Three Wise Dames

Marketing in the Life Science Industry

Vanilla doesn’t sell unless it’s Ice Cream October 28, 2010

Vanilla ice cream has a rich taste and appealing aroma, making it the best selling ice cream flavor around. The Wikipedia page devoted to vanilla notes that it is the second most expensive spice after saffron, because of the labor required to grow the vanilla seed pods.Vanilla is used in foods, perfumes, aromatherapy, and apparently even as a bug repellant and a home remedy for minor burns. Clearly, it is very versatile.

Getting it right

However, when promoting a product, a ‘vanilla’ description is anything but appealing or versatile. Product descriptions are critical in product positioning.  Descriptions provide the basis for establishing a brand identity, a communication platform, a competitive edge, the value proposition and so much more. In the medical device space product descriptions are considered labeling. Significant effort and expense goes into securing medical device labeling.  Because medical device labeling is absolute and creative license is forbidden, getting it right is critical.

Connect the dots

To have the best possible chance at successful product adoption customers should readily recognize the value of the product through the labeling. Product descriptions should resonate intrinsically with the customer. Understanding customer needs is the core responsibility of marketing. Therefore, involvement by marketing in the product description is essential. It is senseless to disconnect the customer and patient advocate – marketing, from the customer and patient guardian – regulatory/clinical. 

Engagement at a higher level

Proactive interaction by marketing with the regulatory/clinical department early on in the clinical plan development provides the best possible outcome for labeling that will resonate with the physician customer.This is not about making it easy for marketing to promote a productNor is it about securing labeling that is loose, boastful or inaccurate in any way

Rather, this assertion that marketing participate in the discussion about the clinical plan and the desired outcome is because marketing should be leading the efforts to ensure that the product or service truly meets and exceeds customer expectations and is reflected clearly in product descriptions. The regulatory/ clinical expertise is most impactful by establishing strong and undisputed product labeling, that doesn’t need interpretation or lyrical descriptions for the product to be appreciated.

Untangle the tangle

Many marketers complain that they are hamstrung by the regulatory department when product promotion and communication plans and tactics are proposed. Many regulatory departments cringe at the creative approach marketers present to convey a product purpose, benefits and applications. 

It seems that the simplest and cleanest approach is to use the product labeling granted by the FDA,

based on evidence provided by the regulatory and clinical experts

that distinguishes the product precisely as it is intended to be used by customers,

through the distillation of customer needs by marketing. 

And while that seems a mouthful and a tall order, early collaboration between marketing and regulatory/clinical is the most likely path to labeling that is descriptive and telling. The kind of labeling where ‘creative marketing’ is about the many ways to communicate product availability and not about the many words required for product description. Product labeling typically happens only once. Getting it right so the right customer connects their needs with the value of the product will make the best use of all efforts to promote and protect.

(c) 2010 pH Consulting; all rights reserved.

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May I have your attention, PLEEEAASSE?! September 30, 2010

If only we would stand still! Or

better yet – be consistently

predictable. So lamented my

client regarding their efforts to

sell products and services to

women. It seems that women

are everywhere – literally.

And yet, we ‘all’ are not in

everyplace. There is no one

place to find us. Therefore,

getting our attention, let

alone keeping it, is no small

challenge. Seth Godin posted

on the value of someone’s attention

(I’m paraphrasing here) under the

same post title. It is well worth

reading, as he describes how precious

a commodity is our individual

attention – making the compelling

point that it isn’t free. There is

a lot of competition for our attention.

As a mini experiment I tracked my

activities for one day to identify

how much of my time and attention

was available for promotional contacts of products and services. It turns out, not much. My day looked like the following:

  • Upright and dressed at 5:30a.m.
    • Note:  not particularly alert and NOT an early morning person
  • 30 minute walk – still dark outside
  • Breakfast at 6:30a.m., no background noise
  • Email at 7:00a.m.
    • Note: now alert, but quite yet at peak attention
  • Project work on computer 8:30a.m. – noon
    • attention at highest focus
    • some web searching, project related
    • Intermittent interruptions and phone calls
  • Stop  for lunch at  noon – radio in the background
  • Back to work on the computer 12:45p.m., no background noise
  • Client call at 2:30p.m.
  • Back to computer at 3:30p.m.
  • Errands to grocery store, bank and stop at neighbors’ at 5:45p.m.
  • Dinner preparation at 6:45p.m., dinner at 7:15p.m.
  • Clean kitchen, do laundry, read the paper, answer email at 8:00p.m.
  • Interact with family at 8:30p.m., watch 15 minutes of  Charlie Rose
  • ‘just-15-minutes-more-on-the-project-turned-hour’ on the computer at 9:15p.m.
  • Ready for bed at 10:15p.m.
  • Final chapter in the book of the week, month, who knows how long ago I started it…at 10:35p.m.
  • Asleep, probably at 10:40p.m.

When I looked at the places, activities, time frames and focus of one day, it became apparent, that unless a product/service was essential to me, and I knew about it, and it was in my path, it would go unknown. Therefore it would not be purchased or experienced.

This was one day, not all days are as well structured as that day was, some are more chaotic or disjointed. I don’t have children at home to further distract my attention, it can only be more of a challenge for women who do. I know through discussions with many a woman friend, colleague, relative and acquaintance, their days are similarly busy. As illustrated above, we have a lot of balls in the air, all the time. We rarely have free time where our attention is not otherwise diverted.

As noted in Seth’s post, our time is not free, as it turns out, in either of two dimensions.

A woman’s day is literally filled to the brink with activities and responsibilities. Precious little

time during a day is free from other thinking, doing or being activities.  Secondly, because

our days are not free filled, getting our attention – taking our time, will require

some effort and thus expense on the part of the pursuer.  Free time – NOT, times two.

Women are not going to readily deviate from a proven path or reliable schedule that gets us through a day, accomplishing the critical ‘must-do’ activities that facilitate our arrival at the desired finish line – our pillows. So what’s a marketer to do to get us to notice products and services? Where indeed can a marketer be that we will see their wares. [Rhythm and rhyme pure luck!]

I imagine such a place would resemble the image I have of an Egyptian bazaar. A place that has everything in a vast array of colors, sizes, styles, at every price point and in great abundance. However, no one location exists where all women visit and all marketers are present. Nor does it make sense that such place exist as women are not identical to one another.

It makes sense then to be ‘where’ we are, particularly when the introduction of new products and services are concerned.  We are at home, at work, preparing for presentations, in meetings, in our cars, on planes, at the store, bank, dry cleaners. We use computers and telephones.  We I listen to the radio, watch some network TV programs, read the paper and hard copy books.  And many of us also use new technologies – that allow us to eliminate the ‘noise’ of advertising.

Reaching us and getting our attention is not easy. There is not just one place. Our time is not free. And when we encounter and try new products and services, it will be because good marketers understand it is worth their effort and expense to be where we are.

Note:  If you know the illustrator to whom attribution can be assigned for the graphic in this post, please let me know.

(c) 2010 pH Consulting

 

In the beginning… July 14, 2010

PSB Church

During a recent discussion about when to hire marketing personnel, my client responded with ‘we’re not really ready for marketing’. This comment struck me odd, as I had been working with them on market development and marketing strategy. So I probed the thinking behind the comment. The client replied ‘we are not ready to roll out the product yet, so we don’t need advertising’.

In discussion with colleagues I’ve found that this thinking is not uncommon, and that many companies associate the term marketing with advertising and little else. It seems that what marketing is – is bewildering to some; sales and marketing are often used interchangeably when discussing customer interaction.

Peter Drucker is credited with the following quote; “Because its purpose is to create a customer, the business has two – and only two – functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation create value, all the rest are costs.”

That quote perfectly defines my belief about business and marketing. I have long worked in marketing, the world of art and science blended to connect with and serve a customer.  I love that marketing consists of a wide breadth of functions and is core to a business.

The very definition of marketing through the four P’s defines the necessity of marketing early on and throughout the course of the product life.

  • Product
  • Price
  • Place
  • Promotion

While promotion is very important to the mix, it is the last in the list to master – and so much more successful if the other three are well attended to with hard core professional marketing.

Marketing happens in the earliest stages of a company.  An idea, a product concept or a service is presented to investors for early stage financing support, this is concept marketing.  Demographics, profiles and current practices provide a backdrop against which a new product or service is contrast; this is market definition.  Investigation into customer needs, behaviors, and loyalties is market research.

Marketing continues throughout the development phase of products and services, with a product requirements document, this is product marketing. Branding, product naming, product promotion, product training and service are all marketing functions.  All customer support and engagement are marketing. Public relations, education and training, pricing and promotion and market development are all marketing functions.  Even the discontinuation of a product or service is a marketing function.

Eric Brody, author of the blog Healthy Conversations, recapped the July Fast Company story about 10 lessons from Apple.  Among these key lessons is that ‘Everything is marketing’.  The recap and post can be read here.

It is true that my client is not yet ready to do advertising and should thoughtfully consider which marketing talent to hire. The best hire is someone who can do the marketing that is essential to the business at this point.  However, they have begun marketing, and if they are to be successful they must continue to do so.  Marketing starts in the beginning.

(c) 2010 pH Consulting

 

Fish for Your Supper May 18, 2010

 

Fishing with nets, tacuinum sanitatis casanatensis (XIV century)

“Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. 

Teach a man to fish; you have fed him for a lifetime.  

Teach a man to sell fish and he eats steak.”  Author unknown      

In a previous post I suggested that industry could play a role in physician practice marketing. To do so successfully defining a common purpose and identifying the intersection of that purpose is primary.  

Physicians and healthcare product companies have related interests, and very different roles and responsibilities. Because a patient exists, physicians and healthcare suppliers have purpose. The patient is at the very nexus of these interests, roles and responsibilities.   

If physicians desire greater demand for their special services and skills, saying so out loud, as discussed in prior posts Practice Marketing is Not Rocket Surgery and Make Some Noise, is essential.  Physicians are accustomed to communicating with patients through a one-on-one interaction.  While this is an effective means of communicating, it will take a bloody long time before this approach is impactful. A broader approach is needed and industry can provide effective lessons in marketing to a larger target audience.       

Essential Foundation   

 To effectively implement practice marketing programs a company must be committed to the following three fundamentals:   

  1. Focus on the patient as the primary reason for communications programs
  2. Grounding of all marketing activities around the needs of the physician/practice
  3. Establishment of professional marketing expertise before designing third party services

 Once these three fundamentals are well established, the tenets below will be useful in creating practice marketing programs for the physician.    

Program Framework   

Be a role model   

  • Develop, implement, measure, analyze, fail and refine all programs and processes first, before you ask your customers to do it.  If you haven’t tried it, why should your customer?

Identify common goals   

  • Clearly define the marketing goals and gain commitment by all participants of a practice marketing program in advance of implementation.  Hint:  The goal should be eerily similar to Fundamental #1 above…

 Start where they are   

  • Keep in mind that physicians’ expertise is in patient care, professional marketers excel in marketing.  Effective practice marketing starts the beginner at the beginning and advances them as tolerated.

 Respect boundaries   

  • At all times the doctor-patient relationship is a two person ‘only’ relationship.  Professional marketers can provide guidance, examples, recommendations, support and encouragement, but never patient care.

 Differentiate and collaborate   

  • The same methods and measurement models may be used in commercial and physician marketing programs; however, the objectives of the programs will differ based on the audience. Both parties will benefit by learning from each other.

 Teach and release   

  • When teaching and training the physician and staff on marketing practices take the opportunity to develop program champions and practice trainers. Success from doing/failing/learning/redoing will more likely encourage the practice to be self sustaining in their marketing efforts. 

 Applaud and move backstage   

  • Support the physician with information, analysis, recommendations and additional opportunities and then let the physician and practice staff take center stage with the program and the patients.

 Learn and adapt   

  • Each practice will experience their program differently than the next. Take notes, ask questions, and adapt the master program to incorporate the best and most innovative elements gleaned from the individual experiences.

 Healthcare companies can play a role in practice marketing by teaching the practice personnel new skills.  Teaching physicians to cast their net for a larger target audience will result in greater demand.   

Note:  There are defined regulations and restrictions that companies must adhere to with regard to practice marketing programs; the specifics of these are not covered in this post.  Y68BQHEBG7DJ

 (c) 2010 pH Consulting

 

 

  

 

Make Some Noise! April 26, 2010

Are your customers marketing to their customers?

Every contact or interaction customers have with companies or providers of goods and services, are viewed through our marketing lens. The four ‘P’s’ of marketing shape our perceptions. Attention getting [promotion] efforts must be followed with relevance [product], value [price] and accessibility [place] marketing efforts.

Perception versus Reality

Promotional efforts that are consistent and impactful convey the message that a higher caliber of good or service is available.  Inconsistent, bland and lack of promotion conveys a message that the good or service is not available or of poor quality.  The caliber of a good or service is held in the eye of the beholder, not in the intentions of the provider.

As patients we use the same marketing lens to evaluate our healthcare providers.  Each individual within a practice serves as an ambassador, marketing the care a patient can expect to receive.  All interactions a patient has with the practice staff will influence their perspective on the physician’s business, much the same way the physician is influenced through interactions with product suppliers.

Implementing good practice marketing processes will go a long way towards raising the perceived caliber of the practice and patient care.  A review on practice marketing considerations can be found in Debbie’s post ‘Practice Marketing is Not Rocket Science’.

However, practice marketing processes can only be appreciated by the patient once we go to the practice.  First the patient must know to go.

Which brings us to the question – are your customers marketing to their customers?

Intentional effort must be focused on getting the word out that the practice is interested and ready to serve specific patients.  A bare minimum of key messages to communicate include:

  • ‘We are here and ready to serve’
  • ‘We offer the services that meet your needs’
  • ‘We stay current in specialty training’
  • ‘We are uniquely able to serve patients in our specialty’

These are likely messages that are conveyed to patients in the absence of marketing the practice:

  • ‘We are not interested in new patients’
  • ‘We do not offer new services’
  • ‘We are not current in new techniques’
  • ‘We are indistinguishable from all other practices’

Gracious and respectful interactions, good follow through and high caliber patient care constitute powerful marketing.  Patients will reward physicians for this service through provider loyalty, positive reviews and recommendations, and new patient referrals.  But first, the patient must be inclined to seek the physician, and that requires making some noise.

For another perspective on the same subject read Stewart Gandolph’s post found here:http://bit.ly/d0OxNw

Next up – what role can industry play in physician practice marketing?

(c) 2010 pH Consulting

 

It’s Not About What You Say April 8, 2010

The recent explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia is bringing renewed attention to the mine’s owner, Massey Energy.  Like most people, I realize that coal mining is an inherently dangerous job, and unfortunately, accidents happen.  If that were only the story here, it would be sad enough.

Instead much of the attention has focused on the 3,000 plus safety violations Massey has racked up since 1995. Yet, as of April 7, the home page on the company’s Web site still proudly proclaimed that 2009 was “another record-setting year for safety.”  Hard to believe. (As of today, they finally removed that article from the home page.)

In fact, the company’s statements declaring the importance of safety are in direct contrast to its record of egregious safety violations and the reports that Massey’s chairman and chief executive, Don Blankenship, allegedly told workers to ignore the orders of those who instructed them to construct support beams and ventilation shafts for safety purposes and just “run coal.” It is companies like this that give capitalism a bad name.

The Lesson To Learn

What can healthcare companies learn from this tragic incident?  It’s simple. Always remember that actions speak louder than words.

No matter how many times your top executives express concerns for patient safety or piously proclaim that their mission is finding better treatments or cures for disease, if the company is rushing a drug to market before its full side effects are known, it’s a lie. If they are pushing a device through trials and suppressing negative evidence that would keep it from FDA clearance, it’s a lie. If your hospital touts patient safety, but every staff member isn’t following strict protocols to combat healthcare acquired infections, it’s a lie.

Words vs. Action

Communicators use words.  Lots of words.  We draft mission statements, company vision statements, key messages and yes, even positioning statements.  But no amount of words can take the place of action.

Action is key to reputation.  Doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason—even at the expense of short-term profits—builds positive reputations.  And reputations are valuable.  A good reputation adds to the bottom line and helps companies weather the storms of crisis.  Just ask Massey Energy, whose stock has dropped nearly 12 percent and whose credit rating was downgraded below junk.  If that’s not enough to convince you, then just ask the families of those miners in West Virginia.

 

Crisis and Renewal April 5, 2010

You’d have to be living under a rock if you haven’t heard about the marital woes of celebs like Tiger Woods and Jesse James. Much of the debate in recent weeks has centered on the men and rehab for their promiscuous ways.

No matter what your personal opinion on sexual addiction (Is it real or just a convenient excuse for bad behavior?), both men are following the time-tested formula of crisis communications.

Admit your mistake, ask for forgiveness and take action to correct the problem.

According to the theory, following this formula results in new-found grace.  Kinda like going to confession and saying your 10 Hail Mary’s as penance.

But does this really work for companies?  It depends.  And it takes time.  Your audience may not be as forgiving as the masses who idolize celebrities in our pop-culture driven society.

Digging Deeper

That’s not to say that the formula won’t work.  Just that renewal is a process. Rebuilding trust takes time.  Companies need to not only admit that there was a problem, but take the time to peel back the layers of the onion to discover the root cause of the problem.  How did the problem start? Why was the problem ignored?  If the problem was reported, and nothing was done, why was this the case?

Beyond “I’m sorry”

Once the source of the problem is identified, corrective action needs to be put in place to ensure the problem does not happen again.  Communicating this to your employees, customers and influencers may be uncomfortable.  Your legal counsel may want to stifle any communication to minimize risk in potential litigation.  But rebuilding a tarnished reputation is much more difficult than building one from scratch. Companies need to be willing to be open and honest in their communication if they want to regain their audience’s trust.

 

 
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