Marketing to scientists has some noteworthy differences compared to other B2B businesses and not just because scientists are a special breed of people. There are also some fundamental differences in how scientists typically perceive their jobs compared to how more corporate types might.
To scientists, scientific investigation is primarily directed at understanding how stuff works. Their goal is discovery and they are not necessarily concerned with producing a marketable product. The product of science is data and knowledge, which can sometimes lead to commercialization of a product or service, but is not typically how it starts. This difference has led to several common misunderstandings amongst marketers about how to reach a scientific audience.
Don’t be fooled by these common myths:
1. Brand doesn’t matter to scientists
Scientists are thought to be highly rational so why would something as nebulous as brand matter? Let’s take a look at what brand is. Brand is a promise to deliver a certain value which is distinct from other companies’ brands. This is important because brands tell customers very quickly what they can expect; Volvo = safety, iPhones = exceptional user experience, IKEA = good design at low prices.
So why does brand matter to scientists?
Certain brands have credibility because they have been used to produce publication-quality data which makes them more highly regarded than ones which has fewer publications. Scientists also value peer recommendations very highly, which lends further credibility to particular brands and products.
Brands reduce perceived risk. The competitive nature of research, scarcity of funding and the time it takes to build a scientific reputation contribute to making scientists more risk averse when making large purchase decisions. Buying a well-respected brand goes some way to negating this risk.
In addition, scientists share the same fickle human nature as the rest of us. A colleague once recounted to me a story of a customer who bought a competitor’s power supply because the brand was the right colour and the product that her company sold rather jarred with the general colour scheme in the lab!
When you stand for something, you stand out – brand counts in science as well as in life.
2. Influencer marketing has no place in science
Content can only take your marketing efforts so far. Without the ability to reach your audience your content won’t get noticed. Influencers already have trust within their field which makes it quicker for products that they endorse to gain acceptance.
The peer review system promotes respect amongst colleagues which strengthens their standing. Scientists are highly influenced by their peers and recommendation by a colleague is cited as one of the top reasons why scientists choose particular products. This makes influencer marketing a point of differentiation for life science marketers.
It is possible to use influencer organisations like The Scientist (@TheScientistMagazine) or Popular Science (@PopSci) to distribute marketing information as they have both influence and reach (The Scientist has over 2 million likes on Facebook and Popular Science has 3.5 million). Influencers have the ability to take your marketing content further, more quickly.
3. Marketers should focus on product features
Many marketers believe that scientists are technically inclined and interested in the detail of how products work. So it’s not necessary to spell out the benefits, scientists will infer these themselves from the product features.
Listing the product features assumes that the customer is familiar with the technology and able to understand what it can do. The burden of understanding is placed on the customer but as technology in the lab becomes more and more advanced, fewer scientists have the time to understand how it works at a sufficiently detailed level. They often don’t care how it does whatever it does but rather what it does. This “so what” is the benefit that the product brings. But benefits can’t stand alone either. They need features to act as the proof points to back up the benefit claims.
Scientists want to generate defendable experimental results as quickly as possible. Products that have a clear value proposition (i.e. explain how the product solves the customer problem better than any alternatives), and which give the scientist a competitive edge in achieving their goals, will fare better than those that don’t. Marketers need to craft marketing messages that emphasise the value that their products bring to the science.
4. Social media marketing is not for scientists
There is a common misunderstanding that scientists don’t use social media. If this were true, we wouldn’t have seen the phenomenal rise in scientific social networks like Academia, Mendeley, and ResearchGate, all of which have a social and collaborative element to them. David Matthews1 estimated in April 2016 that “Academia has more than 34 million “academics”, while ResearchGate and Mendeley have “more than 9 million members” and “more than 4.6 million registered users” respectively”. A more recent estimate of ResearchGate’s membership put the figure at 12 million registered members2.
One of the drivers of social media adoption amongst scientists is that in today’s scientific climate there is huge competition for funding which only a few, prestigious institutions will receive. This, coupled with the time and effort that it takes to build a scientific reputation, means that even outstanding scientists can’t rely on their research to get them noticed. Scientists need to let others know about their achievements to increase their sphere of influence. Social media is one of the ways that scientists can do this. There is a proliferation of science blogs which range from “how to” guides like Study Hacks and The Thesis Whisperer for PhDs to news about science like New Scientist, Scientific America, Science News and many more.
Check out this comprehensive list of top science blogs.
There is a common misunderstanding that scientists don’t use social media.
Science is about communicating and collaborating, the very principles that social media is based on. It’s this common set of values that will drive the use of social media by scientists.
Marketers can benefit from this increased use of social media amongst scientists to build relationships by being more accessible to their customers and draw on direct interaction with their audience to develop more informed marketing.
5. More content is key to driving your digital marketing strategy
Content is important as a tool to engage customers and attract them to your products when they are researching potential solutions to a problem or need before they engage with a vendor. More content has got to be better at reaching more potential customers, right?
Let’s pause for a moment and put marketing content in context. Marketing content, like other types of content, is competing for eyeball time with scientific content. There were about 28,100 active scholarly peer-reviewed English-language journals in late 2014 (plus a further 6,450 non-English-language journals), collectively publishing about 2.5 million articles a year according to a study by International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM)3. The number of articles published each year and the number of journals have both grown steadily by about 3% and 3.5% per year respectively. In addition to this, researchers are reading more, averaging 270 articles per year, but spending less time per article, with reported reading times down from 45-50 minutes in the mid-1990s to just over 30 minutes.
Scientists do an enormous amount of reading as part of their job. If marketers want to be heard, rather than focusing on producing more content, they should make sure that the content they do produce is more engaging and of higher quality and delivered at the right time to be relevant. This content needs to be worth the scientists’ attention. It needs to speak to the scientist’s needs and address their pain points, not try to sell a product by pitching its features. Being familiar with a scientist’s day-to-day concerns and addressing these in a meaningful way is more important than ever for marketers.
Is your content working?
As Life Science marketers, we have the privilege and challenge of working with great scientists to bring products and services to their attention that could change the course of scientific discovery and make a difference to our understanding of the natural world.
We can avoid falling victim to these commonly held myths if we take the time to understand our audience and deliver the best marketing that we can to address their needs. We need to change our mind-sets from pitching products to helping our audience to do their jobs better.
- Do academic social networks share academics’ interests? David Matthews, April 7, 2016.
- ResearchGate raises $52.6M for its social research network for scientists, Feb 28, 2017 by Ingrid Lunden
- The STM Report: An overview of scientific and scholarly journal publishing, Mark Ware and Michael Mabe, Fourth Edition, March 2015.