When the FDA monitors marketing claims VERY closely (for example, when marketing a pill, potion or med device) the result can be some very effective marketing (e.g, Advair, Viagra, etc.). On the other hand, there are cases in which the FDA is concerned not with marketing claims but only with the work product (e.g., labs, CROs and service providers that have to submit data to their sponsors and the FDA). In these cases the FDA doesn’t review specific marketing claims – but few such companies use the opportunities to say anything unique in their marketing efforts. The result is that everyone’s offering looks identical, like a commodity.

That seems backwards, doesn’t it? You’d think that firms that were NOT under intense regulatory scrutiny would be more aggressive with their marketing, taking advantage of their situation’s flexibility by trying harder to draw distinctions between themselves and their competition.

Yet there are vast swaths of the life science marketing landscape where exactly the opposite is true. So why would companies choose to look like a commodity when they don’t have to? Why do some companies have effective marketing, and some don’t?

I believe that the difference doesn’t have much to do with the size of the budget. (After all, some CRO’s are bigger than some drug companies, and therefore have large marketing budgets.) Rather I suspect that a more important reason is this: implementing a direct-to-consumer marketing effort forces firms to do a good job of positioning; requiring that they assess their situation honestly by examining it through the six key diagnostic lenses (goals, audiences, external influences, competition, brand perception and history/offerings), and then developing an appropriate positioning, and implementing tactics to make this positioning crystal clear.

Whatever the reason, it is only through the development of a strong positioning that is sustainable, unique, authentic, viable and effective that firms will have the slightest hope of truly differentiating themselves.

Which means that the current situation – a marketplace full of undifferentiated firms – represents a large opportunity. The bioscience firms that get their marketing right will have a huge advantage, if only because so few others seem to be doing a respectable job of lifting themselves out of the realm of “commodity.”