Has The “Gilligan’s Island Effect” Impacted Your Company? What Can Be Done?
In the life sciences industry, pigeonholing or typecasting is very real among individuals and companies alike. Job candidates cannot shake the perception of what they were in their old position. Companies are only considered for the particular service or product they last provided, even if they have multiple core capabilities.
Pigeonholing in the life science industry: Gilligan’s Island Effect
I like to refer to this as the “Gilligan’s Island Effect” referring to the iconic 1960’s US-based show Gilligan’s Island. For those who are unfamiliar or need a reminder, the show featured seven radically different individuals including the Skipper, his first mate (Gilligan), a movie star, farm girl, extremely wealthy couple, and professor who went on a three hour tour and ended up on a deserted island. Thereafter the entire premise revolved around the crazy antics of the group in their quest to return to civilization. The show was wildly popular with the talent of the main actors driving its success with viewers. Still, even though they were all accomplished thespians with talent to tackle various roles, most were unable to disconnect themselves with their characters. This resulted in extreme difficulty for the show’s actors to get other jobs following the show’s ending. Blame it on re-runs, but in actuality, they were indeed typecast – unable to shake the perception of who they were in the show.
A company may have particular core competencies, be it strong science, innovation, analytic skills, or marketing. However based upon a particular service or product provided to a customer or customer group the company may be perceived as having expertise limited to that specific entity. For example, Snowfish has worked successfully with a number of companies to profile their KOLs. The same expertise in creative analytics also has applicability to various other areas such as gap analysis, market assessment, publication analysis and planning, and competitive intelligence. Since those specific clients were only exposed to our talents in KOL profiling we were essentially typecast in that role, making it difficult to sell our other comparable services to those companies.
Another case is the medical device company that has a product which competes in the pharmacotherapeutic or biologic space. That is, it could serve as a device-based alternative to drug therapy. Prior technologies marketed by the company were used for indications for which surgery was the only option. Thus, the company was viewed as only able to provide such types of therapeutic solutions. The success of the new device necessitated targeting and engaging new customer segments not traditionally focused on by the company – non-surgeons/interventionalists. Now, this company had many attributes which would make it well-respected by any physician: it has been producing therapeutic medical products for decades, has demonstrated strong science, conducts well-designed clinical trials, very few product recalls, and is a leader in innovation. Still, non-surgical physicians have a hard time viewing a device as having the ability to treat a condition traditionally managed with drug therapy or the company having anything to offer them. Like Bob Denver and the rest of the castaways from Gilligan’s Island, this company too is suffering from pigeonholing. Their products are viewed as only valuable for surgeons and conditions that can only be dealt with surgically.
Once it is perceived, removing a professional stereotype is not an easy task. Actually the ideal way is to avoid being typecast in the first place.
I have included a few tips below:
- Position you or your company not for particular service or product but for a set of capabilities that can be translated to a number of areas and functions. Define yourself by your capabilities as opposed to the specific area they have been applied.
- People generally have little ability or desire to think abstractly, make sure you are able to provide concrete examples of how those capabilities will transfer to various disciplines and specialties.
- Don’t wait to branch out to other specialties or disciplines. In the medical device company example, they should always be reaching out to non-surgeons even if they are not a main target. Continually build your network.
- Upon launch of a particular product or initiation of service engagement, start looking at the next opportunity and identify/engage valuable champions in these other areas that you think you will need to target.
- Produce thought leadership pieces that demonstrate your core capabilities.
It is not clear if back in the 1960’s this would have helped the Gilligan’s Island cast, but it might be presumed that with a more proactive approach they could have escaped their on-screen personas once the series ended. With the right amount of thought and positioning, you or your company can do the same.
This post was brought to you by Snowfish. We are a forward-thinking commercial strategy firm with a core of expertise in stakeholder mapping from KOLs to advocacy groups. Our experience has spanned for almost two decades and over 40 life science companies. Please reach out to us by going to snowfish.net.