High-performance life science marketing
Transforming your marketing efforts into the high-performance realm isn’t exceptionally difficult, but it does require commitment. Ten commitments, in fact. In this issue, I outline the ten commitments you must make to shift your life science marketing into high gear. There are many benefits of doing so, including the following.
High-performance life science marketing is magnetic. It draws our audiences to us and so reduces the need for cold calling. Prospects will search us out and engage with us voluntarily, rather than us having to chase them. High-performance marketing gives us broader reach for our messages.
High-performance life science marketing improves our marketing effectiveness by improving the consistency of our messages. With consistent messages, our audiences will be less confused, so our marketing budget goes farther.High-performance life science marketing brings many benefits, including attracting audiences, improving message consistency, improving the balance between sales and marketing, and most importantly, generating pricing power.
High-performance life science marketing brings internal balance, with our sales and marketing departments working together and sharing the load equally. Marketing will find and nurture prospects, and sales will close them by guiding these prospects through the final stage of the buying process.
And most importantly, high-performance life science marketing generates pricing power – the ability to command a premium price.
How do we create high-performance life science marketing? There are ten commitments we can make that, if upheld, will address the major flaws in marketing – the flaws that keep our marketing from being high-performance.
The Ten Commitments
There are ten commitments you can make that will help your life science marketing efforts become “high-performance.” Make these commitments and join the movement to wipe low-performance marketing off of the face of the earth.
Here are the ten commitments we must make to create high-performance life science marketing. Some of these commitments are simple, requiring a one-time effort. Some are more complex, requiring on-going efforts. I’ll summarize the ten commitments here, and then expand on each of them later in this issue.
Commitment #1: We will stop abdicating.
By refusing to make the hard choices and create meaningful differentiation from our competition, too many life science marketers have abdicated responsibility.
Commitment #2: We will be fascinated.
The research is clear; the buying process is not a strictly rational process, even for scientists. To prosper, we must become fascinated by our target audiences, tracking and understanding their behavior and motivators.
Commitment #3: We will distance ourselves.
We must distance our offering from our competition, or we’ll encourage our audience to buy on price alone. We must create this distance by drawing meaningful distinction – by creating differentiation that our audiences find unique, important, believable and compelling.
Commitment #4: We will have the courage to say “no!”
We can’t be all things to all prospects. If our position is broadly defined, it’s just too easy for our prospects to find (cheaper) alternatives. To be perfect for some, we have to have to courage to say “no” to being “one size fits all.”
Commitment #5: We will be clear.
Scientific training encourages a deep understanding of a very specific subject with a focus on the details. But focusing on the details is seldom the most compelling way to tell a story. Compelling engagement must start with the context – and the clarity – of the big picture.
Commitment #6: We will be boring.
High-performance life science marketing comes from a commitment to communicate our brand/story consistently across each and every touchpoint. So we must be interesting with our content. But we must be repetitive, unwavering, even boring in our consistency.
Commitment #7: We will stop selling.
To attract buyers, we have to catch their attention by offering something of value to our audiences: valuable thought leadership and unique insight. This is called content marketing and it requires shifts in our attitudes and behaviors. To begin, we must shift from a focus of sales and persuasion to one of information and education.
Commitment #8: We will align.
In the age of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, every employee is an “ambassador” for our organization, so we must ensure that our employees understand our brand/story. We must broaden our focus beyond external audiences to include internal audiences, and ensure that we have alignment between the two.
Commitment #9: We will climb.
Many organizations rely on only a few rungs of the ladder of lead generation. High-performance marketing comes from diversifying our emphasis across a wide array of marketing tactics – that is, making use of the entire ladder of lead generation. Since most organizations naturally start at the bottom, we must climb the ladder over time.
Commitment #10: We will lead.
Marketing tactics are constantly changing, and the pace of change is increasing. So marketing must embrace the new and lead the way into the future or risk being left behind. As we embrace the new, we must recognize that new techniques and new attitudes are not enough. We must not neglect the fundamentals in our drive to increase audience engagement and provide market qualified leads to the sales team. We must lead, or we will be reduced to insignificance.
Let’s look at each of these commitments in detail.
Commitment #1 We will stop abdicating.Many life science marketing functions have abdicated their responsibility, leaving a void that the sales function is being forced to fill.
In too many life science companies, the marketing function has abdicated their responsibility. They’re not sitting around with their feet up; there’s often lots of activity. But activity by itself isn’t a measure of anything except calories expended. There can be activity without someone taking responsibility to do the right thing, to play the role that the team needs, to work tightly with the sales force, and to push the business towards its goals.
In the cases I’m speaking of, the marketing function hasn’t done the investigative work necessary to understand what their audiences find important, believable and motivating. They haven’t done the work to define sharp and clear differences between themselves and the competition. They haven’t done the work to develop messages that articulate these differences succinctly and compellingly. They haven’t done the work to express these messages across all touchpoints consistently. They haven’t done the work to develop and share the team’s expertise with their audiences freely and often. They haven’t done the work to ensure that internal audiences get the same messages as external audiences.
This behavior is indicative that, in some cases, life science marketers have walked away from our true responsibilities. This is irresponsible and negligent. Because without the work that’s mentioned above, there’s not much of a marketing foundation to build upon – in fact, all that’s left is a vacuum. Just as nature abhors a vacuum; so does a commercial ecosystem. When low-performance marketing creates a vacuum, something will rush in to fill it. What will this be? Here is what will fill the vacuum (in order from the least likely to the most likely):
When the life science marketing function abdicates our responsibilities, the press will fill the vacuum. Without a strong story about value, the press tends to focus on financial and operational negatives. After all, they want to attract eyeballs, and nothing draws onlookers like a train wreck.
When the life science marketing function abdicates our responsibilities, our competitors will fill the vacuum. They’re more than happy to focus on all our faults, like how difficult it is to work with us, or the flaws in our products and services. They won’t be saying this directly to us, but they may be saying it to our prospects. So we won’t hear about it, which means we won’t even know that we need to contradict it.
When the life science marketing function abdicates our responsibilities, our prospects will fill the vacuum. The human brain is hardwired to attempt to understand and to categorize. Our prospects want to know: “What do you stand for?” which is another way of asking, “How can I classify you (so I don’t have to think too hard any time I run across one of your messages)?” If we don’t tell them what we stand for, our prospects will classify us based on whatever they know. If they don’t know much, that won’t matter, they’ll classify us anyway. If what they know about us is incorrect, that won’t matter, they’ll classify us anyway. And here’s the thing, once they classify us, they’re very reluctant to re-classify us. It takes a lot more effort to get them to reclassify us than it does to classify us correctly in the first place.
When the life science marketing function abdicates our responsibilities, our salespeople will fill the vacuum. Salespeople without a clearly defined and tested marketing message are forced to “freelance” – to manufacture and then tell each prospect whatever story they can – to try to close the business. The story will vary wildly, depending upon the salesperson and the prospect in question. This is adding insult to injury, because not only does the prospect end up with the wrong image of us, but we’ve paid to embed this image in the prospect’s head.
If the sales function has been forced to step into the vacuum, it’s certainly unfair to the sales force. And this is worse than unfortunate, it’s detrimental to the long-term financial health of the organization. And it’s detrimental to the sales function, which is being forced to take the reins and direct the future of the organization.
Life science organizations that deploy low-performance marketing face unnecessary pressure on the sales force. The marketing function should be providing a clear and consistent message about why our prospects should consider our products and services superior and unique. Without a message that is consistent across the entire organization, every sales person will be making up their own story. But creating clear and compelling communications shouldn’t be the responsibility of sales – not the sales department, and certainly not individual sales people. In contrast, it should be the responsibility of marketing to determine why our offer is better and what benefits our prospects will find the most important, believable and compelling.
Sales should be responsible for delivering a compelling message, not developing it. If our sales department is being forced to develop the message as well as deliver it, we’re handicapping our sales force, insisting that they do the work of the marketing department in addition to their normal duties. The result: we’ll find that our sales results are inconsistent, and highly dependent upon the sales person in question and the individual prospect.
Has the press been filling the vacuum left by our low-performance marketing? Have our competitors been making up stories about our offering? Or do our sales people tell a consistent story about the benefits of buying from us, one that has been developed by our life science marketing department and tested with real customers? If not, our sales department is carrying more responsibility than they should and we’ll be experiencing inconsistent results.
High-performance life science marketing comes from a commitment to live up to marketing’s true responsibilities. We must stop abdicating and start leading.
Commitment #2: We will be fascinated.
High-performance life science marketing rests on a foundation of a deep understanding of how people buy. This understanding springs from a curiosity about our audiences and what they find important, believable and compelling. Many scientifically trained people mistrust marketing. This can be true even in cases where these scientists are in charge of marketing for their life science organizations. They view marketing as little more than an attempt at manipulation, something to which their rational brain has developed “antibodies,” making them immune, even though there is some fascinating, peer-reviewed research that demonstrates that no one is immune to marketing. The perception of immunity makes some who have significant scientific and technical training unwilling to study the fundamentals.
Many scientists – and in fact many marketers – lack an in-depth understanding of how people buy, that is, how prospects traverse the 5 distinct steps in the buying process. Without this, they believe that only rational factors affect buying decisions and they misjudge the importance of the other factors that can make marketing compelling, in particular the different types of support that prospects need at each stage of the buying process. Because the buying process is not a strictly rational process, despite what we might like to think.
And because it’s not strictly rational, it is extremely important to understand our audiences, their motivations and their buying behavior. This is the commitment we must keep if we want to create high-performance life science marketing.
We must understand our audiences, but not just in shallow ways (“We’re targeting the VPs,” or “We need to know their sources of information”) but in deeper and more useful ways, such as buying triggers, the stages of the buying cycle they occupy, and what inspires them.
There are many channels we can use to get up close and personal with our audiences. And there are many useful techniques to gather insight into our audiences’ motivations and buying behavior, such as: quantitative market research, qualitative market research, social media (for example, Twitter and LinkedIn), and persona research (a hot topic lately). Closer to home, web site analytics and marketing automation techniques can reveal deep insights about visitor behavior on our web site.
These techniques don’t have to be extensive (or expensive) to deliver real insight into audience behavior and motivations. They can pay huge dividends, now and in the future. The most important thing to cultivate is a sense of curiosity. We must listen first and speak later. To create high-performance life science marketing, we must commit to understand our audiences. This understanding comes from a sense of fascination.
Commitment #3 We will distance ourselves.
High-performance life science marketing comes from creating meaningful differentiation between ourselves and our competition. We must distance ourselves from our competition, or our audience will see us as similar to our competition, and they’ll be encouraged to buy on price alone. We must create this distance by drawing meaningful distinction between ourselves and our competition – we must create differentiation.
Most life science organizations believe their prospects see them as more unique than they really are. But from a prospect’s point of view, most life organizations look almost indistinguishable, particularly service organizations, such as CROs, CMOs, labs, etc.
Many readers are thinking right now, “Oh, that’s not my problem, my audiences understand what makes us different and better.” But this is a common fallacy, and it’s not hard to check the specifics of your own situation.
To see whether your differentiation has been clearly defined and is clearly understood, try this exercise. Go to the home pages of the web sites of your top three competitors – as well as your own site – and copy the descriptive text (the main paragraphs of “body copy”). Paste all this text into a document and make all of it anonymous by replacing all the company names with something like Company X, Y or Z and eliminating any tag lines. Now print this anonymized document and give it to several of your employees chosen at random. Ask them to identify your description out of the four descriptions given. If your life science marketing is high-performance, the differences you’ve drawn between yourselves and your competitors will be so clear (and will have been shared so clearly with all your employees), that they’ll have no problem recognizing which text comes from your own web site – not because of the tone or style of the text, but because of the uniqueness of the offering, which should leap off the page. If on the other hand, any of your employees are confused about which description describes your offering, I can promise you that your prospects will be even more confused. A confused audience is a sure sign of marketing failure. If you can’t draw distinctions between yourself and “those other guys,” your marketing has failed. If you can’t make those distinctions clear and compelling, your marketing has failed.
Again, many readers are thinking, “Well, of course our employees would know what makes us different and better.” Really? I can’t count the number of times the results of this ten minute exercise has surprised our clients, especially those who were convinced that their life science marketing was high-performance.
Here’s another test: does your website tout any of the following: your “quality,” your belief in “partnership,” or the caliber of your employees? These are sure signs of low-performance marketing; these claims are meaningless distinctions. They fail to meet two of the most important criteria for marketing claims: they are not believable (or perhaps a better way to say it: they are not verifiable before purchase) and they are not unique.
Now, there are other criteria our claims must meet. They must also be clear, authentic, sustainable, important to our audiences, and compelling (motivating). But for the vast majority of marketing in the life sciences, the primary cause for sub-standard performance is failure to make claims that are both believable (verifiable before purchase) and unique.
If our life science marketing claims are not unique, our prospects will have trouble seeing us as truly different from our competitors. They won’t have any reason to buy from us rather than “those other guys.” In other words, they’ll view us and our offering as a commodity. Commodities are always subject to pricing pressure. If our life science marketing fails to draw distinctions between us and our competitors or fails to give our prospects any reason to choose our offering at a higher price, then of course we’re a commodity. And buyers select commodities by finding the lowest price.
To reduce this pricing pressure, we must commit to identify and then promote the uniqueness of our offering – a uniqueness that is verifiable before purchase. To create high-performance life science marketing, we must commit to making the hard choices in order to build our marketing around truly meaningful differentiation.
Commitment #4: We will have the courage to say “no!”High-performance life science marketing comes from the realization that we can’t be all things to all prospects. To be perfect for some, we have to have to courage to say “no” to being “one size fits all.”
We can’t be all things to all people, and this is particularly true in the era of Google, which allows shoppers to find an exact match to their needs, no matter how specialized. To attract our prospects to us, they must see us as unique and tailored to their needs. If our position is broadly defined, it’s just too easy for our prospects to find (cheaper) alternatives. If we are going to be the perfect choice for some, we will have to be the wrong choice for others.
Being the perfect choice for some prospects requires that we narrow our focus. It means saying “no” to being “one size fits all.” Being willing to say “no” is a choice that requires courage and hard work, especially in the life sciences, which is a particularly tough environment in which to create high-performance marketing. There are many reasons for this; one is worth noting here: regulatory constraints.
Regulations can make it difficult to develop high-performance life science marketing, because regulatory scrutiny often results in the uniformity of both work processes and work products across entire sectors. Analytical labs, for example, are expected to provide an end product that must be essentially identical from lab to lab, using similar processes that will pass regulatory scrutiny. So it’s extremely difficult for analytical labs to differentiate themselves based on their work product or work processes. This is true not only for analytical labs, but for most service-oriented companies and many product-oriented companies that face regulatory scrutiny.
So most life science companies default to claiming differences that don’t differentiate, such as quality, partnership, or the caliber of their employees. These claims of difference don’t differentiate because they are not verifiable before purchase. Every firm in the life sciences, if asked, will claim they are devoted to quality, or partnership, or that they have the best employees. But these claims don’t always match reality and our audiences understand this intuitively. They know that some firms will have higher quality than others, or will be better partners, but without actually being a customer they can’t know which firms those are. So they disregard any claim about quality, or dedication to partnership, or service, or the caliber of employees, or any one of a host of other differences that don’t really differentiate.
If we can’t use quality, partnership, service or our outstanding employees to differentiate ourselves, what can we use? This is where the strategic work of life science marketing begins. We must be seen as unique. Yes, identifying a unique position that will meet the seven criteria for high-performance marketing is hard. But without doing that hard work, we have little chance of helping our prospects find us, and an even slimmer chance of making their choice so compelling that they can’t resist choosing us.
Being unique will attract some prospects and repel others. We can’t be all things to all people. Saying “no” to being “one size fits all” might look like we are turning down opportunities. But opportunities for which we are not a good fit should be turned down. If they’re not a good fit, we’ll waste our time in trying to close them, our close rate will be much lower, and if we do close them, we’ll be less profitable and we’ll have more headaches – all because the opportunity is not a good fit. So it’s good to repel these opportunities.
This requires courage, which must be based in the understanding that our prospects can easily find any number of suppliers to consider. To create high-performance life science marketing, we must be courageous enough to say “no” to being “one size fits all.”
Commitment #5: We will be clear.
High-performance life science marketing comes from clarity – answering the right questions, rather than answering every question. The scientific worldview differs significantly from the marketing worldview. Marketers are trained to create compelling engagement, which starts with a focus on the big picture. Scientists are trained to develop deep understanding of a very specific subject – and to answer every question about that subject (which encourages a focus on the details). Each worldview is tailored to solve a specific challenge. Each is useful in its own way, but focusing on the details and answering every question (the scientific worldview) is seldom the most compelling way to tell a story, to convince someone to pay either attention or money (the marketing worldview).
Successful high-performance life science marketing must begin with the context of the big picture, and subsequently supply the details that are necessary to increase engagement with the audience. Those life science marketers that put too much emphasis on the small details miss the opportunity to provide the overall context for their messages and therefore give their audiences the understanding of not only what these differences are, but ,why these differences matter.
Creating a compelling brand/story requires translating our chosen position (which is private) into carefully crafted public facing communications – verbal messages and visual images, colors, etc. Doing this is not a trivial undertaking; it requires skill and training. This translation from position to brand/story – from ideas (strategy) to expression (words, colors, images, etc.) – can be difficult to accomplish and sometimes more difficult to explain, and is therefore one of the most misunderstood processes in all of marketing. This is often seen as the “touchy-feely” aspect of marketing, from which many scientifically trained people recoil.
But avoiding the problem won’t make it disappear. Communicating with our audiences requires a clear brand/story, one that successfully captures the essence of our uniqueness, and articulates this coherently in compelling public-facing language.
High-performance life science marketing requires a commitment to translate our marketing strategy into a clear and compelling brand/story.
Commitment #6 We will be boring.
High-performance life science marketing requires staying on message. Let me repeat: High-performance life science marketing requires staying on message – consistently. If we’ve followed through on the first five commitments, it’s time to be boring. Let me explain. If we’ve followed through on commitment 2, we’ll know what our audience finds important, believable and compelling, so we know our audiences won’t be bored by our subject matter. And if we’ve followed through on commitments 3 and 4, our position will be unique. And if we’ve followed through on commitment 5, then our uniqueness, which our audience finds interesting, believable and compelling, will be articulated clearly, so the language we’re using won’t bore our audiences.
So what should be boring? Our repetitive consistency. Our subject matter should be interesting and believable, and the way we articulate it should be clear and compelling, but our unwavering focus should be described by words like consistent, repetitive, even boring. When our audience members encounter one of our outbound marketing communications, even if they have only been half listening, they should recognize the message (“Oh, I’ve heard that before.”), and recognize the source (“Oh, I know them; they’re always talking about that.”).
Getting our audience to think, “I’ve heard that before” and “I know them; they’re always talking about that” is one of the prerequisites of high-performance life science marketing. Because then they’ve given us some space in their world, and we know they’re hearing us. It’s the best thing in the world for them to think, “I know exactly what they stand for.” That’s called recognition or awareness and we’ll only lead our audiences there if we are consistent, boringly consistent.
Being consistent is the only way to get through to our audiences. Before the internet changed marketing forever, we could just raise the volume to get through to our audiences. Shout louder, run more ads, make the type bigger, or buy a larger trade show booth. But that doesn’t work anymore; our audience can easily find something else they’d rather pay attention to. In fact, they’re searching out interesting stuff to pay attention to and they’re outsourcing most of the drudgery of searching to a search engine, who they’re relying on to point them to the most relevant sources.
If we have one story or one message on our web site, and another in our white papers, and another on our LinkedIn page, we’re just going to confuse the search engines. And if we have one story or one message in our trade show booth, and another in our email blast, and another on our web site and still another in our brochure, we’re just going to confuse our human audiences.
A confused audience won’t know what we stand for. An audience that doesn’t know what e stand for won’t care. And an audience that doesn’t care is an audience that will buy only on price (if they ever find us to consider our offering).
Inconsistency in our touchpoints (those places where our audiences and our outbound communications touch) is one of the most common problems in life science marketing. The fix is simple, but it’s not quick. After all, this problem didn’t appear overnight. It took months – maybe years – to develop our web site, thought leadership, trade show booth, email blasts and brochures. The fix is simple, but it requires an approach tailored to the long haul, requiring discipline and consistency. We must establish standards for our outbound marketing that clarify whether they are “on-brand” or “off-brand.” Outbound marketing that doesn’t meet these “on-brand” standards doesn’t get released. Period.
This is simple in theory and more complex in practice. After all, as we build these outbound communications, we already understand what it is we’re trying to say. Since we understand it, we tend to focus on the details. In addition, we’re easily bored. So it’s easy to succumb to the temptation to change things, to add some spice, to try to improve it. But nothing could be more damaging to our attempts to attract audiences, to begin the conversation, to get them away from the low-price mindset. We’re bored because we’ve seen this before; we know this stuff. But our audiences don’t understand it as well. In fact, they typically don’t understand even the most basic parts. So what’s boring to us is still new to them. To get through and be interesting to them, we must be consistent, which will be boring to us.
High-performance life science marketing comes from a commitment to communicate our brand/story consistently across each and every touchpoint. So we must be interesting in what we say, but be repetitive, unwavering and even boring in our consistency.
Commitment #7 We will stop selling.
High-performance life science marketing comes from shifting our thinking from “what’s in it for me?” to “what’s in it for them?”
As Dan Pink notes so eloquently in his book “To Sell is Human,” the sales environment used to be characterized by caveat emptor: let the buyer beware. The buyer had to be careful because the seller had most of the information. This information asymmetry gave the seller most of the power.
The internet has changed life science marketing (and sales) irrevocably and forever. The seller no longer has all the power, because the seller no longer has a monopoly on information. Information asymmetry has declined, so the sales environment is now characterized by caveat venditor: let the seller beware.
Buyers can now learn almost anything they need to know – from Google and from our previous customers posting reviews on the internet. Comparisons between products, lists of things to avoid, diatribes against one poor customer service incident, and more – all these are available for free. This information – so widely available and so inexpensive – has deprived salespeople and marketers of their positions as gatekeepers. In many cases, shoppers can bypass sales people completely until very late in the process. In fact, Google states: “Our research has shown that…today’s business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57% of the purchase process is complete. That means that for nearly two thirds of the buying process, your customers are out in the ether, forming opinions, learning technical specifications, building requirements lists and narrowing down their options, all on their own, with minimal input from you.”
And there’s more: “So what’s wrong with waiting for customers to come to us? Because by the time they do, they have hardened expectations about what they want out of a supplier – and at that point, your job is to take their order and fill it for the lowest price. They’re learning on their own, and there’s no room to teach them why what they’ve taught themselves is wrong.”
The conclusion that Google draws is very clear: “It’s Marketing’s job to influence the 57% of the sale that occurs mostly on the web, before Sales contact.” (http://www.google.com/think/articles/b2b-digital-evolution.html)
In an information economy where almost all information is free and where shoppers can traverse most of the sales process without contacting our sales department, how are we going to influence that 57% of the sale? How are we going to attract buyers? We must face the hard truth: buyers now have more control then they ever have, so techniques based on leveraging our power, like yelling louder (for example, by running more ads or sending out more email blasts) won’t work. Response rates for these tactics have been declining for years and will continue to decline.
To attract buyers, we have to attract their attention. Since 57% of the sales process happens online, this really means that we need to attract Google’s attention, which means we need to enhance Google’s sense of our relevance – in other words, our “digital reputation.” How do we enhance this reputation? By offering something of value to our audiences: unique insight and thought leadership.
While this is relatively new in marketing circles, scientists invented the way to do this more than three centuries ago: it’s called peer review publishing. It’s helpful to think about peer review publishing as an exchange: scientists give away something of great value to their audience: unique insight and information in the form of experimental methods, results and interpretation. Scientists give this away, that is, it’s completely free (which is unusual in a capitalist society). What does the scientist get in return? They get a wider circle of influence and a better chance of getting funding for their next experiment, in other words, an enhanced reputation. Peer review publishing is a free exchange: thought leadership is exchanged for an enhanced reputation.
The medium that supports this exchange is the ecosystem of peer-reviewed journals. But our audiences only use this ecosystem to search for experimental methods, results and interpretation. When they’re searching for business solutions, they’ll use a different ecosystem: search engines. Within this different ecosystem, the nomenclature is different. What’s known as “peer-review publishing” in scientific circles is called “content marketing” in the marketing world. But regardless of the titles, the exchange works in the same way, and provides similar results. If we want an enhanced reputation and a wider circle of influence, we must give away interesting thought leadership that our audiences find fresh and valuable.
It’s surprising how few life science companies are serious about content marketing. In fact, despite scientists having invented the discipline of content marketing, life science organizations are some of the last to adopt this method of attracting audiences. This slow adoption has its roots in several mistaken beliefs. Two are worth mentioning here: a belief that all purchase decisions are completely rational (they’re not, even for scientists), and a belief that the only acceptable form for thought leadership is a peer reviewed paper (it’s not – in fact, peer reviewed papers are often so narrowly focused that they are very poor attractors of buyers).
Regardless of the reasons, many life science organizations are slow to implement content marketing. This is a problem; content marketing is not just the future of life science marketing, it’s the present. If we’re not implementing a consistent content marketing program right now, we’re in danger of being left behind. It takes time for the attitudes and behaviors that make content marketing successful to permeate an organization. And it takes time for content marketing to build momentum and attract a tribe of interested audience members. Successful content marketing, like much of successful science, demands steady and consistent efforts.
Successful content marketing requires several shifts in our attitudes and our behavior. If we can make these shifts, we will be successful. We will attract a tribe. We will gain trust. We will further distance ourselves from our competition. But to do so, we have to recognize that the world has changed and sales people no longer have all the power. We have to be willing to commit resources to activities that build momentum over time, rather than instantaneously. We have to be willing to create thought leadership that is not focused on sales and persuasion, but on information and education. And this is perhaps the biggest shift of all. High-performance life science marketing comes from shifting our thinking from “what’s in it for me?” to “what’s in it for them?” The information we give away must be valuable – not sales focused but educationally focused. Think of this as distilled education and wisdom.
To succeed in attracting a tribe we must commit to creating and distributing valuable thought leadership. We must be generous. We must stop selling.
Commitment #8 We will align.
High-performance life science marketing comes from aligning internal and external audiences and communications.
Compared with 10 or even 5 years ago, there are now more channels for communication and more voices in the life science marketing conversation. As a result, it is now impossible to control the content of the marketing messages heard by our audiences, both internal and external. With all these voices and all these channels, it is impossible to dictate consistency in our marketing messages, and more important than ever to encourage this same consistency.
It used to be that life science marketing focused exclusively on external messages. Communicating internal messages (that is, communicating with employees) was the responsibility of HR. Today, anyone (an employee or anyone else) can communicate with our prospects in a number of ways, including posting on social media sites. Any customer can mention us in their blog. And all of this is searchable. So there are more channels for prospective customers or prospective employees to get information. And there are more voices filling these channels.
With all these voices and all these channels, it is easy for there to be misalignment, that is, it is easy for internal audiences to be receiving different messages, different emphasis and different focus than external audiences.
Is our organization aligned? That is, is everyone on the same page? We must ask ourselves the following questions. Does our mission and brand/story live across all departments (or only in the marketing and sales department)? Is our organization’s message one thing internally and another thing externally? Do we have an integrated communication plan for both internal and external stakeholders?
The following story is probably apocryphal, but it represents a shared vision inside an organization. John F. Kennedy was touring Cape Canaveral. He ran across a janitor sweeping the floor. President Kennedy asked the man what he was doing and he replied: “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.” Now that’s alignment.
Today an employee’s Facebook page, Twitter feed or YouTube post could help either reinforce or destroy the reputation of our organization. Do our communications build a shared vision? To create high-performance life science marketing, we must align internal and external audiences and messages.
Commitment #9 We will climb.
High-performance life science marketing uses an entire suite of marketing tactics (“touchpoints”) to express and promote our brand/story to our audiences. It is useful to organize these touchpoints into a “ladder of lead generation,” which has four rungs. High-performance life science marketing comes from diversifying our emphasis across a wide array of marketing tactics – climbing the ladder of lead generation.
Activities on the bottom rung are related to sales, such as presentations, cold calls, etc. These bottom-rung activities are direct and quick acting, but their reach is limited. At most, we typically reach fewer than a dozen people at one time. But these activities can be very tailored and customized to the needs of individual audience members.
The next higher rung consists of activities related to paid exposure (aka: traditional marketing) such as our web site, advertising, email blasts, brochures, video, direct mail, etc. Activities on this rung are slower acting than those on the rung below (the sales rung) but they can reach farther, attracting and communicating with a wider array of audience members.
The next higher rung is the newest rung on the ladder of lead generation, the rung of content marketing activities. Content marketing involves developing and giving away our thought leadership (such as white papers, articles, etc) in exchange for an advanced reputation and increased audience trust. These activities represent the newest, and in some ways the most powerful, rung on the ladder of lead generation. Activities on this rung are powerful because this is where our expertise and our unique value is demonstrated to our audiences.
The top rung on the ladder of lead generation is the rung of earned exposure (aka: public relations), such as writing articles for trade journals, being interviewed, authoring a book, etc. Activities on this rung have the highest visibility and the longest reach, though they are the slowest to yield results and are not very tailored to individuals within an audience.
Activities on different rungs have different characteristics. Those at the bottom of the ladder are “high touch, short reach” – that is, extremely customizable to individual audience members, by not able to reach wide audiences – while those at the top are “low touch, long reach,” that is, less customizable, but highly visible. Activities at the bottom generate lower quality inbound leads – that is, leads that are less ready to buy – than those at the top. But activities at the bottom of the ladder typically generate results more quickly than those at the top.
As companies begin their marketing and sales efforts, they typically put their emphasis on the bottom rungs: outbound sales and paid exposure. And this is where many companies remain, with most of their emphasis on sales activities, supported by a web site, some trade shows, an email campaign or two and a few brochures. But high-performance marketing comes from having strong lead generation activities across the entire ladder of lead generation. So if we start out, as many companies do, with strength on the bottom rungs, this means that we must “climb the ladder” over time, spreading our resources across all rungs of our ladder, creating a coherent set of marketing tactics.
For most life science organizations that rely heavily on sales, this means devoting resources to both content marketing and earned exposure. With strength across the entire ladder, we’ll find synergies between rungs. Our sales efforts will be stronger because we’ll have thought leadership to offer. Our email campaigns can build on our webinars; our videos can reference our whitepapers, etc. Without a deliberate attempt to broaden our range of marketing touchpoints, we’ll end up with a lopsided ladder, and a crippled set of lead-generation activities. Given how important it is to have a steady stream of leads feeding into the sales process, high-performance marketers will climb the ladder of lead generation, committing to spreading the load across all potential lead generating activities.
Commitment #10. We will lead.
High-performance life science marketing must lead by embracing the new without abandoning the fundamentals.Pick a timeframe: 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, 5 years, 10 years. During any reasonable time frame we can name, life science marketing has changed and changed significantly. Nothing is more revealing of this change than the tactical aspect of marketing. Tactics like email, browser cookies, social media, content marketing, Twitter, marketing automation – just to name a few – have changed our ability to connect with our audiences. Each gives us a clearer view of our prospects that ever before, one that is often reinforced by views we get from other tactics.
Life science marketing tactics are constantly changing. And the pace of change seems to be increasing, with new technologies being introduced weekly. So high-performance life science marketing must embrace the new. High-performance marketing must lead the way into the future, or risk being left behind.
But the “new” is about more than just the tactics we employ. High-performance marketing requires new attitudes as well as new methodologies. Consider the rise of measurement in marketing and how this has enabled insight into our prospects’ behavior, individually and en masse. Yes, we must adopt new technologies that allow us to measure (such as A-B testing). But we must also adopt new attitudes about measurement itself. After all, comparing A to B is wonderful if both A and B are effective in helping the organization achieve its goals. But if neither A nor B accomplishes this, then what does an A-B test tell us? If both A and B promote messages that don’t really differentiate us from our competition, what have we gained? Nothing of import. So we must understand that measurement is about more than just aggregated demographics (think Google analytics) – measurement is important because of the profiling it supports (think marketing automation), allowing us to understand the “fine texture” of our audiences and their needs and motivations.
So we must lead the charge to adopt these new tactics, but we must also lead the charge to understand when these new tactics are simply a siren’s song, distracting us from the important, larger goals that will propel our organizations forward. The rapid pace of change in life science marketing tactics requires that we understand these differences. Otherwise we risk being overwhelmed by a rising tide of tactics, each newer and offering shinier promises than the last. In the rush to embrace the new, we must not forget the fundamentals.
We must lead by keeping the larger goals in mind. Consider marketing automation, which offers on the surface the ability to automate many of the routine tasks of marketing, allowing (are you ready to count the buzzwords?) the nurturing of prospects through visitor conversion, drip marketing, progressive qualification, retargeting, and lead scoring, among others. But marketing automation is about more than just automation. At its core, marketing automation is about making connections with our audiences in ways that were not possible previously.
High-performance life science marketing must lead by understanding that in enabling these connections, marketing automation enables the marketing function to take its place as an equal partner with sales in driving organizational goals. By enabling marketing to pass market-qualified leads to sales, marketing automation enables marketing to step into true partnership with sales.
This partnership is where we must head, with every ounce of will we have. We must lead, or we will be reduced to insignificance.
If we make these ten commitments, we can change our life science marketing from mediocre performance to high-performance. Our life science marketing will be magnetic, drawing prospects to us and reducing the need for cold calling. Our messages will have a broader reach. Our audiences will be less confused and our budget will go farther. Our products and services will be able to command a premium price. And our life science marketing and sales teams will be better aligned; marketing will find and nurture prospects, and sales will close them by guiding these prospects through the final stage of the buying process.
There are lots of shiny new marketing tactics, but the fundamentals captured in these ten commitments are the surest way to life science marketing success.