Medical device marketing and branding

How to steal market share in medical devices

By Tom Dougherty

The medical device category is highly competitive and complicated for sure, but growing market share is a difficult task. It’s easier but by no means a given when you have a proprietary disruptive technology. I hate to use the terminology of disruptive technology because it is part of the ethos of a category that pretends even the most minute innovation is disruptive.

It is quite possible that the medical device category is the most self-deceived category of goods in the world. The medical device marketing of manufacturers pretend that those companies have product superiority and back up the claim by depositing a tome of obscure and dense clinical studies along with trial results on the desk of the prospect.

Clinical studies and their results are important support points for product usage. They are. But they have almost no effect on switching a loyal user of your competitor’s products unless the technology is a true groundbreaker. With the time lag between R&D and a completed clinical trial, are your shareholders willing to wait that long for a substantive movement in market share? There is a different and more effective path to stealing share.

What is going on in medical device marketing?

First, we must look at the current medical device marketing practices. For the most part, they are not marketing at all. They are simply sales support. There are almost no meaningful messages that are different and better from the competitors. Everyone looks and sounds the same, and uses the same sterile language that passes through the fine sieve of the legal department.

Often, the copy in medical device marketing ends up being written by the legal team and lacks any direct claims of efficacy and little comparative examples. It ends up sounding like an insurance contract. Couple all this with the mandatory page of footnotes, source material and legal disclaimer, and you can begin to see the problem: No one will read it.

Medical Device marketingInside of your own halls, executives whisper about the power of the sales representatives. In many ways, based upon current practices, sales reps are your most valuable resource. They are more important than your brand.

For this reason, it’s not unusual to see a rep change jobs and take many loyal customers with them. The brand serves the sales rep and not the other way around. This is a recipe for disaster. If, at the end of the day, loyalty is based upon the power of a personal relationship then your greatest asset is a mercurial value. One that has the tail wagging the dog. This is not how it should be nor is it how it has to be.

Think about this. You began as a manufacturing company. You make things. Your heritage goes back to engineers and many of your top executives are still cut from the same cloth as the founders. These founders were visionary people. They were the Steve Jobs of their category and an earlier generation. But they differed from Jobs because they were not natural marketers. They were inventors. Tinkerers. Creators. They believed that if you build a better mousetrap… well, you know the story. Steve on the other hand represented both camps. He had a visionary’s creative drive but he also understood the emotional connections needed to sell.

Your founders would have considered themselves successful simply because they invented the better mousetrap. Jobs considered it a failure until he had market dominance. Even your brand’s early successes are misleading. The category was less crowded and it was easier to differentiate products. Today? In most instances, you can hardly slide a piece of paper between competitive products. Differences are simply hard to see and much of today’s medical device marketing reflects that.

What’s wrong with engineering?

What happens in companies top-heavy with engineering types? They become companies like yours. They believe that purchase decisions (and the procurement of medical devices) are rational choices.

They believe that decisions are evidence based and that the hospital administrators and the clinicians are most swayed by clinical data and clinical studies. They don’t understand that ALL purchase decisions (and I mean all) have their roots in emotional cues. It gets complicated because, after an emotional decision is made, decision makers rationalize their choices. They backfill and support their emotional connection with rational data.

But that is not how they chose. That rationale happens only after the choice.

If you want proof, think about this. If purchase decisions were rational then the best product (based upon evidence) would always be the market leader. Look around your category. How true is rationality as a predictor of success? The real question to ask is why do human beings prefer the things they prefer? The answer is a simple yet subversive one.

How to be persuasive in medical devices

Human beings look for order and consistency in their lives. We all strive to eliminate conflicts that exist between what we believe to be true about ourselves and the actions we take.

balanceWe seek this equilibrium and avoid these internal emotional conflicts. Persuasion finds its roots in this belief about self. All things being equal, we prefer to buy and use products and brands that reinforce our own self-concept.

The emotional choice wins even in a B2B business such as medical devices. The few who do have give an emotional reason for choice are almost always the market leader. (That is, if the emotional choice is important.) It might be time to evaluate where you and your products stand in preference, and adjust your medical device marketing.

Even your founder would have taken all the necessary steps to steal market share.

Honey Nut Cheerios Healthy Hearts

Honey Nut Cheerios hits a home run

Honey Nut CheeriosHoney Nut Cheerios is one of General Mill’s flagship brands. The cereal market is in a death spiral (read our in-depth market study on the cereal and breakfast category here) as tastes and consumer patterns change. Breakfast cereal used to be the staple food at breakfast tables across the globe but times have changed.

Honey Nut CheeriosThe venerable brands of my youth (Kellogg’s Raisin Bran, Kellogg’s Cornflakes, Post Raisin Bran, Wheaties and even Cheerios) are hard at work trying to expand the market.

Time was all of the advertising dollars was directed at kids. Even Wheaties (the breakfast of champions) was targeted at getting kids to prefer the cereal over other choices. Today, more and more brands are simply trying to expand the traditional audience by including adults in the advertising too. Most to little effect.

The reason for the failure is that brand permission does not come by simply featuring the target audience in the communication. You need to have the target audience say to themselves, “I want to be that.”

Enter Honey Nut Cheerios

The Cheerios parent brand has been talking heart healthy for many years now. There seems to be no dissenting voices in science that there are REAL benefits to oats (oat bran in particular) in the health and vitality of the human heart. But the message of heart healthy has done very little to expand the category and, while one of the more successful rebrands in the cereal market, Cheerios has continued to disappoint despite outperforming many others in the category.

But the Healthy Hearts Stay Young campaign may be a real game changer.

The commercial has the mandatory adult and child but the similarity ends here. The spots are an exuberant and charming combination of energy and brand without the usual feature of focusing only on the product. The spots are mesmerizing and are so well produced that you find yourself stopping on the commercial when channel surfing. The main spot is THAT good. The supporting spots are less powerful because it is the adult in the main commercial that is most appealing.

Stop the other branded slop.

General Mills Logo Honey Nut CheeriosThis campaign truly builds brand preference. I want to be THAT and I’m sure I am not alone. The precocious child is overshadowed by the talented adult and it is her movement and agility that holds sway in the spot. I simply can’t take my eyes off her and even see the little girl as a distraction. Despite the lack of traditional brand identification, I remembered this commercial as being all about Honey Nut Cheerios. It worked.

Scrap the silly honey bee, General Mills. He (or she) may be cute but the commercials are all about YOU and the natural ingredients. You took the bold step of making your prospects feel that they want to be part of the club and we don’t need any rational reasons why your honey came from bees. To my knowledge, all honey comes from bees.

A few words on Kellogg’s

Belsomra commercial hits a new high

The new Belsomra commercial is amazingly emotional.

Well done. The new Belsomra commercial is a sure fire winner. Belsomra has been able to elevate the new drug to an emotional chord that neither Lunesta or Ambien achieved.

The new commercial positions insomnia as a friendly but inappropriately intrusive pet who brings distance between the furry little kitty cat avatar simply known as sleep.

It is both convincing and fun to watch. One of those rare examples of CGI not getting in the way of the message and the message here is completely emotional.

ZZZquil and Belsomra
P&G knows opportunity when it sees it

How big of a problem is insomnia? BIG — if you are to believe the CDC which says sleep disorders are a big problem in the US.

Ambien. Belsomra will win in the end
The market leader

It is such a common complaint that brands like Vicks Nyquil have launched a new brand called ZZZQuil that has none of the cold and flu medications of the parent brand and instead focuses on the “so you can get the rest you need” promise of the popular cold treatment.

The importance of the sleep aid marketspace has not been lot on P&G. In the battle for shelf space, P&G has brought out the big guns.

Lunesta may have its ethereal butterfly and Ambien continues to battle for category (sleeplessness) benefits —the generic form, Zolpidem Tartrate, has become the defacto prescription go-to by the sleep deprived masses.

Belsomra commercial is on target

The sleepless problem is so common that melatonin might well be challenging multi-vitamins as the category sales leader in OTC supplements. But all of the commercials and advertising talk about the problem is clinical terms or make feeble attempts at creating an emotional connection like Lunesta. Its soft tones and dreamlike imagery fails to grab the emotional chord that Belsomra now clearly owns.

Belsomra commercial
Belsomra requires a prescription

Despite consumer reports recommendations to avoid Belsomra-like pharmaceuticals, expect this drug to take the country by storm. Once it is reimbursed by healthcare plans without added hurdles, I expect this to be the new star.

We all covet the warm and soft CGI “SLEEP” kitty and it harkens back to the teddy bear of our childhood.

The soft and gentle kitten is so compelling I can hear the purr in my mind’s eye. Emotional? You bet. And emotion IS the driver of brand preference.


Even the mandatory fine print disclaimers are done so tactfully that they blend into the story line. Visually, you watch the sweet sleep avatar and see the insomnia avatar with understanding and sweetness.

Putting insomnia into the doggie bed branded Belsomnia is the final stroke of genius.  This is GREAT stuff.

Read how emotion is the engine of brand choice here

Read an article of growing market share in the pharmaceutical industry 

The promise of dōTERRA essential oils

A few weeks back, I popped over to my son’s house to see my two grandkids. The visit, much like other visits to his place, was filled with little legs running back and forth, laughing and tiny voices asking silly questions of me. I love it. But, as is usually the case, the little buggers wear me out fast.

Don’t be a cynic about dōTERRA.

I took a seat in the living room in my usual spot, an antique sofa, and began to doze off (those kiddos really tucker me out). As I was drifting off, I noticed a wonderful aroma: a citrusy spice that relaxed me instantly. Turns out what I was enjoying was an essential oil called On Guard, extracted by the company dōTERRA, that was emanating from an essential oil diffuser.

I didn’t want to admit it, because I often find the essential oil craze to be a bit of a pyramid scheme, but the fragrance relaxed me tremendously.

I have become a closet dōTERRA user.

It’s true. My ego just wouldn’t let me admit that I was really curious about dōTERRA. Certainly, aromatherapy has been around for eons. What’s more, I couldn’t find any online conspiracies about the company. Seriously, what is the deal with that? That’s nearly unheard of these days.

So I snagged a couple samples from my son: a lavender, peppermint and frankincense concoction, and began rubbing them into my neck each morning. Funny thing, I now look forward to that process each day. The word on the street was that this mix would generate a general sense of calm and wellbeing. The mix made me feel relaxed, indeed. What’s more, I found my sniffer wanting to seek out the scent as much as possible.

The branding process always hinges on what we believe — in other words, our precepts. dōTERRA has work to do to address the initial precepts that many have about essential oils, like the precepts I had about them: That it is a pyramid scheme, flavor of the day, and all about making a sale.

The real story behind dōTERRA is how a tiny smell and dab of liquid can change a mindset, as it did mine. That’s real power. Right now, the company’s website is solely preaching to the choir and that has to change. Profound growth will come if and when more people like me jump onboard. Not until then.

Coke and other soda brands care about your health. Nope.

A new health initiative by soda brands is not what it seems.

So, what does it mean to consumers when Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper and Snapple (read about 7-Up here) signed an intent to reduce the caloric consumption of sweet carbonated beverages by 20%? Is it a form of altruism? Are these global soda brands concerned about the health of the general population and are willing to forgo sales in the desire for better, healthier lifestyles? Nah.

It has been all over the news as the PR spin is trying to position the brands as partners in our desire for healthier choices. Is this a subtle change or is it a major reshuffling of brand promises? Is it as important as CVS Pharmacy not selling tobacco products? After all, cigarette sales was a major profit center for the pharmacy. CVS made a lot of money on tobacco sales and it is taking a risky stand in defense of its brand. But this is not true with soft drink makers.

A business venture cloaked as altruism.
A business venture cloaked as altruism.

The real issue is that sales of carbonated beverages are declining a bit, year over year. The soft drinkers are just not spending as much at the vending machines that seem to populate our world like so many weeds.

So how does the business of soft drinks respond? Simple. They encourage consumers to drink more water. Not tap water, by the way, but bottled water. Brands owned by the same companies that sell us Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew, Pepsi and Coke. This is a PR move and not altruism in support of any brand promise.

What this means is that, in its monopolized brand vending machines, Coke wants you to buy Dasani water. Pepsi wants you to buy Aquafina.

What does this mean to the manufacturer? How about higher margins per purchase? Which do you think it costs more to make, soda water with flavorings, sugar (or corn syrup) and color or tap water filtered through osmosis?

No doubt we are on to them. Soda brands don’t care about our health. They care about taste and profits. No soft drink brand has the inherent brand position to be about our health.