Science Marketing Experts on Pandemic Lessons

What Upheaval Taught Us: Science Marketing Experts on Lessons from the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic put science in the global spotlight. Science marketing experts reflect on lessons from the past year.

By C&EN Media Group

Reading Time: 5 minutes

From virtual schooling to shuttered bars and restaurants, the changes brought by the COVID-19 pandemic left no industry untouched. Companies were forced to adapt like never before, relying on virtual communications and video conferencing to reach coworkers and audiences who were also faced with unprecedented challenges. Even as life in the United States begins to creep back to normalcy, we will continue to see lasting changes in the composition and function of the American workforce and in the way we do business.

And despite the health-savvy nature of our work, science marketing is no different. We spoke to four science marketing experts about the obstacles and opportunities for innovation presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the lessons they’ll take into a post-vaccine world.

Finding the positive amidst unexpected challenges

At the start of the pandemic, it was impossible to anticipate what the coming months would hold, making even the simplest of daily communications an obstacle.

“Early on in the pandemic while so many of us were feeling scared and unsure, our biggest challenge was determining when and how to share updates, milestones, and good things that were happening while still being mindful and respectful of the unsure footing we all found ourselves on,” said Katie Morgan, Vice President of Marketing & Corporate Social Responsibility at Avomeen, which provides analytical testing and development services for key life sciences end markets.

As Morgan noted, this attitude shaped much of Avomeen’s marketing strategy moving forward.

“We came to understand and realize that during times of uncertainty, people wanted and needed something to celebrate and feel good about, and we had to learn how to balance those bright spots within the whole of our content and messaging, including the impact of the pandemic and our efforts to partner with our clients to fight the virus.”

Understanding changes in media consumption during lockdowns

The transition to increased remote work was also a major challenge, not only for those in the marketing sphere but also for the audiences they aimed to reach. Christine Gallup, Communications Manager for Genomatica, noted the unexpected difficulties associated with reaching customers on different platforms and schedules.

“Our biggest challenge was understanding how our customers were consuming content. With the erratic working-from-home hours, it was challenging to predict when, where and how they were looking for information,” she said. Genomatica develops biobased processes to make widely used chemicals that enable better, more sustainable everyday products.

Not everything translates well to digital platforms…

Trade shows and conferences, a marketing staple for many science companies, faced cancellations or virtual transitions throughout 2020. While virtual communications were invaluable during the pandemic, some strategies were impossible to replicate over a screen.

Colleen Tocci, Communications and Product Manager for Belchim Crop Protection USA, lamented this loss of face-to-face contact. Many companies in the agricultural industry like Belchim relied significantly on in-person meetings, trade shows and field days, where companies invite potential customers and walk them through the fields showing the impact their products  (such as herbicides, insecticides, fungicides) have on crop production.

“While a picture is worth a thousand words, bringing a customer to a field in person, showcasing a field treated with your product, and enabling them to see for themselves the benefit of adding your product is worth two thousand words!” Tocci remarked.

…but remote meetings can be more efficient and flexible

Despite the rocky process of adapting to changed schedules and work styles, the transition to remote work also offered flexibility not previously possible. This new option was highlighted by Bruno Larida, Vice President of Marketing for Seegene Technologies, a molecular diagnostics company that had a particularly busy year developing and distributing COVID-19 assays.

“What was great during this period is that we could be talking to someone in New York at 8 am and at 8:30 we could meet with someone in Seattle,” said Larida. “Suddenly we could reach more customers all over the U.S. without the cost and time wasted in traveling.”

With more people online, digital content is the way to go

Even without in-person trade shows and traditional conferences, the science marketing experts all reported finding new tactics for connecting with potential customers. As individuals’ internet use surged from the start of pandemic lockdowns, companies also turned their attention online.

“As we shifted from in-person meetings and events to digital platforms, we developed a more robust digital presence. We prioritized online engagement by contributing timely content and listening to what our customers were saying across platforms, whether it was at virtual tradeshows and webinars or on LinkedIn and Instagram,” said Genomatica’s Gallup.  

Using social media gives instant data insights

Indeed, 2020 was a huge year for social media in marketing.

Overall use of social media increased during the pandemic, and 82% of North American respondents surveyed during the pandemic said that social media is the most common channel by which they get information about a brand or product.

Larida from Seegene noted that this shift in marketing approach often proved more efficient than the company’s usual tactics. “We took the opportunity to spend more time developing our presence on social media, creating our U.S. website and analyzing campaign results and ROI, activities that would have taken longer to accomplish if we’d had to go to live conferences,” he said.

Fostering connections, even while we’re apart

Importantly (and as many of us can relate to), companies found they were able to meaningfully come together with their existing clients during this challenging time despite being physically apart for the foreseeable future.

“Calls with clients often started with conversations about how they and their loved ones were doing and how they were holding up, rather than the typical quick greetings we were used to before COVID,” said Morgan from Avomeen. “We had been working to connect with our clients on a more emotional level before the pandemic, but that was amplified and became more personal as we all lived through it.”

Staying agile post-pandemic

So, even after we start seeing others in person and putting away our masks and hand sanitizer (well, maybe that can stay), what changes in science marketing will persist into the future?

First, Gallup from Genomatica said that the spirit of quick adaptation developed during the pandemic is here to stay:

“We will continue to focus on agility — quickly adapting our digital marketing and messaging to provide relevant information that’s tailored to fit our customers’ interests and evolving digital platforms.”

Integrating digital content into in-person meetings

The increased use of digital platforms has also created some lasting benefits that will carry over into future in-person conferences or trade shows.

“The on-demand modules and webinars will be great tools to send in a “follow up” email after a visit or meeting to provide another point of contact with the person that you met with,” said Tocci from Belchim. “If they tossed that piece of literature you left behind, sending something digitally a few days later gives you an opportunity to get in front of them again.”

Putting your heart into marketing

Beyond approaches that keep your message from getting crumpled in the bottom of a briefcase, the last year has given us a lesson in what lies at the heart of marketing.

“Moving forward, we don’t want to lose sight of the emotional connection and personal aspect of marketing,” noted Morgan from Avomeen. “It’s easy to focus on tactics and tasks, but by keeping our clients and their needs at the forefront of all that we do – and that includes the entire client/buyer journey and experience – we can create stronger, longer-lasting relationships that are fulfilling on both a personal and professional level.”

While there’s a lot from 2020 we’d all like to leave behind, that’s one sentiment we’re happy to keep.

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