MedTech companies are experiencing a shift. Where once they focused the weight of their marketing efforts on communicating with health care providers (HCPs), now they’re extending their reach to talk directly with consumers.

You might think that cars are about as far from medical devices as you can get, but in terms of marketing, from my previous work in the auto sector, I can tell you there are some interesting parallels. For instance, it used to be that automobile manufacturers could only market to general groups of consumers. They relied on dealers to have personal conversations with buyers about the benefits of various vehicle models and to steer them toward the right choice.

In the same way, until recently, MedTech companies have had a limited relationship with consumers. Their insights into patients have been based on aggregated data and they’ve relied on HCPs, with their more intimate knowledge of patients, to educate patients about products. They’re also able to gain a better understanding of patient needs and personalize the information they provide.

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MedTech companies now have access to digital marketing channels that let them interact directly with consumers.

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Consumers expect to have choices and find information themselves

A couple of weeks ago my 12-year-old daughter had a stomachache. So, she comes to me with a list of possible causes. She’s done her research online, looking at credible sources like the Mayo Clinic, and based on where the pain is located, she wonders if she might need gallbladder surgery. Amusing, yes. But it highlighted for me what a fantastic job we’ve done teaching our kids to search for answers to their questions (and expect results).

We’re also used to having choices. Ecommerce companies like Amazon and Walmart have trained us to expect a wide range of products from various competitors, as well as products of varying sophistication—from basic models to those with extended capabilities. As a result, we’re used to choosing the option that’s right for us. These common consumer expectations are extending into all aspects of our lives, including the medical technology sector.

Another factor driving change is the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of social distancing and stay at home orders, and people’s fear of contracting the virus, there’s been a dramatic decrease in engagement between patients and HCPs. In some cases, patients have put off care, and in others, their interactions have become virtual. To fill this void, people are looking for answers to their questions elsewhere. Although in some places there appears to be a slow return to normal, the effects of the pandemic on behavior are likely to be lasting.

Converging forces are creating a perfect storm—with a non-conventional solution

The convergence of consumer expectations and all the new digital tools available presents a huge opportunity for MedTech companies. It’s a chance to get to know consumers and patients better and provide them with tailored, relevant communications that offer real value.

There are three different areas where I think a transformation in MedTech marketing could make a significant difference for both patients and their HCPs:

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Investing in the knowledge level and behaviors of the patient to support their ability to help their own health outcomes.

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Emotional support

Providing encouragement and a sense of community.

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Social support

Helping patients get access to care and support.

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While these types of engagement might be more challenging to connect directly to MedTech sales, the combination of direct consumer relationships and advanced analytics are making that easier.

Trust and clear boundaries are crucial

Building trust is important for every brand. But it’s absolutely critical for companies in the MedTech sector. MedTech products and services affect the health and welfare of patients, and now that more and more devices are “connected,” people need to trust that their personal data will be kept safe.

To develop trust and build real relationships with consumers, I recommend companies ask themselves a series of questions:

  • Is your language empathetic? The tone of communications is important.
  • Are you describing complex topics as simply as possible, while not “talking down” to people?
  • Can you test messages with real people to make sure they’re having the desired impact?
  • Have you opened a channel for receiving feedback, and are you using insights from that feedback to improve your communications and products?

Building positive relationships with HCPs is also key. Companies need to provide patients with information and support, without veering into health care territory—which is obviously not their domain. That said, MedTechs are in a great position to offer complimentary services and fill gaps that HCPs might not be able to close on their own.

Tools, capabilities and talent to support marketing

Direct channels of communication with consumers offer a tremendous opening to learn more about the people using MedTech products and services. Surprisingly, about 50 percent of biopharma marketing executives we surveyed say they lack a good understanding of what customers want or need.

I recommend companies invest in robust data capabilities, analytics and AI, and the talent to use them to generate insights. These tools will let them build a rich profile of patients that can help them refine products and services, and deliver personalized and relevant messages.

Also, since modern marketing communications tend to be a dialogue rather than a monologue, marketers need to acquire new skills—such as recognition of the psychological, social and emotional dimensions of patients’ lives. Other key skills include the ability to perform research and promote human-centered design.

One final point I’d like to make is about the importance of customer experiences. It’s often the case that MedTech companies have based their core investments around the engineering or science behind their products and services. But I do think it’s time to consider investing more in the experiences they craft, including the education and support they provide.

Today’s consumers are technically savvy, but it’s their experiences with products and marketing communications that they share with their friends. That’s why I think marketing is such an important piece of the business puzzle for MedTech. And why companies should focus more of their marketing efforts on reaching out to consumers directly—with content that will educate them, foster community and help them access care and support.

Pete Moran

Director – Interactive

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