The relationship between your position and your archetype in driving engagement and sales in life science marketing.

By David Chapin




In this issue, I reopen the topic of archetypes as an aid to drive engagement, differentiation and sales in life science marketing. If you already have a position, can archetypes help? What if your position is ineffective, can archetypes help? Let’s explore this interesting topic.

Interest in archetypes in life science and biotech marketing has grown dramatically since we introduced life science audiences to the idea of using archetypes in their sales and marketing almost two years ago. Given this interest, and to answer several of the questions we’ve been getting about archetypes, I want to explore some additional topics related to archetypes in life science marketing. I’ll be doing this over the next several issues.

“Can archetypes help my specific life science marketing and sales efforts?”

As we discuss the benefits of archetypes with a wide variety of life science organizations, we’re getting this question frequently: “How would we start with archetypes in our life science marketing efforts?” Underneath this question is actually another, unspoken one: “We can’t just throw out all our current life science marketing efforts, so can archetypes help in situations just like mine?”

This question is being raised particularly by large life science organizations—ones that have an established direction, but typically little momentum. That’s why they’re interested in archetypes. Their life science marketing efforts are much less effective than they hoped for or expected. For many reasons, often political, they’re reluctant to change their chosen direction and are therefore interested in learning if archetypes can help an existing marketing strategy become more effective.

This cycle is all too common, isn’t it? Maybe you’ve seen it yourself: pick a new life science marketing direction and pour money into it, only to be disappointed by a lack of results. The lack of results can come from many causes, but it most often springs from a couple of all-too-common factors: picking a position that lacks clear differentiation, and/or failing to spread the word internally by conducting sufficient training to drive consistent behavior throughout your life science or biotech organization once a position has been chosen.

If you don’t have a clear position, you’ll never get traction because you won’t be seen as different in the marketplace. No differentiation means no pricing power; you’re a commodity. If you have a position but your team isn’t fully trained on how to translate it into your day-to-day marketing and sales, you won’t get traction because your messages and behaviors will be inconsistent. Inconsistency means confused prospects, which means no pricing power; they don’t know what they’re looking at.

Regardless of the reason for the lack of traction, the short answer is, “Yes, archetypes can help.” To show you how, I’ll examine three common situations in the life sciences.

? X !
No distinct, position has been clearly defined A position is established, but it isn’t effective. A position is established, and it is effective.

Figure 1: Archetypes can drive differentiation and deliver benefits in a variety of situations, including across the spectrum shown here.

Option 1: We have a unique position already defined. How can archetypes help my life science and biotech marketing and sales efforts?

If your position is strong and captures real differences between you and your competitors—differences that your prospects find important, believable and compelling—then archetypes can help you. Archetypes can cement these differences in the minds of your internal and external life science audiences, and reinforce the uniqueness of your position.

Since well-defined positions are the exception rather than the rule in life science and biotech marketing, this situation is the rarest of the three that I’ll be discussing. In this case, the differentiation perceived by your audiences will spring primarily from your position. Properly chosen, an archetype will reinforce and be compatible with your position.

This challenge can be the most rewarding of the three. You’ll see synergies between your position and your archetype that are not available when your position is weak or non-existent (the next two cases I’ll examine).

Option 2: We have a position defined, but it’s not differentiating. How can archetypes help my life science marketing and sales efforts?

If you already have a position for your life science organization but it’s ineffective, an archetype can give your marketing efforts more traction.

Much of what passes for positioning in this sector is very poor. Positions such as “We’re the ones that believe in quality,” or “Our people are the best,” or “We’ve got superior science and engineering” are all too common, and they lack real, meaningful differentiation. They’re not unique. Uniqueness is the most difficult of the seven criteria to meet for a life science position to be effective: clear, unique, authentic, sustainable, important, believable, and compelling.

I have written elsewhere about why uniqueness is so difficult to achieve in the life sciences. Uniqueness is difficult in general, and particularly so, in two specific situations: when organizations get so large that their list of offerings looks identical to every other large competitor, and when regulatory requirements limit either work process and work product.

This is exactly where archetypes can help. If your current position is not unique, I suspect you’ve been fighting the weakness of your position for quite a while. If it is not possible to shift your position (for political or other reasons), a properly chosen archetype can still help you achieve many benefits.

For many life science and biotech organizations that find themselves in this situation, archetypes can be the core around which differentiation is built. That’s because archetypes, when used properly, can create differentiation in the minds of a life science or biotech audience. As an example, refer to Figure 2.

ThinkstockPhotos-200318474-001Figure 2: Identical twins might be the same biologically, but if their behaviors are different, with different language, dress, actions and values, we’ll see them as very distinct. In this photo, it’s easy to see two different archetypes: the Yuppie and the Hipster, and we’d expect different behaviors from these biologically identical individuals. Just as different language, dress, actions and values can make these two identical individuals appear quite different, the proper use of archetypes can differentiate life science and biotech organizations from their competitors that, at their core, are almost identical.

This challenge—in which a position is established but ineffective—can be the most difficult of the three that I’m discussing in life science marketing. In these cases, it is typical to face political pressures to choose an archetype that is congruent or consistent with the established (but ineffective) position. This means the range of archetypes to choose from will be narrower. But caution is required.

Consider two examples. First, let’s look at product-based companies. Many companies making scientific instruments for life science and biotech customers have non-differentiating positions related to the fact that they develop and then sell a steady stream of new products. To select an archetype consistent with this position, a natural choice would be something like the Innovator or Scientist. But the behaviors exhibited by the Innovator or Scientist are not that different from the natural behaviors of all such companies, so either of these choices would be non-differentiating, and therefore ineffective.

Second, let’s look at service-based companies. Many clinical research organizations (CROs) have non-differentiating positions related to the service they provide: shepherding a drug through a clinical trial. To select an archetype consistent with this position, a natural choice would be something like the Guide or the Companion. But the behaviors exhibited by the Guide or Companion are not different from the natural behaviors of all CROs, so these choices would be non-differentiating, and therefore ineffective.

The pressure to pick an archetype that aligns with the entire life science and biotech sectors’ offerings is not unique to instrumentation companies or CROs; it shows up in many life science sectors. Let me state firmly that adding a non-differentiating archetype on top of a non-differentiating position is no way to escape the “sea of sameness” that plagues many life science sectors.

Think about many of the well-known consumer brands, such as Coke vs. Pepsi. These products are not differentiated through significant differences in the products. In fact, many people can’t even correctly identify them during a blind taste test. So archetypes are an important way—in fact one of the only ways—to create this highly valuable differentiation.

When your position has been defined but is ineffective, the central idea in choosing an archetype is not “reinforcement” or “compatibility,” as in the previous case, but “stand alone.” If your position is ineffective, it shouldn’t be reinforced by picking a poor archetype! You should choose your archetype based on other factors. For more on selecting an archetype, read “Choosing an archetype that will differentiate your life science organization—a 10-step process.

In short: archetypes can be useful when your life science or biotech position is ineffective—but you need to choose one that can differentiate you and then let it drive the difficult marketing tasks that your (ineffective and undifferentiating) position has been unable to address.

Option 3: We don’t have a position defined. How can archetypes help my life science marketing and sales efforts?

If you don’t have a clearly defined position (one that meets the seven criteria: clear unique, authentic, sustainable, important, believable and compelling), then an archetype can definitely help your life science or biotech marketing and sales efforts.

If you don’t have a position clearly defined, then you’re starting from a clean slate. You’ll need to begin by defining a position. Any effective life science marketing position must be based on the benefits you provide, and these benefits must be unique in order to distinguish you from your competition. Defining these benefits clearly gives your marketing the proper focus: on your customers and the value you’re creating for them. After you identify your benefits, take a close look at them. If they’re not really all that unique, then your archetype is going to have to do the work your position can’t: clarify to your audiences why you’re unique and what makes you better.

The central idea in choosing an archetype in this situation will either be “reinforcement and compatibility” as in Option 1, or “stand alone” as in Option 2.

The key disciplines you need to implement archetypes successfully in your life science or biotech marketing and sales organization.

The benefits you reap from the proper use of archetypes in a life science organization aren’t found or experienced in a vacuum. There are three key disciplines you must implement before they’re realized.

Courage: The process of choosing an archetype in the life sciences requires many attributes including skill and experience, both of which can be hired. One thing you can’t hire is focus. Choosing an archetype requires eliminating many possible options and settling on one. Making this choice takes courage and fortitude to stand up to the naysayers and nitpickers. Courage will deliver focus.

Discipline: Implementing an archetype in the life sciences is all about being consistent in your behaviors and your messages. The benefits I’ve discussed will only be realized when you have the discipline to stay consistent. Inconsistent communication and erratic behavior will confuse and ultimately alienate your life science and biotech audiences, both internally and externally. Discipline delivers consistency.

Preparation: Your life science archetype gains power to the extent that it is a shared understanding among all audiences, both internal and external. You have limited control over external audiences who will only come to understand your archetype over time, but it is possible to have significant influence over internal audiences. This influence will be magnified by training, which will result in a shared understanding that enables your entire team to believe, speak and behave according to one set of common principles; that is, everyone will speak with one voice. Preparation will build a common culture.

The three disciplines necessary to implement archetypes successfully.
Your courage will deliver a clear focus, without which your archetype won’t succeed.
Your discipline will deliver consistency, without which your behavior and communications will confuse audiences, both internal and external.
Your preparation will deliver a shared understanding and a common culture, without which your cohesion will be at risk.

An archetype CAN help your life science marketing and sales efforts, if it is chosen and implemented correctly.

Archetypes can’t be chosen and implemented arbitrarily. I’ve outlined three scenarios that demand very different approaches:

  • You already have a clear and effective life science marketing position defined
  • You already have a life science marketing position defined, but it is ineffective
  • You don’t have a life science marketing position defined.

These three situations must be approached very differently. If you pay attention to the selection and implementation of your life science archetype, you will realize great reward. Assuming that your archetype has been properly chosen, here are just a few of the benefits we’ve seen in our life science and biotech clients:

  • improved external communications
  • increased engagement and resonance with your internal and external audiences and affect their attitudes, beliefs and behaviors,
  • increased perception of differentiation,
  • increased internal alignment,
  • improved internal communications,
  • increased marketing consistency,
  • increased pricing power, sales and margins.

To achieve these benefits you’ll need courage, discipline and adequate preparation. Good luck!

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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