Websites and Life Science Marketing

Last time I wrote about the enduring role of the print catalog in the marketing mix.  Now let’s turn to the Web.  We know from our research that 68% of scientists spend one to two hours per week visiting vendor Web sites.  (No surprise, Highly Engaged scientists spend more than 2 hours online looking for product information and are most likely to click on banner ads).

Scientists are aware that their product choices can have a direct impact on the success of their research and actively seek out information about suppliers and their products.  Just as the Web has become an indispensable tool in research, it’s now an equally important means of identifying and using products that will contribute to their work.

Detailed product descriptions, catalogs and price lists, protocols and application notes are considered the three most useful features of a Web site.  The interactive nature of the medium provides multiple opportunities to achieve personalization, customization and cross-selling of related products.

Your Web site is your primary brand builder online.  Your brand equity developed in the “real world” can be transferred to the Web, but the nature of the Web itself, and the evolving expectations of the market, will change the perceptions of value on which a Web site is judged.  As recently as six or seven years ago, simply having a Web site was enough to create an image of innovation.  But now that everyone’s got a Website, the battle for online brand equity will be won by those offing valuable content and the means to easily find and use it.

You need to think of you Web site as a value-added service not only to your buying customers, but to the life science community as a whole.  The service that your site should provide is the delivery of scientific information, where Website “users” are as important as customers.  That the value ascribed to quality information, such as specific protocols, will remain of paramount importance isn’t in doubt.  But quality information is not where the battle for brand equity on the Web will be won or lost.

It’s essential that user needs and expectations drive Web site development and the introduction of new services. This is because a user’s individual likes and dislikes may change even within the same online session, as the focus of their visit changes.  Brand equity implies trust and familiarity, and this can’t be achieved without continuous user involvement in the Web development process.

Brand equity must also be actively measured.  Too often, companies focus on the volume of “hits,” and number of “pages served.”  Instead, you have to realize that on the Web, more so than with traditional marketing media, users have many other “destinations” to choose from.  You’ve got to measure satisfaction with your site, and quantify the value associated with specific brand-building attributes.

And if you’re looking for sites to emulate, scientists tell us that Sigma-Aldrich, Invitrogen, and Fisher Scientific offer the most useful sites in the industry.