The Life Science Marketing Plan, Part 1: What Is It And Why Do I Need One?

biotech marketing plan

We talk a lot about social media on this blog, and are of course strong proponents of its utilization for life science and biotech companies. One of the aspects we like about it is that the basics of traditional marketing planning are also the cornerstones of social media planning. For this series of posts, we’ll go back to basics and explore traditional marketing plans–beginning with their ‘raison d’etre’ to the details of developing one. We see marketing plans as a journey in which you learn along the way, and we’ll provide one ‘piece’ of the map in each of these posts, helping you to see the big picture by the end of this series.

What is a marketing plan? Marketing plans can be centered around a product, product line, brand, or small company. My experience has been that they are developed early in the fourth quarter preceding the fiscal year they describe. While they can be discussed by a team, normally I’ve seen one person taking the lead in writing the document–of course this is dependent on the scope of the plan. Input can come from anywhere, but the marketing group and the management should own them and have the research to back up the marketing plan’s claims. They can take the form of a text document with figures (e.g., Microsoft Word) and usually include a summary presentation (e.g., Microsoft PowerPoint). In theory, they should be considered living documents which can be modified by the owners (in practice this often proves too difficult for the busy marketing professional).

What are the components? Of course you can find marketing plan templates online, and you can certainly customize them to fit your needs. Here are what we consider to be the basics:

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Situational Analysis
  3. Sales History & Forecast
  4. Market Research
  5. Competitive Analysis
  6. Strategy
  7. Messaging & Positioning
  8. Overall Plan
  9. Tactical Plan
  10. Events (Conferences, Ad planning, Product Launches)
  11. Budget

You’ll often hear the components referred to more generally as strategic and tactical marketing. Overall strategy is determined by the careful analysis of components 2-5 above, and it guides the tactical plan. We’ll go through each of these in detail in subsequent posts.

Why do I need a marketing plan? We all understand that having a plan makes everything work better, but I’ve worked in smaller companies in which it has been very difficult to justify taking time off to write a formal document. Let me give you a few examples for why it is so important, and why it will actually make your work easier.

Consistency. Working through a marketing plan will help you to see your path clearly for your product or product line and to quickly communicate it to others. For example, let’s say your objective is to be the leading provider of fast, high performance protein chromatography, and your target customers work mostly in pharma companies. This is all part of defining your positioning in the market, and will guide all of your marketing materials and actions. Every time you or your colleagues communicate with a customer, write a marketing piece, etc. you’ll be guided by this principle. This will result in a consistent message which will improve your brand perception.

Better product development. Successful companies are driven by the market. In a smaller biotech or life science company, the products (at least initially) are by nature driven by the market, because the company was likely founded based on strong need. However, as companies grow, there is a tendency for scientific companies to produce what they ‘can’ rather than what they ‘should.’ Developing a yearly marketing plan is a great way to get a reality check and to define your product line’s direction and be ready to give solid reasons to back your decisions. Additionally, having a document that can be forwarded to the R&D team is a powerful way to help everyone brainstorm about product development.

Time savings. Your colleague comes to you with a great conference at Cold Spring Harbor which he says is PERFECT for your company to attend. Your answer? Thank him, but point to the marketing plan and indicate that your target market won’t be in attendance, so it doesn’t make sense. Quick decision, no feelings hurt (hopefully), and you’ve pointed him in the right direction as to what conferences he should be looking for.

More bang for your buck. The strength of a good marketing plan is in the power to see how tactics can work together to be more powerful than they are individually. The tactical plan normally takes the form of a spreadsheet or table which list the months of the year and every major planned event, such as product launches and conferences. These can also be cross-referenced with editorial calendars (see our 2010 planning guide). Example? Let’s say your big product is launching in August, but you see that a relevant conference and editorial piece are available in July. By planning ahead, you may be able to work with R&D for an earlier launch, and come out with a bang in month of July with news about your product at the conference and in the editorial.

A marketing plan is a journey in which you step back and look at things more broadly, and spend the year prepared, making smarter decisions and being less reactionary. Of course, a marketing plan can be written any part of the year–there’s no time like the present. Next in our series will be The Elements of a Life Science Marketing Plan. Sign up for updates so you won’t miss anything, and see the whole series here.

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