The Top 3 Things Medical Device Marketers Can Do For Greater Success

At Six Degrees, we have supported medical device companies for over 20 years. Along the way, we have learned a lot of things that have helped our clients accelerate their market success. In this post, we discuss the top three things medical device marketers can do right now to improve their efforts.

1) Leverage the corporate brand more fully and consistently

The medical device industry tends to favor what we call a “launch and next” mentality because there are so many products coming out of R&D. It is quite natural, therefore, that the marketing efforts for these products tend to focus on each product’s features and benefits, with little to no emphasis, other than overall look and feel, on the corporate brand. This behavior has been reinforced by customer feedback on surveys as well as through the sales force, about what is most important in a given product category. We call this “stated-importance” feedback, and it nearly always relates to specific product features and benefits.

Let’s take a concrete example:

When working with a global manufacturer and marketer of medical ultrasound machines, we were shown data indicating that what clinicians said they most wanted from a new ultrasound machine was #1 better image quality, #2 good service and support, and #3 reliability and dependability. But, when we analyzed the results of a global survey and used statistical driver analysis to identify the variables that best-predicted future purchase behavior, we learned that trust in the company was, in fact, the number one driver of purchase interest, followed by perceptions of the company as a leader (in the ultrasound space) and a company that invests strongly in R&D. The top two variables when clinicians were asked what was most important, better image quality and good service and support, actually came in at #4 and #5 in the driver analysis.

The example above from ultrasound is the rule, not the exception. We have found the same to be true across our work for medical device clients. The discrepancy between what customers state versus what really matters most is not surprising. Actual purchase behavior is a more holistic process that involves more variables than what you get when you ask someone what’s important in a given category. In the latter case, their focus is on the features and benefits of the product category.

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What driver analysis teaches us is that marketing a medical device more successfully than your competitors means that the features and benefits of the product are important, but more or less table stakes. The actual differentiator may be to remind customers of all the other ways in which the company is doing the right thing, investing in the broader category and being committed to the category. Let your competitors focus on features and benefits to the exclusion of the corporate brand message. You will fare better in the short and long run.

2) Apply more innovation and experiential marketing to product launches

A large portion of the marketing budget in medical device companies goes to product launches—and rightfully so. However, it is apparent that an opportunity exists for medical device companies to “up the ante” with their product launches. The natural tendency in the medical device industry, as mentioned above, is to market against product features and benefits. But a product launch that does all the typical, tried-and-true things will leave a lot of opportunity unrealized. Psychology and Behavioral Economics have demonstrated that experiences and their emotional valence play a significant role in product uptake. Medical device marketers would do well to challenge themselves and their agencies to imbue their product launches with experiences that are interesting, novel and relevant through new technologies like augmented or virtual reality, use of pop-up events and non-traditional channels like podcasts, as well as creating suspense by teasing the product and its benefits. And, most important, telling a good story.

3) Patient education and involvement

One of the learnings from the pharmaceutical industry that has yet to make bigger inroads into the medical device space is educating and motivating the patient to care more about “their” medical devices through direct-to-consumer advertising (DTC). Pharmaceutical marketing has shown the ROI that comes from educating patients and creating awareness, interest and demand for a product (i.e., $4-5 in incremental sales for every $1 invested in DTC efforts). In fact, more medical device companies are exploring direct-to-consumer messages in addition to their more traditional marketing to clinicians. Consider, for example, the recent consumer ad campaign from Insulet about their Omnipod insulin delivery pod, or Dexcom’s Super Bowl ad. Of course, medical devices with repeat purchases (like most diabetes devices) will be ahead of “once-and-done” medical devices (like an artificial knee) in terms of the cogency of DTC, but as medical device companies typically have a large portfolio of products, companies investing in DTC to create more demand for their brand portfolio seems like only a matter of time. Indeed, according to some estimates, the medical device space is 10-15 years behind pharma, but on the same path toward DTC. Early movers, as is typical, will reap the biggest gains.

In conclusion, there is a substantial opportunity in the medical device space to achieve better business results by upping the marketing game by doing some things differently and pushing outside of comfort zones.

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Frank Schab
An experienced marketing and branding strategist, Frank has been helping clients optimize the value of their brands through insightful analysis and effective strategy for more than three decades. Along with holding positions at General Motors and Pfizer, Frank served as a Managing Partner at Interbrand New York and VP of Global Brand Research at Opinion Research Corporation before co-founding Six Degrees. His brand-building work in various sectors including hospitality, medical device, pharmaceutical, automotive and technology has taken him to 17 countries on four continents. Frank holds a doctorate in psychology from Yale University and speaks fluent German.

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