Because He Told Me To

Because He Told Me To

I knew it would be an unpleasant experience. All I could do was prepare the best I can and then just do it. It was time to defend my master’s thesis on, “Competitive fitness effects of whole chromosome homozygosity in Drosophila melanogaster.” All the teachers will be present. Many graduate students will attend, and I could be asked just about anything; yes, anything about alleles or chromosomes or types of DNA mutations or anything else. I asked my advisor if recalls anything memorable happening during such proceedings and he said, “yes, two.” One student could not define what a gene was while defending population genetics-based work. Another under heavy questioning about why a certain set of experiments was done, got so flustered that he pointed to his advisor and said, “because he told me to.”

Ah, sweet memories of days gone by. However, I started thinking if we are plagued by such mistakes in our jobs in marketing; forget or undermine basics and secondly, just do things, unthinkingly and unknowingly, because that is what we are told to do. Let’s take this one by one.

There are certain things etched in the marketing stone. These things have to be studied, analyzed, evaluated, and communicated every time:

  1. What problem does the product solve?
  2. In what respect does it solve better than potential substitutes? The thing to keep in mind is that a product competes on several fronts. You don’t have to be better in every criteria, but you should excel in at least one of them. For example, when I compared drugs in a class, there were 5 potential areas for differentiation; efficacy, safety, convenience, cost, and formulary coverage. Find a niche and tell others about it.
  3. The value proposition. The high cost of drugs is a common objection. I would tell doctors (at that time generic versions had not been approved by the FDA) that “yes, Plavix is costly but, based on the results from the clinical trials, how many heart attacks will it stop from occurring, what is the cost for treating them, and what is the impact on the quality of life for patients?
  4. Determine who the decision-maker is who chooses one product over another. In most cases, don’t focus on the user, although DTC ads are an exception. Parents buy the diapers, babies use them. Focus on the parents, not babies. This is the target audience.
  5. How do the prospects get their information? Industry publications, LinkedIn, search engines, e-mails, colleagues, etc. These are the channels that will be used to reach them.
  6. Craft a message based on a positioning strategy synthesized from 2 and 3.
  7. Implement the plan using a variety of channels.

Out of the above, 2 and 3 can be the most challenging, especially if there is a lack of coordination between marketing and development teams. You get features in products no one cares about, or don’t have features that customers are looking for. I sold Avapro, an angiotensin receptor blocker (ARB). There were 6 other ARBs on the market at that time and more than one doctor implied to me that they can just go to the sample closet, shut their eyes and grab one. It would be the right choice. This lack of differentiation makes selling difficult. The task becomes finding certain situations, certain patients, or certain times where Avapro had been proven through clinical trials and received indications, while others had not. And that something was renoprotection for diabetics. Avapro was the only ARB indicated for the treatment of diabetic nephropathy in patients with type 2 diabetes and hypertension. A second selling point was that it was on formulary in certain areas while some other ARBs weren’t.

While the first problem (disregarding basics) is more pervasive in new companies, more established companies are more likely to suffer from the second problem (follow precedent without questioning). There is a vast history of how things have always been done and they have worked well enough to have fancy buildings and hundreds of employees. Sticking your neck out risks losing it. But times change, and tactics have to change with it.

Here, the main change is how your prospects like to get their information and what you can do to reach them. Have we upgraded our site to be responsive to various devices, have we invested in SEO, do we use pay-per-click campaigns, automated drip campaigns, re-targeting, two-way conversations on social platforms, blogs, inbound marketing etc. These are all tactics of modern marketing. They were not taught in my marketing classes in school and were not practiced much at the beginning of the century. However, they are indispensable now. I guess you don’t want to be in a situation where someone asks, “why are you still printing a traditional newsletter and the best you come up with is “because he told me to.”

Back to the defense of my dissertation. I survived but there was a scary moment. The department chair asked me why do fruit-flies with two alleles for curly wings die? I muttered, ”because they are homozygous for a recessive lethal allele.” My answer could have been misconstrued as a bit smart-alecky, but it was correct. There was an excruciating pause. I guess the chair was looking for why curly/curly flies die biochemically and what systems shut down? Mercifully, my thesis advisor turned to the chair and said, “the answer to that question is not known.”  Later he explained to me that people who do not know how to answer a question say, “I don’t know the answer to that question.” People who know the answer, say, ”the answer to that question is not known.”

Thank you, Dr. Diamond!!!