Medical Device Marketing and Advertising are two different things

It’s different than advertising

The back and forth between sales and marketing in companies have been around from the start of corporate business enterprises.

Our shop has done a great deal of medical device advertising and promotion. We’ve helped internal marketing departments with messaging clarity and brand consistency. The two are symbiotic but far from being alike. Advertising and promotion for medical devices is newer than for pharmaceutical products.

Most medical device companies that I’ve encountered have been and remain focused on what they term as ‘marketing’. This includes creating the value proposition (super-critical), as well as the various conduits to sell/market the device (i.e. hospitals, medical device distributors, surgeons and practices directly). These are no small tasks and are made more complicated in considering clear demonstration of the patient benefits, patient privacy, and yes, reimbursement. What they are not is advertising and promotion for the brand, to patients or even to providers and practitioners.

Does advertising for pharmaceuticals actually work? In 2019 the total spend on pharmaceutical marketing and advertising will be more than $30 billion.

Were it not effective that number would be decreasing not increasing. I’m not here to defend the incessant stream of Direct to Patient advertising on traditional TV, digitally and otherwise. It’s often amazing to me to see so much pharmaceutical advertising while watching television. Televised live sports are a hotbed for pharmaceutical advertising, since it is viewed by older (more than younger) men.

We were early to the idea of direct-to-patient advertising and promotion for medical device products and brands. We felt confident that since the results were very positive, (more inquiries, more procedures), more of those device companies would be interested in not only building a great internal and external sales team, but they’d want to support that team with consistent brand messages to patients and professionals. Important Note: Those messages are never the same.

Advertising to patients and professionals is fuel to support your sales team’s efforts. But it’s even more than that. Consistent advertising creates a stronger brand and builds confidence both for patients and practitioners as well as the sales team. In the medical device industry things have been done the same way for a long time.

It’s not natural to think about promotion of a medical device to patients since the actual sales are not made to patients but rather to professionals (see hospitals, distributors, and practices above). This explains a general reticence to make advertising and promotion one of the legs of a device’s marketing and sales effort. Because pharma has been so successful using advertising to drive patient and professional inquiries, I felt it to be only a matter of time until medical device companies followed suit. Over the five plus years we’ve been working for medical devices it’s surprising that it still is not happening with any regularity.

The trap is that in the past, advertising and promotion of medical devices direct to the patient has not been employed so there’s little track record of success (or failure). Therefore device companies may be reticent to move forward. However, today with patients and professionals having the ability to exhaustively search the web for information, all are able to become more informed about various conditions, treatments, and options. Consequently device companies are missing the boat by not trying to build their brand’s awareness with the patient.

Medical device sales are by nature, difficult. They can be aided by advertising and promotion. All that is needed is a budget commitment over time. One other note, it does not require pharmaceutical-like mega-budgets to create, deploy, measure and manage. Just a willingness to test and refine over a defined period.

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Wireless earbuds – wearing them and hating them at the same time

You see them everywhere on the streets of Manhattan as well as in and around major cities in the United States. The wireless earpod craze started with the Apple Airpods and Apple as usual has done a very good job of delivering on its brand promise.

Since I am an Android guy when it comes to phones, the bizarre-looking earpod equivalent does not exist for Samsung and other non-Apple users (which still make up more than 50% of the mobile device owning population). After some inexplicable period of resistance, this week I broke down and bought an inexpensive pair of earbuds from Weepo , (not the highly regarded Galaxy buds). No I had never heard of them before. But they were $45. Apple Airpods are more than $150 and Galaxy buds are around $130. I didn’t know if I would like the earpods so spending $100 less was meaningful.

I’ve only been using the Weepo US X a couple of days and I am not sure if I love them or hate them. Part of my ambivalence is borne out of the fact that ever since the Sony Walkman came around, the idea of walking around the city tuning out the sounds around you seemed self-defeating to me. If you are going to live and work in a major city among other things you know that it’s going to be somewhat noisy and somewhat dirty. Over the many years I’ve changed the way I feel and look at headphones in general, as they became so … normal to see people wear.

Let me note that I believe Wireless headphones are a great idea. Particularly where exercise is concerned. What’s different about the earpod ‘revolution’ is that now more than ever, when someone walks by you wearing them you don’t know if they are talking to someone else, listening to music or a podcast, or wearing them just in case someone calls. In the process what seems to happen is that everyone is ignoring everyone else – more so than usual. Because people kind of look like they are paying attention when they are wearing earbuds, in fact the legions wearing them are appearing to be engaged when in their head they are miles and miles away. In a big city it can be quite impersonal sometimes and earpods are making it worse.

At the same time I LOVE listening to music while I walk around the streets of New York. The Weepo earbuds are small and have no dangle so it looks a little like a hearing aid in both ears. (That’s how you know it’s NOT a hearing aid and please pardon me if I am being a little over-sensitive in my advancing age). The carrying case is more of a hassle to tote around than the old wired earbuds, which easily fit in every pocket. The need for regular charging is also a bit of a pain and requires forethought so I don’t run out of juice. I assume I will adapt my behavior accordingly.

I am not sure why, but when I am not listening to music or something else, or talking on the phone I can’t help feeling a bit pretentious in wearing earbuds. There’s still a certain cachet in wearing them which will die out fairly soon in my opinion. But for now it’s hip and cool to have earbuds in all of the time.

I understand the overall usefulness of earpods. The ability to tune out the honking, rumble, and bustle of the city with your selected groove is fantastic at times. I just feel guilty tuning out from my fellow commuters, pedestrians, taxi, Uber and Lyft drivers. I am part of the vibe of the city and with that comes the responsibility to be part of the community in any number of ways.

With the increasing ability to disengage in the presence of others, (for what it is worth Instagram is truly a black hole in which I see people on constantly), the intention to further disengage seems to me to be a negative trend. My guess is that I will overweight the positives of using wireless earbuds and continue to wear them, just not all the time.





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Regional accents and behaviors are declining in the U.S

I recently returned from an annual trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to play golf with what are now friends for more than 20 years. Obviously the South is very different from the Northeast. To add to that I am also a city person and Myrtle Beach might be considered a city but to me it’s really a beach town.

There are many things I like about Myrtle Beach. Not the least of which is the South Carolina accent. I like that I am referred to as ‘darlin’ and ‘honey’ as that is indicative of the warmth and spirit that is evident in so many places there. Over the years however, I’ve noticed there are more and more non-native Americans (not to mention southerners), that haven’t adopted the Southern drawl. And that southern drawl isn’t as prevalent as I recall. That’s not really surprising when I think about it since even in New York accents in general aren’t as strong as they were years ago.

Television, radio and video have done much to homogenize regional accents. We hear news and commentary delivered by talking heads that have worked to flatten whatever accent they might have had growing up. In the New York City area a Brooklyn accent used to be discernable from one from Staten Island or Long Island. Today it is more difficult to tell the difference. A New York accent still exists but in general it is not as pronounced. It’s not as if accents are disappearing entirely, but I am concerned that at some point in the future it will be harder to tell where someone comes from by their regional accent. I don’t feel this is a good thing but nothing can be done about the march to homogeneity when it comes to accents.

When I go to Myrtle Beach I enjoy eating grits. Grits are rarely served in restaurants in the northeast (or the Midwest or the West coast), and I look forward to being able to get them at every breakfast. Speaking of breakfast, Myrtle Beach is replete with pancake houses, lots and lots of Pancake Houses. There are more than 20 on the Grand Strand alone.

All seem to open at 6AM and close at 2PM. Most appear to have many customers throughout the period to serve vacationers and locals alike. I am impressed that these large buildings can afford to only be open 8 hours per day (7 days a week) and wonder how long this pancake house thing will last? In general people even in the U.S. are trying to eat fewer carbs and healthier overall. Grits, biscuits and gravy, bacon, and eggs with hollandaise are opposed to that end. Sure you might like to spoil yourself every now and again but good old-fashioned diners have been in decline in the U.S. for years which I wrote about, and I fear the same will be eventually true of pancake houses in Myrtle Beach.

To me regional attitudes and behaviors are big reasons to visit different areas of the county in the first place. It’s interesting and diverse. While we are far from the U.S. having zero regional differences (perish that thought!), where things were more isolated before mass media, the trend is away from strong regional accents and behaviors. I feel this is not a great thing but there’s little to be done to forestall the trend.

It’s too hackneyed to think of the world still being filled with ‘Southern Belles’ and ‘City Slickers’. Both are still in evidence but you’d be wrong to think just because someone lives in a southern town or a northeast city they will behave in a particular way most of the time such as ‘Southern Belles’ wearing petticoats and serving sweet tea or New Yorkers saying ‘fuggedaboutit’.

Importantly, as marketers we have to fight these kinds of biases or else we will miss opportunities and successes. Challenging your own biases helps you to get closer to the truth of what really is happening.


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Blue Apron has a tough row to hoe

A couple of years ago I wrote about my ‘mental pricing bias’. I referenced Blue Apron in that post as being emblematic of an interesting service that I did not personally want to make the effort to sustain.

Recently Blue Apron hired Linda Kozlowski at CEO. No not the one from Crocodile Dundee movie fame. She’s someone I’ve met and have worked with (while she was at in the past. From my experience she’s sharp and mission-focused. I feel she will need all her abilities and then some to have any chance of ‘fixing’ Blue Apron.

Every good direct response marketer knows that the right target, a compelling offer, and engaging creative all need to combine in order for there to be success. But also of critical importance is that the premise itself has to be intriguing.

Blue Apron delivers well on the intrigue front – delivering fresh food meals to your home with all the ingredients you need right in the package – is interesting and intriguing. Customers receive a certain number of meals per week by subscription with clear directions on how to prepare that fresh and tasty meal right in the kitchen. Cool.

But wait, there’s more. YOU HAVE TO COOK THE MEALS YOURSELF! OK, you knew that before you gave it a try but… you still have to cook the meals. And it’s not as if most of the meals can be prepared in 15 minutes or less. And once you are subscribed the meals come every, single, week. It makes me wonder how many of the Blue Apron meals never get made and are simply thrown away – before cooking.

Which leads me to, who are the targets? If health-conscious urbanites – young and old, are the target (the meals are not cheap nor are they expensive). Three 2-person meals for a week is $59.94 with an intro first week special at 33% off ($39.94). The offer of 6 fresh and health meals for $40 is reasonable even if you are cooking it yourself. $10 per meal cooking it yourself (or yourselves), becomes more of a value-proposition type decision. A one-week trial discount of $20 is not exactly the most compelling offer ever. Yes you can cancel anytime (as I did). But moving up to $20/meal after the first week is definitely pricier. Yes, it is cheaper than takeout (especially in big cities) but you are doing all the work except for the shopping.

Maybe the idea is that a couple will come home from work, not have to stop at the market, they’ll open a bottle of wine and cook together and then sit down to a nice dinner. Norman Rockwell paintings come to mind. Of course the urbanites would have to actually need to have a kitchen! I know a good many city folk that have kitchenettes at best, and never use them anyway.

The target can’t be the proverbial soccer mom can it? The busy working mom and dad – maybe. Basically I cannot really figure out who the real target is. It’s almost like it’s a solution looking for a problem to solve.

I know I am picking on Blue Apron and there are other sites like Plated that are in the same boat. What’s behind it all in my mind is that meal delivery services – at least in the United States, aim to change consumer behavior. Yes people intuitively would like to eat healthier meals at home. However when the default behavior is to go out to dinner, bring in takeout, or do something simple and low-effort when cooking at home, changing that behavior to being motivated to spend 35 minutes on average to make it happen seems unsustainable to me. It’ll take a week, maybe a month, but eventually people will tire of it and find it be limiting instead of enabling.

Why aren’t grocery stores quick to jump in on the meal delivery services horse? Meshing meal delivery services with grocery deliveries would acknowledge existing behavior and certainly save on delivery costs. I suspect Ms. Kozlowski and others are thinking of all sorts of ways to increase trials and retention. It was even put out there this week that packaging for meal delivery services are ‘greener than thought’, which I personally like, but don’t believe that to be a highly compelling a value proposition.

I acknowledge that meal delivery services have had some success in some places like San Francisco. But it’s hard for me to accept that there’s great opportunity to scale these business nationally and beyond. The problem for Blue Apron remains that as fast as the funnel can be filled at the top, customers are leaking out of the bottom of the bucket at too high a rate.

Changing consumer behavior is one of the most difficult tasks a marketer can undertake. I’d be happy to try to help and wish Blue Apron, (which was bought by Albertsons in 2017) and all the others luck. In order to sustain the weekly meal delivery model, they’re going to need it.


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Candy and Soda manufacturers have to adapt to survive

Much of my work these days is focused on healthcare marketing. What’s become important to keeping me fresh (or fresher) from getting healthcare-stale, are opportunities to work outside the healthcare space. My professional career has certainly had an, ‘adapt or perish’ aspect to it having invested many years into the increasingly shrinking commercial printing industry. There are many industries that have faced or are facing a similar inflection point.

Think about PepsiCo for example. How has a company founded in 1898 whose initial product was….soda pop (with sugar), managed to survive for more than 120 years? By adapting to what’s coming. Smart people have run PepsiCo. Former CEO Indra Nooyi recently stepped down and has left the company in good shape. Earnings remain solid. And the most recent quarter saw sales of soda actually rising. But the trend is away from sugary sodas.

Notable from the WSJ article:

“And while consumers cutting back on high-calorie soda has hampered some of the sugary brands, the company managed to post 3 percent growth for its overall Pepsi family in the U.S., fueled by a 29 percent surge in Pepsi Zero Sugar sales. The company is also getting a bump from Bubly, a sparkling water it released last year that’s taking share from established brands like LaCroix and Perrier.”

You probably know that PepsiCo has Frito-Lay as part of its portfolio of companies. Yet this does not stop me from wondering what is the future of a company that makes sugary sodas and salty snacks? Can PepsiCo truly transform itself into a health-oriented drinks and snack food manufacturer?   From my perspective, if they do not continue to try it will indeed perish.

What about the confectionary (ok the ‘Candy’) industry?   The commercial manufacture of candy products in the U.S. dates back to 1876 (by the Chase Candy company), making something called ‘Cherry Mash’.  Back then and for many years after, a sweet treat in the form of candy – be it a candy bar, candy bit, lollipop, sucker or whatever, had nobody worrying about sugar content. 143 years later things shall we say, are different.

Can candy companies transform themselves into being able to make a more healthful treat and still survive? Sweden consumes the most candy per year. From the Daily Meal – ‘A 2016 study done by Jordbruksverket, the Swedish Board of Agriculture, and featured in a recent article by The New Yorker, found that Sweden has the highest candy consumption per capita in the world — about 35 pounds per person per year. That means that the average Swede eats over half a pound of candy every week.’

Sugar consumption and candy consumption are closely correlated. From a study in 2016 published by Warrell, the average American leads the way, consuming over 126 grams of sugar daily. Germany is not far behind — their citizens eat about 103 grams of sugar a day. Coming in at just under that are the Dutch, where the average person enjoys 102.5 grams of sugar per day. At the low end, as you would expect, it’s the Asian countries. The Chinese consume only 16 grams a day, Indonesians a little over 15 grams and Indians, only 5 grams a day on average.

So, what does this all mean? One thing it means is that sugar and candy, especially chocolate, are staples of the Western diet. Is there anything wrong with that? Well, the World Health Organization recommends that people consume no more than 25 to 50 grams of sugar a day.

Mintel reported:

In November 2018 that the estimated total of the U.S. chocolate confectionery sales will have grown 15% since 2012 to reach $18.5B in 2018, with trends like bite size, functional ingredients and premium driving the overall category growth.  

Mintel data revealed the U.S. consumption of candy has been trailing that of chocolate in 2018, especially around the Halloween season. It also noted more than 27% of non-chocolate consumers said they ate less candy than last year (versus 15% eating more), due to sugar and calorie reductions.

So people are trying to eat less candy, apparently not all that successfully, but it has to start somewhere and overall mindset is the first step. Candy makers have to diversify and use their knowledge to introduce interesting new products – maybe not quite as sweet, but definitely healthier in general. The trend is clear that people are more aware of their intake of sugar than they’ve ever been in the past. Candy will remain popular but the opportunities for growth in the industry will likely come from products that are not pure confections.

We’ve recently taken on a client from the confectionary industry that is introducing a non-candy brand into the marketplace. It’s a bold move for them and we all understand that high stakes are at hand.

Adapt or perish. Why should it be different for companies than it is for human beings?

Posted in Disruption, Grocery marketing, Healthcare, Healthcare Advertising, Healthcare marketing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A four-year university education has become a luxury item

My Alma Mater USC (South Carolinan’s can relax this is not you), is back in the news again today with an article in the NY Times What’s Life Like as a Student at U.S.C.? Depends on the Size of the Bank Account.

The past few years have demonstrated that there are many endemic problems at USC. A new President Carol Falk from UNC Chapel Hill is set to take over in part due to several scandals involving university administrators and employees. There’s a great deal that needs to be fixed at USC.

But the article in the NY Times strikes me as going back to the whipping post to portray everything about USC as overdone, overpaid, and over-the-top. The article described that tuition alone was $57,000 per year. For the record that’s 4x what it cost when I went there. Even for those students that receive financial aid there’s no way they can keep up with the Joneses or the Loughlins for that matter. They don’t even try nor should they.

Yet I venture to guess that USC is not any different than many ‘prestigious’ four-year universities. I’ve been on a number of college campuses around the county and from what I see overall they are MUCH nicer than back in my day. Not all that long ago, upscale living conditions (yes pricey), really didn’t exist to any degree. Campus food did not include major brands being right in the middle of campus.   Affluent parents want to come visit their collegian children but they want nice hotels and nice restaurants. The changes I saw at Florida State in four years during the time my daughter attended were emblematic – and impressive. And of course, everything is more expensive.

The idea of going to college to continue one’s education means very different things than what it meant even before the Internet became ubiquitous. Today, a motivated student with an online connection and basic computer (Chromebook for instance), has the ability to look for and learn about almost any subject imaginable. U.S. based college students are competing with kids around the world that don’t go to college but are VERY motivated and now have more access to the tools to help them compete.   There’s still much work to be done to put Internet based technology in the hands of every child that wants to learn this way. But it’s inevitable.

The idea that as a 17 or 18 year-old you can go to a nice campus for four years (ok for some if could be five or more), meet friends for life, learn a few things, come home and have a summer job before going back to school, is an old idea from another age. It’s become a luxury that fewer and fewer people can afford – or even need to do. When I went to USC my father – who went to City College of NY (he told me it was $1/year and it kept him off the streets), would continually advance that the time spent with my classmates BS-ing was the most valuable thing about college. I understood both then and now what he meant.

Who would want to willingly sign up for almost $240,000 in tuition over four years PLUS living expenses? Foreign and domestic students that can afford to pay full tuition are not benefitting anyone else but themselves. The big ruse is that if you do NOT go to college, no self-respecting baby boomer is going to give a non-collegian a fair shake. Or a shake at all.

USC is far from being unique in providing a luxury experience for its students – and parents. I am certainly embarrassed by the spate of bad news surrounding USC. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad place and that the students are all snot-nosed snobs that don’t learn anything or do anything of value. The entire university system in the United States is a giant mess. From not paying larger program student-athletes who are really university employees to allowing tuition to reach stratospheric levels, well-intentioned universities are degrading into serving themselves and their endowments.

Is a four-year university education still relevant and necessary to succeed? Isn’t what people do today with college based on dogma? Everything is changing at an increasingly rapid pace. There are so many other ways to gain knowledge and wisdom. Apprenticeships used to be quite normal until they were not. The luxury of a being a college student for four or more years is something that’s ripe for big time change.


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Tom Seaver – My boyhood hero isn’t gone just yet

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I went to my first Opening Day at Shea Stadium in 1967. I hadn’t yet turned 8 years old. My father picked me up from school early and I truly felt special. The starting pitcher that day was journeyman Don Cardwell. For the following 10 seasons George Thomas Seaver was the Mets Opening Day pitcher.

Most people have some knowledge that those early Met teams (founded in 1962) were terrible teams. Original Met manager Casey Stengel when asked about one of his early teams’ execution, famously quipped “I’m all for it”.

For Met fans and Seaver buffs:

From Wikipedia:

Seaver was drafted in the tenth round of the 1965 Major League Baseball draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. When Seaver asked for $70,000, however, the Dodgers passed.

In 1966, Seaver signed a professional contract with the Atlanta Braves, who had drafted him in the first round of the secondary June draft (20th overall). However, the contract was voided by Baseball Commissioner William Eckert because his college team had played two exhibition games that year (although Seaver himself hadn’t played). Seaver intended, then, to finish the college season, but because he had signed a pro contract, the NCAA ruled him ineligible. After Seaver’s father complained to Eckert about the unfairness of the situation, and threatened with a lawsuit, Eckert ruled that other teams could match the Braves’ offer.[3] The Mets were subsequently awarded his signing rights in a lottery drawing among the three teams (the Philadelphia Phillies and Cleveland Indians being the two others) that were willing to match the Braves’ terms.[4]

I didn’t know any of the background on Tom Seaver as I went to my first baseball game ever that cold April day. Seaver was in the dugout that day recently having made it to the big club and he went on to win 16 games that season and was NL Rookie-of-the-Year. The next year in 1968 Jerry Koosman had a terrific rookie year, also in my view being worthy of Rookie-of –the-Year honors, but that was not in the cards as some guy name Johnny Bench won the award that year.

1969 was a glorious year for Met fans. Tom Terrific, (as he was now called as well as The Franchise), was the undisputed leader of that 1969 championship team going 25-7 with a 2.12 E.R.A. Baseball was still ‘America’s Pastime’ in ’69 and in fact professional baseball was celebrating its 100 anniversary that season. It’s hard to believe that Met team will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the aptly named ‘Miracle Mets’. Like most Met fans I am sad that Seaver will not be able to attend the festivities this season due to his struggles with Lyme disease and Dementia.

The last time I saw Seaver in person was that final day at Shea Stadium when he walked off into center field with his fellow Hall –of –Famer Mike Piazza. He looked both good and strong that day.

Seaver was an intense competitor and while not a man of many words to the press, always gave thoughtful if not straightforward answers. He was also not known as a guy with a great sense of humor, at least not to the public, but his Met teammates have long described him otherwise.

However in the late 1980’s I was treated to one random special moment that displayed Seaver’s quick wit and humility. For some reason I tuned into a New York Yankee broadcast which had longtime announcer Phil Rizzuto working with a variety of people which included Tom Seaver.   While Seaver did pitch for the Yankees late in his career (this pained me deeply), having him on a Yankee broadcast made it worth watching at least a little bit.

Anyone that watched Phil Rizzuto over the years knew him to be a wacky and fun-loving broadcaster who sometimes forgot that he was actually live on the air. Rizzuto and Seaver had a warm on-air relationship borne out of mutual respect and admiration. Neither were great broadcasters but both were memorable ones.

The moment in question started with a camera shot of a large bright full moon. Rizzuto says something like:

Rizzuto – ‘Hey Seaver, lookit that moon!’

Seaver – ‘no Scooter that’s not the moon’.

Rizzuto (puzzled) – ‘It’s not?’

Seaver – ‘Nope. It’s a home run I gave up to Mike Schmidt five years ago finally coming back to Earth’ .

Rizzuto –Speechless. Then laughter.

My boyhood hero had demonstrated a humor and humility that I had never seen before and I loved him all the more for it.

‘Tom Terrific’ has only just retired from public life. Remember that he’s still with us and I am sure is a bit embarrassed by all the recent fuss about his family’s announcement of that retirement. But he will still work in his vineyard making very good wine.

I’ve got a bottle of GTS Cabernet given to me by a good Met fan friend that I am saving a day I hope is long into the future. My boyhood hero has never disappointed me and that’s…Amazing!


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