Many scientists think they are ‘immune’ to marketing. Even so, companies in the life sciences sectors often resort to standard clichés when it comes to making marketing claims. In many sectors of the life science space companies shout and scream on their web sites and in their brochures – making lots of noise. Unfortunately these efforts are completely ineffective at helping prospects choose their organization. What’s going on?
Why is there so little marketing in life science marketing?
The following are quotes from web sites in a particular life science sector. This language is taken from the home pages of various companies all serving the same (or closely related) sector. The names have been changed to protect the innocent (and the guilty).
Based on such experience and expertise, Company W will provide faster results of their high-quality sequencing at very affordable prices
There is some additional language on the home page of the web site, but the quote above represents what appears to be this company’s core claim. Here’s another, from a different site:
“Company X is synonymous with scientific excellence and high standards as we continue to provide our customers with industry leading service quality…. Company X takes great pride in consistently providing high quality results with fast turn-around times; meeting and frequently surpassing our client’s stringent requirements.”
“Our commitment to operational excellence allows us to quickly and securely deliver the highest quality results to our clients. We are an extension of our client’s laboratory by providing outsourcing solutions with the quality and trust expected from an in-house provider.”
None of this is effective marketing.
“With competitive pricing, reliable service and high quality, and attentive care to our customers always on our minds, we strive to provide only the best, while always seeking ways for improvement.”
None of this is effective marketing. I will demonstrate why, but first, a quick reminder of what marketing is.
What is marketing?
Marketing is defined in several ways. See Volume 1, Issue 1 of this newsletter for a brief summary of marketing from an academic perspective. But, regardless of the definition, the core of marketing is simple; it is the identification of a need in the market place, and the matching of a product or service to customers with a need at a profit.
In other words, marketing activities should have simple goals: identify a market need, and helps customers address (buy) a solution to that need.
Identifying the need is not enough.
Marketing activities should have simple goals: identify a market need, and help customers address a solution to that need.
The examples taken from the home pages quoted above all show that a need has been identified. It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that the need is genetic sequencing. So, half the definition of marketing (identifying a market need) has been fulfilled.
What about the other half: helping customers address (buy) a solution to the identified need? These claims do not help customers accomplish this at all, so this verbiage is just noise, and really isn’t marketing.
Let’s look at these claims in detail, by translating them into plain English: “Based on our experience and expertise, Company V will provide faster results of your high-quality sequencing at very affordable prices.” In other words: We have experience and expertise. We are quick. We provide high quality results. We are very affordable (cheap).
Think for a minute about this firm’s competitors. Would any claim that they do NOT have experience and expertise? No – all will claim that they have experience and expertise. Would any claim that they are NOT quick? No – all will claim that they are quick. Would any claim that they do NOT have high quality? No – all will claim that they have quality. Would any claim that they are NOT affordable? No – all will claim that they are affordable.
So, ALL their competitors will say that they have experience, are quick, have quality and are affordable. Even those that have less experience, if asked, will say that they have experience. And even those that are less quick will say that they are quick.
Do these life science marketing claims differentiate?
“But wait,” I hear some of you saying, “not all of those firms will be equally quick. Some firms will be slower than others.” That is exactly right. In fact, given enough firms in the marketplace, there will be a bell shaped curve describing the variation in speed of delivery, with a few firms really fast, and a few firms really slow, and the majority somewhere in the middle.
But if a hot prospect (a prospect with a project to assign and money to spend) asked any of these firms the following question, what would the answer be: “I have a project to assign, and I will only assign it to a firm that can provide quick results. Do you provide results quickly?”
If every firm says: “We provide quick results,” does a claim of providing quick results help distinguish the firm from any other?
Every firm would say, “Yes.” Even those firms on the slow end of the bell curve would say, “Yes.” Whether they believe it or not is not the issue, nor is whether their results are delivered quickly or not. The fact is, they will all be saying that they provide results quickly.
If every firm says: “We provide quick results,” does a claim of providing quick results help distinguish the firm from any other?
Claims in plain English
Look back at the claims that were introduced at the top of this issue – the claims from the home pages of various web sites from one life science market sector. Here are all the claims, translated into plain English:
We have experience and expertise
We provide quick results
We are affordable
We have high standards
We have high quality
We are consistent
We treat your data securely
We provide reliable service
We provide attentive care
Are any of these claims unique? Do any of these claims differentiate one firm from another? Are any of these claims verifiable before purchase? Are there any claims that any service provider would deny, if asked a direct question by a prospect?
Are any of these claims unique?
No, no, no, and no.
Drawing distinctions in life science marketing
There are lots of functions that effective marketing will accomplish. One of the most important is to draw customers to your firm. A useful (albeit colloquial) way to characterize the difference between sales and marketing is this: “Marketing is about getting people to raise their hands, and sales is about getting people to shake hands.”
Marketing is about getting people to raise their hands, and sales is about getting people to shake hands.
How do you get people to “raise their hands?” You do this by making it easy to choose your firm, that is, by a four-step process. First, you identify the differences between you and ‘those other guys’ – this is, you must establish your positioning. Second you articulate these differences clearly – that is, you must make distinct claims in language the audience understands. Third, you test the positioning claims to ensure that they are effective and defensible, and fourth, promote these claims through various channels – that is, you must execute the tactics of your marketing plan.
If you do this right, people will raise their hands. But they won’t raise their hand for just any claim. For example, one insurance salesman might have red hair, but identifying, articulating, testing and promoting this distinction doesn’t really help draw customers to the firm, because when it comes to purchasing insurance, the audience just doesn’t care about hair color.
The differences – the claim, have to meet five important criteria. They must be Sticky, Unique, Authentic, Verifiable and Effective.
Life science marketing claims must be Unique.
Your marketing claims should draw clear distinctions between your firm and any other. If your claims do not clearly differentiate you from your competition, then your firm will be seen as just like every other firm – a commodity.
Your marketing claims should draw clear distinctions.
Firms that promote unique claims are perceived as rare. The theory of supply and demand suggests that when something is rare, it can command a higher price, so positioning your firm as Unique can ease the pressure on your profit margins (or allow you to increase your sales volume).
One advantage to having unique marketing claims is that they can support the creation of a public persona for the firm. While this won’t happen by itself, having unique, clearly articulated claims will help a great deal in differentiating your firm.
Life science marketing claims must be Authentic.
Your marketing claims must have a firm grounding in the truth. They must reflect what your firm can actually provide to your customers. Everyone is familiar with sleazy marketing tactics such as “Earn $100,000 or more working from home with just your computer.” Audiences are great at recognizing insincerity and untruth in claims like this.
A claim that is verifiable before purchase will aid in differentiating the firm.
I have written elsewhere (Vol 1, No 1) about trust in the relationship between buyer and seller. Nothing will destroy trust faster than an outright lie. If your claims are not backed by reality, you may gain the initial sale, but you likely won’t get repeat sales.
Life science marketing claims should be Verifiable.
Your marketing claims should be verifiable before purchase. Making a claim doesn’t make the claim true, particularly if the prospect can’t verify what you say before purchase.
Claims like: “We provide quick results,” “We have high quality,” or “We provide reliable service” are actually difficult to verify in advance. Consequently, your audience will tend to discount these claims.
How are claims verified in advance? There are several ways – a few are: independent reviewers, statistical information or testimonials. An independent reviewer can provide a learned opinion. For example, Consumer Reports can test every digital camera and report on which one is the easiest to use. Or research can provide statistical information: “We asked the owners of all cars, and they reported that Brand X had the lowest after-sale repair costs.” Or a previous (or current) customer can provide a testimonial; “I’ve used lots of labs. This lab amazed me with their speed of delivery.”
These alternatives can be reasonable substitutes for claims that are verifiable in advance. If your claim can’t be verified in advance, and if there is no independent reviewer, statistical information or testimonial, then your claim will arouse suspicion among your more skeptical (or experienced) prospects. However, a claim that is verifiable before purchase will aid in differentiating the firm.
Life science marketing claims should be Sticky.
Your marketing claims should be sticky, that is: memorable. This is the least important criteria out of all that your marketing claims should meet, but truly exceptional marketing claims will stand out in customer’s minds, long after the claim has been made.
Memorability depends upon the way the claim is made as much as it does upon the content of the claim itself. “Takes a licking, and keeps on ticking,” is much more memorable than “Our watches are durable,” even though the content of both is effectively the same. Similarly, “What happens here, stays here” is more memorable than “If you come to Vegas and cut loose, no one will know.” Memorability is another way of supporting your differentiation by ensuring that customers retain the desired image of your organization.
Life science marketing claims should be Effective.
Memorability depends upon the way the claim is made as much as it does upon the content of the claim itself.
Your marketing claims should be meaningful to the audience. The claim must be relevant, and must concern something they value. As in the story of the red-haired insurance agent, claims that are neither relevant nor meaningful to the audience won’t be effective.
Meaningful claims help differentiate the firm, as they speak directly to the audience’s needs, rather than wasting their attention on non-differentiating mumbo-jumbo.
A closer look at life science marketing claims.
Meaningful claims help differentiate the firm, as they speak directly to the audience’s needs.
Let’s examine some of the plain English claims with which I opened this issue, in light of these five criteria and determine where they stand.
We provide quick results. This claim is not unique. Everyone will claim “quick results.”
We provide reliable service. This claim is not unique and not verifiable before purchase (at least, not without doing a survey of past customers).
We have high quality. This claim is not unique and not verifiable before purchase. In addition, this claim is not effective, because there is no scale established – what one customer considers “high” quality might be “barely acceptable” to another. The audience likely considers this to be just “marketing speak,” which reduces its effectiveness to almost nothing.
It doesn’t take much thought to realize that all of the plain English claims discussed above fail to fulfill the criteria: Unique, Authentic, Verifiable, Sticky, Effective. In particular, none are unique.
What’s the solution?
If you and your competitors are making similar (non-unique) claims, what should you do? This is a problem with so many variables that the subject could occupy an entire year’s worth of newsletters. However, the answer lies in identifying those aspects of your business that are truly unique. Scanning through the web sites of another life science sector, it is clear that these differences DO exist for some firms. For example, one firm mentions in their web site that they “originated many of the methods in use today.” On the surface, that is a unique difference that might support a position as a firm on the forefront of research and development, or as a firm that “wrote the book” on this type of service. Another firm pledges that they have a scientist as the client’s point of contact. On the surface, that might be valuable enough to their prospects that they could build a position as the firm that speaks their language, or as a firm that will have answers quickly.
Many areas of life science marketing suffer from a lack of successful marketing claims.
It is not clear from the web sites whether these firms could truly support a positioning like the ones I have just imagined. Much effort would be required to identify the unique position, to articulate it, to test it and then to promote it. The most important of these is the first: identifying your unique position, and, judging from the efforts of many firms, too little attention is being paid to this foundation for effective marketing.
A common life science marketing problem
The problem of ineffective marketing claims is not limited to genetic sequencing operations. Many other areas of life science marketing suffer from a lack of successful marketing claims. If you spend a few minutes browsing the web sites of CROs, of core labs, of CMOs, and of management consultants, just to name a few examples, you will find many claims that are not unique, not authentic, not verifiable, not sticky and as a result, not effective.
The marketing efforts of many life science companies abound with non-differentiating claims. I don’t know what that is, but it sure isn’t effective marketing.
While this problem is more pronounced for service providers than it is for companies that sell products, there are many examples that can be found in product-oriented companies as well. Ironically, many of the sectors with the most blatant examples of non-differentiating claims are sectors where the FDA does not regulate marketing claims.
The marketing efforts of many life science companies abound with such non-differentiating claims. I don’t know what that is, but it sure isn’t effective marketing. If your claims do not distinguish you, why waste your breath, and the prospect’s attention, by making them?
The Marketing of Science is published by Forma Life Science Marketing approximately ten times per year. To subscribe to this free publication, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Chapin is author of the book “The Marketing of Science: Making the Complex Compelling,” available now from Rockbench Press and on Amazon. He was named Best Consultant in the inaugural 2013 BDO Triangle Life Science Awards. David serves on the board of NCBio.
David has a Bachelor’s degree in Physics from Swarthmore College and a Master’s degree in Design from NC State University. He is the named inventor on more than forty patents in the US and abroad. His work has been recognized by AIGA, and featured in publications such as the Harvard Business Review, ID magazine, Print magazine, Design News magazine and Medical Marketing and Media. David has authored articles published by Life Science Leader, Impact, and PharmaExec magazines and MedAd News. He has taught at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC-Chapel Hill and at the College of Design at NC State University. He has lectured and presented to numerous groups about various topics in marketing.
Forma Life Science Marketing is a leading marketing firm for life science, companies. Forma works with life science organizations to increase marketing effectiveness and drive revenue, differentiate organizations, focus their messages and align their employee teams. Forma distills and communicates complex messages into compelling communications; we make the complex compelling.