Medical device marketing is ripe for change. Whenever all the players are pretty much playing from the same sheet of music, it’s only a matter of time before someone zigs instead of zags with the herd. Medical device marketers tend to play from the same, conservative playbook: They attend the same tradeshows and professional meetings year after year where they launch their new products. They produce product brochures with hero product shots and slightly modified stock images of “happy, smiling patients” and “focused, caring healthcare providers.” Their creative is serviceable, but doesn’t rock any boats—by design.
We have now served the medical device industry for two decades. We understand the constraints of marketing in a technical B2B space that is highly regulated. The marketing of medical devices never will be, nor should be, like marketing pizza, perfume or automobiles.
However, we are convinced that medical device marketers have the ability to push the boundaries of their efforts outward in multiple directions. And those who do so first, will see greater success than those who consign themselves to following.
Here are three ways in which medical device marketers can push the envelope and make some positive waves without sinking the ship.
1. Creating and reinforcing an emotional connection
Of course, technical features—and the functional benefits they provide—will always be important in the marketing of medical devices. But, as in most sectors of our global economy, truly differentiated products are actually much more rare than companies care to admit. In our experience, customers always see a broader range of substitute products than do product marketers who are more apt to emphasize minor product advantages given their closeness to the product. So, data alone is unlikely to move the marketing needle all that much. Although medical devices are purchased by highly educated people for serious purposes, they are still people. And, given the choice to buy two reasonably comparable products, the professionals deciding on which medical device to purchase are just as susceptible to their emotions as anyone else.
The role perceptions, emotions, beliefs and attitudes (PEBAs) play in B2B decision-making is well-documented, with estimates ranging between 70% and 90% of the final economic decision.
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We have seen the power of emotions to drive decision-making in the medical device industry first-hand on a number of occasions. In one of these, we conducted a global research program in the ultrasound space where we compared what customers of medical ultrasound devices say is important in the purchase of a new device and compared that to what actually drives purchase intent. The top reasons customers listed in the purchase of a new ultrasound device were, as predicted, product features and benefits (including image quality and price). But when we looked at the variables that statistically predicted brand purchase intent, emotional benefits like the reputation of the manufacturer and their commitment to the ultrasound space soared to the top, eclipsing features and benefits like image quality and price.
Remember the old phrase, “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”?
One reason why medical device marketers might not successfully create an emotional connection with their customer targets may be not knowing how and where to start.
Fortunately, it is not as hard as it might seem, and here are just a handful of ways to get started:
- Give at least fair play to the corporate brand, rather than just marketing product brands. The corporate brand is where some of the softer associations (PEBAs) live.
- Do content marketing, not just product marketing. Show that the brand not only offers great products but also understands customers’ pain points and provides value-added information and resources. This can be done through blogs, white papers, expanded services, etc.
- Engage in a dialog with customers and prospects whenever possible. (Fortunately, modern marketing technology has made this easier, and medical device marketers are beginning to leverage social media and marketing automation more.) Customers today expect close to immediate responses from brands they interact with across all channels. Follow up, track and personalize your communications across these channels.
- Consider your customer service representatives as extended marketers. Empower and tie them into your CRM accordingly.
- Make sure your brand has a personality/voice that humanizes the brand for customers and prospects.
2. Develop compelling and succinct value propositions for your products
If you can’t persuasively express the value of your product to customers in less than 10-15 seconds, you shouldn’t expect them to be able to remember your product’s value or accurately relay it to a curious colleague or “sell it” to their administrator.
A little bit of effort and discipline here will go a long way to making your marketing more successful. Powerful branding, as we all know, means focusing on the meaningful few and not trying to list every possible way in which a product may be better than a competitor’s product. Less is always more. Additional detail can always be provided as part of a hierarchy of messages. For those who want more information, provide it. But don’t force details on those who either don’t want it or are not ready for it.
Strong value propositions are best developed as part of a strategic team effort, following an analysis of the product, the customers’ needs and wants and the competitive landscape. Never leave the value proposition up to those who know the product most intimately. They are usually too close to the product. It’s usually best to get a wide swath of people involved in developing the value proposition and make sure the corporate brand is part of the value proposition.
3. Push your creative
At times, B2B marketing may fall short from a creativity perspective as we discuss elsewhere. Medical device marketers, perhaps even more than other B2B marketers follow an overly conservative path here. By making your creative more of a centerpiece than window-dressing is a low-hanging opportunity to increase the reach and effect of your marketing efforts. As we said earlier, buyers and influencers of medical devices are people and appreciate creativity as much as the next person. Be bold and push the boundaries of your creative (while remaining true to the brand, of course). The purpose of marketing is to engage and persuade. Elevating your creative is an immediate way to create positive impressions among your target audience. With so much similar-looking creative in medical device marketing, the opportunity to stand out is an easy win.
Even in cases where brand guidelines are tightly defined and interpreted in literal, proscriptive terms, stronger creative is possible. Harder work, yes. But definitely possible.