Is your life science organization ready for Marketing Automation?

By David Chapin

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Marketing automation is a hot new tool in life science marketing. But what does it take to harvest the most benefit from marketing automation? In this issue, we look at the life science marketing practices attitudes, skills and resources necessary to implement a successful marketing automation program.

Marketing automation in the life sciences

There is lots of hype about marketing automation (MA) in the life sciences. If you believe even half of what you read, it’s the best thing since the invention of the pipette. But if you really need a scalpel, a pipette won’t do you much good. In this issue, we help you evaluate whether your current marketing practices, attitudes, skills and resources are primed to employ this particular tool to maximum effect.

Actually, if you have even a rudimentary life science web site, there’s no reason you can’t invest some resources and implement marketing automation right now. (Just like there’s no reason you can’t go out and buy a pipette and declare yourself a lab tech, or buy a flow cytometer and declare yourself a scientist.)  

To help you gauge your readiness for marketing automation, we’ll use an extended analogy.But just as some scientists are more capable and ready to make use of a flow cytometer, some life science marketing teams will be more capable and ready to reap the benefits of marketing automation.

To help you gauge your organization’s readiness, we will use an extended analogy between education level and the various stages of marketing sophistication in a life science organization. We’ll create a correlation between different educational levels such as kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, etc., and different marketing tools, techniques and attitudes, one of which is marketing automation, We’ll also explain what type of results you might be able to expect from marketing automation depending on where your organization currently resides within this analogy.

Note: We’ll talk about the limitations of this analogy a little later. For now, as you review the different levels, see if you can recognize your own life science organization and start to gauge your readiness to benefit from the implementation of marketing automation.

Pre-Kindergarten – discovering your value to your life science customers

At this level of marketing sophistication, you have recognized that your life science organization  has unique value to its target customers, even if no other marketing tools or abilities exist. Value is the basis of all commerce, of course, and you won’t sell much or last very long without some kind of unique value.

[Read more about uniqueness in life science marketing.]

Kindergarten – capturing this value in a unique position

Your position should be the foundation of all future marketing efforts. It’s so fundamental we’ve classified it as the “kindergarten” of life science marketing.At this level of marketing sophistication, you’ve encapsulated your life science organization’s unique value into some sort of position through a deliberate (or inadvertent) exercise in positioning. Ideally this has resulted in a documented life science position statement that is shared and well understood throughout the entire marketing team, and your position should be the foundation of all future marketing efforts. [Read more about position statements in life science marketing.]

Elementary school – articulating your position in a life science brand/story

At this level of marketing sophistication, you’ve translated the position of your life science organization into a compelling name, tagline and brand/story, a combination of verbal and visual expressions that articulates your position in a way that resonates with the values, beliefs, needs and behaviors of your life science audiences and customers. Life science organizations that have done really well at this level have documented their brand/story extensively and have shared an understanding within the organization of what is “on-brand” and what is “off-brand.” [Read more about brand/story in life science marketing.]

Middle school – expressing your life science messages both broadly and consistently

At this level of marketing sophistication, you are broadening your life science marketing tactics by spreading your messages across an increasingly wide spectrum of different life science channels, known as touchpoints. These touchpoints are places where your life science audiences/customers and your brand/story “touch,” such as your web site, a webinar, your email blasts, a trade show booth, a sales presentation, etc. We classify them using a system called the Ladder of Life Science Lead Generation.

The challenge in the “middle school” level of marketing is to keep your messages consistent.As you broaden your reach and diversify the channels through which you express your brand/story, most life science organizations will find a couple of things starting to happen. First, there will be a democratization of the distribution of your marketing messages, which is a fancy way of saying that more internal voices will be taking part in conveying messages to external audiences. Social media is a prime example of this; any employee can say anything about your life science organization – which means that your message is no longer strictly controlled by the marketing function. Second (and partly as a result of the first) most organizations will run into the problem of keeping their life science messages and their brand/story consistent across all channels. The challenge of keeping messages consistent can plague all life science organizations, large or small. [Read more about the ladder of lead generation in life science marketing.]

High school – getting serious about life science campaigns that are tailored, integrated and measured

An increased emphasis on measurement and ROI characterizes the “high school” level of marketing.At this level of marketing sophistication, you’re measuring more and more of your life science marketing activities. There is increasing pressure to deliver measurable results, not just activity, so you are running campaigns across multiple touchpoints and tracking the outcomes. You’re using SEO tactics to increase web traffic, which you’re tracking with analytics. You might be using pay-per-click ads to enhance your search engine rankings. You’re focused on conversions. You’re computing ROI for individual campaigns. You’re building and segmenting lists of interested audience members and prospects, and you are targeting these segments on a regular basis using email marketing and other tactics. You are tracking individual prospects using a CRM (customer relationship management)such as a mortgage CRM. The deployment and widespread adoption of a CRM is the first indication that the line between the sales function and the marketing function is starting to blur within your life science organization. [Read more about measurement and ROI in life science marketing.]

College – creating and promoting “magnetic” life science content

Creating a steady stream of high quality content will ensure that you attract inbound leads.At this level of marketing sophistication, you’ve realized that the future of marketing lies in creating a steady stream of high quality, qualified inbound leads. To attract this inbound activity, you are devoting more resources to creating and promoting a steady stream of unique, compelling life science content, an activity you may have begun in “high school” or even “middle school.” This life science content is not sales focused, but is educational, inspirational and reassuring and takes the form of whitepapers, blog posts, etc. As you get more sophisticated, you are branching out to other forms of content, like webinars, videos, and infographics, etc. This steady stream of content is “magnetic,” attracting prospects to you, in part by augmenting your search engine rankings. You are promoting and repurposing this content in multiple ways, including through social media. This content dovetails into your efforts in Earned Exposure (aka: PR), and you are getting notice from life science trade magazines. [Read more about content in life science marketing.]

Post-graduate studies – life science marketing automation and other advanced techniques.

If you are employing all the life science marketing tools and technologies to which we’ve referred, then you are ideally positioned to take advantage of marketing automation, one of the hallmarks of the “post-graduate” level of marketing.

Marketing Automation

But here is where our analogy breaks down. For while you can’t actually matriculate into a real-life college until you’ve graduated from high school, you can employ marketing tools and techniques at any time, no matter where we’ve classified them along our “educational spectrum.” But they’ll be more or less effective, depending upon how ready you are to implement them properly.

For example, expressing your marketing messages consistently across all touchpoints (an effort that we’re classifying as “middle school” marketing) will be easier and a whole lot more effective if you have a clear, unique, compelling message (“elementary school” marketing).

Prerequisites for marketing automation in the life sciences

You can certainly implement a marketing automation program at any time past elementary school, and you’ll reap some rewards from doing so. But our point is this: certain foundations must be in place to enable you to reap the greatest results from your life science marketing efforts, and specifically, marketing automation works most effectively when the following things are present.

Certain foundations must be in place to enable you to reap the greatest results from your life science marketing automation efforts. A list. For marketing automation to work well, you need a clearly-defined, well-maintained, up-to-date list of life science contacts. This list should be maintained in your CRM, and we suggest you find a marketing automation system that uses your CRM as your database of record, rather than maintaining a separate database. Without a list, your marketing automation system won’t have any leads to nurture.

Volume. Marketing automation works best when you’ve got a large list of life science contacts and a large and steady stream of traffic coming to your life science web site. For example, if you have a list that is too large for your sales team to call individually, you’re a good candidate for marketing automation. Without this volume, you could perform many of these functions yourself. Ideally, your marketing automation system makes it easy to purchase additional names of life science contacts from reputable sources, such as

Content. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll get the most out of your marketing automation system when you have a life science web site that is “magnetic,” that is, one that is easy to find (through effective SEO) and attracts life science visitors by continuing to add a steady stream of unique, relevant content. You can implement marketing automation without content, but what would you be offering your prospects? Without content, there is little would make them want to take action. Your marketing automation results will be magnified if you have a steady stream of content being added to your site.

Ted Strawn, Marketing Representative for DPT Labs, a contract pharmaceutical manufacturer specializing in semi-solids and liquids, says, “”There are a few things you need in place before you begin marketing automation. Most important is the establishment of an editorial calendar, for without a steady stream of new content your marketing automation efforts will likely fail. And I might add that equally as important is the means and dedication to stick to that calendar. It’s easy enough to draft a calendar but if you don’t stick to it you can find yourself in trouble.”’

Adds Craig Zabojnik, Marketing Manager for DPT, “You are going to run through content. Marketing automation can be an insatiable beast that feeds on content, content, and more content.”

A complex sale. Though this applies to most of the readers of this newsletter, marketing automation is most effective when your buyers are sophisticated and are willing to do a great deal of research before they are ready to buy. Two other characteristics apply as well. First, marketing automation works well with complex sales that require multiple points of contact between the prospects and the Sales and Marketing teams. Second, marketing automation works best when most of your contacts aren’t ready to buy right away, but need nurturing as they traverse the buying cycle. All these attributes apply to the typical life science prospect looking to purchase large-ticket products or services, so the life sciences can be the perfect place to apply marketing automation – assuming everything else is in place.

Attitude. Marketing automation works best when you are comfortable with measurement and with experimentation, such as split testing (aka: A/B testing). To put this another way, marketing automation works well with life science companies that are comfortable with data, lots of data.

Resources. Marketing automation works best when the organization is willing to devote the resources (time, effort and money) into optimizing the process. Just like an effective content marketing program, marketing automation rewards those life science organizations that are consistent in their efforts, allowing them to build momentum over time.

Are you ready for marketing automation?

As we’ve pointed out above, you can implement marketing automation at any time. But you’ll get more results if you have the right foundations in place. While the analogy between educational level and marketing sophistication isn’t perfect, it does allow you to gauge your own readiness for a marketing automation program in the life sciences.


Marketing automation can bring great benefits. Craig Zabojnik says: “For DPT Labs, marketing automation has been very successful as an awareness tool. And not only are we driving awareness, we’re driving action. My phone has been ringing.”

Marketing automation represents a certain level of sophistication in your marketing activities – similar to graduate school. To reap the most from your investment in marketing automation, you must ensure that you’ve done your homework and prepared your life science organization to support the effort. In particular, those organizations with a large list of contacts, a high volume of web traffic, a steady stream of content, the right attitude and sufficient dedicated resources are the ones that will prosper the most as they implement marketing automation in the life sciences.

If you’d like some guidance on how to achieve the best results with marketing automation, give us a call.

The Marketing of Science is published by Forma Life Science Marketing approximately ten times per year. To subscribe to this free publication, email us at

David Chapin is author of the book “The Marketing of Science: Making the Complex Compelling,” available now from Rockbench Press and on Amazon. He was named Best Consultant in the inaugural 2013 BDO Triangle Life Science Awards. David serves on the board of NCBio.

David has a Bachelor’s degree in Physics from Swarthmore College and a Master’s degree in Design from NC State University. He is the named inventor on more than forty patents in the US and abroad. His work has been recognized by AIGA, and featured in publications such as the Harvard Business Review, ID magazine, Print magazine, Design News magazine and Medical Marketing and Media. David has authored articles published by Life Science Leader, Impact, and PharmaExec magazines and MedAd News. He has taught at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC-Chapel Hill and at the College of Design at NC State University. He has lectured and presented to numerous groups about various topics in marketing.

Forma Life Science Marketing is a leading marketing firm for life science, companies. Forma works with life science organizations to increase marketing effectiveness and drive revenue, differentiate organizations, focus their messages and align their employee teams. Forma distills and communicates complex messages into compelling communications; we make the complex compelling.

© 2024 Forma Life Science Marketing, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted without obtaining written permission from Forma Life Science Marketing.

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