Beyond the Booth: Why CROs Need to Rethink Their Marketing Strategies

By John Emmerson, Founder of Lab to Lead

In my two decades of navigating the medical technology marketing landscape, I’ve witnessed a persistent challenge that continues to plague Contract Research Organisations (CROs): a pronounced disconnect between how they market their services and how their prospective biopharmaceutical clients want to be engaged. This misalignment not only stimies the effectiveness of CRO marketing efforts but also underscores a broader issue in our industry—a “sea of sameness” where differentiation becomes the exception, not the norm.

Our recent research at Lab to Lead, a subsidiary of London Agency, has shed light on a stark reality: while up to 70% of a CRO’s marketing budget is typically funnelled into conferences and trade shows, the very clients they aim to attract are steering clear of these venues when searching for CRO partners. The question then arises: Why continue to invest heavily in a strategy that evidently misses the mark?

The Trade Show Paradox

The reliance on in-person trade shows and conferences as the primary marketing vehicle is deeply ingrained in the CRO industry. This traditional approach is perceived as a direct pathway to potential clients, offering opportunities for face-to-face interactions and networking. However, our findings reveal a different narrative—one where biopharmaceutical companies are actively avoiding these settings for vendor selection. This paradox highlights a misalignment of marketing strategies with client preferences and behaviours, casting a shadow over the return on investment these costly events promise. The exhibition space costs a lot, the booth set up, the flights and accommodation for the team, the time out of the office, the opportunity cost of it all, and then really, how many customer leads did the exercise produce?

A Sea of Sameness

The challenge extends beyond misplaced marketing budgets. Most CROs are struggling in a “sea of sameness,” where their differentiation from competitors becomes increasingly difficult. In an industry marked by nuanced and specialised services, the irony lies in the homogeneity of marketing tactics employed. This uniformity dilutes the unique value propositions of CROs, rendering them indistinguishable in a crowded marketplace.

The Power of Thought Leadership

Our research unequivocally points to a preference among biopharmaceutical companies for engaging with thought leadership content that addresses specific problems and showcases a CRO’s expertise and experience. These clients are not looking for vendors at trade shows; they are seeking insights and solutions to their complex challenges. Thought leadership—delivered through white papers, articles, and case studies—emerges as a powerful tool to bridge the gap between CROs and their prospective clients. This content-driven approach not only aligns with client preferences but also establishes CROs as authoritative voices in their domain.

The Untapped Potential of White Papers

White papers, in particular, stand out as a highly valued resource among biopharmaceutical companies. Our findings indicate a strong appetite for well-researched, informative papers that delve into relevant topics and offer tangible solutions. This preference underscores the importance of investing in quality content that resonates with the target audience’s needs and interests. White papers serve as a platform for CROs to demonstrate their knowledge, share unique insights, and, ultimately, distinguish themselves from the competition.

Redefining Marketing Strategies

At Lab to Lead, we believe that generating interest and converting prospects into leads is not only feasible but straightforward—if, and only if, the content is compelling and of high quality. The key to successful marketing in the CRO space lies in understanding and adapting to the preferences of biopharmaceutical companies. This means pivoting away from conventional, budget-heavy trade show investments and towards a strategic content marketing approach that emphasises thought leadership and problem-solving.

Getting leads is easy if the content is good

To remain competitive and relevant, CROs must rethink their marketing strategies. This calls for a shift in focus from traditional, often ineffective methods to innovative approaches that prioritise the creation and dissemination of valuable content. By doing so, CROs can effectively engage their target audience, showcase their unique expertise, and carve out a distinct identity in a sea of sameness.

As we move forward, let’s embrace the opportunity to redefine how we connect with potential clients. The future of CRO marketing is not in the crowded halls of trade shows but in the rich, insightful content that speaks directly to the needs and challenges of our clients. It’s time to go beyond the booth and lead with knowledge, insight, and innovation.

Reflecting on my journey and the insights gleaned from our research, I invite my peers and fellow industry leaders to join me in this pivotal shift in strategy. Together, we can chart a new course towards more effective, impactful marketing that truly resonates with our clients.

Scientific discovery can involve long shots. Finding your next biopharma or life sciences client shouldn’t be one of them.