Content marketing and peer review publishing

Content marketing is a hot trend in marketing circles. Content marketing allows a company to trade with their audiences; the company provides relevant, compelling information for free, and in exchange the audience helps them develop an enhanced reputation by providing attention and trust.

In the last issue, I drew attention to the similarity between life science content marketing and peer-review publishing. Figure 1 highlights the differences and similarities between the two.

If there are so many similarities between content marketing and peer review publishing, why is content marketing only now becoming a current topic in marketing circles, particularly for life science and medical device companies? After all, peer review publishing has been going on since the mid-1700s, so why is marketing only now tuning in to the power of trading relevant ideas for an enhanced reputation?

Why content marketing and why now?

The core concept that makes content marketing both effective and timely lies in the giant shift away from what Seth Godin[i] calls “interruption marketing,” which relies primarily on intrusive marketing tactics such as ads that seek to gain market share by interrupting the audience’s stream of attention. TV and radio ads are prime examples, but there are many others.

Consumers erected a first line of defense against interruption marketing long ago; they learned to ignore the interruptions to the extent that they could. Technology assisted them by giving them tools such as the mute button to take back control. Marketers responded in two ways worth noting: by developing a more sophisticated understanding of consumer behavior and by creating more intrusive interruptions. The aim of both was to make the interruptions more effective at grabbing attention. They also used technology themselves; for example TV ads are typically louder than the programs they interrupt.

Marketers and consumers have been locked in a battle for control over consumers’ attention.

As a result, marketers and consumers have been locked in a battle for control over consumers’ attention. But the entire battlefield has been undergoing a seismic shift, caused by the increase in both the number of communication channels and in the quantity and types of information available. Now, consumers can avoid interruption marketing tactics almost completely by choosing where and when they focus their attention. This increase in choice has shifted the balance of power towards consumers and away from marketers.

With too much choice consumers feel overwhelmed. They need help in finding and filtering information.

Too much choice can overwhelm life science buyers

Contrary to popular opinion, more choice is not always better. In The Paradox of Choice, Why More is Less, Barry Schwartz[ii] makes the case that too much choice can be just as detrimental to our well-being as too little. With too much choice consumers feel overwhelmed. They need help in finding and filtering information in order to decide what to pay attention to (choosing what information is relevant) and what information to act on (what sources to trust).

A few examples will make this clear: do you need information about contract manufacturing services for making API, flow cytometer performance, best practices in running adaptive clinical trials, or EDC standards? Google these subjects and you’ll be flooded with information. Even within these narrow examples, the choices quickly become overwhelming. This glut of information forces you to ask: “Which sources are relevant? And once I identify relevant sources, what source should I trust?”

An effective content marketing strategy will make it easier for your audience to choose you as a relevant, trusted source. And there are other benefits as well. To examine these, let’s compare the results of  life science content marketing with the results of peer review publishing – which, after all, is a form of content marketing that scientists have been following for more than two centuries.

The results of peer review publishing and content marketing.

Being Found, Differentiated, Relevant and Trusted

As the table above makes clear, there are five important reasons to engage your audience through content marketing: so you can be found (out of the sea of information), so you can be differentiated from your competition, so you can be chosen as a relevant source, and so you can become trusted – all with the goal of engaging with your audience (prospects). As they work through the various stages of the purchasing process, these prospects need information that they consider relevant, and they need it from sources they trust. If they don’t get the information they need from you, they’ll find it from another source. And if they don’t trust you, then they’ll find another source they do trust. So when it comes time to buy, whom will they buy from? The company that will be “first in line” for consideration is the seller that is the most trusted source of relevant information.

These are the important reasons to engage your audience through content marketing: so you can be found, differentiated, relevant, and trusted.

For example, if you were responsible for purchasing flow cytometers, who would you be more likely to trust when it came time to buy a new one, the company whose marketing consists of ads focused on the specific features of their flow cytometer, such as the small sample volumes required, or a competitor that you’ve come to rely on to provide (for free) a comprehensive series of white papers about such subjects as “Ten tips for handling reduced sample volumes in flow cytometry” and “Best practices in flow cytometry laboratories.”?

A focused, well-executed, life science content marketing strategy can help your company be found, be differentiated and be trusted source of relevant information. For an illustration of how this works, we need look no further than thought leaders.

Thought leadership in the life science sector

What is thought leadership? The term “thought leadership” was first coined in 1994. Wikipedia notes that a “thought leader” has come to mean someone who enlivens old processes with new ideas. In colloquial terms, a thought leader is someone who is recognized as a leader in understanding their customers, their business or their field. And thought leadership has come to be defined as the evidence of their unique expertise. The interesting thing about the life science sector is that for a field awash in both supposed and acknowledged experts, thought leadership’s presence is spotty in much of life science marketing.

Look closely, and you’ll see that there are some segments of the bio-science market that provide plenty of evidence of their expertise. Surf the web sites of the top five CROs; you’ll find lots of newsletters, white papers, abstracts of published papers, even videos. Most of this information is not a sales pitch, but useful information, presented in a compelling fashion.

In contrast, take a look at some other segments in the services sector and you’ll find little evidence of any attempt to assist the audience. Core labs are just one example where evidence of thought leadership is spotty, but this segment is not the only one; small CROs typically have little or no thought leadership in evidence. In fact, there is no evidence of any original thought, much less thought leadership. I’m not saying that there is no thought and no expertise within these organizations, just that there is no evidence of this expertise visible in their marketing. And remember, to a prospect looking in from the outside, this perception is their reality.

Life science service providers promoting their services often use their expertise as a “reason to believe” their marketing claims. Yet many of these same service providers offer little evidence of their expertise on their web sites, beyond abbreviated bios of their core management team.

In many segments of the services sector within the life sciences, there is no evidence of any original thought, much less thought leadership.

The benefits of content marketing

Developing and executing a life science content marketing strategy provides lots of advantages, which I have grouped into categories below. The relative importance of each category will vary with your individual situation.

If you execute a focused content marketing strategy:

  1. You get smarter. By focusing on what your prospects need to know, you discover, distill and catalog the expertise that already exists in an unstructured way within your organization. You learn to explain what you know, clearly and compellingly. And by explaining what you know, you come to understand it in a whole new way, because as the proverb says: “When you teach, you learn.” So you shift your attention from being reactionary to being more proactive and strategic; you get better at recognizing, understanding and predicting trends in your sector. You are encouraged to be more explicit about what you believe and take positions that are clearly defined.
  2. Your focus shifts. By concentrating on what prospects need to know, you become less company-centric and more audience-centric. You see your company and your offerings more though the eyes of the audience. This helps you turn down the volume of the sales spiel and engage in more effective dialog. You create a better balance between what you know, and how you communicate.
  3. Your visibility increases. Google and the other search engines rank web sites on many factors, but none is more important than relevancy. Content marketing begins when you clearly identify your audience and provide them relevant, engaging content. When you do this, you get found more easily and more often. Your web site gets better SEO (search engine optimization) results, which generates more traffic and more links to your site. You get noticed by the media and by analysts.
  4. Your differentiation in the eyes of your prospects increases. Publishing evidence of your expertise helps lift you above the mass of “same-old, same-old” competitors. The audience will be able to clearly perceive a significant difference between you and your competition. You will be recognized as more of an expert; your reputation will be enhanced and your brand awareness will increase.
  5. Opinions of you and behaviors towards you change. As it does, the audience will divide – those that are not interested in what you have to offer will walk away (saving you time, money and aggravation) and those that are interested will invite you to begin a dialog. This latter group will trust you more and will be more reassured. All of this will improve your brand image.
  6. Others will start to spread the word. When you have compelling, relevant, informative content, others will share it. As they recommend your content to others, this content will be doing some of your marketing for you.
  7. Your business landscape shifts. The size of your company won’t matter as much, because in many cases experts don’t have to be large to compete effectively. You can be more selective about who you choose to sell to, and engage with.

The caveats

The benefits of content marketing are not free. Here are seven attitudes that need to change if you are going to be successful in life science content marketing.

Focus on your audience. Think like a journalist or documentary filmmaker.

Focus on your audience. Shift your focus from what you’ve been saying in your sales presentations to the information your audience needs to know. Pay attention to them and their needs. Listen carefully to what they say and infer from that what they need. Be relevant. Lose the “sales pitch” mentality and language; do less convincing and more informing. Engage them with a dialog, not a monolog.

Be generous. Give away your expertise and information. Remember that any information you are now so carefully hoarding is in all likelihood available to almost everyone from other sources, almost anytime, almost everywhere. Why save it, when you can trade it for an enhanced reputation and a more authentic dialog with your prospects?

Focus on the long haul. Content marketing is a process, not an event. Just as a scientist builds a career over years, by working on a succession of experiments, so too must marketers build their firm’s reputation over the long haul. You have to be committed to a steady, long-term effort.

Think like a journalist or documentary filmmaker. Focus on telling stories and conveying information in compelling ways.

Behave like a publisher. Your ideas must be promoted. They can be reused and repurposed, and as you start out, no one else will do that for you.

Focus on creating an atmosphere of trust by being trustworthy and honest. Would you say this, in this way, to your very best client, your very best prospect, or your mother?

Put more emphasis on content than on “bling.” Develop relevant content that satisfies the real hunger in the marketplace. Present it clearly, authentically, and compellingly. This will always trump over-produced, over-hyped sales pitches.

Long term, you’ll need to develop the content yourself.

Long term, you’ll need to develop the content yourself. In the short term it is possible to outsource every facet of your life science content marketing program: you can hire an editor to create an editorial calendar, you can hire an SME (subject matter expert) to provide the concepts and content, you can hire a writer or a producer to “package” the content, you can hire someone to distribute and promote the packaged content, you can hire someone to measure the results, and you can hire someone to maintain the dialog with your audience that this content marketing program will initiate. In the long term, however, you will miss an opportunity to get smarter and to establish a meaningful relationship with your audience. I am not claiming that you need to complete every aspect of your life science content marketing initiative by yourself, but content marketing provides the greatest benefits when someone within your organization is the SME and someone within your organization handles the resulting dialog with your audience.

How to start your own life science content marketing initiative

We’ll cover the steps necessary to create and execute a content marketing strategy in the next issue. But for now, here are some questions that will get you started:

  1. Who are my audiences?
  2. What problems do they have? Which of these do my products/services address?
  3. What do they need to know about the solutions I’m offering? What information will be most useful to them?
  4.  Thinking like a journalist, how can I make this information clear and compelling?
  5. What avenues do I already have in place that I could use to promote and to spread this information?

Answer these questions and you are well on your way to creating an effective life science content marketing strategy.


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 life science marketing as well. The benefits are the same; the creator of the information gets noticed and is seen as a unique, relevant resource. A well-executed, focused content marketing strategy is an excellent way to get your audience first to find you, then to see you as a relevant, differentiated source, next to build trust in you and finally to engage with you. Aren’t these the goals of marketing?