Life Sciences Content: How Technical Should It Be?
March 20, 2019
Total hepatic vascular exclusion. CRISPR-Cas9 ribonucleoproteins. Onychomycosis. Portulaca oleracea.
Do you know what these terms mean?
Nope? Neither do I. They all relate to the life sciences, and I found them on the web. But scientists, doctors, and other experts might know what these terms are and could probably talk about them for hours.
However, as a marketer writing about these topics and other life sciences, the challenge is obvious: How technical should you get with such content? And—if you need to go highly technical—how can you be authoritative and interesting with a topic you potentially know little about?
Over the years, I’ve written content for life sciences clients while having little firsthand knowledge of the science involved at the outset. And though I didn’t come away with a PhD, I was able to learn enough to write thorough, entertaining blogs, e-books, and case studies that appealed to the intended audience.
Here are some tips and guidance for handling technical life sciences content, even when the topic is as obscure as onychomycosis.
Know the Science
Here’s the big challenge marketers who join a life sciences company face when trying to write content: the science! Depending on the persona and the goal of the content (more on this shortly), your copy may require language and terms that are beyond your initial understanding of the subject. Unfortunately, you may never fully understand the terminology—unless you went to medical school or hold a life sciences degree—but if you can grasp the basic concepts behind those six-syllable words, you’ve won half the battle.
When interviewing the subject matter experts at your company—or just seeking content ideas from them—ask them to explain complex terms and ideas as simply as possible for your benefit. Their explanations might not be suitable for the subsequent content, but if you understand it, you’ll be better equipped to write about it.
Additionally, consume as much existing content—whether internally or from sales collateral or third-party sources—as you can to learn more about the finer details of the science behind your company’s product.
A word of warning: If you’re squeamish, be ready to squint a lot at images and video. I recently was writing for a life sciences client that had a comprehensive library of surgery videos and fact sheets. Although the content was informative and helpful … it also occasionally made me want to puke (and now you know why I’m not a doctor!). That doesn’t mean that you should avoid such educational content, but rather that you should be prepared for what you might read or see.
Know the Audience
Technical life sciences buyer personas know exactly how the blog articles, e-books, and other content you're writing should sound. The scientists and physicians directly benefiting from your product may want the finer details, or they may have gone to the internet seeking specialized advice to solve their problems. They won’t mind the advanced terminology—and may actually think less of content if it’s not there.Executives and non-scientific decision makers mostly want to know which solutions will boost the bottom line the fastest. Throwing technical terms at this buying group could bore them into clicking away from your content.
Knowing who your buyer personas are—and writing to their unique pain points and needs—will ensure you’re not including advanced concepts for one persona and oversimplifying content for another.
Embrace the Fun
Scientists and researchers in the life sciences appreciate highly technical content, but they generally also have a sense of humor. The blog and e-book content you write, though possibly brimming with science and scholarship, can be a little lighter when appropriate. (Obviously, with serious and/or life-and-death subjects, you need to be careful—a blog article about cancer drugs doesn’t lend itself to goofiness.)
A scientist who doesn’t appreciate silly puns based on their area of expertise is rare—even if the puns are groan-inducing—and irreverence and sass are fine in moderation. Again, knowing the culture of your company and the personas you are writing to helps determine how much fun you can introduce into content.
Titles and Keywords
Your keyword research will also contribute to how deeply you’ll write your life sciences content. If a highly technical term isn’t a great keyword, you’ll at least need to balance it with more common language so that your more general, less detail-driven personas find your blog articles.
On the flip side, if your good keyword is advanced, use it carefully in any blog titles that are going to come up in searches. Besides ensuring that you spell the term correctly (which isn’t always easy, particularly if it’s not recognized on spell-check), you don’t want the term monopolizing the search result. You may need to get creative. For example, a post on the best cough syrup formulas could feature this title: “Take Your Cough Medicine: The Latest in Dextromethorphan.”
Line of Cite
Doctors and scientists respect the research of others—so much so that content making claims that seem even a little bit unsubstantiated could be viewed with suspicion. This audience loves citations and bibliographies, so be sure to reference every external source you use.
In blogs, properly cited links might be enough (although we’ve had clients that wanted footnotes on every article). For e-books and white papers, footnotes and endnotes work better and are practically expected. For internal references, the more links the better.
Don’t Wing It
Even after you’ve worked to learn more about the science behind your product, if a particular subject is too technical or way over your head, don’t try faking it and writing something that is potentially inaccurate or embarrassing.
Consider contracting a freelance writer who specializes in your company’s specific life science. Finding such a writer might take a little work (particularly if your company is in a limited market), and you will need to set aside funds to pay this expert, but if the subsequent content is outstanding—and something not yet touched on in the space—the effort will be worth it to get leads knocking down your door.
Alternatively, ask for more help from your internal experts or even invite them to outline, write, or co-write the post. They can bring the science, you can bring the marketing, and together, you’ll produce great content.
About the author
Joe Gillespie is Director of Inbound Copy for SmartBug Media. He graduated from Marquette University with a B.A. in journalism and, before coming to SmartBug, was a two-decade veteran of the newspaper industry. Read more articles by Joe Gillespie.