Life Science Marketing: Change & Constancy

Our report Emerging Trends in Marketing to Life Scientists was designed to help marketer’s understand scientists’ receptivity to each of the following techniques used widely in promoting consumer products:

  • Executive branding
  • “Smart instruments” that share data
  • Video and livestreaming
  • Influencer marketing
  • Experiential marketing
  • Sponsored content and native advertising
  • Mobile marketing
  • Website design and digital touchpoints

In this article we discuss some of our report’s findings relating to Influencer Marketing, Sponsored Content, and Experiential Marketing.


Influencer Marketing

Frequently associated with the marketing of household items, influencer marketing is set to play an important role in the life science market where a colleague’s product recommendation has always been exceptionally important. Influencer marketing is about cultivating relationships with personalities who influence the company’s targeted audience. In the life sciences, these personalities can include prominent scientists, conference speakers, science writers and bloggers, and longtime customers.

Follow Scientists Online Percent of Scientists Who Follow Other Scientists Online


Influence marketing starts with a thorough understanding of the company’s customer base. Locating those with the most influence is not simply a matter of consulting grant and publication data, but identifying those individuals already predisposed to expressing their opinions through speaking engagements, articles and presentations online.

Influencers in the life sciences are in many instances willing to accept payment, but they must be convinced and convincing that the product will truly help to advance their follower’s research. This requires that companies initiate a relationship with the influencer long before payment is ever discussed. Companies can first help influencers build their personal brands by sharing their successes (e.g., a new grant award), publicly referring to them as “experts” and recommending the influencer to current customers as a source of insights or advice. True influencers are approached regularly by vendors who most often want to make a sale. Helping them first goes a long way to generating trust by solving a problem for them at no cost through experimental advice or the loan of an instrument that will generate data that can then be used in subsequent marketing.

Influencer marketing is important because it adds an authentic, non-commercial voice to content and delivers trustworthy scientific gravitas not often found in marketing communications. When successfully executed, influencer marketing increases a brand’s visibility, extends the reach of the message, and builds trust with potential customers and those they respect.


Sponsored Content & Native Advertising

Sponsored content can come in a variety of forms, and is often associated with content marketing. This type of marketing usefully comes in the form of an online article, or “native advertising” in which a publication publishes an article written by a brand, usually designed to blend in with the rest of the publication’s normal content. Sponsored content could also be a case study, video or graphic, originally published on one platform, but advertised on another.

Although some regard native advertising as deceptive, the main goal of both of these methods is to inform and help solve problems first, and sell your product or service second. Many life scientists find sponsored content to be believable, and a larger amount still say they find it to be useful. In general, this type of marketing is a great way to build a relationship with potential customers. Once you help them overcome a problem and establish yourself as a credible source of information, scientists’ trust in your company and your products/services will increase. Once you have trust established, then you can offer them your products and services as a way to meet their needs and help solve any additional problems they might have.


Supplier-Sponsored Content Percent of Scientists Who Find Supplier-Sponsored Content Useful

Sponsored content can be employed on many different media channels. One method often employed by companies is gated white papers or case studies on the company website. The customer receives access to a trove of useful information, but in the process they let you know that this type of content from your brand interests them, which you can then use to send them personalized, relevant marketing materials.

For social media, LinkedIn is a popular platform for professional sponsored content, whether it is articles, slide-shares, or whitepapers. However, a recent change to the platform’s news feed often hides content unless users have interacted with your brand before. Joining specific niche LinkedIn groups and becoming part of the conversation there may be the best way to reach your customers.

Reaching out to specific industry publications can also be a viable strategy, as consumers already see them as trusted sources of information. Publishing a guest article in them is a smart strategy, as any readers are probably already interested in your topic, and the publication is putting their stamp of trust and approval on your voice for all to see.


Experiential Marketing

Experiential marketing has long been a successful element of consumer marketing based on the idea that “try before you buy” helps customers feel more educated about a product and reduces their perception of risk. In the life sciences, experiential marketing is also more memorable when following an in-lab demo or returning home after a scientific conference. The range of tactics is virtually unlimited, but they share the common characteristics of being immersive, informative and fun.

Technologically, one of the most exciting developments in experiential marketing is virtual reality. Virtual reality creates the illusion that the virtual environment one creates is real and as such it can be manipulated and changed to fit marketing’s objectives. Customers can be placed in real world workflow situations and guided to understand an instrument’s features by asking them to push a button. Suppliers can talk with their customers during the session and interact with them as if you were together in the same room – even bringing in experts from R&D to answer questions in real-time. Analytics can be studied to understand how customers interacted with the instrument to refine the experience and provide marketing insights. Still in its early days, the use of virtual reality in experiential marketing allows a company to have a customer’s undivided attention for a period of time while demonstrating what makes a product truly exceptional.

The scientists from our global panel submitted dozens of ideas about how virtual reality could be applied to life science research and drug discovery. Some examples:


Virtual reality paired with livestream would aid in learning new techniques, new products, and new equipment. It could also be used/tailored to give “live” demos of new equipment that a lab might be interested in learning about or buying.


eLearning of how equipment works / protocol training / on-line support in solving problems with equipment/protocol (with sharing a screen and letting support team control your device) / preventive maintenance of equipment / proof of scientific & QC results and measurements (for instance absence of chromatogram corrections, images corrections and etc.).


In a research capacity, virtual reality could be used to simulate different environments and record brain activity, this work is being done at UCLA and elsewhere. In a more practical capacity, virtual reality would be great for teaching demos – we often need to show students how to perform procedures on the microscopic level and having a VR demo of that would be really helpful and cool.


There’s an obvious education component where these technologies could be used to learn more about particular subjects. Within actual applied research, it could conceivably be useful to engage with these technologies as part of group settings where ideas and discussions are being held in different locations, e.g. interactive webinars, training, conferences, etc.  


Allows for viewing interactions between designed molecules with wild type and mutant receptors to get a better idea what design would work best/most promising for subsequent drug design.


Following the metabolic fate of a new drug, and the identification of secondary targets (to be aware of potential side effects) could be of great interest during drug design phases. It could help reducing costs associated with animal experiments.

It is clear that scientists are anxiously awaiting the VR revolution – what innovations will life science marketers deliver to them?


Marketing to Life Scientists is Always Evolving

Our report also goes on to also cover social media where life science marketers are already using a variety of social media to generate awareness of their brands. A quick review of major suppliers’ Facebook and LinkedIn pages, however, shows that despite large followings, there appears to be little attempt to instigate meaningful conversation with customers. Because of this, customers have little incentive to share their experiences with their colleagues online.

We also looked at mobile marketing and discovered that scientists’ willingness to accept push notifications by text from a supplier’s app has risen significantly since we last asked the question in 2016. However this technique should be used with caution – where one person may welcome texts or emails customized to their product usage, another may think it an invasion of their privacy. Know your consumer and let them tell you their preferences, otherwise good intentions may be perceived as annoying intrusions.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of the very first edition of our Marketing to Life Scientists series. The cover of that report is now lost to the ages but the 1998 edition is still with us!




There have been a few organizations that have attempted to imitate our work but we remain confident that our data quality and long-term perspective sets us apart.

1998 Marketing to Life Scientists


1997: Wonder if this World Wide Web thing is a passing fad?


98 best-in-class


1997: Some timeless brands there (and some forgotten ones too!)


Marketing techniques and technologies may change. And the way in which scientists want marketers to communicate with them will certainly continue to change. But one thing remains constant: truly novel, breakthrough products will — initially — “sell themselves” in the life science market. The real challenge comes, however, when imitators begin to appear, and when products start to mature. When this occurs, those companies, which have invested the resources in marketing necessary to build brand equity, will emerge the winners.

I hope you found this final article of a three-part series to be interesting. If so, please share it and download an executive summary of 2018 Emerging Trends in Marketing to Life Scientists: Connecting, Influencing, and Sharing