“A word about scientists. I want to emphasize at the outset that, contrary to popular belief, scientists are not detached observers of nature and the facts they discover are not simply inherent in the natural phenomena they observe. Scientists construct facts by constantly making decisions about what they will consider significant, what experiments they should pursue, and how they will describe their observations. These choices are not merely individual or idiosyncratic but reflect the society in which the scientists live and work.”
—Dr. Ruth Hubbard, Harvard University
I like that quote because it makes you think a little bit differently about the scientist as a consumer. It’s often assumed that, because this is a scientific market, the evaluation of competing products and purchasing decisions takes place in the realm of objective assessment, but I believe they often take place in the realm of belief and familiarity.
This is a market where an unusually high percentage of buyers use products with their own hands to “craft” some important end result. Whether it is a world-renowned investigator unlocking the mysteries of a specific gene, or a graduate student growing a colony of cells, the end user has an emotional attachment to the process.
My experience, and our survey data, tells me that this emotional attachment often leads to purchase decisions based on:
- Beliefs about the product which are often formed through discussions with colleagues.
- Personal experiences with the supplier.
- The longevity of a relationship with the supplier, and
- The services and support that surround the product that the scientist thinks of as an integral part of that product.
Marketing in the life sciences is complex and very detail-oriented and executives often spend an inordinate amount of time on decisions related to the media employed to achieve their promotional objectives. Marketing is also expensive and it’s only natural to become preoccupied with the color of a brochure, the positioning of an ad, or the size of an exhibit booth. But what sometimes gets lost in this process is the message the company is trying to convey. While most marketers can recite the open rate to last month’s email campaign, or the number of business cards collected at the last scientific meeting, they’re often hard-pressed to describe the values inherent in their brands.
There’s an irony about this. Customers can always see the value of a brand very clearly — even if they can’t define it very coherently. This is because the customer must make a choice as to which reagent, or kit, or instrument to use. It isn’t possible to purchase them all –-priorities must be set. For most life science products, scientists make their choice based on their perception of competing brands.
You should be remember that for the scientist, research still carries with it a certain aura of “magic and mystery.” When offered the choice between identical products manufactured under the same conditions, most scientists will choose that which has worked best for them in the past. This level of unflagging loyalty is a direct result of the clarity with which they see the brand.
An important corollary of this clarity is that the customer also has clear expectations of how “their” brand should present itself to the scientific community, be it in the demeanor of their sales reps, in print, on the Web, or at a meeting. Loyal customers set high standards for their favorite vendors — an uninspiring message comes as a disappointment, if not a personal affront.
At BioInformatics LLC we’ve been measuring brand health in scientific markets for more than 20 years. We’d like to share with you our proven approach to help you monitor one of your most critical corporate assets. I look forward to hearing about your branding experiences in the life science market.