Science Marketing Masters Q&A: Jeff Lee, Senior Editor, C&EN BrandLab
Our newest team member shares his insights on storytelling, reaching niche audiences, and how to stay relevant in a complex environment.
There are keys to effective content creation common to all niche audiences. Jeff Lee proved that he understood niche storytelling in the construction industry before he stepped into the science arena as senior editor of C&EN BrandLab. We wanted to know what common factors he sees across these industries, and what other science marketers can learn from his experience.
- Welcome to C&EN, Jeff! What drew you to C&EN, specifically BrandLab? What is your role within BrandLab?
Jeff: I was drawn to C&EN for the opportunity to communicate to a niche audience. My last position was in the building industry, where I created interesting, fun, and useful content for builders, plumbers, HVAC professionals, and so on. When creating content for a specialty audience, it’s critical to learn what makes them tick – what they care about, what their pain points are, and what makes them come back for more. When the opportunity arose to do the same for another unique audience, for scientists, I took it.
As senior editor of C&EN BrandLab, it’s my job to conceive and execute content marketing products for C&EN clients – to help companies tell their stories to chemists and other scientists in the industry.
I approach this task by thinking of a Venn diagram. One circle is made up of the topics and subject areas where your company has the authority to tell informative, engaging stories. The other circle is your audience’s needs and expectations. Where those two circles overlap is your unique content.
- What makes someone a good storyteller? Is it something innate or something that can be learned?
Jeff: Like so many other content marketers, I have a journalism background. I started my career editing a magazine, which is where I learned that the key to good storytelling is really understanding your audience. It may seem obvious, but so often it’s overlooked in the pursuit to get our marketing messages out there. I learned to really dig in to understand the subject matter they valued and how I could help consistently supply that.
- Why is storytelling important for science marketers? What opportunities for marketers lie in the chemistry space using this method of advertising?
Jeff: C&EN is a great way to reach chemists. We offer a lot of opportunities to tell stories using a variety of media like infographics, video, print, and more—all on the C&EN channels where we know your audience is already spending time consuming content. And in BrandLab, we have an amazing in-house team who have built entire careers telling stories with clever visual formats and interactive content like quizzes and games. And we have access to a bevy of talented writers with rigorous scientific backgrounds.
But there’s another key element to what we do: BrandLab can also help with understanding an audience itself. We work with clients to perform content audits, surveys, and other research to learn more about specific audiences and come up with innovative new ways to engage them.
We’re an incredible resource for any company that chooses to use us.
- If you could encourage science marketers to try one new marketing technique or medium, what would it be? What have you seen done that has proven effective?
Jeff: Believe it or not, email marketing, in my opinion, is highly underutilized. An often overlooked tactic is regular newsletters or what is called a “content appointment” – something useful, engaging and interesting that is delivered to your audience with regularity that they look forward to receiving and make time to consume. This consistency and quality takes time to put into place and then to catch on, but those who achieve it realize valuable results.
The trick is to create an expectation or an “appointment” with your audience so that they will anticipate your content on a regular schedule. This isn’t always a heavy lift. Find the storytellers in your organization and enlist them to help create that content. It might not even be someone on your marketing or communications team – look more broadly and find the people who can provide solutions, alleviate pain points, answer common questions, and entertain your audience. This is especially important in our industry, where scientific rigor is often a must in order to communicate product information that will really resonate with researchers.
- What are your thoughts about native advertising in general? In a cultural context, how did we get here? How long will this trend of advertising last? And then, what’s next on the horizon?
Jeff: Native advertising evolved because consumers grew weary, not simply of being “interrupted,” but being interrupted all the time. We got tired of flipping through a magazine and being sidetracked with ads that didn’t speak to us, or going online only to be accosted with auto-play videos or pop-ups we didn’t ask for. We came to a channel expecting one thing but got something else entirely. There’s definitely still a place for these things, but the native approach is a way to do advertising without the “interruption.” You can draw the reader into you rather than step in front of them.
In the future, I think we will see more and more companies integrate content everywhere they can. People will just start to think of their jobs as creating content no matter their role within the company, and companies will start to think of themselves as publishers or media companies themselves – either by partnering with someone like C&EN BrandLab or doing some of it on their own.
But as audiences are increasingly served this type of content, it will become more challenging to create epic, engaging storytelling in various formats. Keeping pace will involve understanding consumption trends and how they are evolving.
- Since marketers are challenged more than ever to stay relevant and attract and engage individual scientists, how can they best achieve this?
Jeff: In the science industry, the answer is simple: scientific rigor. We know our audience isn’t going to accept fuzzy claims or soft edges on stories sponsored by a brand. Chemists will jump right in and make it known that their expectations are higher than that, as they should.
Companies must have high level of factualness because we know how critical real science is. Honesty is a good policy, but scientific accuracy and honesty combined makes the difference with the chemical audience. We adhere to that, and we work with our clients to make sure they do too. Often a blurred line isn’t out of ill will or an intent to deceive. Rather, it’s just that they’re stuck applying old tactics without realizing we’re working with a new marketing model that requires a different set of rules.
- For someone that is relatively new to the science marketing field, what new market dynamics should we be paying attention to in order to better understand the world of chemistry? How might these trends affect the way science marketers bring new products to market?
Jeff: When you’ve developed a dedicated audience that trusts you, you can learn a lot from them and eventually develop a reciprocal relationship. You can learn their product needs, what they like, who they respect, what they dislike, and exactly what they expect of you. This relationship can extend far beyond the content or the products and services that you can offer. It can deeply inform how you conceive and develop solutions for them.
Marketers often think of content marketing as number of leads for “x” amount of dollars, because this is how we’ve learned to measure our success. But the true value lies in the size, the depth of loyalty, and engagement level of your audience. If you can assign real dollars to those metrics, you start to see the valuable case for a robust content marketing program.
Thank you to Jeff for sharing his expertise on creating content for niche audiences. Looking for more insights and ideas? Subscribe to our quarterly newsletter on native advertising best practices, tips, and industry examples.