What exactly is content marketing?
If you’re providing information that really matters to your customers before, during or after a sale instead of bombarding them with purely promotional material, then you’re applying a content marketing (CM) strategy.
And you say, “That’s what my company’s been doing for years. And we’re still not thrilled with the results. What gives?”
You’re right. CM isn’t new. Life science firms have been producing helpful (and free) information for researchers since way back when the Web was something that spiders used to catch flies. The delivery channels have changed, but the principles were applied decades ago.
Why isn’t your content marketing more effective?
You’re dealing with a challenging, arguably THE most challenging consumer group in existence. Your prospects earn a living challenging everything they read and hear.
Even before you send your first email blast, your prospects are checking you out online and getting opinions on your products and customer service via feedback shared on social media. On top of this, we’re not dealing with a garden-variety consumer.
Scientists have unique attributes. According to Hamid Ghanadan, in his book, Persuading Scientists. Marketing to the World's Most Skeptical Audience, the attributes that make researchers excel at the discovery process also make them more challenging than other customers and require a more careful look at your CM plans. These attributes include:
And while objectivity is also a key trait, scientists are still human, which means subjectivity also colors what they see, hear and think.
These attributes contribute to a unique buying cycle. Scientists apply these attributes in various combinations to execute a research project. For example, curiosity leads to creativity and hypotheses that have to be tested and validated, and skepticism leads to filtering and challenging the information that you provide.
Respect the scientist buying cycle
There are different opinions on the names and number of stages of the scientist buying cycle and whether the cycle is linear or circular, but there are some common characteristics.1
A need has to exist.1,2 The most impressive product specifications on the planet created in the most beautiful Photoshop file that’s been animated in the most dramatic Flash file are useless if your target doesn’t think that the product is needed.
Explore the options.2 You cleared a major hurdle once your prospect believes that a need may exist. But it’s too early to pummel the lab with information about why your product or service is the best choice. To avoid activating skepticism filters, provide the researcher with an unbranded and unbiased opportunity to consider the best option to address the need. “Unbranded and unbiased” doesn’t preclude presenting data that shows the value of your product or service.
Evaluate and decide.1,2 Need verified. Options considered. Now the scientist is primed and ready for your most persuasive product-centric data, so fire away. At this point researchers will also be looking for ways to determine what it would be like to do business with you. Certain aspects, such as demonstrations and sampling programs, are under your control—but others, such as peer-to-peer feedback via social media, aren’t.
Align your content with the buying cycle
Sounds obvious, right? If this is old news, then you’re likely satisfied with the ROI on your marketing efforts. But if you’ve come this far, you might want to read a little further.
A need has to exist. Suppose the scientist indicates that there isn’t a need. Can a need be created? No. But you can help a researcher recognize an existing need yet to be uncovered. But, how? Consider the value of a provocative statement that challenges a scientist’s beliefs in a way that guides the researcher to your offering.3 To avoid offending any SAMPS members, let’s use a non-biotech example
Suppose you developed a process to prepare smoked salmon at a temperature of 45°F, compared with the industry standard of 60° to 70°F. As the marketing manager, you could pose the provocative question, “What’s the best temperature to prepare cold-smoked salmon?”
Your target customer reads this and tries to understand why anybody would ask this question. After all, everybody smokes salmon at the same temperature range.
“Or do they?” wonders the prospective customer.
Explore the options. Instead of email blasts talking up the merits of your low-temperature process, you provide your prospect with a link to a website that discusses among other topics:
The effect of temperature on the growth rate of bacteria
Product recalls of smoked salmon due to contamination with Listeria monocytogenes, 2010-2012
Yes, this is a heavy-handed example, but you get the point.
The idea here is to demonstrate how ACCURATE unbranded information from CREDIBLE sources educates scientists so that they can validate the legitimacy of a need. (By the way, the smoked salmon industry is very tightly regulated; Listeria outbreaks are very limited due to aggressive monitoring.)
Evaluate and decide. Your prospect considered and validated the need, and is now anxious to read all your product literature with the cute icon of a shivering-but-smiling salmon clad in a parka.
Is that all there is to content marketing?
Not hardly. We didn’t yet touch on aligning marketing channels with stages of the buying cycles or how to plan a campaign with this approach, but you can learn about those in an SAMPS webinar and in the articles listed in the Resource section below.
1. Ghanadan, H. Content-centric marketing for science – Part 1. Understanding the way scientists make decisions. Linus Report. Volume 4, 2011.
2. Hoyt C. Stevens, LJ. Redefining the life science buying cycle. BioBM Consulting. May 2012.
3. Ghanadan, H. Persuading Scientists. Marketing to the World's Most Skeptical Audience. Nashville, TN: Rockbench Publishing; 2012.
Alan Gerstein, SAMPS Digital Editorial Director, is an interactive content developer experienced at blending the oft-conflicting needs of users, clients, and search engines. Along the way he has developed strategies and information solutions to better support the training and education needs of the life science research community. He also had the good fortune to lead the efforts of nearly two-dozen researchers to create The Molecular Biology Problem Solver.