Marketing in the sciences post-pandemic: The shift to digital

COVID-19 inspired not only groundbreaking science but changed how the scientific community works and communicates. Science marketing has followed suit, evolving as organizations and individuals embrace digital marketing more than ever.

A preference for digital

Pre-pandemic, conferences, trade shows, and face-to-face meetings were well-used avenues to reach and engage with interested scientific audiences. The go-to-market model of field reps knocking on the doors of professionals (HCPs) led to the number of US sales representatives nearly doubling to 100,000 between 1996 and 2005 (even though the number of practicing physicians rose by just 26%).

As in-person meetings and events were modified and, in many cases, completely canceled due to the pandemic, customers adjusted and companies searched for alternatives.

Marketing budgets now reflect a new landscape, one of diminished opportunity ―and in some cases diminished desire― for in-person sales approaches, which has resulted in more emphasis on online engagement.

This is true broadly across all fields of business.

A 2021 CMO spend survey conducted by Gartner revealed that over 40% of B2B marketing leaders decreased spending on offline advertising and event marketing. Their focus has shifted: 48% increased spending on digital advertising and 53% increased spending on social marketing.

Research done by McKinsey further illuminates this shift: 52% of the B2B companies they surveyed reported switching their go-to market approach from a traditional, in-person model to a digital one.

Consumers are driving these changes.

The same McKinsey study shows how consumers are not only comfortable making purchases via end-to-end digital self-service, but are willing to do so for purchases in the $500k to $1M level and up.

Science marketing shifts

These trends apply to life and clinical sciences as well, as marketers and the professional community of researchers and doctors they interact with have adapted.

A 2021 McKinsey study of 100 MedTech companies in the US and EU5 revealed a major push towards digital marketing over five years: by 2021 84% of the US companies and 74% in the EU5 had shifted more of their budget to digital marketing.

This change has been fruitful: 90% of the companies in the study reported that the success of their digital marketing has improved ROI by 10% or more.

McKinsey predicts that the average MedTech company will put 40% of its marketing budget into digital marketing in the immediate future, to target key areas like product launches, lead generation, analytics, and omnichannel campaigns.

Scientists, researchers, and health care professionals welcome this shift, as it matches their needs: flexibility, personalization, and ease of access.

Surveys done on the content needs and leanings of cardiologists and oncologists help underscore these trends.

Over half of the surveyed oncologists (51%) find staying informed on the latest news and research difficult, with the biggest barrier being a lack of time. For them, the ideal piece of content is quick (6 minutes max) and engaging (relevant to specialty).

Similarly, cardiologists have intense schedules with limited windows of time. Staying informed on the latest research and advancements in the field depends on getting and grasping information quickly. Lack of time is the leading reason many cardiologists (73%) cannot consume more cardiology-related content, and when they do have time, most do so online: 80% view content on websites.

47% of the cardiologists surveyed placed medical websites as their first choice source for cardiology developments, in contrast to 7% who cited conferences as their first choice.

Two specialty fields are a narrow glimpse, but a revealing one. Lack of time is an issue for practitioners throughout the life and clinical sciences, and whether a doctor or a researcher, a clear priority is engaging content that they can interact with on their own terms.

The benefits of digital vs. in-person marketing

The pandemic was an obvious trigger for this shift to digital marketing, but the benefits of online are also a big contributing factor to its growth. Here are some of the benefits, and what science marketers and audiences stand to gain.

  • Increased reach with accessible, inclusive content that can travel the globe
    Digital channels allow marketers to reach a far greater population and include audiences on the other side of the world with ease. Conferences and events that were once too far away or expensive can now be experienced virtually (also saving attendees precious time previously spent on travel and logistics). This expanded access results in more global participation: our Nature Conferences program found ‘non-local’ attendees grew from 15% to nearly 40% when they went virtual at the start of the pandemic.
  • Higher engagement
    By making pertinent information available on-demand to the specialists that rely on it, digital content can achieve a greater impact. A focused piece of online content fits into the specialists’ schedule (as seen in our oncologist and cardiologist research), unlike the brochure they received at a conference booth. Digital also provides opportunities to serialize content; rather than a ‘one and done’ conference booth interaction, brands can connect stories and develop messaging across multiple touchpoints to build a relationship with their customers.
  • In-depth insights
    Crucially, analytics tools give insight into the success of digital marketing campaigns. A webinar’s analytics, for example, can tell you exactly who signs up, attends the live broadcast, their level of engagement with the content, their questions asked, polls answered and links clicked, as well as how they found out about the webinar in the first place.
  • Lower cost-per-lead
    Exhibiting at scientific events is typically expensive and can be a barrier for small and midsize organizations in particular. Digital marketing gives organizations of all sizes the flexibility to craft potent campaigns that fit their budget, saving money, and obtaining leads more efficiently than ever.
  • Sustainability
    The shift away from in-person events towards digital marketing means reduced travel, energy use, waste, and pollution ― an important benefit for brands who value their reputation for sustainable practices and for the growing number of customers who prioritize environmental impact over all else.

Embrace change

To be clear, the model of in-person conferences and face-to-face meetings is far from dead. As the pandemic ebbs, so too will the safety and logistical roadblocks for in-person events. Those types of gatherings will always be enjoyed by particular audiences, and marketing strategies must feature a blend of in-person and digital channels.

Nonetheless the pivot towards digital marketing is not a short-term aberration but rather a pragmatic response to the new reality on the ground: individuals and companies benefit from online marketing―and will increasingly rely on it going forward. So while in-person marketing will clearly live on, the pre-pandemic mentality of digital-also has swiftly become digital-first. And is not going back.

Be prepared for this post-pandemic era of science marketing by embracing a digital approach that can broaden your reach, satisfy your audience, and save you money.

What Springer Nature offers

Springer Nature has a proven track record of helping science organizations achieve success via its digital marketing services and products. Its digital advertising capabilities reach over 38 million scientists, healthcare professionals, and science-enthusiasts around the world. Their custom media team partners with organizations on targeted branded content and webcasts, while their editorially-independent sponsored content opportunities provide brands with a platform for thought-leadership. Contact us today to learn more about our partnership opportunities.

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