The researching and development of medicinal innovation is particularly reliant on cross-collaboration with multiple disciplines. Today’s typical drug discovery project may entail data sharing between synthetic chemists, crystallographers, various molecular and cellular biologists, and, in the case of clinical trials, the doctors and researchers testing the drug for market. Introducing disruptive platforms to streamline this work requires 1) developing a great functional product; 2) establishing superiority in a sea of noise from competitors; and 3) breaking through scientists’ inherent skepticism towards significant change and resistance to marketing hype.
Barry Bunin, PhD, CEO of Collaborative Drug Discovery (CDD), channeled his background in synthetic chemistry, drug discovery and pharmaceutical entrepreneurship to create CDD Vault, a biological and chemical hosted database and secure collaborative drug discovery data management platform. According to the CDD team, they approached their one millionth customer login, and the number of “Active Unique Users per Month,” an important metric, are growing exponentially as well. Optimizing ease of use, informatics and assay analysis and storage capabilities helped make CDD Vault a popular product for handling chemical and biological data. To foster user adoption, the team also infused an authentic knowledge of the customer in everything CDD Vault did – from the website and overall brand messaging strategy, to hosted informational webinars and blogs, to showcasing client testimonials as a primary means of promotion.
Bunin joined C&EN Media Group to share insights into his approach as a CEO towards marketing their product, and why he believes that appealing authentically to the interests and needs of his customer base was the key to driving sustained growth and renewal.
Product Development Is Customer Development
Bunin, who developed much of the very early marketing and branding for CDD Vault himself, has a very holistic philosophy about the role it plays in a company’s identity. “Marketing is what you are as much as how you do it,” he says. “Your brand doesn’t make your company. It’s the fact that you have a great product and great people and customer delight, and a 90% renewal rate. It’s on top of that that you can put on great branding. So, you first need to have the substance there.”
Practically speaking, in order to translate that rubric in to messaging materials, that meant first defining the product, and then defining its users.
Traditionally, as Bunin explained, these databases have been specialized tools that require IT professionals to operate. CDD Vault transformed them into something that the regular medicinal chemist, biologist, or enzymologist can simply log in to…. and begin analysis. For example, with the one-click building model capabilities, now a biochemist can do what could only traditionally be done by a computational chemist. This simplicity of the product is one of its cornerstones, Bunin says, down to their company tagline of Complexity Simplified. “When combined with other strategies – ease of use and purchase, plus secure sharing within drug discovery project teams – even groups that have never used databases before, like academic groups and start-ups, have gotten up to speed very quickly and expanded our potential customer base.”
How does this impact marketing strategy? The voices of this diverse user base have been aggregated on the Capterra site, CDD Spotlight Interviews, and embedded in webinars in the form of honest reviews and expounding about what makes the product work best for them. CDD allows their customers to speak on their behalf. “Initially, your company’s specific selling points are important so that you have the substance of a great product and great support,” Bunin underscores. “But from a strategy perspective? The people side matters the most.”
In much the same way that ACS taps into the database of its 150,000+ members for various thought leadership initiatives, CDD Vault engages the elite intelligentsia of science as an important conduit towards its product. An example is a recent Spotlight Interview with Dr. David Swinney, CEO of the Institute for Rare and Neglected Diseases Drug Discovery, who published in Nature on the first-to-market drugs from phenotypic versus enzyme screens. “If we have a community of the very top scientists engaged, other scientists know these people, – they’re household names,” Bunin explains. “Their ability to state the value of your technology is important.”
“A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words”
In addition to their prioritization of product development and organic, word-of-mouth advertising by customers, CDD Vault does rely on traditional marketing and brand development strategy. Yet, there, too, the marketing execution reflects what the product stands for – complexity simplified and ease of use. The foundational elements of their branding are derived from identifying, and then addressing, their clients’ pain points. “The ultimate goal of product messaging is to know the customers better than they know themselves,” says Bunin.
However, scientists are as famous for their need for logic and clarity as they are for not buying into hype. For Bunin and his marketing team then, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” The carefully selected primary image on the main website, depicting the product in use, is the sales moment. In one quick, first impression, chemists can read the molecular function faster than any well-crafted words, while biologists can see a dose response curve, which is the mainstay of bioactivity data. In one view, you get the entire gestalt of the product, the patterns that a biologist and chemist need to analyze their data.
CDD Vault’s homepage immediately showcases their product
In addition, product sub-functions within CDD Vault are named transparently and descriptively according to what they do. Activity & Registration, Inventory, Visualization and Electronic Laboratory Notebook (ELN) are all functionalities that are self-explanatory. Together, this creates one integrated message on the platform, which allows curious, independent scientists to learn about the product on their own without having to rely on too much pitching and explanation. In short, don’t get cute.
For the CDD Vault team, reaching market-leading status within about a decade has not necessarily been a linear ascent. Based on their user logins growth curve, it’s only the last three to four years where adoption has grown exponentially. The early years for the company were truly defined by laying the foundation as a pioneer in the space and developing the technology before it took off. They also built credibility within the scientific community – allowing time for researchers to test the system and evaluate it within the parameters of their own project – being, as Bunin puts it, “an honest broker.”
Attracting Leads from Thought Leadership
Due to the success of content marketing, it has become somewhat compulsory for companies to self-produce some form of internal content. But if not done right, or if you don’t target the right audience interests, they can actually often be a hit or miss proposition as a marketing and inbound promotional tool. CDD Vault produces and hosts highly attended webinars, attracting A-list scientists as guests and at least 1,000 listeners per session. For Bunin, the secret at the heart of every webinar of course lies in engaging the scientific community (preferably subject matter experts) on interesting topics that will appeal to their desired audience. But not just any audience – potential users of CDD Vault.
All of the topics chosen for the webinars, – such as advances in gram-negative bacteria, antibiotics drug development, bioassays for therapeutics, leveraging libraries for high-throughput drug discovery, – involve huge, challenging problems that CDD Vault customers work on. Presenters are representatives of the types of companies that the CDD Vault product is marketed towards. But in a desire to foster industry collaboration, the webinars are also a conduit to valuable insights and ideas, while showcasing the product in a way that feels unobtrusive and not overly “sales-y.” For example, a recent webinar featured the heads of PubChem and ChEMBL and the Gates Foundation discussing open access data sharing at a time when there is enormous international turmoil surrounding this issue. Using traditional marketing techniques to get the word out about the webinars — email, social media, and newsletters — is amplified by working with an assortment of well-known and well-established partners, who then attract their own networks as a multiplier effect.
Bunin believes in leveraging the webinars, plus other internet-based “low-touch, high-reach” marketing activities, alongside more traditional “high-touch, low-reach” activities, such as a conference booth, or following up one-on-one with a prospective lead. At CDD Vault, the marketing team optimizes the benefits at both extremes and takes advantage of their strengths: CDD Vault has an inherent marketing advantage as a web-based platform. People that are interested in the product can sign up for a personal demo on the site, and have immediate access to advisors who can help them find the right capabilities depending on their path (academic vs. industry, for example).
Know Your Mission
Having a mission that inspires people, that gets scientists to collaborate and work better together, is as key to CDD Vault’s marketing strategy as traditional inbound metrics and branding touches. Providing an economical platform to address neglected diseases is important to them: They have formed impactful, publicly announced collaborations with the NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, including a ten-year collaboration with big pharma companies to share data for tuberculosis research. This inspiring appeal to use the CDD Vault platform to reimagine the world and make it a better place has helped attract both customers and employees.
Doing more good for the world and their customers translated naturally to doing more good for the company and product messaging, Bunin explained. “Leading with the heart more than the mind matters. Other companies are bigger with bigger budgets, but they might not be able to care more. If you care more, that oozes through everything you do.”
All companies — from young startups to established B2B suppliers — can derive key learning points from CDD Vault’s journey. Understand the space your product occupies and what fundamental consumer need it solves. Don’t overhype it or try to sell with bells and whistles. Let scientists come to their own conclusions and adopt your product to assuage pain points and advance objectives. Be simple and honest and relevant. Support organic growth by letting satisfied customers be the face of the product. In a cacophony of marketing jargon and analytics, Bunin and his team suggest having old-fashioned conversations and a strong focus on advancing knowledge within the parameters of your product capabilities.
In short, Bunin’s vision as CEO is ultimately guided by a core philosophy that any company can integrate and adapt with their own flair: “Marketing is just an extension of having the substance in the product to begin with.”Keywords: audience development, branding, case study, CDD Vault, content marketing, engagement, inbound marketing, Lead Generation, Marketing Masters, marketing to scientists, sales, strategy, thought leadership, Webinars