With orthopedic implants, however, it’s a little different. First, you’re oftentimes hearing from athletes who have a proven record of being hard on their bodies. They’ve likely put their bones and joints through more punishment than the average person and many are dealing with aches and pains on a daily basis. The fact that they may require a new knee or hip is not a surprise to anyone. From the perspective of joint replacement need, many athletes likely represent the worst-case scenario in terms of how severe the damage to a joint may be. So, the credibility in their message certainly exists. Sure, these are paid spokespeople, but as a consumer, I know they truly required the implant. Therefore, hearing them talk about an implant doesn’t come across as just another paid endorsement. Rather, I appreciate them telling me how they don’t feel the pain they had for the last 10 years in their knee, for example.
Marketing specialists have adapted this approach to better appeal to consumers through a message from a peer or someone more like us. We’ve all seen pharmaceutical commercials on television where a “real person” shares their medical issue and then tells the story of how a pill treated their condition. While we’re well aware these aren’t true customers, but rather paid actors reciting a script, it doesn’t necessarily alter the impact of the message. Car companies use the same strategy (although their ads claim “real” people are presented; they aren’t customers, but rather people just being introduced to the car and we witness how impressed they are). The advertising technique is successfully implemented for other industries as well. It doesn’t matter whether the person is a paid actor or not; we see someone who looks like us and associate their positive experience with what’s possible for us. Well, medical device manufacturers have taken notice and, most recently, I’ve seen the approach used for orthopedic products more so than in other industry sectors.
Your company could have a fantastic implant, employ the best marketing team, and get buy-in from the most skilled physicians and surgeons, but arguably, there would still be a more effective route for the promotion of your product. Having a patient share their experience is an extremely powerful motivator for others to, at the very least, investigate your offering. This is true not only of potential patients who may need a knee or hip implant, but also for getting surgeons to potentially abandon their current implant-of-choice and adopt your solution.
One medical device manufacturer took this to the next level and I was fortunate enough to witness it first hand at this year’s American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons meeting that took place in San Diego, Calif., in March. While there, I visited with ConforMIS, a maker of custom knee implants specifically fabricated to the anatomy of each unique patient. They had a booth like many other OEMs, but theirs looked just a bit different. Instead of product images displayed across the exhibit, they had giant photographs of patients. And not just the pictures—they had the patients themselves live at the event to share their personal experience with the company’s implant and the relief they gained from their procedure.
These “patient ambassadors,” as they are called, were quite happy to speak to anyone willing to listen, simply sharing their story about how their custom knee affected their daily life. It wasn’t a hard sell by a sales representative pushing the company’s latest product or a flashy exhibit to draw the eye of attendees (although, admittedly, their booth did stand out). It was a simple approach, leveraging “real people” to share the company’s success story. And after speaking with a couple of these ambassadors, I must admit, the strategy was quite effective. (Check out these patient stories at www.thisismyknee.com.)
Much of the medical device industry is not accustomed to marketing itself to consumers. Compared to the pharmaceutical industry, medtech is a novice. With that in mind, I wanted to take a moment to recognize what I felt was a very successful approach so that others can take from this example and make it work for them. With patients demanding more control of their own healthcare and the decisions involved with it, better communication with them is something all medical device manufacturers could benefit from. Here’s a model to try to replicate for your company.