This is the first article in a series of three based on findings included in SCORR Marketing’s “2013 Marketing Trends in Drug Development Services.” Download the full report here.
In late 2013, we finalized a survey of more than 100 key decision makers in the drug development services (DDS) market (across the discovery through commercialization services continuum). The purpose of this industry-first assessment was to get an inside look at trends in DDS marketing, particularly in how companies are defining best practices for their marketing program and how they’re allocating their marketing budget to do so.
Our first question was: Do you currently have an internal marketing team or do you outsource your marketing needs?
Marketing Models in the DDS Industry
As you can see, most DDS companies rely solely on an internal team, while almost one-third use a combination of an internal team and outsourcing. Only 8.1 percent outsource their entire marketing function.
While we only have hard-and-fast data from 2013, we’ve observed that outsourcing the marketing function, or a mix thereof, is becoming more prevalent in the DDS industry and looks to continue to be the trend.
We frequently work with DDS companies that are opting for outsourcing due to cost and because it’s difficult to specialize in and take advantage of every marketing domain, especially new and emerging ones like digital and social media. Moreover, when an internal marketing team doesn’t have a full-time equivalent in domains such as trade shows, Web development, technical writing and so on, it’s nearly impossible to efficiently retain all services under one roof. But many companies also find that ad hoc outsourcing can be problematic, especially when working with numerous vendors. Outsourced work often yields inconsistencies in branding and the application of the overall marketing strategy, which can end up costing a company substantially more in the long run.
There’s also a coming realization that companies in our market are undifferentiated. Given the rampant consolidation and wide scope of services the larger players in our market offer, branding tends to be vague. Values like “size,” “experience” and “speed” tend to be positioned as the core of brands and often without any tangible proof to support them.
Many companies recognize this and, in an effort to stand out, consult with marketing partners that have little-to-no experience in the DDS industry to “put a fresh pair of eyes on it.” But marketing isn’t agnostic; there are specialty areas just like there are in the life sciences. If you hire a generalist, you will get a general, undifferentiated product.
Of course, values like size, experience and speed really are important to buyers in our market, and any amount of market research will show that. But those values are also very high-level. So many companies have adopted them as their value propositions that they don’t resonate with the market; the market has been saturated with undifferentiated value propositions. What does resonate are things you can point to that demonstrate those values. If you can offer experience, it’s because you have experts on your team. If you can complete projects faster, there should be metrics you can point to that prove it.
It takes a genuine understanding of the industry to isolate these proof points (experts or metrics in the above examples), ensure they are positioned as valuable propositions and create/actuate an entire brand experience based on those propositions.
There are shortcomings to a generalist approach, and they are most evident by looking at the advantages that only marketing partners steeped in this industry can provide. What are those advantages?
You Can Start from the Start
When you select a partner, it will always take you a little time for both sides to get acquainted. Much of this homework is completed in the proposal and vetting process. But it’s the familiarity just beyond that initial get-to-know-you phase that cultivates ROI from the beginning.
When a marketing partner doesn’t have industry experience, you will likely be paying them to get acquainted with your industry for some time. Instead, your initial investment is more valuable when it can be allocated toward intensive market research and intelligence that will form the basis of your strategy. This is not an industry in which marketers can just scratch the surface and be competitive — your marketing partner has to be versed in the heavily regulated environment you and your clients operate in. If your marketing partner can’t speak your language from the get-go, don’t expect them to know the dynamics of your industry.
You Work With Your Marketing Team, Not For It
To accentuate my last point, “It was almost more work …” is a line we hear from numerous executives explaining why their previous marketing team didn’t keep their business. Whether it’s explaining terminology, revising round after round of marketing materials or otherwise, the more time it takes your internal team to actualize your marketing program, the less of an asset your marketing program will be. No matter the vocation, a truly effective partner should enable you to focus on what you do best.
Just by being a student of your industry, a marketing partner will implicitly be aware of market trends and forecasts that affect you. There’s so much value in being able to hold a relevant and engaging conversation with your marketing partner — that collaboration is what keeps your teams aligned and accountable. Playing catch-up is inefficient, so a marketing partner that not only stays up to speed with your industry, but keeps you up to speed as well is a major asset.
They Understand Your Company Inside and Out
While I’ve talked a lot about the value of knowing the market, there’s also a level of operational understanding an industry-focused marketing partner brings that is invaluable. Today, more than ever, it’s important that marketing and sales teams work in unison to streamline the lead qualification and conversion process. To a degree, you can think of marketing as pre-sales — it’s your inanimate salesperson trying to engage and inform your potential clients before they make personal contact with your sales team.
One potential obstacle of outsourcing your marketing function(s) is the chance that your marketing team will lose touch with your sales team. This is yet another reason why experience in your industry matters. Your marketing partner should be plugged into how your sales team works to better facilitate your sales pipeline. If your marketing partner isn’t actively involved with your sales team, you might be missing out on a lot of new opportunities.
Strategy Sets Your Brand’s Foundation
You could define the process of building a marketing strategy as “turning intelligence into action.” More specifically, your marketing strategy is a synthesis of market research, awareness and experience. But where does one start without this experience?
It’s all too easy to see through brands that have a creative-first approach. When there isn’t a sound strategy underpinning a brand, messaging becomes fragmented, and the overall brand experience becomes ineffectual.
In this industry, it’s vital to build your brand on an enduring strategy that will convey a valuable message across all of your marketing channels. This is an industry where success is built through long-term relationships and consistently demonstrated success; your brand should be a meaningful and lasting symbol of your promise to deliver that success to your clients.
You Know Who They Know
B2B is a very different world than B2C, and the drug development services industry is in a field of its own. I’ve already mentioned how highly regulated the DDS industry is and, therefore, it’s no surprise that much of the subject matter is complex, scientific and technical. And here’s a key question you must consider: What good is your brand if you can’t communicate it?
From global media outlets and trade show groups, to professional associations and strategic alliances, there is a neatly interwoven network that creates the DDS community and the means to communicate with it. When you’re considering a marketing partner in your industry, you also have to consider who they know and, by extension, what that means for you. For example, are you trying to reach a country your marketing partner is not active in? If you’re considering exhibiting at a trade show, can your marketing partner line up all aspects of your booth from design and coordination to production and logistics, or will that responsibility fall back on your team?
Your marketing partner’s network should be more than a few random contacts; it should be an extended range of capabilities that can also put you in touch with new opportunities.
Whether you’re vetting a marketing partner or deciding between in-house and outsourced, marketing is an expense, and it can be one of the most difficult to justify as a line item in your budget. The most important thing to understand is that any outsider or creative group can’t just learn what it needs to know in this industry in a few days or even a few months. If you’re going to outsource, you’ve got to stay vigilant in how your brand and strategic plan are being employed for them to be cost-effective. And if you’re looking for a partner that can devise branding and campaign strategies, it must have an innate understanding of this industry to provide both initial and ongoing guidance. This is an industry that takes years, even decades, to get situated in. There are so many moving parts in our market — many are slow, supervisory and regulatory in nature, while others such as consolidations, divestitures and alliances come and go so rapidly that anything less than active involvement and surveillance will leave you coughing in the dust.
Access the Full Report
The information in this article is based on findings included in SCORR Marketing’s “Trends in Drug Development Services Marketing 2013.” This report is now available to download for free.