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    Two activities every early-stage life science startup should do to develop top-notch marketing messaging

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    The path to marketing a new product, device, or drug is a tangled, winding road. Early-stage startups often juggle competing priorities with limited resources–making it difficult to sit down and focus on a messaging strategy when you’re years away from an FDA approval. As a result, many startups conversing with investors, KOLs, and other early stakeholders develop messaging using ad-hoc methods, resulting in inconsistent communications.

    As a content person, I know and appreciate a good ad-hoc strategy, especially when you need to move quickly. However, as that same content person, I’d like to scream from the rooftops: There is value in spending time, upfront, thinking strategically about your marketing messaging. In today’s highly regulated world, it is incredibly important for your marketing messaging to be consistent right from the start.

    I recently listened to this episode of the Life Science Marketing Radio podcast, focused on sharing best practices for how startups can approach and develop marketing messaging for their new product or company. While the episode focused on biotech startups, I thought the takeaways were applicable to any kind of early-stage life science company. Here’s what you need to know:


    Activity 1: Establish a shared lexicon

    When you break this activity down to its essence, it’s about one thing: consistency. As you work to bring your product to market, you likely have various team members out in the world telling your product story to various stakeholders. If members of your internal team aren’t telling your product story consistently, you risk confusion and loss of credibility through mixed messages.

    Establishing a shared lexicon doesn’t have to be an arduous exercise. Think of it as a conversation about what you’ve been doing already: telling your product story. When you sit down with your internal team, focus on identifying the following:


    • Key phrasing and word choices ideal for messaging your new product
    • Key phrasing and word choices ideal for messaging your company
    • Key phrasing or word choices you want to avoid due to undesirable connotations

    Then comes the (arguably) hardest part of this exercise: ensuring your team actually uses this lexicon in their stakeholder conversations. There is no point in going through this exercise if it is just going to be ignored, so devise an internal strategy for using your lexicon on a daily basis. Maybe it’s a document you post by the coffee maker as a constant reminder. Maybe it becomes a jar that your team has to throw dollars into if you hear the use of outdated phrasing. No matter the strategy, this transition to using new messaging will likely take time, so be patient.


    Activity 2: Develop a tiered messaging platform

    Okay, your shared lexicon is developed and you’ve started using it consistently in your conversations. Next up? A tiered messaging platform.

    The podcast talks about a specific format for a tiered messaging platform, but I’ll take the liberty in saying that a tiered messaging platform can take various formats (personas, matrix, etc.), but should include the following elements:


    • Your key audiences or key opinion leaders
    • Your key audiences’ beliefs, challenges, and needs
    • Key messages specific to each audience to address their beliefs, challenges, and needs
    • Brand tone or voice (Are we communicating with authority? approachability? something else?)

    Your messaging will be more successful if you think about it from the perspective of your various audiences. By going through this exercise, you ensure that the messages your audiences hear resonate with them, their experiences, and day-to-day frustrations. What works for physicians will not work for consumers. Do your homework and gather insights and data about your audiences (if you haven’t done so already) so you can make informed decisions.


    **Added bonus activity: Test and iterate

    This activity wasn’t covered in the podcast, but I think it’s worth emphasizing. When you work through the above activities, you take amazing strides in establishing a strong marketing platform for your product and company to build upon. But, beware: your shared lexicon or messaging map is not set in stone. The only way you will know if your messaging is effective is if you test and iterate, and then test and iterate again. Gather feedback from your stakeholders and constituents, either in the form of a survey, informal conversations, or analytics from your website. As your product and company evolves, revisit these activities for maximum impact.

    One more final note: These messaging activities are not only important from a marketing perspective; they are also important because of the industry we work in. As Bob Finkel, CEO of Freshblood Group, eloquently put on the podcast: “Healthcare is not selling corn chips. You are talking about life-saving products that need to be taken seriously.”

    As you work through developing and iterating your marketing messaging, you’ll also need to think through what system you need to put in place to get your content in front of your key audiences. Pepper Flow is a promotional and medical affairs information review platform that streamlines the review and approval process to enable speed and compliance.

    Early stage startups could be eligible for our Acceleration Program, where qualifying emerging pharmaceutical and device companies receive Pepper Flow at no cost until their product launch date. Learn more at


    Annalise Ludtke

    Senior Manager, Marketing Communications at Vodori

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