A history-making moment happened when a TV ad for a celebrity-endorsed branded medical device aired to 96.4 million viewers during the 2021 Big Game. But what’s more compelling than the reach of that 30-second ad is what it could mean for the future of patient marketing in medtech.
After catching the bold ad, ZS principals and medtech practice leads Matt Singer and Brian Chapman got together with ZS associate principals Sudhanshu Bhatnagar, a medtech commercial strategy expert, and Tanya Shepley, who is immersed in patient and consumer health. Their animated exchange examined how today's empowered healthcare consumers are now driving the need for omnichannel marketing strategies.
As consumers play more active roles in their own pursuit of wellness, patient engagement in medtech presents new opportunities to connect with consumers wherever they’re tuned in. New marketing strategies are worth a fresh look today—but that does not mean that all medtech organizations should be planning high-profile TV spots like the one that aired among the Bud Light and Doritos commercials. Patient marketing is a viable strategy that can break medtech marketing out of its status quo and into modern, digital practices that build engagement. The key is starting with a strategy that aligns with your business objectives and that leverages the power of the patient.
Matt Singer: The eye-opening TV spot that aired during the 2021 big football game on a biotherapeutic for glucose monitoring caught the attention of so many in medtech and raised new questions about patient marketing and the direct-to-consumer (DTC) approach that we haven’t asked before. What does this tell us about the medtech industry regarding the power of the patient?
Sudhanshu Bhatnagar: Medtech marketing needs to evolve right now. But evolving does not mean you also need a DTC ad tomorrow. Evolving could mean that you challenge the status quo of how you’re marketing today. How are you moving beyond the standard rep-focused strategies? What is that next step in your journey of leveraging the power of the patient? It may not be DTC, but it will require keeping a patient-centered view in mind and building that capability for the future.
This is not an inflection toward DTC, nor toward TV commercial spend. This is about medtech marketing looking at ways to do things differently.
Brian Chapman: What do you think will be the ripple effect of a big, splashy DTC campaign of this nature within medtech?
SB: Many medtech organizations will look at the recent ad from the DTC lens, the advertising lens and the return on investment and say, “This is not for me.” But that is not the right response to focus on. The right response to focus on is: How can I introduce marketing strategies that leverage the role patients play in their own wellness pursuit? It’s not about whether to run an ad of this nature or not.
On the other hand, there is another possibility—that some organizations may just follow suit and dive into DTC ads. That would be dangerous, as well. It’s vital to define your objective and your ask with absolute clarity because no single marketing tactic thrives in isolation. Every marketing move must play in harmony with a broader, overarching strategy that spans across multiple touchpoints and channels.
Tanya Shepley: Remember, this TV spot was one ad—just one piece of a broader campaign that includes a social media presence, a landing page with educational content, built-in telehealth connections, patient activation on the company website and likely more ads to come. All these tactics must be unified and orchestrated in a consistent way to deliver a compelling patient experience. This requires customer data orchestration behind the scenes, too. Analysis that ZS has done on advertising campaigns in life sciences found that an orchestrated campaign can drive greater ROI than individual tactics on their own. It’s all about being strategic and connected.
BC: Doctors often say the more active a patient is in managing their condition, the better the outcome will be. Can a DTC approach help both physicians and medtech engage better with patients?
TS: It’s been harder for marketers to engage patients in this time of COVID-19 because the ask to go to your doctor doesn’t work at a time when people have been avoiding in-office visits. The good news here is that there is more medtech can do to bridge these broken links with patients. It’s incumbent upon those considering DTC to think about their patient engagement strategy. These strategies have progressed well beyond the “talk-to-your-doctor” ask we’ve seen for years. Today’s more sophisticated healthcare consumer wants more control—not just a diagnosis from their doctor, but they want to augment how they manage their medical condition. It is in the realm of patient empowerment that we see the value of DTC and the democratization of the opportunity for patients to make decisions for themselves.
MS: An integrated approach to marketing may be a new concept for medtech companies that have long relied on the sales rep channel exclusively. What does this mean for sales reps?
SB: Sales reps are still important assets to a company. They work directly with the physician to educate, train and drive choice. What is important is that the sales reps are part of the campaign conversation. The messaging should not conflict with the conversations that reps are having with the physicians. This just reinforces the importance of orchestration. No longer can we live in a world where the sales force is on its own and not integrated into a well-defined marketing strategy.
BC: Once a medtech company engages with a consumer directly and initiates a conversation, where do you go from there? What happens next on the medtech patient journey?
TS: There are good examples to model. If medtech is going to move into the DTC space, it is important to have the infrastructure in place to support it. Companies need to have well-functioning customer service and digital support. One example is a medtech website that offers patients “get started” guidance to inspire a conversation with their doctors. Another is a form you can fill in and take to your physician to help them write a prescription. Or even building telehealth right into a digital platform. These best practices set patients up to take control and have the empowered discussions they want to have with their doctors.
SB: Think about the customer experience. If a patient opts in with their email and gets bombarded with an overload of generic marketing materials, that’s probably not the best experience. A kludgy website that’s not mobile-friendly and is hard to navigate is another turnoff. We know budgets for digital assets can be slim, but these are new muscles medtech must flex. A smooth digital experience increases the likelihood that the patient will take the next desired step, to respond to the ask.
TS: A holistic approach is vital. Patient engagement strategy should not be developed in a silo. It should not be separate from the field sales force or separate from what they’re representing to the physician.
MS: Back to the burning question: To DTC or not to DTC? How do you measure effectiveness and build on early efforts?
TS: By no means are we suggesting that you just do DTC. It is important to measure the effectiveness of the campaign—not just one ad—but to gauge the success of the whole campaign against the defined objective. Whatever that objective is, tie the measurement directly to that, and avoid the temptation to tie KPIs strictly to revenue. Alternatives could include raising disease awareness, creating product interest, improving patient outcomes or supporting the patient and physician relationship. Campaign success doesn’t necessarily have to be directly tied to sales.
SB: Patients today are more engaged and involved in their medical care. We talk regularly about why a patient engagement capability matters for medtech companies. From searching for information online to having conversations with their doctors, patients are beginning to act more like traditional consumers. Patient engagement in medtech is more than DTC or TV ads. Once you decide on the priorities you want to drive, and develop an integrated way of thinking about patient engagement overall, you can decide whether DTC marketing gives your company a competitive advantage or if there are other options. Whether you decide on DTC or not, it would be extremely naive to ignore the overarching question this mass-market sports TV event raises: Are you doing enough to drive patient engagement? The empowered patient era is here, and it is up to medtech companies to bring their “A” game to engaging the MVP of healthcare—the patient.