Medical Device Marketing— Apple is a good model

By Tom Dougherty

Apple is a brand model for medical devices

What is your company’s most valuable asset? It’s easy to parrot back “our people,” but all medical device manufacturers know that employees play musical chairs when it comes to their employers. As a result, everyone has a deep bench. Everyone employs valuable and talented employees— from engineers to sales and marketing.
Most Valuable Asset

Your most valuable asset is your brand. It is worth more than your patents and relationships. It should drive your business.
The problem is that medical device manufacturers have too many products. If you were a retail store, your enemy would be too many SKUs.

Medical device marketing is a messBecause your stable of products grew organically, each device, screw, or wire sought excitement in the market. The enthusiasm that leads to trial. Marketing’s role was to take these products and name them. Corporate resources spent valuable time inventing product brand names.

If your brand is growing by acquisition, too, then the object of your acquisition ran the same drill as your in-house marketing department. Everyone plays the same game.

House of Brands

This conglomeration of brand names creates a model known as a house of brands. Think P&G.

Sure, the Procter and Gamble name and logo are on the packaging, but it is not the reason for preference. Each brand stands alone. Each has a marketing budget, and each competes in a crowded market of like or similar products.

Think about this model. When last I checked, P&G markets Ariel Laundry Detergent, Bold, Cheer, Daz, Dreft, Fairy, Gain, and Tide. Each brand has loyal adherents, but the purchase decision is not because P&G makes it.

They are preferred individually as products because Procter spends a ton of cash marketing them.

Crowded Market

This model creates market shelves that are bursting. Not only bursting with P&G brands but with so many competing brands that it’s dizzying. And each of them has its own marketing budget.

Medical device marketing is killing the parent brandWalmart sells the following brands: Purex, Ajax, Gain, Arm & Hammer, Tide, Purex, All, XTRA, Sun, Roma, Great Value, ERA, Cheer, Tide, Woolite, Foca… you get the idea. I could go on and on, and if I listed each version of a brand, my fingers would tire from typing.

Tide created Tide Original HE, Tide Original, Tide with Downey, Tide with Oxi, Tide Free and Gentle, Tide plus Fabreeze, Tide Simply Clean, Tide Ultra OXI Odor Eliminator, as well as versions of each in powder, liquid, or pods.

Branded House

Let’s compare that P&G model with BMW. BMW is a branded house. They distinguish the individual brands by a simple numerical system of a number/alphabetic brand name. They purposefully designed the brand in this simple manner.

The advertising may highlight a model, like the 7 Series, but the reason for the preference is BMW itself. As a result, sales of the 3 Series benefit from ads for the 7 Series.

The BMW brand model is the most efficient use of marketing dollars of all brand models. The idea is to buy the brand (the ultimate driving machine) because of the parent brand’s (BMW) value. Ideas like accomplished, German, fine engineering, reliability, design, timelessness, and luxury.

Making it Easier

Once the customer owns the parent brand preference, BMW makes the model selection easy. The higher the model number, the higher the price. BMW lovers often stay with the brand throughout their entire lives.

They move up in model number as their income increases or choose a sporty model like the Z.

The Hybrid Model

Apple has a different brand model. They have individually branded offerings with distinct brand names like iPhone, iPod, and iPad.
But the parent brand is in the lead. Apple Mac, Apple iPhone, Apple iPad… Apple promises that those that choose Apple “think different.” That’s the Apple brand.

Because you “think different,” you choose an iPhone over an Android.

It Happened by Accident

In many ways, this focus on the parent brand happened by accident. Apple’s first product was the Apple Computer. The model was the company’s brand name.

Medical device Marketing best in categoryWhen they created the Macintosh, Apple called it the Apple Macintosh. This emphasis on the parent brand in the lead has continued. This straightforward emphasis has made brand adherents­ — some might say “devotees.”

Everything Apple manufactures brings customers into the brand family. iPhone owners innately prefer iPads to cheaper tablet versions because they love Apple.

Medical Device Manufacturers

Medical device companies should aspire to the Apple brand model. If a customer (surgeon, physician, or patient) chooses a product from, let’s say, Medtronic, that Medtronic purchase should create a preference for everything Medtronic sells.

Despite a terrific reputation in the market, a surgeon may choose a Medtronic Cobalt XT implantable cardiac device and not select an AZURE MRI Pacemaker for a different patient needing pacing technology.

On the Precipice

Medtronic teeters precipitously on the P&G house of brands model. They market each model as an individual brand. Medtronic might claim, as they did in the past, to represent the rising man, the future of healthcare, or “People-centered, data-driven” as they currently claim.
But Medtronic erroneously believes that all purchase decisions are rational choices.

Medtronic medical device brandingThis is an incorrect view. Most preference, including medical devices, starts with an emotional hook. And then, that preferential choice is rationalized. It is a rationalization of an emotional preference.

The problem is that medical device companies have so many brands and models that efforts to create preference rely solely on reams of technical data and case studies. And this is also true of each device and manufacturer that competes with Medtronic.

No surgeon would choose to use any medical device or product that they believed was inferior or lacked efficacy. The truth, Medtronic? All competitor products are great too.

Change the Trajectory

We can help you build that Hybrid model used by Apple
Creating the hybrid model takes tremendous discipline and demands that brands face the market truth. Today you sell product brands almost exclusively. And the new goal is to make the parent brand more important than the product brands.

This requires reorganizing your brand’s hierarchy and critically examining your product naming conventions. All these singular product names create confusion in the target market. Rather than creating preference and stealing share, they complicate choice. They inhibit switching triggers because potential customers need to learn a new language. That’s the complicated language of your brand offerings.

Unreasonable Fear

It is fear. The constant need to bring new models to the market or constantly tweak existing products proves no one looks FIRST at your parent brand for the latest and best. Your brand is stuck. You’re in the house of brands model, and it is correct that today you live and die based solely on the latest innovation.

Lost Opportunity

Medtronic’s competitors would be sunk if Medtronic owned that space. Everything others marketed as “disruptive technology” would drive prospects and customers to look first at what Medtronic offered — if the parent brand owned a powerful idea.

I am not picking on Medtronic. They are simply the 800-pound gorilla in the markets where they compete. I use them as an example only.
Are you Apple?

All medical device brands contain the germ of the Apple brand power. But as long as medical device companies embrace the idea that purchase decisions and loyalty are strictly rational, no real and permanent market disruptions will make a parent brand the new Apple.

We Can Change the Future

We can change that and unleash for brand’s potential to steal market share.