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Written by Robert England, PhD | Uppsala
on February 11, 2022

Life science marketing often involves telling a select audience about a very new, very exciting technology. In fact, it’s often easy to lose yourself (and your audience) in explanations of how the technology works and forget to inform your audience about the benefits it offers to them – what makes it worth parting with their money.

Your technology is often looking for a home – some area of application where its performance is exceptionally beneficial, a must-have. You may have a few ideas about where your product adds value, or you might not know anything about the market. Frankly, you may need to establish a new market for technology that didn’t previously exist. In other words; you’re in a vacuum of expressed need.

It may be quite a challenge to explain the science behind the technology in layman’s terms without the reader’s proverbial eyes glazing over. This is the case in thrilling yet mystical new areas like synthetic biology, population genomics or multivariate data analysis (all of which UP team members have addressed). There are some tried and tested strategies worth observing; I will set them out below.

In this article, I’ll use the word ‘product’ a lot, but you may substitute it for ‘technology’, ‘solution’, ‘platform’ or ‘service’ – whatever suits your business phase and model.

The risk and exhilaration of entering a new market

I often think that entering a new market with a new product is the extreme sports of marketing. You’re sprinting like mad towards the edge of a cliff in your metaphorical hang glider of a business, but you haven’t reached anywhere near take-off velocity, or even begun to feel a wind carry you. To get further investment for your business, you have to take a risk, but not too many, so every choice you make is important. You need focus and persistence, trust and timing (and maybe a little bit of luck). 

But the very good news is that internet search has aided new market introductions enormously. It’s never been easier to find a niche audience for your product — one that can provide a bridgehead of revenue. 

But to engage them, you need to provide clear, relevant and search-friendly information about how your product will benefit the members of your new target market; how it will make their lives better. But first, let’s discuss how you might choose the market you will be playing in.

Introduce your new offering to an existing market

Geoffrey Moore in his excellent book Crossing the Chasm looks at how disruptive or discontinuous innovations succeed in B2B marketplaces. I couldn’t imagine a more relevant description of the nature of the life science industry. I would advise any life science entrepreneur to read his book. Being strategic in how you approach a market will save you a lot of work (and probably a lot of tears). 

Moore shows that the proven way for a company to successfully enter a new market is to either: 

  1.  Introduce a new product or service to a market you already serve or know of; OR 
  2.  Address a new segment with an existing product that currently serves a different, usually adjacent market.

Since we are assuming your product is new, we’ll discuss the first scenario. 

So why do you need to target either an existing market or to introduce an existing product to succeed?

Because it’s very risky to enter an uncharted, notional (speculative) market, where you don’t fully understand how the market thinks, or how to best influence what prospects think about how they do their work – and furthermore doing it with an unknown product, an unknown brand from an unknown company. There’s simply not enough insight and trust to go around. The resource of marketing is insight, and the capital of marketing is trust. If you don’t have either, your prospective customers won’t even bother engaging.

Consider for a minute this example from the music industry (I know, but indulge me for a moment).  After a series of boundary-pushing art-rock albums in the late seventies, David Bowie tried to please a notional pop public with the release of “Never Let Me Down” in 1987. It flopped. Huge mistake, David. You should’ve stuck to your brand.

David-Bowie-EMI

David Bowie's ‘Never Let Me Down’  was a really bad marketing move from a strong brand aimed at a notional audience.

Do you have a trustworthy brand for your new market segment?

When I use the word ‘brand’ here, I’d rather you didn’t think about logos and colours. Think instead in terms of your reputation, reliability and a credible promise of value

The truth is, beyond a good product, you have to fulfill so many things to satisfy your new customer before they are willing to commit to buying your product. Your new customer is rationally skeptical of you and your business, and is probably thinking:

“I don’t know you or your brand.

I don’t know your company.

I don’t know your products.

I don’t know your customers.

I don’t know what your customers think of you.

I don’t know your track record.

Now what is it you want to sell to me?”

- A Skeptical Customer

Initiating sales activities prematurely without building trust will be costly, might not give significant returns and could even damage your brand irreparably. Unless you have a trustworthy brand, you need to provide satisfactory answers to your customers’ very reasonable concerns to win their trust.

In the life sciences, trust fulfillment might take the form of testimonials from key opinion leaders at known research centres, white papers demonstrating the benefits of your offering, or even the recognised expertise and reputation of your leadership team or scientific advisory board. All of these proof points are immensely important to move your prospective customer to a purchasing decision. 

And what can be even more important, trust fulfillment is most effective when it demonstrates that you understand their pain - that you ‘get it.’ You know what problem they are trying to solve and not just trying to sell them a better widget. (Consider the Jobs To Be Done theory.)

A word about brand relevance

So does your brand work for the market you are about to engage in? It’s an important point to ensure that your brand makes sense to what you are offering. Imagine if Nike decided to move into a completely new market for them: the food business, for instance. Would the brand work there? It might, if it offered healthy nutrition for athletes. In other words, it would be trusted to provide a new solution to an existing market when the brand stands for some pertinent value.

First, focus on the challenge your customers have - not the solution

Let’s talk a bit about your messaging strategy. At the beginning of the customer journey, you must articulate the challenge or opportunity to the audience – not the solution.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed that when messages are short, simple and differentiated, they tend to stick in your head and you associate it with the brand. ‘I’m lovin’ it’. ‘Fingerlickin’ good’. ‘It’s flaming tasty’. (Sorry if all these fast food references are makin’ you hungry).

Questionable food, but good marketing

KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

I’m not suggesting that your highly advanced life science technology’s message should look like a fast food ad, but we do have something to learn from them.

  • First: they are simple. Simple tends to stick better in the mind.
  • Second: they are consistent. Whatever your company does, you shouldn’t have to change your message.
  • Third: they address the audience’s challenge or opportunity. Think about it. The above fast food messages look best when you’re hungry.

This is of profound importance to all marketing. Tell the audience about how their life will get better with your product or brand – not how great you are.

The same goes for when people search the internet. People don’t search for specific solutions – they search in terms of challenges to solve, or opportunities that they can gain from. Look at the top Internet searches in 2021.

Top internet searches for 2021

most common google searches life science marketing

Google search volume (Source). 

"What to watch" was the most frequently asked question on Google in 2021, followed by "What is my IP.” People weren’t searching for a specific TV series or a VPN service. They were googling about their immediate challenge - "I need something to watch while I’m in isolation (and I need to block my IP address)."

So if you frame your website’s content around the probable search phrases of your audience’s challenge, you are more likely to be on page one of search engine results pages and thus serve up your content and satisfy the enquiry.

“But," I hear you say, “Nobody is searching for my business at all”.

You are indeed correct. Nobody is searching for your brand or your offering. Didn’t I tell you that this is the extreme sports of marketing? That’s why you ought to target an existing market using the search terms they do know, and which already have sufficient volumes. (You might complain that the internet is constricting the development of innovation because companies are beholden to what people are searching for; I would respond that all marketing has been that way since forever.)

Second, address your customers’ expressed challenges – regardless of your product

All too often, companies focus their message on themselves or their technology to try to compensate for the deficiencies of being unknown. That’s like asking someone out on a date and talking about yourself all night. You can be sure it will be your last date with them.

That’s not the right approach. Counterintuitive as it may be, the best way to win trust and attention is to not mention your product at all in this stage of the life science marketing ‘dating game’.  Instead, listen to your audience’s challenges, show genuine interest and relevance by confirming their needs or concerns, and offer your knowledge to help them solve their problems. (By the way: this is also very good dating advice.)

Design all your content to show that you understand the problems facing your new customer. Your main message is that you can help them towards finding solutions to their problems. And why restrict your help to just your product? You can win trust (and identify the actual people who need your product) by telling visitors about all the possible solutions at their disposal, and help them think through their options. It demonstrates your brand’s generosity of spirit, that your brand is interested in their success. 

After all, you are building a long-term relationship with this market; you’re in it to win their trust over time. This strategy builds real, sustainable trust in your brand. It tells the market that you are not there to make a quick buck; you are there to help them solve their problem. This signals long-term commitment to them as a valued customer of your company.

Be present on the first page of search results

Once upon a time, before the internet was what it is today, companies made products and advertised their wares in newspapers, radio and TV, did direct mail, and telesales. We know that this is really expensive and it’s working less and less as people tune out to the onslaught of the push media deluge.

What do people do today? They google. And they are not googling your product. They are googling their problem (or an opportunity). To win in this extreme sport, you need to at least be in the game, and that means paying attention to SEO. 

So start a blog, answer questions that you know they would be well served by on the forums they hang out on and trust, and address the challenges and the opportunities expressed by your target market. Dedicate it to their specific world; don’t make it a blog about you, your company and your product. Make it helpful, relevant, educational content.

And if you realise that they have a multitude of ways to search a problem that might end up being solved by your product –  then get writing about the top prioritised problems where you can contribute knowledge. So it’s inevitable that you have to learn about your market. If you don’t know them well, hire an agency that does understand them, that can do the right market research, and that can create your content.

This leads to the wonderful world of inbound marketing and the step-by-step approach to building a funnel that nurtures the interests of the people who belong to your market, but I’ll leave it here for the moment.

Good luck! I’ve helped life science companies enter markets with new technologies and services all my career. It’s risky, hard work, lots of fun, intellectually stimulating and beats a normal desk job any day. Have a question or comment? Leave it below. Or feel free to reach out to me. 

Learn more about using inbound marketing

With its complicated buyer's journey and long sales process, life science marketing is ideally suited to the inbound marketing approach for nurturing leads and keeping prospects engaged.

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