A reader asked me about how to generate demand for a laboratory commodity (like salt and other common reagents).
When you have a product that is indistinguishable from your competitors’, the value comes from everything around the product from how it’s made to how it comes out of the package and everything in between. There is no strategy that will win over everyone, but as consumers, each of us make purchases for reasons other than quality or price every day.
In every purchase there is an emotional component, without which there is NO decision at all.
A man has two reasons for what he does. The real reason, and the one he tells his wife. – Mark Twain
The real reason is about how it makes him feel. The one he tells his wife is to avoid looking silly or irrational.
People don’t buy your product. They buy a better version of themselves. I don’t know who to attribute this to as I’ve seen it in several contexts, but it’s an important thing to keep in mind when you are thinking of ways to make your product stand out. How can you help your customer find a better version of himself?
With all that in mind, let’s brainstorm a list, beginning with how products are made and moving toward how they’re used.
1. Show how it’s made
The first strategy that comes to mind is something I wrote about in an earlier post. This story of how Eugene Schwartz took Schlitz beer from #5 to #1 is legendary among advertisers. Even though every brewery claimed their beers were pure, Schlitz was the first to show how it was made to demonstrate its purity. Simply revealing a process that was common to all brewers was enough to own the position of purity in the minds of customers.
This strategy is ripe for scientific products. Because scientists are curious. Can you tell a story about how a product is made? Does it involve:
- Extreme temperature?
- Tight tolerances?
- Special precautions?
- Huge equipment?
- An unusual building?
- A human touch?
- Staggering numbers?
Tell that story to capture a unique position in your customer’s mind.
While not commodities, my favorite examples are gas chromatography columns and NMR magnets. How glass is stretched and forms a tube with a tiny inside diameter baffles me. And did you know that the coils inside an NMR magnet are wound by hand?
Are you a resource for people with questions? I wrote about this in a recent post. Be the company that helps researchers figure out what they need and they are likely to buy it from you.
3. Subscription ordering
This could be a sweet spot for commodities.
A lab probably uses fairly predictable quantities of media, agar, buffers, etc. over time. If you could set up a subscription service, you’d save managers and purchasing agents time. Who doesn’t love that?
My favorite example from B2C is Dollar Shave Club.
Buying razor blades at the grocery story is a huge pain in the ass. It requires an armed escort and a note from your mother. And they’re not cheap (hence the escort). So having blades delivered monthly at a small fraction of the cost is a no-brainer. Every month I get an email that says, “Here is what we’re sending, do you want to modify your order?”
4. The delivery experience
I think Dionex, (and they were hardly undifferentiated) used to send jelly beans with every order. I’m sure that didn’t sell the product, but a small touch like that may have a big impact on retention because it establishes a bond with your brand.
5. How it comes out of the package
Packaging is an underestimated part of the user experience, probably because you only notice when it’s really good or really bad. On the side of good, I’m thinking Apple products or the Heinz ketchup with the cap on the bottom. Barbie’s playhouse and action figures with a million twist-ties that need to be undone to get them out of the box on Christmas morning – not so much.
What’s it like to talk to your service reps on the phone? Every time someone calls to place an order or to ask for support is an opportunity for differentiation. Do they identify by name? Stay on the phone longer than expected? Ask about related things they might be able to help with? I’ve got a podcast to cover this one.
7. World View
People want to do business with people who are like them. Can you associate yourself with a cause or appeal to a certain type of researcher? The sheer fact of having an identity and standing for something is better than a faceless entity selling undifferentiated commodities.
Maybe you can donate a part of every purchase to a non-profit research organization or establish a scholarship for a student in the sciences. Or the arts – because the world needs art as much as it needs science.
Without the beauty of films and stories, why would we work so hard figuring out how to live longer?
8. Be human
Tell the world about your people. There are employees at your company the customers know and love. And maybe some they should know. Profile them. Common interests make amazing connections. Joe in shipping is a triathlete? Let him tell a story.
9. The local angle
Obviously, this only works locally. Why not ask the laboratories and universities to support a local business (yours)? Invite them for a tour and a lunch. Ironically, this could continue to pay off when post-docs or grad students leave and move on to other labs.
10. Establish a loyalty program
After a certain volume of business, send the lab a pizza or a gift certificate for their local brew pub (who might share the promotional expense with you). Imagine hearing your customers tell someone “Hey, we LOVE those guys. They’re buying us a pizza every 6 months!”
11. Create a community
Host an online forum where scientists can help each other out when they have problems. While this can be done by companies that sell complicated instrumentation, companies selling commodities might be able to create a more open environment. This is similar to education, above.
12. Green packaging
Living longer part 2. Why bother if we’re filling the world with packaging crap?
13. Develop a helpful mobile app
If you had an app that would help customers do their experiments better, you could be in front of them on a regular basis, suggest new products and methods, etc. I wrote a post on it here and did a podcast here.
14. Share a recipe
Be the Velveeta of lab reagents! No, really. I seem to remember the side of the box would have a recipe that required processed imitation cheese. Show your customers how they can use your product in an application they hadn’t thought of.
Some of my suggestions add tangible value (fast delivery). Others are subjective. But don’t underestimate the power of emotion. The feeling you deliver may be stronger than the logical benefit. Some people will buy from you because they want to be associated with you.
15. Watch this Webinar
I’ve updated this post from the original. Andy Bertera, Executive Director of Marketing at New England Biolabs presented this webinar at the Life Science Marketing Super Summit.
Andy presents examples from outside the sciences and then generously describes the activities that have differentiated NEB as a leader in Customer Experience. This is well worth an hour of your time.
Let’s go back to the original question. How do you generate demand for salt? Sell popcorn. Follow up with beer.
How about this?
That last thought was intended to be a joke, but it made me think of this: Pair your commodity with something else. Maybe that’s just for convenience. Amazon is great at this. (People frequently buy this and that together.) Or maybe it can be sold alongside something else that has a differentiated position. (Partner with another company?)
Be different. Good luck.