2019 was a challenge for the medical device industry
In the past few decades, medical devices have transformed countless lives in countless remarkable ways. Today, there are devices that can revive every one of the five senses, restore an astonishing spectrum of movement, and regulate, monitor, and sustain the health of our bodies in thousands of different ways. Medical devices’ incredible range of application and innovation has rightfully put them in the vanguard of health technologies.
But for all their value, however, they have risks, limitations, and potential adverse effects like any medical product — several of which have recently landed squarely in the piercing public eye. As anyone with Netflix knows, these technologies have had a difficult year in the media spotlight.
The spotlight was harsh
The world’s largest streaming entertainment platform was one of the first to switch on that spotlight. The BBC drew attention to the different levels of regulatory scrutiny applied to medical devices. Even John Oliver stepped up to take a swing. Today, the medical device industry can claim a dubious distinction: How many other industries — any other kind of business, in fact — can say they’ve been on the receiving end of a takedown hand-delivered by Jane Krakowski?
Medical device companies and their communications partners now face the daunting task of navigating their products, brands, and businesses through a storm of uncomfortable publicity. As manufacturers and their agencies work to find the best way through that storm, clear, candid, confidence-building communication has become more critical than ever. Here are 5 ways to ensure that those communications are reaching customers every day:
1. Say yes to the changing 510(k) pathway
The approval pathway for medical devices has frequently raised questions about the level of evidentiary rigor it requires, especially for riskier, more invasive Class III devices. But now recent controversy is driving the FDA to make changes to the 510(k) pathway.
For better or worse? That may depend. One thing is for certain though: now that the FDA is closing some particularly notable loopholes (for instance, the ones that allowed up to 20% of current 510(k) submissions to be cleared based on predicates more than a decade old), many medical devices brands will be held to a much higher standard.
For manufacturers and communications partners, that may mean preparing their brand and messaging platforms for PMA-level review and oversight for the first time. That may be painful in the short-term, especially for brands with well-established predicates. But it may be just what the category needs long-term to ensure the lasting strength and credibility of medical device brands.
2. Engage your sales training team early and often
Want to ensure that you brand communications are credible, compelling, and consistent? Invite your Sales Training team to your next Marketing team meeting.
Sales training professionals are a vital link between the strategic communication plan built by the Marketing team and the field force that will deliver on that plan in customers’ offices and ORs. For many medical device manufacturers, trainers are often closer to customers than anyone who isn’t actively making sales calls. It’s their vital job to make sure customers’ are hearing the right messages, the right way, at the right time, every time.
And yet, they’re often left out of the communication planning process until the last minute, when the plan is baked and launch deadlines are looming. That approach can put your whole plan at risk of uneven implementation, undisciplined messaging, and inconsistent customer communications.
So involve your Sales Training partners as early and as often as possible in your the development of your brand platform. They can help you build the strongest possible communication strategy, and help you ensure that the right messages are being clearly and consistently delivered to your customers every time.
3. Focus on facts over features
When you’re marketing an innovative medical device with a one-of-a-kind design or first-in-class functionality, it’s easy to get excited about promoting the remarkable features of your product. Unfortunately, when your category comes under intense scrutiny, skeptical customers may be far more likely to see flashy new features as a distraction than a differentiator.
Start winning back their confidence by pivoting back to the proof and purpose behind your technology: not why they should be wowed by your innovation, but why they can trust your product to deliver on a real clinical need. That means less “transformative,” “unrivaled,” and “breakthrough” in your messaging, and more simple, straightforward facts about the value of your device — for practitioners and patients. Highlight differentiating features and functionality, of course. But wherever possible, elevate the clinical evidence and the real, tangible, reimbursable benefits of using your technology.
4. Be part of the continuing customer conversation
For many medical device brands, this can be the hard part. It means more than supporting your reps through tough customer conversations. It means having a presence in channels where your customers — professionals and patients — are already sharing their stories, opinions, and concerns. It means positioning brands where those customers can send that feedback directly to you — and being ready to capture, evaluate, and respond to it. That can mean Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or LinkedIn, as well as live events and discussions, depending on your customer. But it always means having a rigorous response-and-triage plan in place to manage your brand communications through those channels.
5. Pick the right strategic communication partner
This is the simple part. The right partner should be aware of industry challenges, and have a deep understanding of the unique complexity of brand-building for medical devices and other healthcare technologies. And they should have a passion for transforming those complexities into clear, strategic brand communications delivered through simple, intuitive, human stories. Simply put: Distill Health.
Today, 32 million Americans — about 1 in 10 — are living with some form of implanted medical device, from closed-loop insulin pumps to titanium spinal fusions, wirelessly rechargeable pacemakers, and the millions of intraocular lenses that restore the sight of cataract patients every year. We believe technologies like these will be part of a vibrant and innovative future for healthcare. And we’re ready to help them build brands that are ready for it — stronger, smarter, and more resilient than ever.
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