For Life Scientists, Advertising is Online and Print, Not Online vs. Print

Advertising Is Online and Print, Not Online Vs. Print

If the goal is to reinforce product differentiation and brand recognition, advertising—both in print and online—is the way to go. When it comes to advertising, life scientists are increasingly sophisticated and media savvy. The interplay between print and online advertising speaks to the need for more mindful and integrated marketing campaigns that blend print, online, mobile and social channels.

Consistent with advertising trends in the broader consumer market, life science customers are moving from a print-centric to online-centric world. Respondents spend 15% more time doing online research in 2013 than 2008—2.3 more hours per week. Conversely, they are spending less time reading print journals: down about 9% or 30 minutes per week. With more time spent online, the challenge for life science suppliers will be, as always, to get their message heard over the background noise. Smart advertising that resonates with your customers’ expectations and piques their attention works in a crowded marketplace to differentiate your products from similar offerings.

Life scientists perceive that online advertising is as effective as print in generating product and brand awareness. They recognize that advertising is a communication channel that creates and supports their awareness for the brands, products and services that they need to achieve their research. Unless the ad is so compelling or eye-catching that a reader tracks it to follow the story, most readers will not “see” or “notice” an ad until they need to see it.  Frequency of ad placement is an important consideration, both online and in print.

Banner ads should link back to the appropriate website landing page. The default action in response to a print ad is to go online to learn more about a specific product. This finding reinforces the accepted wisdom of developing integrated print and online marketing materials to assure the clarity and consistency of messaging and to reinforce brand and product identity. At present QR codes are rarely scanned; however, as mobile devices become ever more ubiquitous in the lab response to QR codes should rise.

Sponsored Content Is Valued Online and in Print

Advertising encompasses more than ads in the traditional sense of paid, purely promotional announcements designed to call attention to products, services or needs. Advertising, as defined in this study, also encompasses a wealth of information-rich, sponsored content, both online and in print. It must be clear to the reader that the content is sponsored to avoid potential conflicts regarding the editorial stance of a site or publication[i].

The development of layered online resources as part of a content marketing strategy provides the opportunity to meet scientists’ expectations to obtain detailed product information. Educational online content is typically the most challenging for marketing teams to develop and is often under-resourced[ii].

Online sponsored articles, white papers and protocol guides are highly valued by all researchers, regardless of region, customer segment or age. Sponsored online tutorials (webinars) and videos are more highly valued by younger scientists; sponsored webinars may also be an effective way to reach R&D scientists working in pharma/biotech where physical access to scientists may be blocked by site-security measures.

Scientific articles are the top “go-to” source for product information in print publications. The majority of respondents indicate that scientific articles and protocols are useful tools for learning about life science products and services. Buyers’ guides and third party product reviews are given somewhat higher marks than their inferred importance might indicate. Since “reviews” and “comparison” are the top two general search terms used when searching online, the availability of this type of information in both print and online can not be underestimated.


The extensive use of general search engines to look for product information reinforces the need for life science suppliers to actively employ search engine optimization (SEO) as part of their online marketing strategy. SEO takes into consideration how search engines work, what combination of terms are typically used for search as well as an awareness of which search engines are preferred by their target audience.

Only 20% of respondents click on sponsored links – either at the top and/or right of the webpage; overall, natural search results are preferred. Google ad words might be an expensive proposition for some marketing budgets, but as a line item, they will remain part of the online marketing mix. The challenge will be— and remains —how to increase their accuracy in light of ever changing search algorithms and thus their perceived utility from the customer’s perspective.

Technique, product name and application are the most frequently used search terms overall, cited by nearly three-fourths of the study respondents each. Effective branding through advertising— associating a specific name to a product in a market place where there are many competing products to accomplish the same task— is more important than ever to make sure your product is recognized as signal, not noise.

Changing Demographics

Our study sample included a higher percentage of younger scientists (40 years or younger) in Asia compared to that of North America and Europe. This could reflect a macroeconomic trend where developing nations, China in particular[iii], are making significant investments in higher education, with a focus on science and technology in general, including biotechnology[iv]. Our results also demonstrate that younger scientists value advertising more than older scientists (greater than 41 years of age) do. Younger scientists, because of their thirst for knowledge, are avid consumers of all types of scientific content: they are sponges, eager to absorb all they can. Brand preferences and brand loyalty can be set at this stage that will last throughout their careers.

Match-Up Advertising Content With Customer Needs

Make it easy for this most skeptical of audiences to find the information they need to make a decision. Use advertising to create awareness at the beginning of the purchasing cycle. Assure that credible, information-rich content, including sponsored content, is available and easily accessible as customers travel down the path of their buying journey. The closer they get to a purchasing decision their demand for information will both broaden and deepen. Advertising—both print and online—is the tip of the spear for integrated, content-driven marketing campaigns.

[i] Sonderman, Jeff. “News Companies See a Financial Future in Brand-sponsored Digital Content.” Web log post. N.p., 14 Nov. 2012. Accessed Web. 13 Feb. 2013.

[ii] Ghanadan, Hamid, and Veena Kumar. “Current Dynamics in Marketing Science.” Linus Report 3 (2013): 4-9. Accessed Web. 12 Feb. 2013.

[iii] “Next Made-in-China Boom: College Graduates.” New York Times. N.p., 16 Jan. 2013. Accessed Web. 13 Feb. 2013.

[iv] Baeder, George, and Michael Zielenziger. China, the Life Sciences Leader of 2020. Rep. Monitor Company Group, 2010. Accessed Web. 13 Dec. 2012.

This is an excerpt from our new report, Best Practices for Advertising to Life Scientists: Online and in Print. Check out the free executive summary, order online, or feel free to drop us a line!