The Life Scientist as a Consumer

In the past, strong, innovative products could literally sell themselves in the life science market.  Biotech tools companies focused on developing new technologies that were quickly adopted by end-users with minimal marketing effort.  To produce profits, internal manufacturing efficiencies were relied upon to bring ever better products to the market in less time.

But the very forces that caused the market for biotechnology tools to evolve so quickly are now forcing a reassessment of how companies do business.  The “push-to-market” model of technology-driven companies is being replaced by a more customer-centric attitude where the unmet needs of end-users drive the development of new products and services.

It is 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 in fact, they often take place in the realm of belief and familiarity.

Recognizing this characteristic of the scientific consumer helps us to better understand the dynamics of 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 deciphering the expression patterns 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 the responses to our many surveys, reveals a fascinating picture of the life science customer.  This picture illustrates an individual who:
One of the most intriguing—and challenging—aspects of competing in the life science market is the high degree of homogeneity exhibited by scientific customers, particularly in the ways they prefer to receive and respond to marketing.  Product development decisions seem almost simple compared to the challenge of creating effective communications designed to inform and influence life scientists. Perhaps the similarities exhibited by scientists should come as no surprise—for the most part these individuals have followed the same educational path, they read and aspire to be published in the same prestigious journals, they belong to many of the same professional societies and they have been inculcated with the same ethics and values.  Life scientists are simultaneously imaginative and yet skeptical, creative and yet critical.

Consider the environment in which scientists have been educated, were trained and currently work.  New theories and techniques are vigorously challenged and acceptance can often take many years. The same inherent skepticism poses a major hurdle for all suppliers seeking to introduce a new kit or instrument that deviates from tools or techniques that have proven successful in the past.

Life science customers are also influenced by the standards set in other industries.  A life science vendor might think it has done a great thing if it can custom synthesize a peptide in five days rather than ten.  But this achievement still may not impress a scientist who can place an online order with a clothing manufacturer in the morning and be wearing the shirt to the lab the next day.  This is a challenge facing all vendors — as customers receive better treatment, they soon demand even better treatment.

There are exceptional companies in every market —including the tools companies serving the biotech market—with which it is a pleasure to do business.  From the scientist’s perspective, even the most ordinary interaction with these vendors carries with it an aura of the wonderful and extraordinary. We refer to this as a “branded customer experience.”  A company’s brand embodies its reputation, image and identity.  It is the expression of both the values for which the company stands, and the value it offers its customers.  Convenient ordering, timely delivery, accurate billing, superb technical support and friendly, knowledgeable employees enhance a company’s brand.  Tools companies should express the value and promise of their brand not just in the product itself but at every point of contact with their customers.

In terms of their motivations and needs, scientists are little different from general consumers.  Or, as authors Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema observe in their classic work The Discipline of Market Leaders:
“Customers today want more of those things they value.  If they value low cost, they want it lower. If they value convenience or speed when they buy, they want it easier and faster.  If they look for state-of-the-art design, they want to see the art pushed forward. If they need expert advice, they want companies to give them more depth, more time, and more of a feeling that they’re the only customer.”

Substitute the word “scientists” for “customers” in the passage above, and you will truly understand the life scientist as a customer.  The tools companies that understand this reality are building customer satisfaction, trust and loyalty. It is upon these emotional factors rather than their technology alone that they will elevate themselves above those companies destined to languish in the “also-ran” category.

BioInformatics Inc. specializes in capturing the voice of the scientific customer.  The Life Science Industry Awards provide a unique venue through which scientists can recognize the quality and innovation of the suppliers upon whose products the success of their research depends.  The awards also showcase BioInformatics Inc.’s unparalleled access to the scientific community and ability to collect valuable insights and opinions across all regions and segments of the market.