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What's so different about medical device marketing communication?

Chris Lindley

Founder/CEO of Q & B

How can it be different? It’s in the healthcare environment right? Its audiences can include physicians, administrators, consumers, healthcare practitioners, nurses and nurse managers, right? Like pharma it deals with patient outcomes, right? So there is no difference, right?

Wrong, dead wrong! In general medical device marketing communication differs from all other medical marketing in three important areas, budget availability, the diversity of the audience, and the very complex audiences it must reach. These include a wide variety of healthcare practitioners, procurement executives, and quite often their patients. This can be seen vividly in the diabetes market in which many products’ successful sales depends on consumer demand and choice as well as acceptance by healthcare practitioners at many different levels. Further to this many, if not all, medical devices do not offer the possibility of a cure or alleviation of a particular disease state, chronic or otherwise. They are helpmates to treatments, tools to aid in treatment, unable to match some of the dramatic claims that accrue to pharma breakthroughs. Often they are improvements to existing technology so require considerable explanation as to why they are better, especially since they often carry a heftier cost than the technology in use. For example when safety needles were first introduced there were several iterations designed to protect nurses and others from harmful contaminated needle sticks. All were more expensive than the tried and true needle/syringe combinations in general use. It took precision marketing to convince all participants in the complex sale of the ROI in the use of the new technology, although I noted with interest that in the present vaccination crisis, in some cases, the old technology is still in use.

"A strong message with a limited budget can counter the effects of an inadequate budget."

So what are the hapless marketing V.P. or CMO and his or her product manager to do? Seek huge budgets in vain as the budget becomes strained in the period leading up to Product Launch Day. The margins are low in comparison to pharma and especially so during introductory periods, as production begins and distribution only begins to expand. There’s been a long period of investigation and development, a number of unexpected, unbudgeted false starts that reveal the technology requires more and more tweaking. Months have been lost as launch days are pushed back and the sneaky competitor is right behind with a similar product almost ready for market. To add to this elasticity research shows there is a modest higher end to price.

Regardless of the tactics and media chosen, limited by budgets and the early negative impact on ROI there is one priority that has more impact than any other. The base message that inspires all communications must be crafted to be relevant, interesting, insightful, to reach out to all members of the decision team including physicians, administrators, nurse managers, nurses, and where necessary patients. A strong message with a limited budget can counter the effects of an inadequate budget; a major media spend with a weak message will not get the required result no matter how often it repeats a non-relevant, weak message.

Therefore first spend the budget and time on message development. Research alternative messaging carefully, eschewing any favourite alternatives not supported by strong favourability. Try and try again until the strongest message is revealed. The ROI in doing this will always be huge.


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