Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Medtech marketers share their winning strategies for successful campaigns


Medical Device Marketing

Medtech marketers share their winning strategies for successful campaigns.

Courtney Harris

In today's landscape, medical technology marketing is experiencing change. New FDA policies regarding direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising, for instance, are forcing marketers to adjust their approach. Fortunately, there are expert agencies that are ready to meet these demands.

Each year at its annual meeting, the Medical Marketing Association (MMA; San Francisco) presents the winners of its International Awards of Excellence (In-Awe) competition, honoring the best agencies and campaigns in medical marketing. In this article and accompanying sidebars, winning medical device marketing agencies describe their campaigns and strategies for success. For descriptions of more winning campaigns in the 2004 In-Awe competition, visit the expanded version of this article on the MX Web site at www.devicelink.com/mx. A complete list of In-Awe winners in medical device categories can be found in the sidebar.

MMA also presents a medical device marketer of the year award. This award recognizes exceptional leadership in results-oriented, strategic marketing programs conducted in the previous year. This year, that honor went to Lauren Kanner, vice president of marketing for ophthalmic device manufacturer Refractec Inc. (Irvine, CA). Refractec developed a campaign to launch its conductive keratoplasty technology, which treats vision loss due to the age-related eye condition presbyopia. According to Kanner, the campaign helped the company to capture a market share of about 11.5% in its first year, exceeding expectations by about 30%.

"It was a challenging launch because the technology was entering a market in which a very similar technology had previously fallen flat on its face," says Kanner. "We were introducing a technology that did the same thing, but with an energy source different from the prior technology. And although we had some distinct benefits—including a little more predictable outcome and a little more stability with the procedure itself—the marketplace was still wary.

"I like to say you advertise from the day that you stick a physician on the podium," says Kanner. "Probably a year out from our approval, we knew we were going to go out with a very controlled approach," she says. "Because we were entering a skeptical market, we decided to maintain an initial customer base of only 50 physicians. And we were going to maintain that base for about six months.

"We profiled those surgeons well," Kanner says. "We sparked enough interest to triple the number we needed for our initial rollout, but then went back and really profiled each doctor to find out if they were going to be a beacon for us. If they had never implemented a new technology in their whole career, well, it takes a lot of work to do that."

Marketplace Identity

According to Kanner, it was important for Refractec to spend time educating the marketplace to explain why its technology was different from those of its competitors. That education included traditional marketing tools such as advertising, as well as several different Web sites that were optimized to educate patient and physician populations. "For physicians, we created educational tools that they could gain access to with an extranet," says Kanner. "Within FDA guidelines, physicians could request information, and we could send them to a secure site and provide them with answers and be able to track that information for them."

Aimee Roca, account manager at Photosound Communications (Princeton, NJ), agrees that creating differentiation from competitors is crucial. "The market is very competitive. At a congress, the show floor will be full of companies highlighting their products," says Roca. "The challenge is to stand out, and a key way to do this is with consistent branding.

"Clients sometimes feel that they need to change campaigns on a regular basis," says Roca, "but the danger of that is losing an identifiable and unique personality that their target market associates with them."

Communicating to Physicians and Patients

Crafting messages to physicians and patients requires a balance in communicating specific, tailored messages to the separate audiences with an overall coherent, consistent message for the product.

"At Refractec, we had similar messages to our patients and physicians, but not identical messages," says Kanner. "Physicians wanted to know about precision, stability, and whether we offered a high-tech device that would provide them with certain outcomes. They also wanted to know if it would be an affordable procedure."

For patients, she says, it was important to emphasize that Refractec's technology was not only effective but also safe. "Safety was huge for patients," she says. "On the other hand, physicians knew it was safe. During presale we didn't even need to tell them about it, but during postsale we had to remind them to tell patients about the technology's safety."

Kanner says that Refractec's patient population had to be educated in the same way as Lasik patients—even though the Lasik procedure is not a competitor for Refractec's technology.

"Our competition within our marketplace was nothing at all—it was just plain old reading glasses," says Kanner. "But so many people are educated about Lasik procedures; for patients who need glasses their whole lives, that is a great option. Refractec treats the other end of the spectrum. Our patient population includes people who have had great vision their whole lives, then turn 40 and suddenly have to strap glasses around their necks. It is a different marketplace, one that's never been marketed to before.

"Even though our patients may not be candidates for Lasik, they're still sold to the same way Lasik patients are. Our patient population still hears the same news about how wonderful Lasik is, how everybody can see 20/20 because of its high-tech lasers," she says. "That message gets to them. So we still had to educate our patient population on why Refractec's technology is good for them, even though it isn't a Lasik procedure. That was a challenge, because for years this patient population had been told that there's nothing available for them. We had to say, 'Yes, there is something new now.'"

According to Spring Utting, account director at Anderson DDB San Francisco, it is important to look for synergies in creating messages for physician and patient audiences, so the messages can support each other. However, she says, the apertures for each audience are usually different, "so we craft messages based on insights into the needs and issues of each target audience.

"Generally, the problem being solved is the same problem, but the perceived need is different," says Utting. "For example, with a blood-glucose monitor the problem for the patient may be that the product hurts, while the problem for the healthcare provider may be compliance. But the solution for both may be creating a less-painful finger stick that solves both problems by taking away a barrier to increasing compliance."

In-House Agencies versus External Agencies

"At Refractec, we take a total team approach," says Kanner. "We had great partners in our campaign, including advertising agency Ignite Health (San Clemente, CA) and PR firm Goolsby Group (Newport Beach, CA).

"I have worked with in-house agencies and external agencies, and I do think there is some benefit to an in-house agency, because it is going to be extremely knowledgeable about its product line," says Kanner. "But if you approach a campaign from the perspective of a partnership, everyone has a piece of the puzzle—and the bottom line is the puzzle is interlocked. If my PR representative didn't know every single thing I was doing from the advertising agency side, then our materials might not have looked coherent."

Photosound Communications has experience developing comprehensive marketing campaigns, working with in-house agencies, and working in conjunction with other external marketing agencies, Roca says. "We always begin the relationship with our mutual client clearly defining the roles and dynamics in the group and setting out the time frame that all work needs to be accomplished in," she says. It's a good idea to hold a kickoff meeting for all parties involved in the campaign "to get the ball rolling and begin to develop the 'team' ethic," Roca adds.

"The development of trust and an open line of communication are the strong foundation to the successful completion of all of the projects that we work on," says Roca.

Collaboration is a key goal, agrees Norman Sherman, executive vice president and director of healthcare at Hill, Holliday (Boston). "As an outside agency, what we attempt to do in 100 out of 100 cases is to collaborate with in-house agencies because they have certain skill sets which are additive to ours, and vice versa."

Hill, Holliday frequently works with the in-house marketing services group at U.S. Surgical (Norwalk, CT), says Sherman. That group takes care of many of the day-to-day aspects of a campaign's execution, including creating sales sheets, business cards, and brochures, he says.

When Hill, Holliday was hired to do the overall branding and design for Syneture (Norwalk, CT), a U.S. Surgical company, it knew Syneture's in-house marketing services group was going to be the recipient of its work. "For the next however-many years into the future, they were going to have to translate and interpret a lot of what we did," says Sherman. "So in many cases, rather than doing all of the execution, we created templates for them. We viewed their work as an extension of what we did."

"In-house agencies can be an efficient, economical, and therefore critical resource to marketers," says Howard Meditz, president of Marquardt & Roche and Partners (Stamford, CT). Another advantage to in-house agencies, Meditz says, is that they know their products and company's style intimately. "They also need fewer approvals on the production line, so they're likely to be able to respond more quickly than an outside resource," he says.

Nevertheless, says Meditz, external agencies are perhaps an even more critical resource because of their unique position. "Unlike customers and other outsiders, external agencies know enough about marketing in general, and a client's market in particular, to provide meaningful insights. And unlike internal associates, external agencies are not as steeped in a firm's view of the world, so they're less likely to fall victim to a firm's intellectual prejudices when considering the pluses and minuses of a communications strategy."

Practically speaking, says Meditz, this means that an external agency is more likely to deliver a creative concept that is valuable to a target audience.

"Finding the right balance between a company's and customer's view of the world is critical—and it requires a company to step outside itself," he says. "That's where an outside agency lives. Even the most brilliant clients I know occasionally have their judgment tainted by virtue of striving so hard to serve their companies."

However, even in their quest for collaboration, companies should feel free to argue aggressively with external agencies, says Meditz. "This dialogue is critical because a really good external agency will keep working at things in an effort to combine the best of a client's thinking with the best of its own resources. That's a collaboration that doesn't really exist with an in-house agency. And it's a collaboration that can go a long way to differentiating a company in the competitive marketplace."

Crucial Tools

Skilled marketers know that having an innovative arsenal of tools is critical for retrieving strong results. In medical device marketing, experts consider certain mechanisms to be crucial components of a successful campaign.

"I am a firm believer in traditional and nontraditional market research," says Kanner. "For example, I really favor on-line techniques because it doesn't have to cost a fortune and or take months for results, which is what marketers have all had to deal with in the past."

According to Kanner, Refractec had a fluke incident occur with regard to on-line market research—an accident that turned out to be a blessing. "We had a PR representative—the ophthalmologist on Extreme Makeover—as one of our clinical investigators, and he had gotten himself on Extra, unbeknownst to us," she says. "We were at a management meeting when the woman who answers info@refractec.com came in and asked, 'Do you know something I don't know? I've had 100 e-mails in the last five minutes, and they're not stopping!' And then our computer system crashed."

Kanner says the company then regrouped and got its system working again by the next day. "We quickly decided to set up a Web site and categorize the e-mails into three basic questions, which we answered on our home page," she says. "But because we suddenly had the attention of all of these interested consumers, we asked them to tell us what they considered to be important in a vision correction procedure.

"And then, in what has now become known as the market research questionnaire that ran amok, it became a 40-question survey. But the patients were highly motivated, and, as it turns out, 80% of the people answered all 40 questions," says Kanner. "We filtered the answers and captured what ultimately became our direct-to-consumer (DTC) message. It cost about $1 a patient to capture this market research. And you couldn't have gotten that information if you had hired the best market research company in the world."

Kanner says that although Refractec was lucky to get access to those patients up front, it's also an example of how on-line market research can be inexpensive and can be a good way to capture information, provided a company can find its patients.

"Subsequently, we have done additional market research through a Web site called AllAboutVision.com. We've asked 12 questions and gotten 500 answers in less than a month," says Kanner. "The answers are tallied in a database and are easy to query—it's just phenomenal."

Another important tool in medical device marketing is developmental research, says Utting. Sometimes agencies fall into the trap of testing concepts or executions against each other, which can be useful at the correct stage but not always at other times, she says. "Using different kinds of research (e.g., ethnographies) can help agencies to discover an insight that would have remained otherwise hidden," says Utting. "Testing ideas against each other only tells agencies what works within the ideas that they already have; it doesn't necessarily unearth a new, unique approach."

At Hill, Holliday, a critical tool is to view the sales force as a media vehicle, says Sherman. "Everything that we do needs to be embraced by how a company's sales force goes to market, so there is consistency with the image that we're trying to put out," he says. "Because if they aren't saying the same thing that we're saying, we're not helping one another. It is crucial to get the internal people who deal with prospects and customers on the same page as what an agency is trying to do to communicate externally."

Today's Challenges

It is commonly agreed that DTC advertising is on the horizon for medical device manufacturers. Consequently, marketers must adjust their strategies to comply with new FDA regulations regarding restricted medical devices and TV, print, and broadcast communications.

In February, FDA issued three draft guidances intended for the medical technology industry that are in part designed to improve DTC advertising for restricted medical devices.1–3 The guidances were prepared in part based on discussions and presentations that took place at a public meeting on consumer-directed advertising that FDA held in September 2003.4

"Medical device marketers are much more regulated than they used to be," says Kanner. "Medical device companies used to have more free rein. Now, a lot of the same pharma restrictions are applied to what you can and can't say about a medical device. This doesn't make things worse; it's just different for marketers."

Medical devices arrive on the market more quickly than drugs because trials are shorter and the market changes so rapidly, says Kanner. "Also, the life cycle for a device is much shorter than that of a drug. And so that, coupled with new regulations that marketers aren't accustomed to and new scrutiny by regulatory officials, has made things more challenging."

"I think the most important thing that is going to be happening in the world of medical devices is DTC promotion," says Sherman, citing Stryker Corp. (Kalamazoo, MI) as an early example. Stryker released a TV and print ad campaign last year that featured golf legend Jack Nicklaus as a spokesman for its hip-replacement implant.

"Medical device manufacturers are going to follow the lead that pharma took and start to market their products and services to consumers, to try to influence what consumers are requesting from doctors. I expect that over the course of the next two to three years, this will really explode," says Sherman.

This phenomenon is going to require a tremendous amount of learning, much like there was in pharma, he says. "In pharma, companies were previously only marketing to doctors and were not well equipped to market to consumers," says Sherman. "Most of their work was pretty ineffective. But then they started bringing in people who were consumer experts and consumer advertising agencies rather than just professional agencies.

"Over time, the pharma companies have gotten significantly better at practice, although there is still a tremendous potential to grow and learn," says Sherman. "Medical device manufacturers will go through a similar kind of process."


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