Life science and pharmaceutical companies are notoriously cautious toward digital trends. Perhaps you have experienced this in your own company. You may have tried to push a marketing strategy that is almost old-hat in other industries by now, like email autoresponders, only to hear something along the lines of, “We’ve always done it how we’re doing it now, and it’s worked fine so far.”
Other industries are much quicker to jump on trends. You can watch how they do and still be among the first trail-blazers of your sector. A fact of the last two decades is the digital trends of the more youthful and “hip” industries inevitably make it into the more old-fashioned ones, sooner or later.
Make no mistake. Change is coming for us all.
Brace For The Big Players About to Take a Piece of Your Pie
If existing life science companies continue to hesitate on the opportunity in digital mediums, the window of opportunity might soon pass you by. The two giants of the digital world we’ve already mentioned are about to move in, Amazon into healthcare and Google into pharmaceuticals.
In addition, the largest companies of the world (like Coca-Cola, for example) are increasingly trusting of the ROI of digital marketing. Over time, they are likely to shift more and more of their marketing spend into it, and the bidding price of online ads may soon be much higher for lucrative search terms.
The time to get up to date is now. The following is a breakdown of the largest and most robust trends in marketing in 2018 that are the most likely to impact life science industries.
1. Advertising is Getting More & More Intelligent
Targeting specific types of people has never been easier.
An apparel company, to take a simple example, could run an ad for a T-shirt emblazoned with “Chicago 80’s Kid” in front of every Facebook user born in the 80’s who listed Chicago as their hometown. The specificity of the targeting keeps costs low, and the company will only pay for those who click. A certain percentage will think, “What the Hell, why not?” and click through. The shirt could be on their doorstep in a day.
B2B companies have it even better. You can use precision targeting to put hyper-relevant content in front of individuals, such as the head of supply for a pharmacy chain. Be sure not to get too creepy about it, of course. Keep names out of the content, and instead use points of relevant interest such as the history between your respective companies, or content aimed at helping them deal with a specific problem you know they have.
The way you target so narrowly is by first customizing the audience of a post to be only employees of a certain company. You would then get more specific by uploading lists of emails or phone numbers.
Imagine this – go to a conference and collect business cards as usual. Then input the information on those cards into a spreadsheet, upload it to your Facebook campaign, and within a week of the conference begin a series of videos that builds on one of the topics discussed at the conference that is relevant to your offering. Provide nothing but value for the first few videos and end the last video by inviting viewers to learn more about your product or service by following a link below the video.
Important Point: To keep in accordance with Facebook’s terms of service, custom audiences need to opt in. If your market includes members of the EU, you will also need to comply with new regulations (in effect May 2018) regarding email subscriber consent, as per the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Read more about these regulations here.
Google terms like “dark posts”, “promoted content”, and “custom audiences” to get educated about how to tap the incredible opportunity in online advertising.
2. Online “Influencers” Hold The Cards These Days
So…YouTube celebrities are now, truly, “a thing”.
“Influencer” is a term given to someone who has a significant presence online. You can think of them as “internet-famous”. Many of them have millions of devoted fans. In the life science world, the numbers will likely be smaller, but online influencers still exist in our sector.
Micro-influencers are those who have an audience of about 1,000 people or more. They have developed targeted, niche audiences for many years. They have developed trust from their audience. A micro-influencer will have more impact on the individuals of their smaller following than a household celebrity would on theirs. While the numbers are smaller, they are of a higher quality.
People read their posts, watch their videos, and listen to their podcasts. If you find the right ones, it might be worth paying them a pretty penny in exchange for endorsing you.
Think broader than a straightforward sponsorship. There are many more, less-ignorable ways to have them present your brand to their audience.
You could mention them in a piece of content that you produce, and then ask them to comment on that content for their audience. You could ask them to review your product or service if that’s at all possible. You could even invite them into your offices and interview them, or vice versa.
Traditional media channels are gradually losing market share to a growing swell of smaller online channels.
The reason? Trust. It can be easier to trust an individual who you have been following for a while and has never steered you wrong before than it is to put your faith in a faceless corporation. The audience of a micro-influencer is following him because he has earned their trust over time. For this reason, don’t be surprised if they refuse to take money in exchange for promoting your brand without telling their audience. To any savvy online influencer, the trust of the audience is everything.
3. The Accelerating Avalanche of Video Content
Video is the highest growing format of content by a significant margin. It will represent 82% of all internet traffic by 2021, according to the Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) Forecast in 2017. This will mean a staggering one million minutes of video will be transmitted online every second. Compare that projection with 2016 data, when 73% of global internet traffic was video. 9% in 5 years may not seem like a lot, but we are approaching the upper percentiles now. Video is dominant.
Tweets and Facebook posts that include video also tend to get more shares and more engagement. It’s easy to repurpose, too. You can record a video, publish the script as text with the video or its own blog post, and use the audio in a podcast format. If you’re not using video in your marketing campaigns, you might be missing out on some sales.
Again, you may assume that your audience is more “bookish” than the general population, which is true, but don’t assume that means that most won’t appreciate a clear, visual explanation of something over text. If you repurpose your video into audio, too, then your busy prospects can consume your content while they are on the go or busy with chores.
Video isn’t just being watched more. It’s being watched differently.
A number of alternative types of video have been gaining steam recently. It’s worth knowing about them.
Live video, for example, has become very popular. It works excellently for interviews. Most platforms (YouTube, Vimeo, etc) can automatically record and republish a live video for you. The Cisco VIN Forecast estimates live video to more than quadruple from 3% of traffic in 2017 to 13% in 2021.
We have been using live video at Labiotech to publish many fascinating conversations. We conduct these discussions on Google Hangout, which is easily liked up to your YouTube channel. You can check out our latest one here.
4. Email Competes with Social Media as a Primary Communication Tool
Email is still a viciously effective medium. An eMarketer study placed the ROI of email marketing at 122%. However, it’s no longer the full picture of reaching people online. Things have become more complicated.
Email used to be read carefully and responded to often. It felt like a letter through the post – something that had been carefully crafted and sent respectfully to us. Now, we are swamped. Messages get lost. It’s not even necessarily a case of getting too much spam. A lot of people are signed up to more mailing lists than they realize. All this means the attention your emails get is not as abundant or valuable as it once was.
Where is that attention? Unfortunately for us, it is spread across multiple social platforms. Worse yet, everyone has their own favorite. Some love Twitter, others are hooked on Facebook, Pinterest, Quora, etc. And even worse still, people may well be talking smack about you on these platforms.
Fortunately, software now exists that allows you to monitor your brand presence on social media.
“Social monitoring”, as it’s called, allows you to look at a single dashboard, see where you’re being talked about, and enter the conversation there.
Brand24, a company that sells social monitoring software, has mastered social media communication.
They have at least one person in-house dedicated to each major social media platform. They have some for Facebook, some for Twitter, maybe one for Quora and one for Medium.
Why? Because each platform has its own culture. Facebook is casual and social. Linkedin is more buttoned-up and professional. Twitter is pithy. Quora users expect you to be thorough and interesting. Instagrammers only expect you to shoot them praise for their photos. There are subtle differences between how people act on each platform. If you know the culture of a platform, you’ll engage far more people on it and cut straight past those who merely push automated tweets out a few times a week.
Brand24 also have a fascinating method of getting through to people who don’t open their email.
They make note of anyone who misses an email broadcast. Then they use their software to locate these people and see what their most favored social media platform is. Once they know that, they can get through to them there. They found people were grateful they got in front of them on their favorite platform. They didn’t want to miss the email, it’s just that their inbox was swamped!
Salesforce found a full 75% of life science marketing leaders admit they don’t coordinate email with other communication channels. This practice is likely to damage customer loyalty over the long-term. Modern people expect more sophistication these days.
5. The Online World Is No Longer So Separate From The Offline
Offline is not dead. It’s just overpriced. Many life science companies have stuck to a majority offline strategy because it’s what worked in the past and they believe offline practices are somehow more “serious” and proper. Answer this question: Would you rather be a little more proper, or a lot more successful?
The internet is now perfectly respectable, after a few decades of constant growth and expansion into all aspects of our lives. Now, the digital world can work together with the analog in multiple ways. i.e. You don’t need to throw out all the old practices that have gotten you this far. You might, instead, simply update them.
For example, recall the networking method mentioned above – target individuals who give you their business cards with content relevant to the conference where you met them.
If you find a lot of sales meetings don’t go anywhere and the prospect falls off the map in their busy lives, perhaps try combining meetings with email autoresponders? Have your reps make notes of what the prospect is interested in, then put them on a pre-made autoresponder on those topics. That way, you stay top-of-mind and relevant to them.
More direct combinations of real and the digital is virtual reality and augmented reality. They are expected to blow up very soon, with an estimated 20-fold increase between 2016 and 2021.
Augmented reality includes looking through your phone’s camera while it overlays information on the image. Imagine if your multivitamin was the first one to be recognizable by AR software because you were so ahead of the curve. People who want to be convinced of which multivitamin is the safest, yours will be the only bottle in a row of 30 which will be “clickable”, bringing the shopper to a behind-the-scenes video demonstrating your outstanding safety and quality measures. This scenario doesn’t yet exist but it’s closer than it seems.
In 2018, buyers in all industries expect a smooth experience throughout the customer journey. It’s not hard to keep track of most of your touch points, from blog posts, emails, sales calls, to purchase and beyond.
6. Bring Data or Go Home
Eye-balling is over. Data is the new black.
As a scientific person, you’ll appreciate this trend. Hypotheses, testing, tracking and analyzing …marketing is increasingly scientific. It’s time to apply some of what you learned in the lab to your next campaign.
Dedicated data-scientists are becoming mainstays of marketing departments. A data scientist is a particular type of IT worker who specializes in tracking, automation, and machine learning. If knowledge is power then data is magic and your data scientist is your wizard.
The sheer volume of available data is unmanageable for manual analysis. Tracking each step of the customer journey for all your prospects gives you a mountain of data to work through.
The challenge is not collecting data, it’s boiling it down into meaningful conclusions and insights. 50% of life science marketers say AI is important for 1-to-1 marketing, and there has been a recent rise in the demand for data scientists within large marketing departments to build and maintain custom software.
Pre-existing software can cover the majority of most companies needs, so shop around before you decide to hire in an expert. Be aware, however, that the trend of marketing in all sectors is toward data over instinct.
If you have kept the science to the lab and been winging it in your marketing efforts so far, start by reading Scientific Advertising by the late, great Claude Hopkins. Then, throw Google Analytics onto your site.
Google Analytics is the very least you can do. It’s free, and the insights you can gain from it are quite deep. Start tracking which pages are popular, and see how long people stay on each. You might just get hooked on the feeling of being able to see what’s going on out there in the mysterious digital ether. Just don’t start compulsively checking your stats like an addict. It’s a cycle that has brought down many a good marketer!
7. Mobile Snootiness Will Cost You Increasing Piles of Money
Simple tracking methods helped Steve Farnsworth of Impress Labs prove to one of his clients they had a much larger mobile base than they thought. His client had a biotech company in a very narrow, industrial niche. Their website was not responsive. It was a horror to operate on your phone. They were adamant that their B2B, narrow, and very “sciencey” business never had any mobile visitors. They assumed all their prospects were too serious to browse on their phones.
Steve threw Google Analytics on their site. Lo and behold, 20% was from mobile devices. Of those, the bounce rate was 100%, with an average on-page time of about 4 seconds. Not good.
Mobile-first design is essential for all of us, moving forward. 83% of mobile users claim a seamless experience across all their devices is important to them (Source: Wolfgang Jaegel). Smartphone owners now spend 69% of media time on their phones (comScore). The proportion of internet use on mobile has increased dramatically from 40% in 2012 to 68% in 2016 (Zenith).
You may still believe your industry lags a long way behind these trends. But do you know? Are you scientifically-minded, or not? Why not test that theory?
How to Make Money From Life Science Marketing Trends Without Wrecking Your Brand
Success must be considered in the short-term and long-term.
While “jumping on bandwagons” is short-term thinking, making use of under-valued (and thus under-priced) strategies and platforms while they are still cheap is a long-term move. On the outside, both approaches look the same. The difference is whether you have done your homework and are committed to it.
Is the pharmaceutical company on Snapchat just “trying to be cool”, or has its marketing director noticed that Facebook was once ridiculed when it first came out, and now everyone uses it. Perhaps it is a calculated bet that this new platform will also trickle upwards into older generations in a few years and that if they invest a little marketing spend into producing regular Snapchat content now, they will be rewarded with a strong following of people by the time anyone else in their sector even considers it.
If you are particularly risk-averse, at least know that the trends are as close to certain as you can get. Any individual platform or strategy may rise and fall day by day, but if you are not building up experience and competence in your company for any of these trends, you will absolutely be left behind any competitors who do.
Brainstorm where you might get the most bang for your buck, given your company’s current position and assets. Indulge in some strategic hypothesizing, and set up a test! Commit to a strategy for a few months before giving up on it so you know you’ve collected enough data. The sooner you act on these trends, the more value you’ll create for your company.
You’re probably too busy to keep up to date with every relevant trend, particularly when it takes work to separate promising trends from ones that will only waste your time.
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