Is Medical Device Marketing Creatively Challenged?

I have been asking myself lately why there is a lack of fresh energy in promoting medical devices. Is it the economy that has partly squashed marketing budgets, or maybe companies’ strategic attentions are focusing more on short term gains? I have searched to find evidence of a spark of life in the way brands and portfolios are being communicated — and there are a few — but it seems to me that the medical device industry has a lot to learn about what interests and motivates buyers.


A Walk To Remember

While walking the convention exhibit floor at ASCRS, ophthalmology’s second largest congress, it became clear as mud what device companies were trying to say with their booth designs, visual graphics, and brand messaging. The ophthalmology device industry has long been rooted in technology designed for surgical applications, and many well established companies were born and led by scientific or engineering types. Consequently, the style of communicating to customers used by small to mid-sized OEMs was often to state what “everyone” wanted to know. “What makes it work?” “Why is it better than the other brand?” “Just the facts, ma’am.” It reminded me of a school science fair, but with fancy expensive carpet and posters. My colleagues and I noticed that if not using product images, companies would default to their logo and graphics; huge renderings of women’s eyes staring out at me, asking, “would you care to step in and talk to this nice man sitting here typing on his laptop?”

Female Eye

“You should come talk to the nice man inside the booth.”


At major meetings, doctors used to set aside time to visit the booth and ask, “what’s new with your product line?” But now, it seems like they’re learning what they want to know online or from colleagues. In this brave new world of informed physicians, a great opportunity at these gatherings is for company reps and management to provide feedback about the latest product portrayals (and if that product’s campaign has legs, and if related tools will be effective in the sales trenches).

Surgeons are becoming a less influential link in buying decisions for hospitals and ASCs. The challenge for creative agencies is to help companies learn what makes customers choose to look at your products and step out of the status quo to do it — but this requires very careful introspective discussions to determine who your customer is and what will trigger change in behaviors.


The Takeaway

The medical journal adverts are generally reserved for large companies with nice budgets, and I have heard many marketers reason that it is a necessary evil not widely believed to make much difference with the surgeons. Websites are good for those seeking more information, but they can be challenged to generate interest long enough to make their key points. To most, commercial emails are annoying and sales materials are read when the surgical manager is ready to actually order something. If we are immersed in the roots of their desired outcomes, we should compassionately lead companies to innovative and effective promotions, perhaps even bringing customers back to the traditional communications pathways to learn, “What’s New?”

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