What Recession? State of Science Marketing Budgets

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If I had to describe the state of the economy in a word, I would have to go with “weird.” On the one hand, big tech companies are shedding tens of thousands of jobs. On the other hand, jobs are being added to the US economy, and many businesses are operating as if everything is normal. While I’m not an economist, I am a science marketer and want to know the state of science marketing budgets. How worried should I be about a possible recession, and are businesses pre-emptively pulling back spending?

Recently, I completed a review of the reports and surveys about the state of science marketing in 2023 so I could get perspective on the direction of the field. There were many unexpected results, but the most surprising was how few marketers seemed concerned about the economy. In fact, budgets are mostly on the rise!

That being said, there are a lot of caveats. We can also learn a lot about science marketing trends by examining how they spend their money. Let’s get into it and explore the state of science marketing budgets…

Strong Science Marketing Budgets

One result that sticks in my mind when considering the state of science marketing budgets is this table from the SCORR Marketing survey. Science marketers – not content marketers, B2B marketers, or anything else – were asked about changes in marketing spending based on activity. According to the respondents, there were increases in every tested area! It is unsurprising that investment in trade shows and events was up from 2021, but there were also significant increases in social media, content creation, website development, and branding.

Source: SCORR Marketing survey

Taken at face value, these numbers suggest marketing departments have nothing to worry about.

I should note that this survey was conducted in the summer of 2022 – while many already had concerns about an economic downturn, it was still relatively early. Respondents also probably did not consider inflation when answering this question, so these responses likely overstate the effective increase in spending. Still, this is good evidence that marketing budgets in the life sciences are not contracting in anticipation of economic troubles.

What about other surveys? While none were quite as rosy (or detailed) as SCORR, AZoNetwork’s survey found that 39% of science marketers are likely to increase offline marketing spending, 54% are likely to increase paid social spending, and 69% are likely to increase digital spending. SageFrog’s survey of B2B marketers (not just science marketers) found that 62% of respondents got an increase in budget, 25% had the budget held constant, and only 13% experienced a decrease for 2023. Once again, the effect of inflation was probably not accounted for in these results, but all this directionally agrees with the findings from SCORR.

Integrate’s report found that only 11% of marketers have significantly lower budgets and that more marketers had budget increases than decreases. Healthcare performed relatively poorly on resource levels, but the results do not look catastrophic.

Source: Integrate

While the overall trends look quite positive, some companies are struggling. This shouldn’t be ignored – you folks have a tough road ahead, especially when companies competing for the same attention are not experiencing the same headwinds. Do what you can to fight for your marketing budget – your work is critical for both keeping the company afloat in the short term and cultivating customers for the long time. More tips for marketers navigating a down economy.

Where is the Money Going? Messy Marketing Budgets

It is good to know that science marketing budgets are robust, but it is more useful to see where the money goes. To understand a company’s priorities, look at how they spend their money.

Once again, SCORR has a stellar set of numbers.

Source: SCORR Marketing survey

Trade shows are unquestionably at the top, being a “Big budget item” for 43% of the companies surveyed. Website development and content creation came in a distant second and third. Interestingly, if you combine the results for the “Big” and “Medium” columns, you still get the same top three: events, website, and content. PR and marketing automation came in last.

I could not find any other results that looked only at science marketers, but the results from SageFrog shared priorities for B2B marketers. Events won out again, though the margin did not seem as overwhelming. Website development was still strong but below SEO/SEM and sales and marketing materials. Content creation scored only 8th out of 15.

Source: SageFrog

The results from the Integrate survey are somewhat different, showing 42% investing in content and 37% investing in digital marketing, while only 27% are investing in event marketing. Product marketing apparently got more budget from healthcare marketers, with 45% of respondents selecting it.

Source: Integrate

SalesForce’s State of Marketing report was surprising in its lack of trends regarding B2B budgets. Spending was split almost evenly between advertising, content, account-based marketing, tools and technology, events, agencies, and people. The ABM number jumps out to me – what exactly is this money being spent on if it isn’t ads, technology, or people? Gift cards?

Source: SalesForce’s State of Marketing report

While I had wanted to draw conclusions from this information, differences in questions and methodology make it virtually impossible to glean any helpful information here. Take ABM as an example – this was a major expense according to SalesForce, and a minor expense according to Integrate, while SageFrog and SCORR didn’t bother to ask about it. What does it mean to spend on “Digital” marketing? How does that overlap with content, search ads, or virtual events?

This may seem like I’m being annoying, but I think this suggests a lack of intellectual rigour within marketing. When considering my household expenses, it would be easy to organize them into categories such as rent, food, and candles. You would probably choose similar categories, even if the money allocated to each looked different. Now imagine comparing the breakdown of a marketing budget between two companies – would they look alike? I don’t think so.

If you want to learn how to budget, Mark Ritson’s “Triple cooked” method is an excellent place to start.

The Uncertain Future of Science Marketing Budgets

It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.

Yogi Berra

While I am confident about this analysis – science marketers are generally doing fine – I can’t bring myself to make any predictions. Perhaps one of the strangest aspects of our current economic state is not the “economic headwind” but how everything seems dependent on the choices of a handful of corporate executives or government regulators.

Take the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank as an example. From everything I have read, the bank became insolvent due to poor investment choices, unusually large average account size, and a panic among a handful of customers. While this event has been somewhat contained for now, there are concerns that this could have a lasting effect on biotech start-ups. SVB was the bank of choice for roughly half of venture-backed life sciences companies in the United States. Not only do these businesses need to restructure their finances quickly, but future biotech firms will also need to find someplace else to bank.

In addition to these black swan events, there is also the possibility that government regulation could hit either the pharmaceutical or advertising industry in impactful ways. While I was writing this, Bernie Sanders and the CEO of Moderna butted heads over vaccine pricing. Literally the next day, the CEO of TikTok was testifying to keep the platform from being banned. It is also clear that European regulators are suspicious of Google and are deliberately making their lives difficult. Are these just meant to be public scolding sessions, or will legislators pass laws that redraw the map?

We are getting a bit off-topic, but the point is that there are many possibilities that could totally screw up your budget. This doesn’t seem like a great time to make big investments into new marketing channels unless you are over-invested in channels that are at risk. Focus on established tactics, execute well, and be attentive to changes that affect your business.

In other words, do good marketing.

Jesse Harris is a Digital Marketing Coordinator at ACD/Labs. He has two Master’s degrees and has been creating internet content since 2016.