The four types of life science marketing misalignment

In our last issue we discussed four potential types of misalignment in life science marketing. These four types of misalignment correspond to different stages in the marketing mechanism of action.

There can be misalignment between:

  • Your position and your audiences’ needs
  • Your brand/story and your position
  • Your touchpoints and your brand/story or
  • Your internal and external audiences and communications.

If you need a brief review on the Marketing Mechanism of Action, please go back and read the summary in the previous issue. In this issue and the next, we’ll examine these four different types of misalignment, and pay particular attention to how we might diagnose and then treat each situation.

Precise diagnosis of life science marketing misalignment

Diagnosing exactly which of these conditions you have is not simple, but a precise diagnosis is important because the treatment for the each of these four will be different. Getting the diagnosis wrong can lead to treating the wrong condition, which not only leaves the real condition untreated, it can make the entire situation worse. So here are some clues to diagnosing your situation.

Of course, no newsletter can substitute for a complete diagnostic workup of your individual situation, just as a simple measure of blood pressure cannot hope to provide the same level of diagnostic sophistication as an MRI or a CAT scan. So don’t hesitate to get help.

Life science marketing alignment between your position and your audiences’ needs.

If your position is not aligned with the needs of the audience, you’ll have trouble getting attention from your prospects, because your offering will not be seen as important, believable and/or compelling. In addition, you’ll have trouble competing because your differentiation isn’t meaningful, truly unique or motivating. Firms with this misalignment often compete on price more than necessary.

Many small-to-medium life science service providers (such as labs or CROs) find themselves with this type of life science marketing misalignment. Since regulatory bodies constrain both their work product and the work processes to some degree, they appear to be undifferentiated from their competitors. The correct course of action would be to find some differentiation and one classic way to do this is to specialize. We have noticed that many of these firms refuse to specialize for fear of sacrificing potential opportunities. What they are really sacrificing is a chance to be seen as truly unique by developing a deep expertise (specialization) in one particular area. Therefore, they miss the chance to seize control in the buy-sell relationship.

Marketing Alignment

Figure 1: Alignment between your position and your audiences’ needs. Correct alignment here is fundamental to marketing success.

This misalignment is one of the most fundamental in life science marketing. It can be difficult to diagnose for three reasons:

  • Lack of perspective makes it difficult to perceive the extent of this misalignment. As a colleague has said, “It is difficult to read the label from inside the jar.” That is, it is difficult to see your own offering as others see it. You must put aside your own emotional attachment and adopt the same laissez-faire attitude about your own offering that your audience members exhibit. Disinterested self-examination is difficult, but is critical when trying to diagnose this misalignment.
  • Different mindsets make it difficult to appreciate the significance of this misalignment. The scientific mind tends to dwell in the details, but the buyer’s mind first engages with the big picture. So the scientist inside the selling organization sees a difference (that is, uniqueness) where a buyer from outside might not see any. The scientist would therefore see differentiation, where the buyer sees commoditization.
  • Like many marketing challenges, problems in this area aren’t typically “game-ending.” It is possible to run a company for years with this type of misalignment. In this case, you’ll work harder than you have to, and you’ll make less money than you should, but that won’t prevent you from having some success.

Given the fact that this misalignment is so easy to ignore or overlook, diagnosing this situation can be particularly challenging. There are a few simple questions you can ask to determine whether this issue might be hindering your marketing efforts. To determine the extent of this type of life science marketing misalignment in your organization, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you have a clear, written position statement that clearly states your organization’s unique competitive advantages and your target markets, used internally to guide the implementation of all your marketing efforts? Answer yes or no. In our extensive experience, few companies with a written position statement have this problem; most companies without one have this problem to some degree. Please note that we’re not referring to a mission statement or a vision statement, which are typically public-facing; we’re referring to a strategic and private document. Here is more information on positioning statements for life science marketing.
  • Do your prospects see real differences between you and your competition? The most reliable way to answer this question is to conduct perception research with members of your target audience.
  • Have you tested your most prominent and most important marketing communications to ensure that your audiences find them important, believable and compelling?
  • This next exercise is a little more involved. To begin, summarize your unique value proposition (UVP) and those of your top two-three competitors. Write these in neutral language, without using trademarked phrases, taglines or other jargon that will make it obvious which company is the source. Then use these three anonymous UVPs to conduct research (formally or informally) and determine the following:
    • Can your audiences tell the difference between the different UVPs?
    • Which UVP do your audiences find to be the most unique, believable and compelling?

As in all market research activities, it is important to find the right group of respondents, to ask the right questions in the right way, and to interpret the results correctly. But that is the subject of a different newsletter. Incidentally, performing this last exercise almost always produces significant epiphanies on marketing strategy for our clients.

The problem with the diagnostic questions we’ve listed above is that it is so easy to rationalize away the answers. We’ve seen this again and again: “Oh, we shouldn’t pay attention to the fact that we don’t score well, after all (fill in your choice of excuse here).” It takes courage to face this issue squarely. But no issue is more fundamental to marketing success than proper positioning.

Treating poor life science marketing alignment between your position and your audiences’ needs.

In situations of this type, what you are trying to be known for is not resonating with your audiences. You’ll either need to find new audiences that want what you have to sell (unlikely), or you’ll need to change your position, so your audiences find your position important, believable and compelling (much more likely).

Treatment of this misalignment is simple in theory but difficult to accomplish in practice. In theory, selecting a position which is important, believable and compelling to your audiences should be a fundamental management priority. In practice, firms with this type of misalignment typically either deny that any misalignment exists or have political and/or psychological reasons for clinging to the old position.

Fixing this type of misalignment should happen very rarely, as a unique position should last for years. Choosing a new position should not be undertaken lightly and starts by taking a close look at your entire organization through multiple lenses, a few of which are listed here:

  • your offerings,
  • your audiences and their motivations,
  • your goals,
  • your competitors,
  • the regulatory and technological environment
  • your current position (including a SWOT analysis)
  • your current brand/story
  • your current touchpoints

Your new position must meet seven key criteria, including: clear, unique, authentic, sustainable, important, believable and compelling, and the most important of these is uniqueness.

Nothing is more fundamental to marketing (and business) success that proper positioning. Since proper positioning should be long lasting, is so important, and yet is difficult to accomplish using only internal resources, it often makes sense to enlist help in tackling this type of misalignment.

Life science marketing alignment between your brand/story and your position.

If your organization has a unique, compelling position, but it is not clearly articulated by your brand/story, then you’ll have a communication problem. You’ll find yourself with unique differentiation that few people know about or appreciate, or you won’t be communicating your unique value to your audiences clearly. Because this misalignment occurs in the area of the Marketing Mechanism of Action where (private) strategy is translated into (public-facing) tactics, this problem first manifests as a tactical, communication issue. For example, your audiences may be confused, because your brand/story communicates a message that isn’t aligned with your actual unique position.

Marketing Alignment

Figure 2: Alignment between your brand/story and your unique position. This misalignment is often subtle, but can be crucial for clear communication.

There can be many different sources of this problem, and the problem can manifest itself through the verbal or the visual components of your brand/story. On the visual side, since design is the crucial link between your marketing strategy and your tactical expressions, this particular life science marketing misalignment can be caused by ineffective design, or by old or “tired” design efforts. On the verbal side, this life science marketing misalignment might be caused by misunderstanding your audiences and the way they want to be communicated with, such as the optimum messages to use.

One anecdote brings some of these issues to life. We were working with a company whose offering related to drug safety. They had a strong position – one which was sufficiently unique. Their corporate identity did communicate some positive attributes related to their position such as protection. However, informal research made it clear that many audience members thought that the corporate identity would look more appropriate for an insurance company or family planning clinic – two types of organization for which protection would also be appropriate. In other words, the corporate identity did a poor job communicating the organization’s value proposition in a way that could be easily understood. This was evidence of a misalignment between the organization’s unique position and the identity.

This type of misalignment is often subtle, and in fact is the subtlest of the four we are discussing. Since it can involve Design as a translator between marketing strategy and marketing tactics, it can be difficult to have a discussion that does not devolve into a subjective one: “Well, I like it,” “Well I don’t.” These types of discussions can be particularly frustrating to someone with a scientific mindset, as there is no apparent arbiter of the correct answer. But as with most marketing issues, the final arbiter should always be your audience(s). Asking them the proper questions in the proper way typically provides significant insight.

The following are a few options for diagnosing this misalignment. The key questions you want answered are these: What does our brand/story say about our organization from the perspective of the audience – and does this align with our desired image?

These questions can be expanded: What does the tagline really communicate to someone outside the company? What about our corporate trademark (identity, symbol, logotype, etc.), what does it communicate? Is our color scheme appropriate for the type of organization we want to be? What does our name communicate? Is our design style appropriate?

  1. Start by asking your customers: What does our brand/story (for example, our messages, your “look and feel” and your content) articulate? Does it clearly articulate our unique competitive position?
  2. Since any employee of the organization is typically too close to the organization and knows too much to provide unbiased feedback, you might try asking new employees (on their very first day) to write down the meaning of the tagline and the corporate identity. This will give you some clues as to the perspective of someone outside the organization.
  3. Ask a skilled – that is, professional – designer what messages they think are being communicated by specific components of your brand/story, such as your identity or your tagline. Ideally you’d ask several professional designers, in order to avoid the “one-rat-study” bias. The challenge with this approach is that it can so easily cross the line into the realm of personal opinion. And the presence of differing personal opinions might mask the extent of the misalignment.
  4. Use to translate the home page of your web site into a foreign language. Google Translate can carry out something as hard as lingala translation. Send a screenshot of this translated site to someone unfamiliar with your organization. Ask the following questions: What business is this organization really in? What makes their offering unique? What 5 adjectives would best describe this organization? These questions will help you get their impression of the non-verbal components of your brand/story.
  5. The only foolproof way to diagnose this situation is to conduct perception research with external audiences focused on your brand/story itself. You must ask these audiences specific questions about your entire brand/story, including your trademark, your corporate identity, symbol, taglines, etc. This research should not be undertaken lightly; it can be difficult to conduct well because you must ensure that the questions do not focus the audiences’ attention on your touchpoints, but highlight the brand/story itself.

Treating poor life science marketing alignment between your brand/story and your position.

Depending upon the extent of the misalignment, treatment to bring your brand/story back into alignment with your position can range from the simple to the severe. As with misalignment between your position and your audiences’ needs, fixing this type of misalignment should happen very rarely, as your brand/story should be long-lasting.

To fix this, you’ll need to build a new or revised brand/story. The treatment will vary, depending upon whether the misalignment shows up in the verbal or the visual components of your brand/story. If your misalignment is in the verbal portion of your brand/story, re-messaging (that is, developing a new set of messages) is a fairly common solution. If your tagline is not aligned, you can change it or minimize it.

Minimizing the importance of a particular part of your brand/story can be a cost effective way to deal with misalignment, particularly for visual components of the brand/story. We have seen clients who cannot (or will not) redesign their corporate identity shrink the size of their corporate signature until it is almost invisible. While this is not an appropriate long-term solution, it can be an effective short-term patch.

Other solutions for correcting misalignment in the visual portion of your brand/story include reinvigorated design efforts. These can range from a simple “touchup,” such as an altered color palette, to a new campaign with new graphics, to a complete redesign.


Each of the different types of misalignment that we have discussed here can impede your marketing effectiveness. Since the treatment is different for each, proper diagnosis is important.

The treatment for misalignment between your position and your audiences’ needs (redefined positioning) is very different from that for misalignment between your brand/story and your position (some form of restructuring of your brand/story). This highlights the importance of diagnosing your situation properly; proper diagnosis can lead to proper treatment, while improper diagnosis rarely does.

In our next issue, we’ll cover the remaining two types of misalignment in life science marketing.


  • There can be many symptoms for misalignment in life science marketing, an all-too-common problem.
  • We discussed two types of poor life science marketing alignment
    • Misalignment 1: Your position is not aligned with your audiences’ needs.
    • Misalignment 2: Your brand/story is not aligned with your position.
    • We provided questions to act as an aid in diagnosing potential misalignment.
    • A clear diagnosis is crucial in identifying which type of misalignment is present.

We provided suggestions for treating poor life science marketing alignment.