The world of medical devices represents a wide range in terms of consumer choice. On one end, you have large devices like robots that are largely chosen by the physician. On the other end, there are medical devices that do allow for more patient involvement and choice.
Traditionally, these two ends of the medical device spectrum have been marketed very differently since the target audience is different. With that said, large medical device marketers can take some cues from patient-focused marketers and apply them to their own initiatives.
The Case for Direct-to-Consumer Marketing
Some medical devices are naturally more like consumer products in that the consumer has a choice on what they ultimately use. For example, fitness and activity trackers can gather useful health information, but they aren’t selected by the doctor. In other cases, the doctor is the one making the final decision about what to prescribe or what devices to use for a procedure. Usually, the bulk of the marketing efforts are being directed to the ultimate decision-maker, but that doesn’t always work out in the patient’s favor.
For example, on a recent episode of The Health Connective Show, Kyle Kiser of Arrive Health relayed some information about the variability of generic medications. He shared that even something as commonly-prescribed as albuterol can be delivered via various devices like inhalers, discs, and nebulizers, and often the payer is contracted with a specific form of it. If the doctor prescribes their preferred form of albuterol and it is not the insurance company’s preferred form, the patient could be responsible for paying a couple hundred dollars for that medication, even if it’s generic.
Some argue that direct-to-consumer marketing may not be necessary because even when the patient gets a choice, providers and payers are often still heavily influencing the options that patients have and the choice they ultimately make. On the opposing side, some marketers feel that informed patients will seek out the providers that align with their medication and device preferences.
Regardless of what situation your device falls under, the patient is ultimately the one dealing with out-of-pocket costs, their experience with your device, and results they get—for better or for worse. Getting the patient’s buy-in can be beneficial from that perspective.
Consumer Product Concepts That Can Work for Medical Device Marketing
If your medical device company is considering direct-to-consumer marketing, there are a few ideas that you can adapt from their playbook:
Don’t underestimate the power of influencers
Influencer marketing is a major part of marketing many consumer products today, and large medical device companies can take some cues from that. If you have an influential person with a large following who has had or is planning to have a procedure with your device, they may be willing to work with you on direct-to-consumer marketing initiatives. In the past, we’ve seen companies that make joint replacement implants use this form of influencer marketing with athletes (back when we called them “spokespeople” instead of influencers).
If you don’t have an actual influencer to use in your marketing initiatives, you can still take a page from that book in the form of patient testimonials. Getting some really great testimonials, especially in video form, can be really impactful for patients. In some cases, it may drive patients to seek out a doctor that uses your devices. At the very least, it helps patients feel more confident with the procedure if their doctor uses the device.
For an interesting read to supplement this article, check out Patient Influencers: The Next Frontier in Direct-to-Consumer Pharmaceutical Marketing in the National Library of Medicine.
Hone in on specific audiences
Sometimes, the tendency with direct-to-patient marketing is to just mass-market to an entire age group that could be eligible to use your product. However, that isn’t the best strategy to create a foothold with the right patient audience, and can lead to a large spend of ad dollars without a reasonable ROI. You may get better results by targeting more niche groups who are more likely to need your device.
For example, orthopedic device companies might target athletes or “weekend warriors” who want to stay active even as they are getting older. A partial knee replacement surgery, for example, might enable those patients to continue their favorite activities for many years to come. (As a quick aside, one of the authors of this article had a conversation with a friend recently about finding a surgeon that would provide a partial replacement using specific solutions so he could stay active longer. These types of conversations do regularly occur.)
Create targeted content for patients and providers
If you are going to try direct-to-consumer marketing, it’s important to have the right content. How you market your product to physicians should be very different from how you approach patients. The content you have for physicians will likely be too technical for a patient; plus, doctors and patients will have somewhat different priorities on what makes a device beneficial.
Consumer product marketers often create personas for the different groups that they market their products to. In this case, patients are yet another persona that you must create content for. You will need to make sure you are simplifying information enough for patients to understand, and that you are focusing on the benefits that patients care about.
Pharmaceutical companies do a great job of targeted content with all of their products. If you need some inspiration, take a look at what this closely related industry is doing.
Is Direct-to-Consumer Marketing the Right Fit for Your Company?
A direct-to-patient marketing strategy isn’t necessarily the right fit for every type of device, but there are situations where it might make sense.
As we mentioned, at the end of the day, it is the patient who ultimately sees the benefit of the device and who must pay for out-of-pocket costs. If your product has features that show clear benefits to the patient, a direct-to-consumer initiative may be worth a try.
Michael spends a great deal of time with the healthcare industry both professionally and personally, which gives him the perspective of what stakeholders on either side of the care equation need.
He began coding in 2008 and subsequently shifted his attention entirely to online marketing. Michael completed his MBA in 2018, focusing on the intersection of healthcare and marketing.
As the marketing manager, Ashley ensures that our clients’ marketing strategies are put into action. This includes content writing, SEO, online advertising, analytics, and interfacing with the tools, systems, and team members needed to help our clients accomplish their marketing goals.