T-shirts and enzymes

When your company sells biochemicals and molecular biology products for academic and industrial research, you might think that aggressive promotion, marketing and selling would be low on the list of priorities.

But even companies like USB Corp., a biotech company that sells products involved in DNA sequencing and genetic analysis, find it’s important to spend resources marketing its highly technical products. We won’t be seeing the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) frogs during Super Bowl halftime but that doesn’t mean scientists don’t appreciate creative promotions and a good deal.

Because of the nature of their customer base, most biotech companies have had an Internet presence for a while.

“Our customers were the very early adapters to the Internet,” says Diane Petro, marketing communications manager for USB.

Adds USB’s marketing director Michele Paris, “They were there years before the mainstream, to do research. And the computer is their preferred way to communicate.”

So the question for USB wasn’t whether to use the Internet but how to use it.

Because of the niche products it sells, the company has been able to pinpoint its customers, many of whom are younger academics just out of school, often with limited lab experience. Keeping that in mind, technical assistance and product description are important aspects of its site.

“Our customer base is highly skilled but there is not a lot of hands-on training,” says Paris, adding that even though the products are complex, the instructions on how to use them must be simple. “Our Web site is a lot more user-friendly than our competition’s. Our customers get the information they need; they don’t have to jump through hoops.”

With so much money involved in research and development, you might not think bargain shopping is an issue, but with an increase in the amount of genome research and the competitiveness of any scientific funding, it is becoming more of a selling point.

“Innovation and quality are two drivers, but prices have grown in importance,” says President and CEO Michael Lachman.

USB’s clients know a good deal when they see one. According to Paris, USB’s “order online and get a free T-shirt” promotion has been quite popular.

“One thing we know about our customers, they wear a lot of T-shirts,” she says.

If not in need of clothing, there is always the “get a coffee mug with your PCR enzyme” promotion. The quality of these product is paramount, but let’s face it — you can always use another T-shirt to go under your lab coat.

Lachman says only 5 percent of orders are placed online, but online orders aren’t the only measure of success.

“There has been an increase in the number of user sessions and protocol downloads — how to use the product,” Lachman says. “For us, that is the lead indicator of our success. We are more pleased with the interest in the company. We are not measuring returns on the number of orders.”

“We have grown in online users, but it is the number of user sessions and the protocol downloads — those are the important indicators. We are more pleased with the interest in the company.” How to reach: USB Corp., (800) 321-9322 or usbweb.com

USB Web site