Discovery. As a marketing geek, I’ll never experience the exhilaration like Columbus and his men felt when after 71 days of sailing, 54 days farther than any European had been known to travel, they finally saw the land we now call America on the horizon. And since I don’t have a technical degree, I’ll never know the gratification that design engineers experience when their product idea is successfully used by the customer. I guess that’s why I have always been drawn to marketing activity focused on new-to-the-world (NTTW) medical technology. It gives me the opportunity to create the messaging and marketing programs designed to accelerate market adoption, which in a way at least allows me to participate in the “customer discovery” of new medical technology.
While marketing fundamentals are the same whether one is developing a campaign for an existing or NTTW medical product, preparing for the launch of the latter is different. There are several reasons why this is the case:
- Clinicians have no experience with the new technology and are usually satisfied with existing medical practice
- Clinicians don’t understand the adverse events and therapy shortcomings of new technology
- Like most people, clinicians resist change
- Financial executives and payers are reticent to support the new technology because cost effectiveness is often lacking
- NTTW product marketing starts with a clean slate, because no other organization has set customer expectations or framed the market’s needs for the technology
Existing technology has already overcome the marketing challenges that new technology has yet to face.
Before we examine the differences, let’s focus on one area that won’t be different – the company’s approach to positioning, messaging and branding. Careful crafting will allow marketing to frame the product so customers understand its unique ability to address their needs, and capture customer mindshare. Campaign effectiveness will determine whether the NTTW product will claim its rightful market penetration.
Here is how marketing needs to approach NTTW product commercialization differently.
Validate benefits with the experts
Existing product enhancements can require customer validation, but usually not to the degree of the NTTW product, because enhancements often arise from existing customer and sales team suggestions. In addition, the development team’s extensive involvement with the product line has provided significant exposure to customers, which gives the engineers a pretty good customer understanding.
But that’s not the case with NTTW technology. There has been little customer exposure. Often, NTTW products have been driven by technologists who have a vision of the benefits the product will provide, but the company’s vision doesn’t always translate into customer-perceived benefits of value.
Therefore, it is important for marketing to review the technology with a clinical advisory panel. The product development team has likely already conducted discovery research with clinicians to confirm the design of the innovative technology. However, their line of questioning is technology driven; it’s not focused on customer needs like marketing. Here are three market research avenues to pursue.
First, marketing needs to identify how the experts view the new technology’s ability to advance patient care by asking:
- How important is the clinical problem?
- Where does existing technology fall short of addressing the clinical problem?
- How important is solving the current technology’s shortcomings?
- How well does the new technology address the clinical problem?
Second, it’s important to understand how accepting the customer is of the new technology benefits. Review the technology’s mechanism of action and anticipated benefits. Get the experts to comment on the believability of the MoA. Ask them to validate and prioritize the benefits. Use their responses to decipher which benefits have the potential to drive purchasing behavior, which are easy or hard to understand, and which are viewed as real or contrived. Search for benefits that the experts see that the company has not anticipated.
Finally, marketing must find terminology that resonates with the clinician. Review the company’s statements about the technology for feedback.
Know the clinical buyer’s perspective
Although knowledge about the customer and the market is key to commercial success for both product enhancements and NTTW products, market research for the former is less about discovery and more about validating the impact of incremental improvements.
For the NTTW product marketer, the market research challenge is to discover how the unmet needs addressed by the company’s product and verified by the experts are perceived by community clinicians, since these buyers are the key to commercial success. Examine:
- How believable are the latent needs which the technology is designed to address?
- How do clinicians view the way existing treatment paradigms are altered by the NTTW product?
- What barriers prevent adoption?
- How much of a barrier are the expected adverse events and therapy challenges?
- What technology characteristics trigger clinician interest?
- What messaging resonates with the customer?
Although these questions are focused on the clinical buyer, it’s also important to survey financial and technical buyers. Use this knowledge to prepare your messaging in the company’s digital and print sales content.
Address market barriers to adoption.
Anticipating and developing a response to adoption barriers is a major focus for the NTTW product marketer. Because customers have no previous background with the new technology, NTTW products will face more extensive adoption barriers than product extensions, such as:
- Clinicians may not be aware that patient outcomes are negatively affected by the condition the new technology addresses
- The physiological and pathological processes that the NTTW product is designed to address may face fundamental clinical challenges
- The NTTW product’s mechanism of action may face extreme skepticism
- There may be no method to identify candidates for the new technology
- Clinical risks are uncertain and techniques to address them are largely untested
The burden of proof lies with the new technology. Use the objections identified by the company’s customer research to develop programs that address these objections.
Since clinicians are trained to be data-driven, they will insist on seeing the clinical results for themselves. They do not grant you a “pass” on the clinical benefits as they would for a conventional therapy product. While it is essential to publish the clinical trial results, it is unlikely that the studies used for regulatory approval will address all of the target customer’s concerns, given the limited number of clinical studies most companies can afford. Therefore, assembling the company’s clinical team and developing positioning based upon solid clinical data is essential.
Keep in mind clinicians do not all think alike. Although every company publishes clinical trial results, often they are unprepared for the widely divergent response. Some clinicians will find the data unconvincing; others will deem the sample size too small, and still others may accept some conclusions and dismiss others. This small clinical use track record may prove to be a barrier for many clinicians and an insurmountable obstacle for others. Every one of these perceptions can hamper adoption and failing to prepare for them will delay commercial success.
Other programs to consider for overcoming adoption barriers include:
- Find and distribute peer reviewed articles demonstrating the clinical problem addressed by the NTTW product
- Develop and communicate material that explains the NTTW technology mechanism of action and its impact on the clinical condition
- Search for diagnostic tools that help the clinician identify patient candidates
- Identify ways to make diagnostic testing easy to order and inexpensive to perform
- Provide training materials for diagnosing and treating NTTW product candidates
- Coordinate with a Society panel to evaluate the NTTW product
Identify early adopters
Typically, companies get high volume users to serve as early adopters for existing product enhancements. For NTTW products, companies partner with thought leaders and academics because these clinicians are generally more interested in medical innovations and push the boundaries of clinical medicine. As a result, they are often less critical of the growing pains often associated with NTTW products.
But to commercialize successfully, gaining early adopters from community physicians is more important. To identify these early adopters, conduct quantitative market research before the launch that asks for clinician perceptions about disease causes, prevention, predisposing conditions and diagnosis as well as successful and unsuccessful treatment approaches. Explain how your product works and ask them whether they’d be willing to use the product. Analyzing responses will identify physician characteristics that correlate with early adoption. These results can generate a qualification survey that the sales team can use to identify early adopter clinicians in the community.
Clinical education / support
Rarely does clinical education play a large role in the launch of a product enhancement, but it is critical for NTTW technology. Marketing needs to ensure that the appropriate training programs are in place. Typical education programs include: in-person training classes, remote/virtual training classes, on-site training by field nurses, print and digital training material, and specialized call centers to help learners with questions. Recognize that information oversupply and easy access ensures that clinical education has a positive impact on commercial success.
Marketing NTTW products is exciting and fun and the closest one gets to medical product discovery. Foresight is experienced in helping companies launch NTTW medical products.