To understand the changing landscape of marketing and branding for medical device and pharmaceutical companies, one only has to look at late night television. There, the battle between Viagra and Cialis is played out—hour after hour—as commercials remind viewers of the perils of ignoring one’s romantic life. (Sure, there’s the litany of potential side effects… but they’re speed-read at the end.) It’s a perfect example of how brand awareness and marketing are targeted directly at end users as opposed to the physicians prescribing the medications. And, while TV offers direct access to the consumer, the new battlegrounds are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, bloggers and influencers, corporate sponsorships and any other type of media exposure that reaches customers’ own eyeballs. When we talk about marketing and branding for medical device and pharmaceutical companies, two separate and distinct factors must first be addressed:
- Are you a large established pharma company?
- Or are you a startup/emerging company?
Strategic approaches for the two types of companies are very different in terms of branding and marketing because they have very different interests. Clearly, Johnson & Johnson is already a household name. Its marketing/branding strategies will be wildly different from a startup company that is seeking its first FDA approval or in negotiations with a larger company as part of an acquisition or joint development/marketing deal. But the goals are the same: Maximize brand awareness at all costs.
The Big Pharma Path To Marketing Success
Historically, pharma and medical device companies relied solely on their FDA data, clinical efficacy, safety and costs to make sales. These companies spend millions of dollars on educational campaigns, trainings, brochures and a sales team with one objective: To get the information into a physician’s hands, get them to read it and get them to prescribe it. The path to market success went through the physicians, medical practices and hospitals. In some cases, pharma companies were competing around the country, hospital to hospital, where they were trying to get exclusive deals. Today’s world is much different. The pharma and medical device customer is evolving. Patients are becoming more educated and informed about their ailments and the drugs or devices used to treat them. Patients also know about generics vs. brand name products and are becoming more cost conscious about their health care. Indeed, in many instances around the country, a patient arrives for a doctor visit armed with wealth of information and will literally ask the doctor for medications by name. (This is part of the reason big pharma spends millions of dollars naming a new product: One craze in the early ‘90s was the use of the letters Z and X, because people might remember such a unique name. Another tactic is to give a product a simple nickname, e.g. The Little Purple Pill). But these new platforms are not the only area in which pharma companies are seeking to extend brand awareness. For example, Novo Nordisk sponsors a professional cycling team… GE Healthcare has sponsored several Olympic games… and in 2013, Advil (made by Pfizer) became the official pain reliever for the National Hockey League.
Startups And Emerging Biotech & Medical Device Companies
Emerging biotech companies face a much different challenge in marketing and branding. More often than not, they do not have a product on the market and are still engaging in initial efficacy or early stage FDA filings such as an IND (investigational new drug). They usually don’t have resources to spend on creating a name for a product that is still years away from being granted approval. One of the first important branding decisions for a startup company is selecting a name that stands out from the crowd. A cursory glance at many pharma company names returns such terms as “pharmaceutical,” “therapeutics” and “biosciences.” This is of course an attempt to identify the type of work they are in. But with such broad terms, will the name of the company stand out in the crowd? Do you do targeted therapy, cancer research, stem cells or cannabis research? Does the name of your company identify exactly what you are doing in the first instance?
A Name Is A Name Is A… Good First Step
But coming up with a name is only the first step. Emerging companies must also focus their efforts on branding and marketing their team of professionals. The reality for most startups is that they are still in the process of seeking potential investors, including angel investors or Series A offerings. They may also be trying to position themselves for a joint development plan, license agreement or acquisition by one of the bigger pharma companies. Name alone will not close the deal. Any potential investor will be more interested in the team associated with the company… their experience… and early results. If no one knows who you are, or what you are doing, all the early efforts will be lost. A critical mistake made by many emerging companies is that they only focus on the science. They should also focus on the team of professionals they have around them. Branding for small and startup companies takes place through exposure of the team, the technology and the mission. As part of this, a company blog, speaking engagements, articles, books, peer reviews and coverage in local and national media is the best way to increase brand awareness for emerging companies. Oh, and the technology and science should also work!
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