An antibody.

Abcam and Cell Signaling Technology represent two different but successful business models in the antibodies market.

Companies in highly competitive markets like the market for pre-made antibodies dream of having more of their customers recommend their brand. Nothing greases the wheels of market share like an army of unpaid promoters, right?

Guess again.

At BioInformatics LLC, we polled over 1,000 scientists from around the world who have purchased pre-made catalogue antibodies from a supplier in the last year. We asked them, among other things, about their purchasing behaviors, and their likelihood to recommend antibody suppliers to a colleague. Surprisingly, we found that the companies with the highest market share actually had the fewest customers likely to promote them.

It may seem counterintuitive, but it comes into focus when you consider the nature of the pre-made antibodies business. The antibodies market is highly fragmented, with the largest supplier, Abcam, capturing only 12.7% of the market. This fragmentation has been largely beneficial to scientists, as they are able to choose the brand of antibody that’s optimized for their particular application. It’s not uncommon for scientists to use several suppliers for their antibodies, depending on application. We found that on average, scientists use 7 suppliers for their antibody purchases!

In the face of this, suppliers have largely adopted one of two strategies: “depth” or “breadth”. In practice, this means that some companies grow through catalog expansion; others grow by expanding their expertise in a particular application area. Abcam, the current and still-growing market leader, has grown their market share by focusing on catalog breadth and purchase convenience. Indeed, their stated corporate mission is “…to build the largest online catalog of the best antibodies in the world.”

Others have grown by focusing on providing antibodies fit for a purpose, or by complimenting their antibodies with other technologies for the same field. Cell Signaling Technology, for example, has differentiated itself by focusing on creating products of the very highest quality, at the expense of product breadth. Their fundamentally different mission statement reads: “…to deliver the world’s highest quality research, diagnostic, and therapeutic products that accelerate biological understanding and enable personalized medicine.”

Of course there are tradeoffs. Abcam’s strategy has allowed them to capture the largest share of the market, while Cell Signaling Technology’s approach created some of the most loyal of antibody customers.

On the downside, we found that, in general, companies offering the widest range of antibodies actually have the lowest levels of customer satisfaction. Whatever advantage is gained through added convenience is lost somewhat by the lack of domain expertise. At the same time, focused specialty producers are not capturing the market share that their level of customer loyalty might otherwise afford.

Could the less-than-stellar customer loyalty numbers foreshadow a dip in market share for the market leaders? Or is it just a byproduct of success? Can the focused specialty producers scale to meet all of their loyal customer’s demands and capture share without losing their quality focus? These are important questions as companies fight for purchase consideration within an impressively fragmented market.