March 2011

A scientist in marketer’s clothing, or vice versa?

In 2008 I took my show on the road, so to speak, and started a marketing consulting company, Comprendia. I bootstrapped the company, and my web and creative skills helped me get started. I also work with talented developers and designers who help me with projects that are more involved. We provide everything from product-development consulting to printed brochures to websites and applications. We do most things virtually and have partners and clients all around the world.

What does a marketer do?

Life science marketers usually split their time between strategic and tactical marketing activities. Strategic marketing is the work required to develop products that customers need and involves market and scientific research, competitive analyses, forecasting and working closely with a research and development group. It doesn’t end after the product is launched, as there is continuous competition as well as scientific advances. Life science companies stay tuned to all of these changes through their marketing department, resulting in products that always are improving.

Tactical marketing is the part of the job that you probably are more familiar with: it’s the advertising and sales portion. We need to communicate the value of the products we’ve worked so hard to make for you. Now, some people say that a good product will sell itself. That’s true to some extent, but in this crowded marketplace, scientists like to know about and understand the value of the product before they buy it.

Is marketing for me?

As you can see from my history, marketing was in the cards for me long before I even knew it. I enjoy all aspects of marketing but have the most fun with the tactical part. I love, for example, creating a web application and seeing how many scientists use it and taking the feedback we get to improve the product. To me, it’s the equivalent of standing over a protein gel waiting for it to destain. However, the activities of a marketer can be quite varied, and even if you don’t see yourself having as much fun with this aspect, there are many marketing positions that involve a lot more strategic than tactical work. Having a strong science background is of course very helpful for these positions, and the analytical skills you use to interpret your data can help you understand forecasting and planning. Marketers interface with almost every department in a company – R&D, tech service, sales and management – and it really is a very interesting job with great travel and growth opportunities.

How do I get into marketing?

You’re lucky because there is so much information available about careers outside of R&D now. There even are classes offered by the American Marketing Association in many areas of the country. Take your destiny into your own hands and find ways to talk to people who could help or hire you. As early as possible, look at companies that are hiring marketers (or product managers) and finding the areas in which they’re hiring. Remember, I got my break in marketing by being in the informatics field – could you steer your work into a hot area? I’ve met many ambitious young scientists who are proactively creating a niche for themselves while in academia. I’m also a big proponent of face-to-face networking – find (or even start!) networking groups in your area. We founded the San Diego Biotechnology Network, which now has 6,000 members and helps life scientists to connect and learn.

In summary, make those aha moments come more quickly by opening yourself up to careers outside of R&D now. I’m happy about my career path, as I was able to learn and make many great contacts along the way. Make sure you’re getting the most out of every situation you’re in and don’t be afraid to branch into other areas, as they can be very rewarding on both the individual and community level.

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