How to market ‘boring’ products well on social media

Many companies selling into the pharma sector shy away from social media, because they worry that their product or service is not exciting enough for the digital world. But the companies that do best online rarely talk about their products at all.

The statement, “There’s no point marketing my company online. My product/service is too boring”, is not a sentiment that you hear very often in the pharma industry; not those exact words, anyway. The terms usually used are ‘too dry’, ‘too technical’ or ‘too specialist’. But make no mistake: what they really mean, but are too cautious to say, is, indeed, ‘boring’.

Those expressing it most often work for companies selling in to pharma – the consultants and service providers who help other companies with regulatory issues, clinical trials, supply chains, packaging and so on. And, let’s be honest, compared to their colleagues in the industry who are developing ground-breaking or life-changing medicines, or medical devices with real-world consequences (who of course may have completely different problems on social media), their offerings can seem a bit dry, technical and specialist.

So are they right? Is it a waste of time for them to invest in digital media? Yes, if they think they need to attract massive followings on Twitter and create videos that go viral globally, in order to succeed. This would serve no business purpose: the great majority of people, even those in the industry that they are selling to, will never be interested in what they have to say, no matter how attractively presented.

“Provided they stay focused on the people who actually need and use their products and services, there is room for almost every company to grow online”

If, on the other hand, they want to use social media to surgically and strategically reach out to a limited number of prospective clients, the answer is a definite no. Provided they stay focused on the people who actually need and use their products and services, there is room for almost every company to grow online.

For most B2B companies selling in to pharma, this usually means some combination of lead-generation on LinkedIn, where over 125,000 pharma directors are present and accessible – and blogging, email marketing and, sometimes, even Twitter.

No matter which combination you choose, the key to success is always the same: if your product is boring, don’t talk about it. The same rule is true, incidentally, even if your product is – objectively – not boring. On social media, companies which talk about themselves too much are perceived as too pushy and sales-y.

What should you talk about instead? Every product and service exists because it solves a problem or need. If it didn’t, there would be no business case for it.

Identify these problems and needs, taking care to see things from the clients’ point of view, rather than your own. If you can then focus on writing and talking about them, you will immediately make yourself interesting and relevant to those who are experiencing them – that is, your potential customers.

You can offer them useful advice and insight on a blog, in social media updates or in an eBook or paper, establishing yourself as the ‘go-to’ expert in their area. Give them tools such as worksheets or checklists to deal with some aspects of the problem themselves – again, turning yourself into a valuable resource.

Create online forums where people sharing the same problem can come together to discuss it (thereby identifying themselves to you as potential clients…), or conduct and share research that will help them professionally. Share interesting articles written by other people and other companies they might find helpful, as well.

“Set yourself up to be genuinely helpful to your target audience, and the business rewards will flow much faster”

Remember: not only do you not need to mention your own products and services, most of the time, you shouldn’t (aim to make 80 per cent of your material completely non-promotional). Set yourself up to be genuinely helpful to your target audience, and the business rewards will flow much faster, because you will demonstrate that you understand your clients’ challenges and worries, and have the capacity to help them.

Products and services can be boring. But people’s problems are never boring – to them, at least.

About the author:

Miriam Shaviv is director of content at Brainstorm Digital, a London-based agency which helps companies in pharma and healthcare find new business and clients through social media. You can reach her at miriam@brainstorm-digital.co.uk

Have your say: Can pharma and its suppliers build online relationships that result in sales?

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