Lab Manager | Run Your Lab Like a Business
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Effective marketing of your lab's capabilities ensures the role your team can play in their success is understood.
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Marketing Your Lab’s Services

The fundamentals of promoting your lab’s skills and expertise

Paula McDaniel, PhD

Paula McDaniel, PhD, spent 23 years in corporate analytical and product development groups at Air Products after receiving her PhD in Physical Chemistry (University of Illinois, 1988). In 2011, she...

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Lab managers are responsible for their organization’s success in advancing business priorities. Developing capabilities and strengths aligned with your internal or external customers’ needs is key to your success and theirs. Effective marketing of those capabilities ensures the role your team can play in their success is understood. Further, marketing provides an avenue for feedback useful in refining your organization’s direction. Too often, scientists feel that capabilities speak for themselves, but customers value proactive partners who are one step ahead. 

So, how can you start the process of promoting your lab? Understand your customers, overlay your organizational strategy, then develop a marketing campaign that best reaches your target customer base. 

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Understanding customer needs

Smart allocation of your marketing dollars is built on a clear definition of your target audience.  Customers can be individual scientists, engineers, business managers, regulatory coordinators, product developers, and others. Do not assume they are experts in your offerings and remember that priorities can change based on their capability, capacity, personnel moves, or experience level. Their industry, role, and budget will shape behaviors and needs. These can vary from narrowly focused (such as routine testing) to collaborative partnerships. Customer relationships are like any other; trusted partnerships are not created overnight, but require repeated touchpoints to cultivate. It is also important to develop a relationship with final decision makers who hold the budgetary purse strings. This will help you target a service level that is the best balance between the decision maker and direct customer.  

“Too often, scientists feel that capabilities speak for themselves, but customers value proactive partners who are one step ahead.”

With a clear picture of your customers and their needs, map your offerings to specifically address gaps or industry drivers. As you assemble key messages to include in your marketing campaign, ensure you are speaking your customer’s language. Consider both technical level and industry jargon. Being able to speak your customer’s language and deliver it at an appropriate level will build trust that you understand their chemistry, gaps, and industrially-relevant priorities. Realize that your target customer base might encompass a range of expertise and content reflecting this breadth of technical depth might be needed. 

How to promote your lab

Audience and message defined, the next step is to select channels to promote your organization’s services and populate your marketing plan. Pick those that reflect the industry and reinforce your brand. Consider whether your customer base is internal or external. Many of these avenues can be readily adapted to either scenario.

E-mail news blasts: Share news of new team members, capabilities, or offerings presented in terms of the impact to the customer’s business or efforts. Make them short and to the point and include a link to a more detailed brochure, white paper, or article to those wanting more content.

Seminars and webinars: These events can be in-person or online, pre-recorded or live. The world has adapted to on-demand viewing, so recording the seminar or webinar and including a link in an e-mail blast can expand the audience, giving viewers the chance to share with others or keep a copy for future reference. In the presentation itself, include a slide with contact details for follow-up. If you have identified a target customer group, such as a business team or R&D organization, offer to give a re-presentation. This will allow for more audience participation and an even greater opportunity for you to tailor it to their chemistry and expertise level. Ensure you insert questions for your audience to spur the conversation and obtain feedback to help refine your message.

Conferences and trade shows: Giving presentations and posters, and participating in panel discussions are great opportunities to showcase the organization’s expertise. These direct interactions leave a quick impression and can build credibility reflecting your knowledge of the industry. Many team members attend solely with the goal of absorbing new knowledge; however, train them to recognize that each touchpoint is an opportunity to make an impression or to gather feedback. Couple your team’s involvement in these venues with an e-mail news blast. Before the event, encourage your customers’ attendance and after the event, market your participation to reinforce your technical and industrial expertise. Finally, organize a debrief session immediately following the event to gather action items and industry trends. 

Social media: The success of social media is based on the development of your network and savvy use of hashtags and other tricks to get your content broadly distributed. Encourage your entire team to grow their network of business contacts to complement their more common friend/colleague groups, then promote content typically used for an e-mail channel. This can broaden your network as your content permeates through many layers of connections.  

Paid digital and print editorial content: To complement technical journals, there is a wide range of digital and print editorial avenues to leverage. From unpaid thought leadership articles to paid advertisements, expert interviews, or webinars, these can help expand your customer base within targeted industries or interest groups. In addition, these allow you to leverage experienced marketing staff to help you better frame your message. 

Customer discussions: Sometimes, the best marketing comes from your ability to listen to your customers and offer solutions with a deep understanding of their needs. Customer interactions are a key part of a contract R&D or testing organization, but are no less important for an internal organization in a corporate environment. These can come in the form of informal one-on-one meetings, program update meetings, and open-door discussion sessions. Bring the same philosophy about talking your customer’s language and framing your solutions based on an understanding of their service level expectations. Don’t offer a multi-month, multi-person project when a two-week customer target looms ahead.

Creation of marketing might be intimidating to a lab manager. Engage the support of an internal marketing communications professional or model communications you have received.  The key is to make them simple and straightforward—leave your audience wanting more.  

Address the challenges up front

Realize that market forces or regulatory drivers can dictate timing as a critical factor in your marketing plan. You don’t want to miss the boat if you advertise too late. As you build your proposal, include a timed layering of marketing tools, leveraging content created through multiple channels to get to the broadest audience possible. Use brief case studies, detailed white papers, interview format blogs, and more to reflect your expertise and understanding to different levels for different audiences. In essence, pick a more targeted topic and associated industry and populate your plan with tools and timing to entice your target audience. This will help build your broader organizational brand.

“Sometimes, the best marketing comes from your ability to listen to your customers and offer solutions with a deep understanding of their needs.”

Marketing does not come without barriers, regardless of whether you are targeting customers external or internal to your company. They can be in the form of cost, time, and behavior. Financial constraints will impact your choice of paid advertising or trade show attendance. Depending on the industry, some trade shows or conferences can be “must attend” to be recognized as a player in that industry.  

Time can pose a significant hurdle when faced with content creation for marketing. As a lab manager, it will be important to help your team balance content level with its impact. Weigh the value of a one-on-one conversation with one of your experts versus creating a reviewed technical manuscript and technical content needed for its population. Consider what your key customers will need for trust and confidence building. This transition can pose a challenge for some senior technologists as their view of publication was built on an academic model. Help your team explore a broader world of advertisement and marketing to develop an overarching brand. Transitioning your team to an application-focused, industry knowledgeable organization will result in them feeling included, valued, and rewarded.  

Creating a brand and executing a supporting marketing plan can help a leader achieve organizational alignment and success. The old adage of everyone rowing in the same direction is an important image as you focus your team’s ideation space on an area reflective of industry need and organizational strengths. Successful implementation of this process will result in recognized value by your customers, an engaged team, and a profitable and growing organization.