Although it’s becoming increasingly popular in life science marketing, branded content is still in its infancy. This does not mean it isn’t worth investing in. Quite the contrary: because it is fairly new, it is all the more exciting and can reach promising audiences within the life sciences industry.
While other industries have long since jumped on the bandwagon of branded content, in the life sciences it is often met with resistance, mistrust or rejected for older, safer (and outdated) practices. We therefore felt the need to shed some light on the topic of branded content in the life sciences and clarify why it can be your next winning tool for your marketing strategy.
I have spoken to Labiotech’s managing director, Joachim Eeckhout, and have asked him about the do’s and don’ts of branded content in the life sciences industry. We have talked about the importance of branded content, the benefits of branded content, the key characteristics of good and bad branded content, as well as how to choose the right publishing medium.
Follow Joachim’s advice and you will present your brand in the best possible light, reach the right audience in the life sciences industry, build a community around your brand, and outdo your competitors. And… your boss will absolutely love you!
Joachim, what’s the importance of branded content in the life sciences industry?
Branded content has become a very successful marketing strategy for companies in all industries. Branded content and content marketing can enable companies to gain their clients’ trust, build knowledge, educate potential clients on certain topics, or form a community around a product or service.
Content marketing definitely works and is showing good results. The difficult part is to make it successful, which is where you need experience, knowledge and maybe support from other companies.
In the life sciences, branded content is important for the same reasons. But it is also a field in which transparency can be a problem. Sometimes, for instance, it is not clear what kind of campaigns are being done or what the science behind a product is. Content marketing could really change that by increasing the information available in the industry and could present companies as trustworthy.
Why is branded content more important now than ever before?
The digitalization of the life sciences is making branded content and content marketing more and more important. It took time, but the life sciences are now shifting towards a digital and e-commerce model and with this, of course, the behavior of clients is also changing.
Younger clients are becoming key decision-makers in the life sciences industry. The first thing they look for when searching for products is online information. You could be selling anything from PCR kits to a large clinical study, but people will be looking online for reviews and for information about your product or service before making any (purchasing) move. If in that instance, you are not visible through content, you can miss out on opportunities and lose the game before you even started.
What is the difference between branded content in the life sciences industry and other industries? Why do you think the life sciences industry was the slowest to develop?
In the life sciences industry, branded content is lagging behind in terms of practice and experience. The life sciences industry is extremely regulated. This means that information was kept as discreet as possible for a very long time. But the shift to online is really changing this and if companies want to keep up, they need to adapt their marketing strategy and embrace this way of accessing information.
Regulation still exists though, which can put pressure on companies to follow general regulation guidelines. Animal testing, for example, is a very sensitive topic. So if you’re a company in this field, doing content marketing can be really tricky. And often these companies are even more afraid than they should be of content marketing.
In this situation, it can help to think carefully about the marketing strategy: think about where to go and whether to be more open about this sensitive topic or to focus on related topics and build awareness there. This can help to increase your company’s reach and credibility.
How much do you think branded content can help bring companies ahead of the game?
Branded content can help tremendously. It’s like being in the tech industry twenty years ago. If you are the first one to start, you have a great advantage. Especially, because there is really not very much branded content in the life sciences.
In terms of display advertising, companies are now catching up. Big companies, like Pfizer and AbbVie, are spending a great deal of money on display advertising. But in terms of content marketing, the life sciences industry is still far behind. If you take branded content seriously and build something for the long term, you can have enormous returns of great value that will greatly pay off in the long run.
In your opinion, what are the key characteristics of ‘outstanding’ branded content in the life sciences industry?
The branded content you put out there should contain genuine information. The main pitfall is to confuse content marketing with a sales pitch and if that happens, people will not want to read further. Branded content should be born from the idea of sharing valuable information and building a community around this information.
Content marketing can be counterintuitive in that you shouldn’t focus on making money first, you should first look at providing great information. You are basically a service offering valuable information, helping people within the industry become more knowledgeable. If you can share exclusive information that has not yet been shared online, that’s even better. That’s exactly what good branded content is.
You have some very good examples in the Tech industry, where many startups use content marketing to boost their acquisition and reach. A lot of companies will share, for example, good practices of building a company or knowledge on entrepreneurship or tips on productivity. So their content is not directly related to their product, but there is nevertheless a connection between the two.
Many tech startups sell software as service solutions that help other startups to work, meaning they are connected in terms of community and alignment. If, for example, pharma companies could do the same by thinking about what type of information and knowledge the rest of the industry needs, they could really build something great.
What can life science companies do to make their branded content work?
One very important thing to consider is the audience segment you’re targeting. For instance, if your branded content is supposed to reach a group of scientists, you need to speak their language. This means your content will likely be a bit more technical. But if you want to reach business people from the life sciences sector, you cannot use the same language as with scientists. You would need to adapt your content and whole strategy to this new audience.
It is important to note that you cannot target both segments at the same time. You could have two different blogs in parallel for two different segments, for example, but they really need to be separate from each other and adapted to each target respectively. Otherwise, they cannot be successful because people will not create a bond with the content.
Also, your marketing content should look outstanding. Present your content as a product and think about the front end: How does the design look to the user? Is my design aligned with the content? Does the design resonate with my audience? And does it represent my brand?
Say a pharma company wants to start a blog on a very specific topic, like CAR-T. They need to think hard about how it looks. If the website looks very outdated, then maybe it will not speak to the younger-minded crowds you want to attract.
The front end impacts the brand a lot because, in the end, it’s what people see that attracts them in the first instance. So companies really need to think about what they want in terms of front-end design, as well as make sure that the design and the technical content is aligned. You can have a website with great content, but if you keep trying to sell stuff with pop-ups and other things, you will lose readers.
What can go wrong when branding content for the life sciences industry? How would you define “bad” branded content?
Very often I see companies creating very technical content and assuming that everybody will be interested. If you write ten pages about how to build a purification system for a very specific protein, you have a very limited target audience. So limit your strategy to this target. Be honest with yourself and your strategy. Think about what you are doing, what you can create, what you are trying to achieve, and who ‒ in terms of the segment ‒ you are trying to reach.
Some companies, for example, should not be doing general content but should really go into the technical aspect and try to reach the right technical people. Even if their target is only 100 people worldwide, that’s okay. They will be interested in that company and will want to buy their products. It can work too.
What I also see very often is a dissociation between the created content and the marketing strategy ‒ that’s a common mistake. I think it’s mainly a problem of companies thinking they will miss out. They are under pressure to grow.
Especially in big companies, there is pressure to grow their market share even more, so they are trying to reach a very general audience, whereas it may not be necessary or not the right approach. If they wish to increase their brand awareness in the general life sciences, they should build a new approach, build a new asset in terms of content, and work with companies who are better adapted to this kind of audience.
What is the importance of choosing the right publishing platform for branded content?
The content “product” ‒ so what the users see ‒ is very important for the effect and affinity you create for the users. In content marketing, you have many options: You could create something on your existing platform and add content to it; you could create a dedicated website, for example, for a specific topic; or you can work with publishers and use their platform and their reach as a way to increase your brand awareness.
When you choose one of these publishing types, you have to take into consideration what you want. Ask yourself what you can achieve alone and what you can pay for. This also includes the time you need to spend and your other internal resources. Choosing to go alone is always more time-consuming because creating good content takes much more time than one may believe. It’s not something you can do from one day to another. If you want to create good content, you need a good writer, and they are not easily found.
So these are the things you need to consider upfront: Where do you want this project to take you? Is it a top priority for your marketing strategy? Or is it something you would like to experiment with?
If you have no idea what you are doing, it may be good to start with a partner. If you have no experience and don’t want to hire someone with experience, the best you can do is use someone external to help you. Talk to an agency or publisher. That’s the best way to start if you feel that you don’t have the right skills in-house to start a content marketing strategy.
What do companies need to look out for when looking for a content marketing partner?
First, a partner should have experience in what you want to create. They should also have an understanding of the segment and audience you want to target. It’ll be easy to find an agency to create your content, but if they have no clue what the life sciences are, your content will not turn out well. So it’s best to use a partner who has experience in the field.
Second, the reach your potential partner can provide is important. An agency may build your content well, but what about reaching the right audience? It takes time. Depending on your strategy, you have to ask yourself whether you have the time; whether you want to take the time to build your own audience or whether you want to use someone else’s audience. In the latter case, using a publisher can be helpful. They are experienced and have a wide reach, which is the quickest way for a life science company to start building their brand awareness strategy.
At Labiotech, we also advise companies who are just starting their content marketing strategy, sometimes even for the first time. We help them understand what’s at stake, what’s the best approach, what we can do for them, what we cannot do for them. We are not only here to provide a service, but we are also a partner educating our clients on content marketing.
When Joachim first started working with branded content in the life sciences industry, he witnessed the omnipresent suspicion and online stagnation first hand. Later, he played a great part in creating a digital media ecosystem just for the life sciences at Labiotech. We hope you enjoyed sharing his wisdom!
At Labiotech, we are playing our part in creating and fuelling the digital transformation of the life sciences. If you are new to content marketing, why not give it a try and get in touch with us? We’re happy to advise you on your next best move!