
If you could wave a magic “marketing wand,” what would it accomplish?
There are dozens of possible answers, aren’t there? Increase demand, build brand awareness, drive web site traffic, create customer loyalty, motivate sales, drive referrals, stimulate responses to offers, etc., etc.I bet that many of you are wondering, “Just what is content marketing?”
Ultimately all of these share one similarity: they all involve your audience taking some kind of action or changing some sort of belief. To motivate action or change belief, you need the audience first to find you (out of the sea of noise), then to consider you relevant enough to pay attention to you, next to see you as differentiated from your competition, then build trust in you and finally to “raise their hands,” giving you permission to start a dialog with them. This chain of activities is both sequential (the steps get taken in order) and necessary (each step is required).
Executing a sound, focused, content marketing strategy allows you to support your audience in taking all five steps. But I bet that many of you are wondering, “Just what is content marketing?”
What is Content Marketing?
As I mentioned, content marketing is a popular subject. If you Google it, you’ll find no shortage of blogs, newsletters, white papers, podcasts and videos dealing with this hot topic. Content marketing goes by many other names: branded content, custom publishing, branded storytelling, etc.Content marketing is about giving away relevant information for free, using this information to enhance the firm’s reputation and attract an audience.
In the book Get Content, Get Customers, authors Joe Pulizzi and Newt Barrett define content marketing as: “the art of figuring out exactly what your customers need to know, and delivering it to them in a relevant and compelling way.”
That is a pretty broad definition, and subsumes lots of business activities. Many activities in the sales cycle, for example, might fit within this definition. There is an ongoing conversation among marketers about where the commonly understood definition of content marketing will end up. But the core idea is that content marketing is concerned with giving customers information, rather than a sales pitch. Content marketing is about giving away relevant information for free, using this information to enhance the firm’s reputation and attract an audience. This brings us to scientists, who have been practicing a form of content marketing for at least a century.
Content Marketing in Life Science
Here is an example of how content marketing works in the world of science. While the label “content marketing” may be new, I trust you’ll recognize the motivations and actions of the characters in this example.Scientists give their ideas away to be unique (that is, to be the first to publish), and to be noticed, both of which serve to enhance their reputations.
A scientist has an idea and wants to test it by doing an experiment. She writes a grant (if she works in academia) or promotes the idea to upper management (if she works in the corporate world). Based partly on the merits of the idea, and partly on her reputation, she receives funding. Upon conclusion of the experiment, she writes a paper, which is submitted to a journal, the most prestigious one she thinks would be both relevant and willing to publish her paper. Her article is peer reviewed, and ultimately accepted for publication. Audiences find the information by turning to the journal or using a citation index.
Note that the scientist isn’t paid for her ideas; no money changes hands. Why then does she give her ideas away? Simply, she gives her ideas away to be unique (that is, to be the first to publish), and to be noticed, both of which serve to enhance her reputation. When it comes time to submit another idea for funding, she’ll be better off; she’ll have a longer CV of (hopefully groundbreaking) publications. In this way she is able to ‘monetize’ her ideas by using her reputation as an intermediate currency: she trades her ideas for an enhanced reputation, and takes her reputation and cashes part of it in for funding her next experiment or getting her next job.In this way a scientist is able to ‘monetize’ her ideas by using her reputation as an intermediate currency: she trades her ideas for an enhanced reputation, and takes her reputation and cashes part of it in for funding her next experiment or getting her next job.
This is a great example of content marketing, though science uses a different label: “peer-review publishing.” The scientist is giving away information that the audience finds useful and relevant. The audience responds by noticing the information, by paying attention to the source of the information, by seeing the source as differentiated, by trusting her and eventually by “raising their hands” to interact with her (e.g., “Could you please come present your paper at this conference?”).
The benefits of peer-review publishing
It is not only the scientist who benefits from peer-review publishing. Whenever a journal publishes an article, there are many benefits to go around. The journal wins (by offering more relevant content and therefore gaining more readership and more prestige), the audience wins (by getting relevant information from trusted sources – both the scientist and the journal), the scientist wins (she is seen as unique, so her reputation is enhanced and she earns more trust, and she gets noticed) and the field itself – and all of humanity – wins (by the extension of the frontiers of knowledge).
Whenever a journal publishes an article, there are many benefits to go around.
The benefits of content marketing
Content marketing has similar benefits in the corporate arena. Companies that engage in content marketing reap many of the same benefits as our scientist above. They get noticed and are seen as unique, all of which enhances their reputation.
Lets explore this further through the following example: Company XYZ makes diagnostic instruments for hospital laboratories. They’ve been doing this for a couple of decades and so are experts in organizing a lab: deciding what the optimum floor plan should be, structuring the storage of supplies, auditing the current flow of samples and developing an efficient workflow, etc. They normally guard this information closely, providing it only to clients who buy one of their instruments as they help them set up their lab. “We use this knowledge in closing our sales and if we give this information away, then the customer has one less reason to buy from us.”Companies that engage in content marketing get noticed and are seen as unique, all of which enhances their reputation.
This mode of thinking hearkens back to a time when information was expensive and rare; it was typically tough or impossible for a prospect to find information about best practices in lab organization. But information is virtually free now – both easy to find and cheap to obtain. Company XYZ’s prospects can find many, many sources on best practices today. Keeping this information private doesn’t help the prospect, so in the end, it doesn’t help Company XYZ.
Realizing that the information is out there for prospects to find anyway, XYZ’s competitor publishes similar information in a newsletter that they make available on their web site. They also create a video, a podcast and a webinar. They then actively market this material, spreading it through a variety of media channels, such as the web, seminars, print publications, Google, etc. The audience members who are seeking help and information then find this content and are rewarded by getting (for free) engaging information that is both highly relevant and compelling. In exchange for this information, the audience provides their attention, and ultimately, their trust.
Who benefits in this situation? Everyone except XYZ.
The differences between content marketing and peer-review publishing
Content marketing is the hot new trend in life science marketing. But scientists have been pursuing a form of content marketing for decades. Known as peer-review publishing, scientists trade ideas freely given away for an enhanced reputation. There are some key differences between peer-review publishing in science and content marketing in business and these differences have some significant implications for the life science content marketer.There are some key differences between peer-review publishing and life science content marketing, with significant implications.
In the peer-review system, the published paper typically comes from the scientist. In contrast, in content marketing, the published idea can come from anywhere. This means that a life science content marketer has the freedom think more like a publisher than an author, more like a distributor than a creator.
Content marketing does not have a peer-review system. There are a lot of negative opinions about the peer-review system. Some call it a good-old-boy network and others claim that the system doesn’t really prevent fraud. Regardless, my point is this: the peer-review system, as flawed as some might consider it, does constitute a quality review step in the publishing process. Content marketing for business has no such peer-review – no such quality check.
There are two significant implications. First, with no quality check system, it is easier to publish bad content. In fact you don’t have to look very hard to find poor, irrelevant content on the web right now. Thus the second implication: if you want to be relevant and trusted, your content has to be top-notch.If you want to be relevant and trusted, your content has to be top-notch.
Science typically relies on the journal system for distributing ideas. Science uses the journal system as the primary channel of communication, with lectures at conferences and scientific posters as additional – though less frequently used – channels. In contrast, content marketing for business can use multiple channels that are not typically available to scientists, such as YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, etc. The implication is that life science content marketers must pick carefully from among the wide variety of channels those that are most relevant to their audience.Content marketers don’t have to be limited to (or by) the written word alone.
Scientists typically give their ideas away in the form of papers. Content marketers have no such constraints. Videos, podcasts, webinars, etc. are just some of the forms that can be used to “package” the ideas distributed for free. The implication is that content marketers don’t have to be limited to (or by) the written word alone.
Scientists don’t typically have to worry about marketing their ideas. Helping scientific audiences find the relevant information is a task typically handled by the journals or by citation indices. In contrast, marketers have to be much more active in helping the audience find the relevant information. The implication is that life science content marketing must be planned and implemented very carefully if it is to reach the target audience.The content marketer has more choice and therefore more responsibility in authoring relevant information, in publishing this information and in helping their audience find this information.
Publication has long been the driving force in science for getting noticed and being seen as a unique, relevant resource. Publication is becoming a driving force in marketing as well. There are some key differences between peer-review publishing and content marketing, however. There are many implications, the most important of which is that the content marketer has more choice and therefore more responsibility in authoring relevant information, in publishing this information and in helping their audience find this information.
In the next issue, we’ll examine the benefits of content marketing, and examine the attitudes that must change if you want to be successful in planning and executing a focused life science content marketing initiative.