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Marketing from the Start

Wed, 07/13/2011 - 8:23am
Ilene Adler

Innovative technologies consistently emerge from the minds of medical device design engineers, but how does one ensure that an idea reaches the right pair of eyes to get the design from concept to product? The answer is effective communications. Taking a page from successful public relations campaigns, a solid foundation of market research, impactful and concise messaging, and effective promotional tools will present potential investors and other key decision-makers with a clear and strategic direction that can put a new device on the fast track to success.

 

Every year, countless “ah-ha!” moments strike the mind of our brilliant medical device community. While the functionality and results of the device are tantamount, what helps an idea rise to the top? How does a device designer cut through the noise and convince key stakeholders that his or her innovation is the next medical breakthrough? How does a designer give an idea a shooting chance to make it through rigorous review, heavy rounds of investing, and stringent regulatory investigations to one day change the lives of millions of people? The answers to these questions are not necessarily where one would first suspect.

Even the most brilliant ideas need plenty of assistance to get off the ground, and while many feel public relations should be reserved for the time when a product goes to market, the most successful and expedient programs are fueled by a strategic communication plan that evolves hand-in-hand with the development of a medical device. In fact, after the excitement of a brilliant spark of ingenuity wears off, the next question should be, “what support can I give this breakthrough to see it all the way to market?”

Do the Homework
Like medicine, the field of public relations is one founded in research. Campaigns like product launches are not just splashy, superficial events to draw a fleeting moment of attention—they are the result of careful strategy, calculating everything from target audiences to gauging existing market perceptions well in advance.

The first step is to take a look at the market landscape. A designer must establish whether a device is the first of its kind opening up a brand new market, or if there are similar competitors. Knowing the terrain that a new medical device will embark on—both the challenges and unique opportunities—will help designers strategically position products as the next game-changers in medicine.

What’s in a Word?
A solid foundation of research will help guide designers in one of the most important steps of the process—messaging. The messaging is essentially the core of a design—the compelling statement that shares with the world why a product matters. A solid message is the catalyst to grab the attention of key decision makers, as well as the hook to win over a big investor.

One of the most basic and widely used messaging elements is the elevator pitch. Just like it sounds, two to three sentences that captures the spirit of a product, short enough to be delivered in an elevator ride to the top floor. There are three things to keep in mind when developing a quality elevator pitch:

1) Use research to gain an advantage, such as finding a unique aspect of a product that is currently unmet by any other competitor,
2) Think about target audiences, and create a pitch that appeals to both technical and non-technical influencers, and
3) Establish the core purpose of the device, cutting right to the chase, and saving the extra details for later.

A concise and well thought out message will take the device light years, and make it easy for a designer’s key decision makers to say “yes.”

Nice to Meet You…
With a strong message in hand, a device designer must test out some of the PR community’s tried and true tools. One of the most basic functions of public relations is relationship building. While this may come naturally to some, for others it requires them to step out of their comfort zones.

One of the best places to start is the local trade associations. Industry events provide an excellent opportunity to get in touch with the right people, and many provide professional development resources and seminars specific to one’s industry.

From there, a designer should evaluate target audiences by asking, where do they go? What events do they attend? From tradeshows to economic development summits and industry forums, a device designer needs to start making connections. In fact,a designer can go a step further by seeking out speaking opportunities within his or her industry in order to be established as a thought leader.

High-Tech Communications
Once reserved for pictures of college parties and keep-you-from-doing-work videos, social media has grown into an essential tool for reaching target audiences. Social media is an immense and ever-changing realm, but even a basic start will elevate a designer’s standing within the medical device industry.

Twitter: A sensation, termed micro-blogging, Twitter is a chance to share thoughts and converse in updates within 140 characters. A growing number of business professionals are networking on Twitter on a daily basis.

Linkedin: A social network that houses résumés and professional experiences. It’s a chance to make professional connections and converse in groups specific to a designer's industry.

Blogging: Another opportunity to exercise thought leadership. With a longer format than the other social networks, it’s a chance to share personal insight as well as other interesting finds that will encourage audiences to keep visiting a blog.

It’s a Long Journey
The road to get from “eureka!” all the way to FDA clearance is a long and hard one, with many devices never completing the journey. To give a concept a leg up on the competition, one should begin weaving successful public relations strategies from the very start. If a device concept meets a genuine medical need; the next step is to map out a strategic plan to help this idea grow into a successful piece of technology. Taking a page from the public relations community and establishing a communication program supported by research, messaging, and promotional tools can prove successful.

Ilene Adler is CEO of Vantage Communications. She is responsible for helping clients make the leap from start-ups to public companies, and assisting those that were later acquired by leading companies. Adler can be reached at 415-984-1970 or info@pr-vantage.com.

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