Four New Fundamentals for Medical Device Marketers

The following blog post was written in partnership with Colin Cook from Shepard Associates and Thimble River Analytics, a trusted colleague and friend of Grey Matter Marketing. This content first appeared in a LinkedIn group discussion on the future of medical device marketing.

We’ve said it time and time again. Times are changing in the medical device industry, and companies can either choose to change with them or be left behind. Today, consumers are making more cost-conscious choices, including seeking treatment outside of traditional medical settings and delaying elective or costly procedures. Patients are demanding transparency and more information from their providers — and they are beginning to shop around to get it.

What are medical device companies to do? I believe there are four new fundamentals that will be critical for the future of medical device marketing:

  1. Find the Human Story
  2. Ladder to Action
  3. Build a Measurement-Friendly Culture
  4. Shape the Long Journey 

Read further to learn about the new fundamentals, how they work in practice, how to sell them internally, and what necessary skills, technology, and processes are needed to ensure success.

Find the Human Story

To the chagrin of most R&D departments, today’s patient does not care about and will not respond to the thoughtful or clever engineering that goes into product development. They crave social proof. That is, when your patient is in a situation where they are unsure of the correct way to behave, they will often look to others for cues concerning the correct behavior.

Concept in Practice — Video Testimonials

Tell authentic and compelling stories about the positive impact your technology has had on patients. Put your testimonials front and center on your website.

How to Win the Internal Battle: Marketers should educate upper management on the value of story telling while working closely with legal and regulatory departments to allow versatile filmmaking. Scripted testimonials will be stiff and inauthentic and will not support social proof.

Necessary Skills, Technology, and Process: Work with expert filmmakers and storytellers. Don’t waste scarce internal resources trying to build this expertise in-house.

Ladder to Action

Many medical device companies will begin their marketing by developing content and assume the patient will inherently understand their next steps. The reality is, you can’t assume that your patients will find your call-to-action (CTA) on their own.

Instead, start by identifying your CTAs in order of value to the business, and then create your content, design, and information architecture to lead prospects up the ladder to the CTA. Consider the value exchange of each CTA and let your prospect understand what they are getting in return.

Concept in Practice — Physician Locator

Use your website to communicate the clinical benefits of your product, but make it clear that only a physician can determine need. Then create a powerful CTA linking to a locator you provide.

How to Win the Internal Battle: Don’t confuse activity with results. Understand what the meaningful CTAs are for your audience. (By the way, it’s not your web traffic.) Then, clearly communicate and reach alignment with management that these will be the most compelling ways to drive action and measure results.

Necessary Skills, Technology & Process: Make sure your marketing department understands persuasion theory. I recommend the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini and The Robert Collier Letter Book by Robert Collier. You will be surprised at how powerful this method can be.

Build a Measurement-Friendly Culture

Marketing metrics are like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, but nobody really knows how to do it. Everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they’re doing it too!

Concept in Practice — Complete DTC Tracking

Imagine a physician locator that tracks how many calls are placed, whether or not they result in an actual appointment, and how many eventually undergo scheduled procedures. You might think this is impossible, but this technology exists. Thimble River and Grey Matter Marketing have worked together on several projects to implement these systems for direct-to-consumer advertising.

How to Win the Internal Battle: Ensure that your marketing culture supports trial and error and will not penalize people for not getting it right the first time. People will only learn to embrace metrics if they embrace, not fear, a try-measure-respond approach.

Secondly, legal and regulatory approval cycle times need to be shortened in order to allow marketers to test and iterate quickly. We understand: marketing groups and legal and regulatory departments are often caught up in an unspoken cycle of resentment and distrust. Now more than ever, this culture needs to shift. So do whatever you can. Include them early in the project and discussions so they feel vested and part of the solution. Take a day off; let these teams have a drink together and try to find common ground. Call the Grey Matter team and we’ll buy the first round!

Necessary Skills, Technology & Process: When you define your business goals for your DTC program, make sure you map out the corresponding metrics, tools and technology needed to capture relevant data. For instance, if you want to measure the effectiveness of generating leads by media channels, you need to set up unique call-tracking numbers by media type to track at that level. In short, identify what you want to know and then spend the time to figure out how you can gather that critical data. Most DTC programs involve testing, optimization, and then expansion. Don’t get ahead of yourself.

Shape the Long Journey 

When a prospect visits your website, they are typically only at the beginning of a long, long journey. Conversion cycle times for devices can run six months to several years. During this time, the benefits of the procedure need to be consistently reinforced. Patients will need to ask questions and gain confidence before they commit to an appointment or procedure.

Concept in Practice — CRM Email Program

Create a communication stream that touches prospects and shapes their thinking during the decision making period. Structure early emails to focus on building rapport and trust, and ramp up the selling in later phases — once your audience already likes you!

How to Win the Internal Battle: The marketing team, not the information technology team, needs to lead the CRM initiatives. IT often thinks of CRM as a pure technology issue, but this can lead to unwieldy systems that only programmers can work with. Yes, it would be nice to have automatic segmentation and lots of other bells and whistles, but not if marketers — and copywriters and designers — cannot work with the system. Design, copy, subject lines: all these make the difference between a successful email and a total bomb.

Consider an ambassador between marketing and IT. Someone with technical experience who can hold their own at the negotiations table in the face of objections like “it just can’t be done” or “we simply do not have the time.”

Necessary Skills, Technology & Process: Have your team — including your creative team — go out in the field and talk to patients directly, or have them do a listening exercise online to see what patients are saying and talking about. Get to know patients’ fears, aspirations, and frustrations, and become familiar with each step of their journey. Then, create a multidimensional customer persona and create your CRM campaign based on the appropriate cadence. People need the right information at the right time.


Med tech companies are facing a new business landscape. Given the new regulations, market constraints and empowered consumers, methods of the past likely won’t work in the future. Now more than ever, marketing can be in the driver’s seat when it comes to creating physician and patient demand — if you integrate these best practices into your marketing strategy. 

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