If you know the industry, you would not hesitate to agree that selling antibodies is a tough business. The countless combinations of product customization needs alone will stop even the most seasoned marketer in his tracks. With a product offering this complex, how do successful companies market their antibody product offerings? In a conversation with Matt Landry, Vice President of Marketing and Sales at Aviva Systems Biology—a company that provides Polyclonal and Monoclonal Antibodies for research needs—we asked him to provide us with some lessons that he has learned during his career in marketing antibodies. Below is an excerpt from my Q&A with Matt.
Matt, you mentioned that marketing antibodies is tough business. Specifically how do antibodies as a product category make for more challenging marketing?
Challenges for commercializing antibodies originate from the complications of the emerging field of proteomics. Determining the specificity and utility of an antibody requires a significant investment, especially when considering the variety of potential experiments, which may include multiple tissues, cell-based assays, genetically engineered organisms, multiplexing, protein enrichment, quantification needs, etc.
It is no surprise that the research community has experienced multiple barriers with obtaining the correct results. Companies often release antibodies with limited validation data to address such needs of researchers. If no antibody is available with data supporting the researcher’s intended use, a choice must be made to either test the existing commercially available products or initiate “custom” production. Both are costly, and the success rate varies.
Often times the preparation of sample, assay methods, or other experimental variation will determine the success of an antibody. For example, denatured conditions of samples have a much higher success rate when compared to frozen and untreated samples, especially if the antibody used was validated by Western blot. An antibody company addressing the variety of technical issues can greatly enhance success rates of antibodies and make large contributions to the research community.
It is important to mention information management, since the volume of products on any major antibody website is in the tens of thousands and this massive amount of product content requires significant systems and systematic efforts to update. Antibody companies have become experts for managing a massive amount of product information for both online and operational purposes.
Seldom does a product offering contend with this much variability. With so much complexity, it’s a wonder that there are any commercially viable antibodies businesses out there. How does your current company minimize the variability in product success?
Aviva Systems Biology takes a systematic approach for developing antibodies. Multiple protein domains per target are selected to synthesize peptide-based antigens to generate polyclonal antibodies. Antibodies are tested against multiple panels of cell lines and tissues to determine if they are acceptable for commercialization. Afterwards, we focus on obtaining additional relevant data from collaborators. Our main objective is to produce a significant number of discoveries and applications resulting from our reagents. This combination of high-throughput production and ability to establish hundreds of collaborative efforts for validation is one of our strongest differentiating factors.
Let’s talk about marketing. What are the top variables that you focus on to maximize the results of your marketing strategies?
Since the primary method of commercializing antibodies involves web-based initiatives, we focus on web metrics like time-on-site, new visitors generated, and returning visitors. Associating these metrics to a particular campaign is also helpful for a comparative analysis to determine which commercialization methods are the most effective.
Marketing strategies in the antibody marketplace often involve adding additional resources to products to provide deeper insight to the customers. For example, at Aviva we added over 5000 disease, pathway, tissue, and related product categories to index our products. These categories provide more details on the target of interest and enable a more targeting browsing of Aviva’s products. Such enhancements can impact all three metrics described above.
At Aviva, we are constantly obtaining feedback from customers, which allow us to further identifying and prioritize customers’ needs. This valuable market research eventually leads to shifts in our value proposition, which can be monitored by metrics and compared to other company initiatives.
Sounds like you’re building an online relationship with each customer, providing him/her educational content as added value, and also responding to his/her needs. Do you systematize this level of customer-centricism, or is it as labor-intensive as it sounds?
One of my favorite aspects of life science is that customers are indexed to a greater extent than any other field I’m familiar with. We spend a considerable amount of efforts associating the available publications with our lead and customer database. Our interactions are never just an ordinary, “Have you heard about Aviva?”, but rather, “We see that your research involves cardiovascular disease. Here is a link to products which may be of interest to you.”
Maintaining a customer in this field requires a company to become a resource and provide additional details that the customer would not usually consider. At Aviva, we provide resources which list relevant genes based on disease, pathway, or other product category. We determine relevancy by listing number of available research publications which can be a baseline for determining priority. This enables the researcher to evaluate trends based on a particular topic. An excellent example is Aviva’s disease resource page, which can be found here, www.avivasysbio.com/research-areas/disease-related.
What are the top three axioms that you’ve learned in your career marketing antibodies?
The online marketplace is a key priority for antibody companies. Search engines like Google, have established significant online “real estate” which is battled over by multiple antibody companies. Webpage content, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics, and driving traffic to the website is key for success in this industry.
There is no question that a tremendous amount of energy and effort is taken by antibody companies to compete online for customers. Once a customer is obtained, a substantial amount of energy is needed to maintain that relationship to continue and build business. The antibody industry is no different than others. Repeat business drives profits.
Increasing relevant and appropriate product data can proportionately increase unit sales of that product. At Aviva, our primary focus is generating supporting data to assist researchers with their decisions to purchase our reagents. For example, we recently added hundreds of immunohistochemistry, immunofluorescence, immunoprecipitation, and immunoblot data to the products. By doing so, we expect a proportional increase in sales for those products.
Amazing! Have you actually witnessed a direct correlation between the increase web content and sales?
Increasing the criteria describing a product will expand the applicable customer base. With so many needed utilities for reagents, increasing the addressable markets can have a sizable impact on the business. I’m certain many organizations have witnessed the correlation between the amount of data for a given product and the revenue realized. Due to this, we have dozens of initiatives to enhance product data.
Can you share some takeaways that life science marketing professionals in other product categories can learn from antibody marketing?
Although the antibody industry is more difficult than most, the trade-offs are significant. From a marketing perspective, selling an antibody enables us to have more insight into a researcher’s methods, when compared to other solution-based products. By knowing the gene-of-interest, we can identify more needs of the researcher, which in turn can be used to promote more solutions.
Websites in the antibody space are optimized to a greater extent due to the competitive marketplace. These websites use tactics similar to Amazon in order to maintain a competitive edge. By reviewing antibody websites, a marketing professional can certainly identify the main commercialization strategies pertaining to the company.
The many complications and costs of developing relevant antibodies to research needs have inhibited many large organizations from entering the market, leaving an opportunity for smaller companies to obtain significant market share. Understanding the general needs of the marketplace, then prioritizing how an organization meets those needs should result in establishing significant business for many years to come.
Thank you, Matt, for sharing your insights and your wisdom with us.