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To Compete with the Giants Don't Try to Look Like the Giants

5/10/2010 6:27:11 PM

Created for pioneering robotic surgery client Mako Surgical, these ads continue to reinforce Mako's carefully crafted brand personality of creativity, innovation and likability. They are a series of ads for the RIO robotic interactive orthopedic surgery solution positioning the device as a valuable, trusted and indispensable partner in improving surgical outcomes.

by Steve Coldiron, Jocoto Advertising

A medical device start-up with a breakthrough imaging technology for detecting rare forms of breast cancer is about to enter its phase 3 clinical trial. It shows great promise for patient outcomes and excellent returns for VC investors. After identifying several interested VC firms for R&D funding, the founders develop an extensive PowerPoint slide presentation for the two-hour long meeting, giving them ample time to dive into the concepts behind their cutting edge solution.

While the founders may have the luxury of time to explain the intricacies of the product to VCs, a sales rep at the company’s first tradeshow where they are launching the product will have less than five minutes to interest a radiologist strolling by the exhibit booth. The approach used to get funding for “the promise” will not necessarily work for selling the new product.

Marketing & Branding Relegated to the Back Burner

After successfully raising capital and recruiting top talent to keep R&D and regulatory compliance on track, the product is finally hatched and ready for market. However, management often assumes that the pending device comes with an implicit demand from clinicians who are always hungry for the next big thing, so it will sell on its own merits. Moreover, most of the investments were earmarked for R&D and meager funds remain for marketing and branding.

For a start-up, no matter how groundbreaking the product, the company is likely competing with industry giants who have the means to make them irrelevant from the start by either discrediting their technology or offering a competing product.

Yet, ironically, emerging companies tend to fear being creatively different by trying to follow their competitors. Rather than creating an image that matches the innovative technology new companies tend to rely on dry technical spec sheets and predictable, overused stock visuals of DNA strands, doctors posing with the new device, or patients smiling before a backdrop of rolling hills.

It is natural in a highly regulated market to be conservative, want to fit in and play it safe but this approach does not communicate the product’s uniqueness. Most importantly, potential customers remember what stands out – not what fits in.

Small companies that want to look solid, trusted and stable end up resembling the giant companies against whom they are competing. While these attributes are important, a small company is unlikely to win the “trust-battle” over giants like Boston Scientific or Medtronic. Instead, emerging companies should focus their messages on what makes them different and better to both physicians and patients.

Meeting Sales… Even Acquisition Goals

To better communicate the value proposition, cutting-edge innovation, clinical advantages and brand personality, smaller medical device companies need to carve out a message that is much more difficult to ignore or trivialize by competitors. This is the big story for a start-up and it’s where all of the message power resides – small but mighty. This will not only invigorate and ramp up product sales but can also help startup and small device companies get acquired by giant competitors as well.

Stand dramatically apart from the crowd in a way that is in keeping with the unique and often groundbreaking nature of the products. A striking, high-impact and value-based visual language can communicate a powerful message about what makes a company different and better. “We look different because we are different!”

Once the product hits the market, the company has only minutes to reach the customer, whether it’s an ad in a trade journal, images at a tradeshow booth, or a leave-behind brochure at a doctor’s office. Also, bear in mind, medical devices are typically sold face to face so the sales collateral should accomplish three things:

  • You are asking physicians to change the way they work with the promise of a big pay-off; the value must be reflected in the message, image and brand.
  • The startup should communicate the unique value and benefits of the product that goes beyond facts and figures, while giving customers a sense of the company personality.
  • Instead of product launch sales trickling out “do it big” and generate more impact more quickly.

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