How to amplify your communications with customer insight
I work in probabilities, as do you. Whether or not you realise it yet, we make calculated decisions on a daily basis. As scientists, we like to think these are objective decisions based on information and facts, but the truth is far from it….
Displaying probability in an engaging way
There’s millions of statistics surrounding the scientific industry, whether marketeers are attempting to persuade their customers that their new flow cytometer is better than the nearest competitor’s, or for example, to provide credibility and differentiate their value proposition based on their years of expertise as a CRO (David Chapin – Making the Complex Compelling has mastered this art of positioning and justifying it with credibility statistics in his book, well worth a read).
My industry is no different. Marketing Reference Standards (controls) can be bland, but it can also be extremely impactful and exciting. Take for example a recent proficiency testing scheme (EMQN) that used controls to show a 3% error rate in BRCA testing – and whilst your read this, take into account this is a real probability, yet why I haven’t seen this statistic in any news…?
That percentage is big right? Well, maybe it’s perception is not so much. To simply present this as a probability/statistic as this would not be impactful and I’ll explain why.
It’s human nature to relate to probabilities as we calculate hundreds, if not thousands, on a daily basis sometimes without knowing it. Hundreds of micro-moments as we make calculations to trade one resource for another. However, when it comes to low probability events, they are much more heavily weighted by our cognitive brain when described in relative frequencies (how many) than in abstract terms (eg. Percentages, fractions…)
Appealing to the humanistic-side of all of us, marketeers and scientists alike can make their work much more impactful and powerful. For example, altering the statistic above (3% error rate in BRCA testing) it can be better presented as ‘3 patients in 100 are mis-diagnosed’. Now we’re getting more impactful.
The risk, relevance and impact are all increased with a simple language alteration. This is known in psychology as ’denominator neglect’ – we filter out the ‘100’ (due to brain bandwidth) and instead concentrate on the ‘3’ real patients. Visually your brain can imagine 3 human beings, it can’t visualize 3% without the relativity of the sample number.
Taking this even further and perhaps worryingly: studies have shown that people perceive a disease that is presented as causing 1,000 deaths in 100,000 as more lethal than one that kills 15% of any population even though the second disease is 15x more fatal than the former. Try it on your colleague/friend and you’ll be surprised by the results. Presentation is key.
Taking it even further with vivid representation
Almost contradicting, it is commonly accepted that vivid representation of any outcome dramatically disrupts the role of statistics and probability, regardless of the causality. Let me explain.
Imagine you had a 40% chance of winning $50 tomorrow and then compare this to a 40% chance of winning a luxury black box delivered to your door containing $50. Psychologists and studies show that the vivid representation (the luxury black box + delivery) heavily influences your choice and, when you hold a vivid image in your mind, it over-compensates and the possibility of the event not happening is greatly diminished.
More people choose and make a decision on the black box option than the $50 alone. Both equal with a difference in their presentation.
As a matter of fact (and slightly worrying for many scientists who claim to be analytically-driven and objective), a vivid imagery goes as far to alter a cognitive decision so that people completely disregard the statistics and probabilities. For example, the two probability statements below (although dramatically different in their outcomes) both have equal chance of a person conducting that decision:
- 40% chance of winning a luxury black box delivered to your door containing $50.
- 20% chance of winning a luxury black box delivered to your door containing $50.
This essentially means that the presentation of the marketing offering/product/claim is superior (hierarchal) than the actual offering/product/claim itself. Many scientists and product managers would squirm at this idea. But science is…science.
To confirm this assertion, removing the vivid image from studies (eg. the luxury black box + delivery) reinstates the difference in decision between probabilities (eg. If it were 20% or 40%).
Utilising the statistics/imagery in your marketing propositions
Hamid Ghanadan coined the marketing framework, which along with our own company, many use to empower their brand in an ever-changing marketing landscape. For those who know his model, a key concept is the idea of pre-disposing your target customer to your value proposition through a ‘leadership statement’: A bold stance or certainty in your customer’s future. I can’t think of much more powerful than creating a statement that is supported by the credibility of a powerful statistic that appeals to both the creative and analytical hemisphere of a scientist’s brain. (You can find a link to his book here)
Put your imagery into context for your audience
This is an incredibly important point.
Statistics that are salient, ie. more important or noticeable to the individual, are much more likely to be a) recognized, b) understood and c) appeal to the emotive (humanistic) side of us.
So, going back to my previous example in my industry. My research shows that, whilst most labs know of the error rates in BRCA testing, clinical labs are so cost-conscious (for numerous reasons with budgets being squeezed year-on-year) that they do not make decisions based on this information alone. To counteract this, a powerful leadership statement can circumvent this decision-criteria. A marketeer’s dream.
As a basic example, think of people who purchase flowers for Valentines Day – research shows that almost 90% of men do not use price information to make a decision on the flowers.
This situation is seasonal yes, but in the clinical lab world you have multiple, if not hundreds of these same ‘seasonal’ moments to trigger a purchase without the need of a logical, economical argument. Digital technology has revolutionsed the way most companies perform marketing, undermining the traditional ‘one-way value-proposition-driven marketing’ but instead opens up new possibilities to tap into these micro-moments in the lab (like most men’s panic on valentines day). Understanding your customer empowers everything.
Choosing the correct probability/statistic
When choosing your statistic or probability to motivate your customer as part of your value-proposition and/or credibility position, there are multiple factors to consider that, at first glance, may not fully make sense.
As an example, think about why more taxpayer money is spent on anti-terrorism than the prevention of heart attacks even though statistics show that you are 100x more likely to die of the latter? Whilst the prevention of a heart attack is within the realm of your control, terrorism is not and is therefore much more concerning. These type of statistics that go against common logic (and why it is important to choose the correct statistic) and can be seen in many situations:
- You’re more likely to die from drowning in a pool than being shot in the USA, yet more money is spent on gun-crime than lifeguards
- You’re more likely to die in a car crash than on a flight, yet more people are scared of flying than driving
It boils down to an equation, for your perceived risk of any situation (and therefore its power as a motivator over your decision-making) is dependent on both your level of control and your familiarity of that event/thing/situation.
Bringing it back to BRCA testing, consider for a minute the increasing familiarity of scientists with new technologies such as NGS they have over their experiments. Whereby previously setting up an Illumina/Solexa sequencing run on the GA took 180 steps manual-steps with mixing powders and reagents, all it took was one mistake at any step and there would be no results. Nowadays it has moved to just thawing cartridges and/or sequencing reagents in a black box solution. Less steps, more accuracy. So how to you motivate and pre-dispose customers to a product all about accuracy when this concern is a decreasing trend?
Here’s the kicker: with increased familiarity of NGS comes a decrease in their control on the workflow. Does anyone truly know what’s happening in those $1m boxes in your lab? By understanding your customer and trends, you can choose the correct statistics/value propositions to motivate your customer to make a desired decision.
Synthesising this insight into a powerful message in the BRCA example: Whilst trends show BRCA testing is increasingly becoming more accurate, it comes at a disadvantage. The accuracy is no longer within the scientist’s control – which they need to regain. A potent motivator.
Marketing an absolute zero…
Finally, it’s worth noting that people will go out of their way to make the psychological cost of computing statistics (or worrying) to absolute zero. Imagine you are lauching a new assay to market and are unsure what price you should be setting (or at least the perceived value – very different things!)
Assuming all other parameters are equal and that Assays A/B have equal market share (and therefore customer preference), the scientist in you would probably suggest that a 2.5% increase in accuracy equates to a $500 increase in perceived value by a customer. In fact, you’d be drastically wrong. Utilising the ‘worry’ principle, The company behind assay C could charge a very healthy price premium of 4x ($2,000), totally $3,500, and have theoretical equal market share to Assay’s A/B.
The psychological cost of making a decision and even more the cost of ‘worry’ is a powerful driver indeed. As a real-world example, take a look at the pricing of Illumina’s platforms and oncology panels and you’ll see the majority are 2-3x the cost of their nearest competitor. Accuracy is king…
(On a side note, for all those assay developers out there that read my blog – get in touch…)
My actionable advice:
The human brain is a complicated organ that, as much as we want to believe, is not governed by objective analytical insight (for both the good and the bad). When writing any type of communications, whether it is your next marketing campaign or your next grant proposal, it’s worth taking the time to think about how you will present your data/statistics:
- Create vividness in your product offering/statistic/communication – This will overweight unlikely events in decisions
- Choose your format of your statistic – People will overestimate the probabilities of unlikely events if presented as a number with a relative comparator rather than a statistic/fraction/percentage (eg. Disease ‘x’ effects 1,152 in 100,000 people)
- Use vivid representation logic in reverse – stick to probabilities and fractions and describe your competitor’s error rates using the vivid probabilities concept
- Be actionable – As Chris Conner says: “Be the company that solves the researching problem for him and you’re on your way to selling him the solution to his lab problem“ source: http://lifesciencemarketingradio.com/educate-to-differentiate/
- Be realistic – As Ben Rees (CMO at Redgate) says that you should always over deliver on your promises. Redgate has an amazing reputation in the industry, partially due to their quirkiness, but also due to this basic principal of under-promising and over-delivering SQL technologies and seeding out through word of mouth. This is especially relevant in the lifescience industry, one of my most recent market research reports indicating that 40% of our customers were influenced in someway by word of mouth/colleagues (it is likely to be more).
- Create a sense of urgency – As David Shifrin says on one of his posts, #4 is to create a sense of urgency “Urgency – the fear of missing out – is an insanely powerful motivator“ I couldn’t agree more.
- Be relevant – As Hamid Ghanadan says in his book, understand your customer and their drivers by first looking at the ‘three sides of truth’: The company, the customer and your competitors
- Demonstrate value – Put your customer at the centre of everything you do to demonstrate value through your presentation of statistics (within the context of the customer). Carlton Hoyt (from BioBm) includes this in his top 4 driver of loyalty and what we should all be aspiring for. “Do these 4 things well, you win” (see his website for the other 3…)