Marketing for Life Sciences Poses Unique Challenges

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Marketing is a competitive and challenging effort for any organization, but especially so for those in the life sciences field. Standing out in the cluttered digital landscape requires sustained effort and creativity on the part of internal marketing departments or outside agencies. A number of unique challenges inherent to life sciences marketing make careful planning and communications even more important.

Scientific Lingo and the Marketing Process

When it comes to life sciences marketing and communications, words matter. The complexity of the subject matter pushes the vocabulary way beyond that of everyday speech. Scientific nomenclature is famously and necessarily complex so it’s crucial that the individuals crafting social media posts and other communications materials get it right. 

To ensure that this is the case, a strong approvals process is necessary. While such a process is not unique to life sciences, it is magnified in importance. The marketing team should expect spirited feedback (and perhaps pushback) from various sources and should budget their lead time accordingly. Failure to thoroughly vet all communications can easily lead to inaccuracies, compromising the organization’s perceived authority.

Communicating Life Sciences at the Human Level

Good life sciences communications are not only accurate, but compelling and digestible as well. There are various types of stakeholders likely to be following the organization, including scientists, researchers, donors, consumers, legislators, and potential employees. Each of these groups brings with them their own angle of interest in the organization, creating a challenge for those scheduling content.

The various interested parties also have differing levels of understanding of the matter at hand, so choosing appropriate language is an important consideration. While most people understand coffee shops or furniture sales at approximately the same level, the same cannot be said for scientific research or medical breakthroughs. 

A good approach is to disseminate the goings-on of the organization in a variety of manners, providing something for everyone. This could range from technical research papers and abstracts to more relatable lay summaries and benefits-oriented straight talk.

Giving Scientific Credit Where Credit is Due

Life sciences is a vast and complex ecosystem where organizations need to use communications channels to give proper credit. Because advancements are usually built upon previous breakthroughs, it’s vital to recognize the scientists, donors, and others who have enabled progress. 

Advocacy groups and those seeking cures to diseases should all pull in the same direction. To that end, amplifying the accomplishments of others is not only good manners, but will likely result in reciprocal action, to everyone’s benefit. 

Failure to give proper credit is a faux pas, akin to an Oscars speech that fails to thank a key player. This imperative is another reason to initiate a comprehensive approvals process. 

Spreading credit is not only a copywriting challenge, but a technical one as well. Social media posts often include multiple tags, which can make them slightly more time-intensive than posts in other industries. Here too, focus is key. While tagging famous brands and celebrities is a fairly straightforward task, tagging scientific organizations or individual scientists takes a bit of research. If Dr. Shirley Trask of the University of Toronto publishes a landmark paper, you don’t want to congratulate Shirley Trask, the librarian from Boston. 

Receiving Content Input

Content creation is an important part of any good communications plan and the involvement of staff and other stakeholders can elevate this significantly. Marketing agencies will often ask their clients for quotes, headshots, video greetings and other contributions. Those who work in the life sciences field are deeply engaged in essential research and may lack the time or inclination to participate in such activities. A little extra prodding on the part of the communications team may be necessary; content timelines should reflect this reality. 

Praxis Spinal Cord Institute and Rose Agency

Praxis Spinal Cord Institute is a Canadian-based research institution that leads global collaboration in spinal cord injury (SCI) research. They partner with Rose Agency, a communications agency in Vancouver that helps manage their social media accounts and content creation. 

In order to meet the aforementioned challenges, the two teams collaborate carefully, utilizing all available skill sets. Weekly video meetings allow Praxis team members to flag items worthy of inclusion on social media channels. 

“Praxis has their ear close to the ground and are very aware of developments both within and outside of their organization that are of interest to the spinal cord injury community,” says Rose Agency Managing Director Colin Rose. “The finer points of these stories are discussed and, with this information, Rose Agency builds a communications schedule for the week ahead.” 

RA then writes draft copies of all social media posts, being sure to include tested and relevant tags and hashtags. 

“Because of the wide ranging demographic targets, from involved clinicians to SCI-affected potential donors, we need to effectively disseminate information providing clarity without over dilution. It’s really an extension of the lay summary process that the in-house team works on, boiling down a complex white paper or report into something anyone is able to scan and understand”.

It takes a special team to process the medical and potential economic complexity of the stories. For example, the Praxis marketing lead is a PHD providing a strong foundation to the information communications process. The team at Rose are chosen specifically to work on professional services and special interest marketing to pair up effectively with clients’ in-house professionals.

Rose’s graphics team also creates Praxis-branded imagery to accompany posts. This copywriting and graphics art is then subject to approval from Praxis, who ensure that none of the finer points of the item were omitted or lost in translation. Only after this approval is obtained will the material be used to populate the Praxis social media channels. 

With so much incredibly significant work on the table, people working in life sciences organizations might not worry about what their marketing team is doing, but that would be a mistake. The importance of the work, combined with the diversity of stakeholders, make careful communications indispensable. Getting it right is a matter of thorough internal communications and a strong sense of collaboration. 

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Vanessa Cox

Having spent 13 years as a recruiter and trainer at Panago, Vanessa’s knowledge runs deep. Her experience recruiting and training hundreds of corporate employees at all levels has made her well-versed in how to assess talent under tight timelines.

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