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.
Inside 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.
We 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.