The wasted dollars of product naming

Brands should hold every business to a high standard of eliminating wasteful spending. For example, few industries are worse at spending money on foolish efforts than medical devices. Pick up any corporate brochure from a medical device manufacturer and here’s what you’ll see: Mountains and mountains of individual product brand names.

For some reason, companies are in love with giving every single product they manufacture its own unique brand name. That’s not product naming for any meaningful purpose. That’s reducing preference.

The medical device industry is a $150 billion industry in the US alone. Few industries would tolerate the sheer amount of money wasted in product naming. In fact, the value of a company lies not in its individual products, but in the company brand and its equities. When consumers buy products, they are purchasing the brand.

Product NamingBut medical device manufacturers have gone insane over spending countless dollars that actually hurt the value of the company. No matter if it is a stent, wire or an ICD, it will have some clever brand name that means little to anyone but the company’s own marketers. Doing so does nothing to help define the parent brand or the brands of other products.

Instead, the medical device parent brands are crowded into the same space. They all claim to be forward thinking, innovative and reliable. Yet millions of dollars and countless resources are spent marketing the individual products like they are their own entities. Even when they are using the same language.

That reduces the corporate brand into an afterthought.

Cleverness is the enemy

The overabundance of cleverness is certainly not unique to the medical device industry. Marketing executives, in general, are convinced that a name or theme will be remembered if it’s clever enough.

The opposite is exactly true, which means the money to market them is ill spent. If the name or theme is clever, then it is not believable because it feels like an advertising firm wrote it. It will sound like marketing.

Let’s use an example from the medical device industry. St. Jude Medical, through its acquisition of Thoratec, has a left ventricular assist device called HeartMate. Its meaning is clear. It assists the heart.

But it still sounds like marketing and made up. It has no emotional meaning. Considering the sheer litany of products with made-up names like HeartMate, it won’t be remembered because no one says “Nurse, give me the HeartMate.”

Think about this. These names do nothing to create preference or add to any financial or emotional investment in the company. Just because a device has a clever name does not mean that hospital administrators and doctors will prefer that product. So why do it?

Product naming as an inhibitor to switching

Stealing market share means you must convince your target audience that what you offer is something you do not already have. That’s the definition of a switching trigger.

Product NamingSwitching is often seen as difficult because it means adjusting to something new. It’s a change even if it is a minor one. That means you must reduce the hurdles to switching if you want to attract the customers of your competition.

With so many branded products that have no relation to each other, but operate individually from other products, doctors and hospital administrators are reluctant to switch to them.

The same holds true for any manufacturer. A litany of unique product names creates a hurdle to adoption because audiences are asked to learn something new. That is especially difficult when you consider the entire scope of products.

It is easier for audiences to switch is if they know they are buying the company brand name instead of the product. It is just simpler.

What to do?

The answer to that question should be obvious. Don’t overdo product naming when it comes to individual products. We live in a world in which simplicity and control rule, meaning it’s the customer who is in charge.

Product NamingMedtronic, the giant in this industry that actually does better than most, makes thousands of medical devices. Nobody can remember the sheer litany of branded product names.

A list of its endoscopic suturing accessories lists these products:

  • Endo Stitch Single-Stitch
  • Endo Stitch Tripe-Stitch
  • V-Loc Wound Closure
  • Surgitie Ligating Loop
  • Surgiwip Suture Ligature
  • Endo Slide Single Use Knot Pusher

It would be better if the names were:

  • Medtronic Single-Stitch
  • Medtronic Tripe-Stitch
  • Medtronic Wound Closure
  • Medtronic Ligating Loop
  • Medtronic Suture Ligature
  • Medtronic Single Use Knot Pusher

Now the company is actually investing in the parent brand and not just talking about it. And the sheer amount of wasteful spending has been reduced while market share increases. You’ve asked customers to choose the parent brand. That’s all any brand manager could want.

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.


Integra LifeSciences. For surgeons, uncertainty must be limited in order for them to do their work with confidence. In a sea of blue, Stealing Share created a brand of order, simplicity and differentiation for a company who makes thousands of skus and in a myriad of disciplines.

Brandnameitis: The Lack of Brand Coherence in Naming


By Tom Dougherty

In Ethical Drugs it seems that Confusion is in Charge

Pharmaceutical brand naming strategy is wasting money
Brand naming seems to excite pharmaceuticals

It would be easy if all drugs fit into categories named after the seven dwarves (Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey, Happy…etc.). Unfortunately, the brand naming strategy of new drugs is well short of a fairytale process. Drugs, regardless of prescription or over-the-counter status, lack a coherent brand-naming standard. The seemingly random production of brand name drugs not only prevents consumer (and physician) efficacy but also obstructs many helpful drugs from the view of the target market. For example, have you ever heard of Callisto, Ridomil, Actara, or Quadris? Perhaps you have taken one of those for a headache or for chronic back pain.

We hope not because those are actually brand names of crop protection chemicals. What is the difference between a name like Callisto or Actara as opposed to Cialis or Allegra? They are created by marketing firm ABC for product XYZ. There is no differentiation. There is no brand. In the pharmaceutical industry, there are just names. In fact, all drugs are guaranteed three names: chemical, generic, and brand.

The chemical name is the technical name that is rarely used in practice and only understood by lab rats and physicians. Generic names, which usually involve a chemical stem for identification, must go through several approval steps in order to be established. Generic names are ideally short, easily pronounced names because these are the names with which healthcare providers and medical students must be familiar and comfortable. Perhaps generic drug naming has more to offer than we think. (Read our market study on pharmaceutical brands here)

Names Are Marketing Elements

What follows the generic name is the actual brand name. The brand name is where the marketing element of pharmaceutical naming comes into play. Pharmaceutical experts explain, “Creating a generic name is a science; creating a brand name is more of an art.” Pharmaceutical brand naming strategy causes great expense. Naming a drug seems to be equivalent to naming a car or a type of running shoe. The brand name is purely a marketing decision and may very well have nothing at all to do with chemistry. However, drug brand names must pass many rigorous tests before being finalized. Drug brand names require USAN Council and FDA approval in addition to the typical legal checks for trademark infringements. In addition to the several stages of approval, drug names cannot make “over promises” to the consumer. For example, Regain was the original name for Rogaine, but was overturned because the result of regaining hair was considered an over promise to the balding consumer.

brand naming strategy's goal is to steal share
Brand name’s should be logical

What also differentiates the resultant marketing of a drug is the fact that the FDA and USAN continue to monitor the marketing materials of the drug in order to maintain the integrity of the medical information. This exclusive naming process within the pharmaceutical industry makes the concept of brand even more distanced and untouchable for drugs, which places an immediate strain on the consumer market. In order to neutralize the relationship between consumers and drugs, pharmaceutical companies’ advertising campaigns have attempted to familiarize consumers with drugs with the same messaging Budweiser and Target utilize. Names like Viagra, Rogaine, Valtrex, and Claritin mean something to the consumer because of the commercials they recognize from TV and the famous spokesmen who promote the drugs. The drug names do not factor in at all. It helps for the names to sound like something else or to be short and easy to pronounce. Otherwise, drug names may as well be as random as the items in your refrigerator.

Naming’s Place

Where does naming fit into brand? Naming involves a lot of thought, creativity, and artistry; however, strategy should always be in the foreground when naming a new brand or renaming an old brand. Naming is not identity, brand is. Who the customer believes he is when he uses a brand is the most important instrument upon which brand naming must play. Naming and brand must work together in order to maximize efficacy. A name can only do so much to influence the customer; however, in order for a brand to influence at the point of purchase, the name must also be in sync with the brand identity.

An association and self-recognition must occur within the mind of the customer. Many companies confuse names with brands because they are not aware of what brand really means or what kind of process branding truly involves in order to succeed. Similar to any consumer product or service, the pharmaceutical industry needs to do its homework on the target audience in order to properly name and brand drugs. This involves careful research and observations of consumer trends within the market. Most of these drug names are merely made up names that are created before the drug is even produced, untested and given little thought by marketers (other than FDA approval and trademark infringement). There has to be something more to these names, and whether that indicates the lack of influence of parent drug companies such as Merck, Pfizer…etc., or a lack of effort on the part of marketing firms, something must be done to differentiate arthritis medication from plant fertilizer.