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How Marketing Has Lost Meaning in Our Industry


Pharmaceutical Executive

Within the drug development services and life sciences industries, there is a common misconception held by many DIY marketers, in-house marketing teams and marketing agencies.


Cinda Orr, President & CEO of SCORR Marketing

Within the drug development services and life sciences industries, there is a common misconception held by many DIY marketers, in-house marketing teams and marketing agencies. Moreover, given the nature of work being done in these industries, this misconception can seem intuitive.

What’s the misconception? That marketing is a science, or at the very least, can be approached like a science.

Though marketing is a testable and refinable body of knowledge, its application bears little semblance to what scientists in our industry think of as science. Brands - the very nuclei of all marketing activities - are impalpable. Brands have only perceived equity which is not wholly rational, nor is it static, and marketing aims to measure and manipulate that collective perception. Therefore, outcomes are not reproducible and results are not a true gauge of efficacy.

This editorial aims to dispel the belief that marketing is a science as a means to identify some of the major trappings that companies in our industry are unconsciously falling victim to. This piece poses valuable strategic information for anyone involved in guiding marketing investments for their company (regardless of company size or yearly spend).

Don’t Mistake Marketing for a Science when you’re Marketing Science

You’re all the same - cynics, skeptics, doubters and nonbelievers. The glass is always half empty. You start with “no” and have to be convinced of “yes.” You act like I’m trying to sell you glitter and a fog machine. All this to say, “There is no free lunch for marketers in this industry.”

But that’s okay. In fact, that’s why you do what you do. You’re scientists. You’re researchers. You’re faultfinders tasked with poking holes in anything that can sink.

Naturally, when it comes to marketing, you approach it like a science. You look for systematic ways to achieve definitive results. But it’s not just you. Some marketing teams and agencies pride themselves on saying, “Marketing is a science and we have this formula, you see…”

I’ll call that bluff.

Yes, marketing is a body of knowledge. Marketing can be tested. Marketing has variables. Marketing has probable outcomes and measurable results. While that may be enough for some to regard marketing as a science, I don’t buy it. At least not for our industry.

To tell you, the scientists, that marketing is a science, is deceitful. Yes, it’s a process of tweaking, measuring, learning and refining, but it’s not science as you know it.

In marketing, results aren’t reproducible. Combining the same ingredients today won’t give you the same solution tomorrow. The results themselves, no matter how accurate they are, do not give you a real measure of efficacy. This is because brands - the very nuclei of all marketing activities - are impalpable. Your brand only has perceived equity, and marketing aims to measure and manipulate that collective perception. Perceptions are not wholly rational, nor are they static.

In marketing, there are no fixed solutions. There are no archetypical equations where you need only substitute your brand for X to get the outcome you desire.

Marketing is an art of telling a unique story, spurring dialogue and building relationships. It is a venture to influence intangibles by manufacturing the impalpable brand.


As a scientist, that probably put a figurative finger in the back of your throat. Loftier than a pocket full of posies. But just think, will you ever be able to consider marketing as a science after reading that?

I sure hope not.

Marketing isn’t like the science you do - to define it as such would either be slander to your work or an unmerited tip-of-the-hat to the legitimacy of ours.

So, what can go wrong when marketing is treated like science?

Mishandled Tools

With the upswing of social and digital media, we’ve been introduced to a plethora of new tools. We can reach more people, target our messages and measure the results in real-time.

Think of these newfangled social and digital media (pay-per-click ads, Facebook, etc.) as tools. You’re using these tools to engender some sort of awareness or response from your audience (much like you formulate a compound to modify the activity of a target). Maybe your pay-per-click ad generated 17 clicks. Perhaps a post on your Facebook page got 32 likes. If you think of marketing as a science, you’re prone to view the effects (number of clicks or likes) these marketing tools produce as your return on investment.

It’d certainly make sense to regard those here-and-now metrics (clicks, likes, followers, etc.) as ROI if marketing were science, but it’s not.

Here’s something that’ll make the glitter-throwing, fog machine-toting marketers shudder - numbers of clicks, likes and followers mean zilch in our B2B industry. They’re worthless and inconsequential.

1,000 clicks don’t matter if none of them convert to a sales opportunity. Maybe a post of a picture of your coworker’s birthday cake got 32 likes, whereas the critical launch of your company’s new business unit got six. Does that mean a viable marketing opportunity exists in taking pictures of cakes, or could it mean that Facebook is for people you’ve already won over (coworkers, friend of friends, your aunt Ethel)?

The birthday cake example may seem absurd and obvious, but the same principle applies to all marketing tools. Thus far, I’ve only mentioned digital tools like pay-per-click ads and Facebook. This is because they’re shining examples of marketing tools that have been confounding our industry - people either think they know how to use them yet fail to get results, or they know they don’t know, so they avoid using them.

The Nutshell

Marketers in the drug development services industry are dumping their resources into determining how things are said rather than what they’re saying and who they’re saying it to. They misunderstand the role of marketing tools in their marketing mix and, therefore, misunderstand the crux of marketing.

That said, this lesson applies to the entire gamut of marketing tools - not just digital and social media tools. Ads in industry publications, direct mailers, trade show exhibitions, press releases and so on are all examples of marketing tools that can be mishandled.

Marketing tools are just tools, nothing more. They’re resources to build your brand and they’re mishandled when the quantifiable reach they pose, or results they provoke are recognized as their efficacy.

Consider the following:

  • You can advertise in one of two publications. Both ad placements would cost the same, but one is distributed to 50,000 people, while the other reaches 20,000. Who gets your business?

  • One of your BD reps sent out 82 personal emails this morning, while another spent that time on the phone with a handful of leads. Who gained more ground?

  • You exhibit at a major industry trade show. Your competitor across the aisle brought in a fire hoop-jumping, horn-squeezing ferret that was the talk of the show floor, while your guided product/service demonstrations only drew about 75 people. Who’s taking home more qualified leads?

Your answer should be, “Well, I’d need more specifics… What were the most common job titles of the journals’ readers and what industries do they work in, who was my BD person on the phone with and where can I find that ferret on YouTube?”

Ferret aside, when you see that a pay-per-click ad generated 32 clicks, you should be asking yourself where those clicks came from and what you did to convert them. Did you make those clicks the first step in an interactive selling process? How did those clicks dovetail into your greater marketing mix?

The Nutshell

Just as a drug’s mechanism(s) of action are part and parcel of a greater pharmacological effect, your marketing tools combine to create your audience’s total perception of your brand. Marketing tools only form the tiles of your brand mosaic.

Marketing is a Long-Term Proposition

Your brand is the sum of many overlapping and interwoven pieces that take time to amass in the minds of your audience. To a degree, you get to decide how fast, in what order and in what light your audience puts those pieces together. As such, it’s imperative that you define a target position you want your brand to occupy in your audience’s mind so you can outline what steps it will to take to get there.

Your objectives should dictate what marketing tools you use and how you use them, not the other way around. This approach condones a holistic, integrated marketing mix that guides your marketing initiatives toward a singular purpose.

Objective-Driven Marketing (The right way to do it)

Start by defining how you’d like your company to be positioned in the future.

Target Brand Position: I want to establish my company as the industry’s go-to provider based on my team’s thought-leadership in our X, Y and Z service areas.

Now, set realistic, quantifiable objectives that will guide your brand to your desired position.

Objectives: I’ll know my company is there if we hit $X in annual revenue by 2016. I’ll know we’re on track along the way if we’re generating X leads that fit our ideal customer profile every month and converting X% of them into clients.

Now that you have your objectives set, utilize marketing tools that fulfill them.

Marketing Tools:

To demonstrate my company’s thought leadership, we will:

  • Speak at symposia and present at major trade shows

  • Hold monthly informative and interactive webinars to educate our audience

  • Publish articles and white papers targeted to readers that fit our ideal lead profile

To generate awareness for X, Y and Z service areas, we will:

  • Develop ad placements for media focused on X, Y and Z services areas

  • Attend and exhibit at trade shows that our targets in X, Y and Z service areas frequent

  • Create valuable content to be displayed on our website and other places online to catch inbound traffic interested in X, Y and Z service areas

The above scheme is a snippet of how a successful integrated marketing plan is built. Your company’s target position could spawn tens of objectives that employ hundreds of marketing tools.

When marketing is approached like a science, it’s easy to fall into the trappings of setting goals based on your marketing tools; it feels natural to start with the tools when building a brand, but you need to draft a blueprint first.

When you let marketing tools dictate the objectives you set, you get objectives like this:

  • Attend X trade shows this year.

  • Get X new Twitter followers every month.

  • Increase website traffic by X% using pay-per-click ads.

These objectives were born out of thinking, “We have these tools available; how can we use them?” instead of “We need to achieve X; what tools do we need?” These objectives are disjointed.

If you don’t know how a marketing tool is serving your brand’s greater purpose, then what’s the point? If you do increase website traffic by X%, where did it come from? Was that traffic valuable? Was that traffic exposed to content that was germane to what they were looking for? Was there a way for them to take the next step in your selling process? If your marketing tools are dictated by your target brand position, question’s like these answer themselves. Moreover, you’ll find that the content and materials you produce naturally work together to build a cohesive message and occupy a defined space in your customer’s mind.

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