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Digital Marketing in Medical Devices Conference Review

Digital marketers from some of the worlds largest medical device companies gathered in Berlin on December 12th and 13th for the Exlpharma Digital marketing for medical devices Europe conference. Companies represented included Covidien, Medtronic, Zimmer, BBraun, Molynlcke, 3M, Medrad, Nipro, Bausch and Lomb and Smiths Medical. The room was alive with twitter activity, connecting on Linkedin, and updates on Facebook and other media.

The conference was aimed at sharing ideas, theory and best practice on how Digital marketing can assist a businesses grow.

My particular talk focussed on how to consistently communicate a company’s sustainable competitive advantage via the digital media touchpoints through which your target group receives your marketing messages.

Firstly we must explore sustainable competitive advantage (SCA)

Kotler, P, Keller, K, et al 2009. Marketing Management, 1st Ed Harlow: Pearson Education  

Describes SCA as - ‘Using the business’s skills to deliver superior customer value to the chosen target segments at a cost that will result in a reasonable profit’

This can be further explored as follows,

Skills- competencies and know how,          Resources – plant, assets, people

Superior- Greater than the norm                 Value – as perceived by the customer

Segments- where you have a differentiated USP   Cost- internal cost of goods

Profit – achieving a good selling price to cover your costs and result in a good profit

Naturally one can only complete this exercise once you have defined your market segment, your positioning within that segment, the competitive advantage that gives you this positioning and how you are going to sustain this.

Unsurprisingly for a room of digital marketing professionals the delegates where mostly active users of Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin for personal use, many where also starting to use these media for professional use. Why do we use these media, let us explore some the theoretical dimensions behind social networks

Kotler, P, Keller, K, et al 2009. Marketing Management, 1st Ed Harlow: Pearson Education  

Describe social networks as having three dimensions

1-       Tie strength, a sense of an intimate relationship with a voluntary investment in the desire for companionship. This is borne out in social media in that we have to elect to follow somebody on Twitter, like something on Facebook and confirm a connection on Linkedin. These are positive actions, we wish to be a part of something, we have an interest in frequent interactions and a sense of mutuality in the relationship.

2-       Actor attributes, there is a homophily between the members of a social network, the people taking part will have similar attributes and interests, this is not only the topic in hand, medical device marketing, but can also be demographically significant as well.

3-       Source credibility, I am sure we all go to the same media sources for our news be it business news, market analysis or sports updates. We do this because the source has credibility with us. The source has built this by communicating not only accurate and truthful information but probably by adding in some analysis and commentary that we respect.

The current trends in digital media are accepted and these are broadly

We are all spending more time online, younger people are most active but other age groups show increasing activity, 80% of internet users look online for healthcare information
Healthcare professionals particularly Doctors are a very active online group both during working hours and outside of these. 40% of Facebook users follow a brand, 51% of these  purchase the brand, Coke has 33million likes on facebook. Traditional paper based media spend in medtech is in steep decline and digital is fast replacing this.
Today’s leading companies need to be able to use digital marketing as part of the whole marketing mix, it should not be separated.

Before we have a look at how some medical technology companies are using digital media lets just review the digital touchpoints. Traditionally a touchpoint is anywhere a customer experiences, ‘or is touched’ by your business.
In the past this has been mainly through human, paper or telephone contact, with appropriate product, customer service and company values training then the quality and consistency of the customer experience across these touchpoints can be monitored and measured.

Digital poses some different challenges.
Any employee can send a digital message from a mobile phone 24/7 with very little control and any customer can post negative material about your company or product. There are numerous digital media and thus tracking what is being said across these is nigh on impossible.
A number of speakers and delegates mentioned Radian6, a social media monitoring tool that allows you to listen, measure, monitor and engage with what is being said. Some delegates stated they were not allowed to mention, on their personal Facebook or Linkedin pages who they worked for, other companies insist they take ownership of Linkedin accounts when an employee leaves.

One story I heard was that the sales team ‘manage’ the customer interface and marketing should not be interacting directly with the customer without the sales team’s knowledge, I really thought such control nonsense had disappeared from our business. The customer relationship belongs to the business as a whole, the sales team is simply the primary vehicle through which this relationship is mainly managed, but not the only one.

So exactly what is corporate medtech doing with social media well the most commonly used sources are Youtube, Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter.

Youtube receives 3bn hits per day and has 48hrs of new content loaded per minute, it is being widely used for product videos, surgery demonstrations of new techniques, training videos and the opportunity of CEO’s to talk about their business as a recruiting or investor relations tool.
Linkedin with about 140m users has about 2m company pages and most of the medium to large medtech companies are actively engaged, this is a very popular recruiting tool, as well as a method to create specific groups about your product of therapeutic area
Facebook with 850m users is gaining in popularity amongst medtech companies with conference information, product news, launches, and company news all being popular content types
Twitter with around 50m active users is also gaining in popularity, Medtronic have 8-10 separate feeds inline with business areas, Abbott has at least 4 active feeds, and many of the delegates in the room stated they were now starting to use this media.

Clearly with the public nature and easy access of these media, legal concerns have been one of the main stumbling blocks to gaining internal approval, once received the monitoring and control of content needs to be managed.
One large medtech corporation approached this by creating a whole host of real posts they wished to use, as well as creating fictitious posts that could come from employees, ex employees or disgruntled customers and answer posts to these. This body of text was then internally reviewed by the company business and legal teams and a risk profile agreed.
This company is now active across all the main media and has had no negative posts they can track.
Some of he larger companies operate invitation only online forums for discussion about products and therapy areas, these are loosely moderated but allow for open comments and discussion, the feedback from these companies was that they receive very little negative posts in these communities.

This example of closed loop marketing was also spoken about by other speakers who had or were about to role out Ipads to their sales teams. This exercise requires careful planning and you need to understand exactly what you hope this business tool will do for you, it will not replace your smartphone and not your laptop. Product information can be accessed and managed centrally, app access and pages viewed can also be measured as a metric of success. The tablet can link with your CRM to improve data capture and customer interaction, however the adoption of the tablet can be mixed across the sales team depending on how tech savvy they are. Sales people can become dependent upon it and forget other steps in the selling process, finally those companies who were implementing tablets across their business were not able to measure a clear ROI as yet, it is still early days but this is a large investment and it needs to affect the bottom line positively.

Digital marketing, far from being a scattergun approach where you are unsure who will catch your message, if well used, can be a highly targeted activity received by a like minded group who have elected to be hear what you have to say and are actively listening.

As Digital marketing professionals we need to be taking a lead and demonstrate to our peers the power that this media can have, its usage needs to be carefully planned like any marketing activity, you need to decide what you wish to get out of its use and how you will measures this.

Ian Sandison is a medical technology business consultant, assisting healthcare inventors and startups. He contributes to the Cambridge University Judge Business School Entrepreneurship and MBA programmes and lectures in Strategic Marketing at Lord Ashcroft International Business School in Cambridge. He is also a Director of Remtec Search and Selection a leading European Lifescience and medtech search company.



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