What is marketing for medtech? Creating a few brochures, a few flyers, some surgical videos, sending them out to the market, and calling it a launch?
Not by a long shot.
People often assume medtech marketing only comes in at the final stage of launching the product. But marketing teams are heavily involved right from the start: providing customer feedback and research, ensuring marketing requirements are upheld throughout the development process, prepping the field for the launch, and of course, managing across post-market activities and field service.
The reality is that medtech marketing gets involved at all stages of the product life cycle. And if their involvement isn’t formally embedded in the product development process at your company, it should be.
Too often, marketing teams are assumed to be simply pulling together some marketing requirements and throwing them over to a product manager, and then it’s “thanks, see you at launch.”
The fact is, for a product to be successful, medtech marketing teams need to be much more involved.
All along the way, marketing needs to be brought in earlier into the new product development process so 1) they can contribute rich content and customer perspectives, and 2) they can also get information earlier to prepare their collateral for faster time to market.
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Amplifying the Voice of the Customer
Marketing, sales, and service teams at medtech companies represent the megaphone for the voice of the customer. They’re the first to hear feedback, aggregate it, and distill the prudent information for R&D.
Here are a few of marketing’s key contributions to medical device launch success:
The definition of marketing has changed. In the same way that product managers have evolved to a more strategic general manager role, we’re seeing a differentiation take place between the more customary “downstream” marketers and an emerging category of “upstream” marketers.
Upstream marketing refers to those activities that include working with product development to ensure customer feedback and regulated marketing requirements are met throughout the manufacture of a new product or new iteration of a product. All of this occurs before handoff to downstream marketers to promote and sell it.
The fact often gets overlooked that upstream marketing has a tremendous influence on which products are actually going to be proposed.
By the nature of the job, marketing and sales teams have the most direct access to the field and therefore the most accurate understanding of what the customer needs. They hear feedback from HCPs (healthcare professionals) or from patients themselves, they’re doing competitive research, and they know what’s happening in the market landscape in real-time.
All of this information will vary in different countries. In the US, for instance, the simplest route is direct sales, but in Europe, companies may work with a distributor. So upstream marketers have to decide when, where, and how to sell the product—all of which require different marketing information depending on the markets being targeted.
These are big decisions that upstream marketing teams can inform as part of a formalized development step—rather than being consulted as an afterthought.
Sales & Service
While most are aware that the sales team is a rich source of customer input, there is a broad misconception that medical device sales are similar to pharmaceutical sales.
In fact, many might be surprised to learn that a medical device salesperson is often right in that surgery room with the doctor and may be at times more knowledgeable about the latest product than the doctors themselves.
They’re the ones who often help doctors and other HCPs understand the full capabilities of the devices and what the latest features are—to help realize the complete value.
Given all these in-depth interactions, it’s no surprise that salespeople are the recipients of some of the most valuable feedback and enhancements for designing the next generation of the product.
Finally, when design and development are underway, it's time to coordinate with the critical product launch: ensuring proper release cycles for the marketing collateral, labeling, and sales materials.
The most critical information for marketing a medical device isn’t the same as in other industries. New features and product differentiation are important—sure—but what’s imperative for downstream marketers in medtech is visibility to the quality information.
It’s for this reason that marketing must have access to R&D activities. They’ll need visibility so they can compare which past complaints have been closed-loop corrected by engineering and which turned into adverse events.
They need answers to why these issues arose, how many there were, and what the resolution was. And most importantly, how can they ensure customer satisfaction by baking these resolutions into the quality guarantee for the next product or product iteration?
Because in medtech, a misstep on a complaint could mean having a serious impact on a patient’s quality of life.
So how can companies ensure marketing doesn’t miss a beat?
Harness the Power of Contextual Collaboration
When I was consulting with medtech companies, I saw a common challenge among marketing teams who resisted earlier alignment to NPD lifecycles and launch, as well as formalizing their content process. They didn’t want to adhere to the rigors of a PLM (product lifecycle management) system that the engineering and product team embraced.
There was a conception of restriction, extraneous steps, and a rigid user interface (UI). And to be fair, with older legacy solutions—that’s certainly a realistic concern.
Now, modern single-platform solutions, such as Propel Software, are built on top of Salesforce, meaning they’ll inherit the friendly UI that Salesforce is known for, while crucially providing the real-time visibility that medtech marketing teams require to do their jobs effectively. Marketers need documentation processes that are easy to use, simple to approve, and highly collaborative—all built-in with Propel.
Salesforce has the capability of capturing up-to-the-minute customer records and organizing them according to the marketers’ intended use.
For instance, perhaps first and foremost the medtech marketing team would want to use a collaborative industry cloud environment to create stronger assets faster, using all the rich product information captured by R&D—verified by quality teams—suddenly at their fingertips. A cloud-based product information management (PIM) solution is a critical success factor that marketing teams can leverage earlier in NPD cycles.
Or perhaps, they want to feed marketing requirements and customer user needs to engineering directly within the same platform they’re designing the product. Meaning, in the same platform that functions as a PLM for engineering, marketing activities will exist as well. Always visible and directly accessible to one another.
Keep Claims Front & Center
In medtech marketing, there is an unassailable, cross-industry mandate for all new product launches: adhere to your claim. This is effectively a regulated promise to your customer—what you say you will provide and therefore obligated to fulfill.
A claim is a very specific piece of information, down to the wording, that’s originally agreed upon by marketing and product management from the very start and extends all the way through the process to launch. Eventually, the intention is to include the claim within your core marketing message and within all marketing collateral to HCPs, patients, and other target customers.
The claim is so core to a medical device product that it’s typically agreed upon as early as the concept phase, and it’s crucial for the marketing team to monitor and maintain the consistency and use of the claim throughout the development process.
Another company I’ve worked with admits their marketing claim process essentially boils down to a Word document wherein their claim is thrown in with all the other important business proposal agreements. This document is created at the very beginning and subsequently gets buried within all the other documents created throughout the development process.
When it comes time to bring the product to market, they have to unearth that crucial messaging. But now, it’s been so long since that Word doc has been created, they have to spend time hunting it down, verifying the claim is still consistent with the final product, and most importantly, that they’ve actually kept the promise the claim states.
If some medtech companies are truly handling claims this way, that’s a problem. Claims need to be clearly identified, managed, and leveraged throughout the production process so the product can be kept in check at all times.
For instance, the clinical phase will need to test against the claims they’re making, so the engineering team can design and iterate taking into account clinical findings. The regulatory documentation can then include, in detail, what claims were made and how they were met, and finally, all of this information can be leveraged in marketing materials, website landing pages, and sales presentations.
Otherwise, you could risk losing time and money due to inconsistencies, tribal knowledge, scrap, adverse events, and lost brand loyalty and market share.
Marketing Working in Parallel
Let’s get back to the incorrect assumption that medtech marketing teams are basically “bookends” to the process. In truth, product success requires marketing to work in parallel throughout the entire product development process.
What often happens is that the moment a product's been developed and the marketing is getting ready to launch it, there’s a scramble.
They need to locate all their collateral, all the labeling, the IFU (instructions for use), videos, assets—essentially everything needed to package up the product and begin selling it.
Too often, those materials are created very late in the game—well after the product is already ready to ship. Primarily because all the information contained within them must be hunted down, verified, checked for accuracy, and then finally passed to a creative team to actually produce.
The solution? Product and marketing teams should be working in parallel.
This is beneficial from both sides—marketing of course gets up-to-date, real-time product information, while R&D can ensure they’re designing the right products for the right customers in the right markets.
Working within a modern single platform can facilitate this highly collaborative parallel process. Everyone has access to everything they need, and time to market is much shorter—a critical KPI in medtech.
Enhancing the Documentation Lifecycle
Medtech marketing looks very different than marketing for other industries. On top of having heaps of collateral to produce for differing campaign channels, all of those pieces require strict approvals—more so than any other field.
Here are just some of the collateral types required to go through approval for each new product introduction (NPI) process:
- eIFU (electronic Instructions for Use)
- Product manuals, quick start guides
- Brochures, website, datasheets
- Training videos, surgical videos
- Competitive guide, surveys
- Whitepapers, case studies
- Internal training presentations
To the chagrin of most medtech marketers, when you’re in a field as rigid as theirs, marketing collateral needs to go through its own lifecycle and change control processes—much like the product itself. This means marketing is subject to approval processes that would feel unusually restrictive to marketing teams in any other industry.
That’s the beauty of flexible, modern industry cloud solutions. Marketing can determine how much oversight each piece of collateral requires. A few clicks can establish if a specific asset needs stricter control or less strict control, as well as who needs to approve them and when.
Then, these processes can be set up to trigger notifications to approvers on the engineering and product teams, all within the same platform.
Customizing the change controls per each individual piece of collateral means that the bulk of marketing material is freed up from lengthy, restrictive approval processes.
For the collateral that does require stricter controls, especially MLR (Marketing Legal Regulatory) approvals, there are faster simpler processes available through cloud-based solutions.
As all marketers in medtech will tell you, a robust approval process is required leading up to launch to ensure buy-in and approvals from cross-functional collaborators.
Unfortunately these processes today can be arduous, waiting longer on certain approvers than others, sending a mix of email reminders and Slack messages, and basically more corralling than actual process movement.
Meanwhile, marketing teams are typically made up of a more digitally dense user group accustomed to a modern UI. They’re going to demand better processes, and they’re going to want them hosted on a platform that’s easy to use with a friendly UI.
All told, these benefits can be leveraged so that every stakeholder—marketers and approvers—can speed through MLR approvals without missing a beat.
Product Information, Made Simpler
If we’re proposing a more robust documentation lifecycle, including processes for MLRs and change control—where is all this going to be stored? How do you manage all the versions of copy, content, graphics, images, and other materials being produced and awaiting approval? They all need to live somewhere.
What if all your marketing assets could be stored and managed in the same platform as your MLR approval process—and even in the same platform as engineering information and activities? Always collaborative. Always connected.
It’s called product information management (PIM), and it’s a game-changer.
Stay tuned for our next post on all about PIM for medtech.