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Science communication is the central pillar holding any biotechnology and pharmaceutical company together. This article will provide you with strategic and tactical advice on building your science communication strategy from ground up, while showing you along the way how your science story has the power to make or break your company. Many companies in this sector attempt to meet their obligation for delivering information to their stakeholders by haphazardly creating individual pieces of press releases, email newsletters, and social media content without first devising a science communication strategy. This is akin to shooting arrows at a target with your eyes closed. Creating stand-alone communication material and trying to see whatever sticks with your customers and investors will not lead you far ahead in the business. Only with a purposeful and targeted strategy, driven by research and data will you be on your path to success in our ever-evolving and increasingly challenging industry.
What does science communication for the biotech and pharma sector entail?
Science communication is a broad field that comprises of a range of roles undertaken by in-house specialists or outsourced agencies. Science communicators are engaged in activities that encompass medical and technical communication, science journalism and content writing, public engagement and outreach, and finally advertising and marketing.
- Medical and technical communication: involves the creation of material concerning regulatory affairs, clinical trials, and laboratory protocols. Medical communicators spend the majority of their time writing manuscripts for original and review articles, and creating conference material that includes presentations, posters, and other promotional resources. They create information to be used by company sales reps, put on websites, and instruct patients regarding medications. People engaged in medical and technical communications are skilled at translating complex and specialized concepts into an easy-to-understand language that is comprehensible as well as actionable by their readers.
- Science journalism and content writing: involves creating content to educate your readers about scientific topics and latest research happenings. The goal here is to keep the readers informed of important topics and latest trends spanning the fields of medicine, science, and technology. Creating regular and updated content for your websites, for instance, is a great way to bring a target audience to you. By creating content on a range of topics of potential interest to your target audience, you are going beyond just selling your products and are positioning yourself as the leader in the market.
- Public engagement and outreach activities: involves working with the different media outlets and the public directly to create awareness and acceptance for your products and services. For the pharma sector, patient advocacy groups have come to play an increasingly important role in deciding whether new products and services fail or succeed. Also included in this category is communication to raise awareness on those diseases that your products seek to treat or cure. Companies that fully harness public engagement opportunities have an easier time in market penetration. Using the different media outlets that reach your target audience is also a great way to get your message across on a large scale. Science journalists will often cover research coming from biotech companies and discuss the latest products from pharma companies that are of interest to their readers.
- Advertising and marketing: involves creating communication material that focuses on highlighting the superior features and benefits of your products. Many healthcare companies also employ behaviour change advisors who work closely with the marketing department to create targeted and effective marketing material that includes consumer adverts in print and digital media, pamphlets, brochures, direct mails, newsletters, and material for exhibition stalls at conferences.
Such a categorization of the work within science communication as described above is applicable only for logistic purposes because when it comes to practice, science communicators often work on overlapping terrains of one another.
Another point to consider is that in all these science communication activities, creating multimedia content using a combination of text, graphics, digital media, audio and video is highly recommended for reaching your many stakeholders including consumers, businesses, patients, investors, regulatory bodies, and the media.
How to set-up a science communication strategy for your organization
Step 1: Knowledge is Power: Start with Research
- Identify your target groups
Build the foundation of your science communication strategy with in-depth research and analysis into your target groups and your market niche. Your target groups include all those people and organizations to whom you depend for your success. These include your customers, investors, media outlets, regulatory bodies, and job boards. For each of these target groups collect all available information.
- Build around your business model
Most biotech and life science companies work on a B2B business model, i.e., business-to-business model that involves selling products or services to other businesses. While the majority of pharma companies work on a B2C model where they sell their products directly to the individual consumers. These two business models aim to draw the attention of two distinct audiences, which differ in their scale, budget, and logistic operations. Therefore, your marketing strategy for a product or service will vary depending on these target groups. Analyse the behaviour of your customers by looking for common characteristics, needs, and demographics. For biotech and pharma companies, your target niche could be a specific patient population, venture capitalists, or a particular talent market.
- Find out where your audience hangs out
Once you have identified and analysed your target groups, find out what outlets do they commonly use to get their information. These are going to be the channels that you will use to reach them such as emails, social media, or scientific conferences.
- Gather market intelligence
Next, understand your target market niche by gathering market Intelligence. Check out what needs are satisfied by your product or service and check out your competition. Think about those who will benefit from your product or service. It is very important to define your target niche early on in your strategy. A product will always have a particular niche, and you must understand that niche if you want to dominate it. In fact, the better you understand your product’s niche, the more customized your communication will be in the form of relevant content, ads, and messages. This is how you will turn your readers into buyers.
Step 2: How do you want to be known? Creating your Brand Identity
Why create a brand identity
A strong brand image leads to an increase in perceived value. With a strong brand at hand, you can weather the foreseeable and unforeseeable future and are more securely positioned for the long term. Your brand identity is also what will help you navigate a crisis situation (Step 5). More than any other industry, pharma and biotech companies need to focus on a brand-building strategy rather than on communications surrounding individual products.
- First, because there are government imposed limitations on the advertisements of these products in several countries.
- Second, because for consumers it is difficult to tell the difference between your product and other products that are already available in the market.
- And third, because these products have an effect on their health, consumers are more likely to emotionally connect with them. And since it is much easier to harness emotional connection with a brand than with each individual product, you should strategize your communications towards building your brand.
Nowadays, many brands that have become successful built their identity around issues like sustainability, women empowerment and celebrating diversity. Examples of these are J&J’s Re-ignite Program and GSK’s environmental goals. Your brand is how you portray your leadership to the society and it goes beyond your products.
How to create a brand identity
Now that you know the importance of a brand identity, how do you go about building one? Especially when all biotech and pharma companies seem to share their persona of innovation, high-science, and unmet needs? Remember, your brand is not what you say it is, instead it is what they say about you.
- Define your objectives: What is the brand identity that you want to achieve? Is it savvy, experimental, driven, radical, considerate, transparent, purposeful, endearing, or something else. Once you have defined your objective for a brand identity, set goals that will allow you to achieve that. Make sure these goals have the SMART characteristics, i.e. they are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based.
- Think about the visuals: These include everything from the logo, colors, font, illustration, web design, and data visualization.
- Think about the message: For your different stakeholders, think about who needs what information and when. To create the maximum impact and credibility you need to make your audience understand your value proposition, i.e., what is it that you are offering and how is it good for them. Have a consistent message in all your communication material that you can build on as you go along.
Step 3: Implementing your science communication strategy: The different mediums of communication
Every piece of communication material that you produce has the goal of bringing your audience to your website, where they should find more information about you and your products. To help them navigate your online world seamlessly, pay attention to the design and the layout of your website. Science communicators should work with experts in website development, marketing, graphics, and business relations in order to create all the content on the corporate website. Moreover, companies should also set up national websites that contain more targeted information based on the needs of the country. When writing the content of the different pages, make sure you include relevant keywords in your text. Collaborate with an expert in SEO optimization to ensure that search engines are creating the visibility that you would like for your website and its many pages. Update information on the website regularly and create dedicated pages for technical information. Try to minimise abstract information and instead focus on providing concrete actions, case studies and benefits of your products and services. As we will see in the next step, companies with the highest website traffic are also the companies with the highest sales.
2. Email newsletters and press releases
A consistent presence is key to building your brand identity. Keeping your target groups updated on all the latest developments happening in your organization can be achieved with the help of email newsletters and press releases. These should be aligned with your overall communication objective.
3. Social Media
With proper use, social media can be extremely beneficial to generate brand awareness, drive traffic to your website, and gain an edge over your market competitors. For instance, you will find a highly engaged audience of finance and investment professionals, scientists, and patient groups on Twitter. Many organizations think that users of social media are only interested in using these platforms for pleasure and not business. This is not true. No channel of communication should be overlooked that can help you reach your target audience.
Any effective science communication strategy for biotech and pharma must address all levels of decision-makers and stakeholders by developing relevant capacities for their engagement. The ability to share a compelling story about you and your work can go a long way in establishing your market position.
Step 4: Evaluating your science communication strategy
1. Why is it important to evaluate your science communication strategy?
After all the time and effort you took in devising your science communication strategy and executing it, now comes the day of the truth. Were you successful in getting your message across to your target audience? It is very important to review the progress of your strategy as a whole as well as its various components regularly at predefined time periods. You should measure your results against your original objective set and identify key areas for improvements.
2. How to go about evaluating your science communication strategy
With our new ways of communication and the rapidly evolving media landscape, assessing your science communication strategy means asking questions that were previously unanswerable. Do people like the content on your website? Do your blog posts, on which you spent a lot time and money, create an impact? What is the engagement like on your social media posts? Is your message reaching the right audience? To answer these, you need to set up and measure specific metrics like website traffic, click through rates for emails, average duration of website visits, and engagement on social media platforms.
- Website traffic: How many internet users are visiting your website, browsing products, downloading resources and engaging with your activities. This is an important metric to keep an eye on because the more visitors you have to your website, the more opportunities you have to impress them by solving their problems. This is the ideal way to start a relationship with your potential customers. Ultimately, all your digital platforms, be it email newsletters or social media platforms are directing the visitors to your website for more information. Some of the top companies with the highest monthly website visits are:
Johnson & Jonhson with 2.68 Million monthly website visits (August 2021) and 22.3 Billion of sales in the first quarter of 2021.
Roche with 1.17 Million monthly website (August 2021) visits and 33.46 Billion of sales for the first quarter of 2021.
Pfizer with 2.82 Million monthly website visits (August 2021) and 14.6 Billion revenue for the first quarter of 2021.
Thermo Fisher with 6 Million monthly website visits (August 2021) and 9.9 Billion of revenue in the first quarter of 2021.
- Website engagement: Having good website traffic is great but are you bringing the right people to your website? Is there a mismatch between your visitors’ expectations and your website content? The answers to these questions can be assessed using several metrics like visit duration, pages per visit, and bounce rate.
- Social media engagement: These platforms, in addition to being a means of broadcast are also a way to engage directly with your target groups. The most successful social media campaigns foster discussions amongst the audience on topics of interest to your industry. Find out how many people came across your posts on social media and from those how many were directed to your website.
Step 5: When bad things happen: Putting crisis communication in place for just in case
1. What can go wrong?
A strong science communication plan has several checks and balances to ensure that only the correct information is communicated in a clear, coherent, and consistent way. But sometimes situations develop where it is not clear who is responsible for what and your message ends up getting communicated without the approval of key stakeholders in the company. One of the most frequent factors that befalls a communication disaster is when there are several gaps in the internal communication strategy of a company that can lead to the communication of antiquated information.
2. What to do in such a situation?
The biotech and pharma sector is relatively more prone to suffer from crisis situations because new knowledge is constantly being gathered, rendering the current information either meaningless or even misleading. The first thing to do in such a situation is establish a clear line of internal communication that explicitly defines the responsibilities of each person on the team. The science communicator who is responsible for crafting all the messages during the crisis period should work directly in such a situation with the key decision-makers of the company. The two factors that you should depend on and project further during this period are transparency and your brand identity.
The Ins and Outs of Outsourcing
There has been a recent proliferation in the number of agencies working in the science communication arena. Many of these provide the whole package of services while others focus on specific areas like PR and marketing. There are also freelancers you can hire to meet specific requirements of your company.
These days, most of the medical and technical communications work is delivered by medcomms agencies. They provide a range of consultancy services that include dissemination of the clinical data in scientific journals and they can also assist in developing communications to make a drug or therapy more visible. They advise on how to educate various stakeholders about the potential benefits and risks. Freelancers can help you create content on topics relevant to the industry and you can hire them on a project-by-project basis to write blogs posts or newsletter content.
The communication needs of the biotech and pharma industry is unique compared to all other industries because of regulations imposed by the different governments on what kind of information can be communicated. By considering what the top revenue-generating biotech and pharma companies are doing in the digital space and how they are utilizing the many opportunities provided by the different platforms, the goal of this article was to guide you in setting up an effective science communication strategy for your organization. But remember, once you have established your strategy and put all the cogs in place, you also need to review, assess and update it regularly. And finally, don’t forget that science communication is all about increasing our sense of wonder about scientific discoveries, and through it, the world we live in.
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