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Posts Tagged ‘medical device marketing

Can Hospitals and Medical Device Companies Ever Be Friends?

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Maybe. If conversations start with shared goals like reduced readmissions

 “…days of relying on glossy brochures while hiding unpublished clinical data are fast disappearing.”

Image by Glen Stubbe/StarTribune

Image by Glen Stubbe/StarTribune

And so Suzanne Belinson, executive director at BlueCross BlueShield, took the medical device community to task at the recent LifeScience Alley annual meeting, at least as recorded in yesterday’s Star Tribune (“In era of growing risk, emphasis grows on medical device data,” by Joe Carlson). The sin of selling will no longer be tolerated and hard data trumps happy smiling faces, so don’t be coming round with your “marketing presentations” and corporate pens with clever logos.

We will not be swayed.

Actually, the days of relying on glossy brochures have been gone for decades (and perhaps such “reliance” existed only in the fever dreams of ad agency execs). Most physicians have long demanded data and journal articles, most company representatives knew this. Of course, baddies in the mix will always re-interpret data (published and unpublished) to fit their promises to sales managers or shareholders.

So…data it is.

And the bigger the better. That seems to be a theme everywhere these days, from politics to education to fast food. We are gonna get to the truth of things by sifting the data. Because data does not lie: especially if your group “lives and breathes data.”

Of course, there will always be persuasion. If not glossy brochures, then the recommendations of thought leaders or interpretations and caveats of naysayers. There will always be data sources we pay attention to and data sources we dismiss. But we’ll be the judges as we do the numbers.

Two things strike me:

  1. We (the big collective we, as in everybody) need to pay attention way more than we do today to do an adequate job on the numbers. Can we all dive into the data to properly satisfy ourselves? Not likely. Life is just too busy.
  2. There must be trust at some point. Even those doing the numbers need help doing the numbers. And so we come to trust the white-smocked number-keepers to tell the truth. Do we really have time to not trust?

Maybe this is a place for “both/and” not “either/or.”

Let’s do the numbers as best we can and learn to trust, too.

And here’s a step toward trust: reducing hospital readmissions together is one very obvious data point.

The ACA penalizes hospitals if too many patients “are readmitted with 30 days after being hospitalized and discharged.” As hospitals and medical device firms approach the same goal, each from their perspective, we’ll find that “sharing risk” is likely to cause each party to spill a bit more of what they know. It is the transparency we foster in our conversation, as we both move toward the same goal, that will build trust.


Image credit: Glen Stubbe via Star Tribune

Thought Leadership Takes (too much) Time

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And don’t be deadly-boring

In content-creation, I talk with clients and potential clients about telling their story in a way that promotes them and their business as thought leaders. Most clients have a business expertise that is poorly understood outside their niche or industry. And that is always the way: who really knows or cares how someone else spends their day?

One of the big challenges with our social appliances (Twitter, for example, and blogs) is telling the details of our story in a way that, a) shows we know what we are talking about, and b) communicates something not-deadly-boring to a casual passer-by. This is a huge challenge because most of us are interested only in what we are interested in.

Telling what we know in a way that engages the passerby is the challenge. That’s why I often use the metaphor of talking with the stranger or telling something to a ten-year-old. When eyes glaze or when they simply walk away, then you know you’ve not told your story well.

The thing is, our social appliances do not let us off the hook with the casual passer-by. Yes, we write our messages to our core audience, those are the people we seek to help and serve and engage. But those messages still must have enough hook to stop and (possibly) engage the conscious human passing by our web page/tweet/handmade sign. Building our brand, whatever that looks like: whether marketing a medical device, marketing a specific line of knowledge about medical devices/healthcare or marketing your own book—all these require that we tell our story in a way that keeps detail in focus while showing why it all matters to life on this planet.


Of course, the best way to do this is to know your topic well. Once you know your topic, mix in notions of how a stranger or passer-by would react and adjust accordingly. I find that knowing a topic and then adjusting the topic to the needs and interests of a particular audience has a miraculous effect of providing something I simply must say:

And that is a beginning of thought leadership: building out from what you know, day after day. It is very time consuming but if you are passionate about a topic, product or service—or a particular way of looking at life—than you can hardly keep from building the topic anyhow.


By the way, whether you write or not, everyone on earth should follow Jon Winokur’s tweets (@AdviceToWriters). His tweets should make anyone eager to create.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Should a Doctor Blog?

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Only if they want to grow their practice. Or connect with other physicians. Or with patients. Or provide thought-leadership.

Greg Matthews, author of Missing the Forest for the Trees, has been studying the online presence of physicians for years. He’s found that the credibility of their position and the connections within that position can translate to large and devoted followings today.

But all that was counter-intuitive in 2007.

Back when Mr. Matthews was formulating his questions about physicians online.


Back then he was sure—we all were sure—that talking about health information online would never fly. It’s just too personal. What kind of nut would diagnose and prescribe in public/online?

Plus, well, HIPAA.

But some physicians found a way to talk with regular folks (that is, us non-experts who live on the web) about pressing topics. Diagnosis and prescribing on the web was a non-starter, but presenting topics in a way that made sense to regular people did happen. And as we all took to the web to sort our maladies, these authoritative, personal voices became trusted sources of information.

According to Mr. Matthews, today 61% of physicians access social media weekly, 5000 physicians post daily to blogs and Twitter, and 50 physicians are followed each by more than 500 other physicians.  Some physicians even feel “ethically obligated” to share on the web.GregMatthewsReport-10222014 Download Mr. Matthews PDF for more stats.

In this blog (conversation is an engine) we talk about conversation. We’ve noted how conversation is a two-way street: not just in words exchanged, but actually causing conversation partners to go and do different stuff. We leave our best conversations changed and with new resolve for the most important things facing us. It’s a sort of speech-act theory for anyone willing to take a dumb-sketch approach to life.

And even physicians and even patients can gain from this. And what they both gain is far more than mere information.

It makes me wonder what paths might open for collaborative conversations in lots of different work settings.


We Landed a Medtech Account—Now What? 3 Understandings

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Bollixed and castrated and then we begin

Advertising agencies and marketing firms are eager to land medical device accounts. These prestigious accounts are much desired and would seem to enlarge the status of an agency because of the exacting, rigorous work that helps the human condition. It doesn’t hurt that they seem to pay on time. But having worked with a number of ad agencies once they land such an account, there are a few common threads that surprise principals and employees:


  • You’ll need experts: people who know how to work within a regulatory framework (“Claim this.” “Never claim that.”). People who know the words that soothe lawyers while still making sense to humans. And especially people who know their sinus node rhythm from their rhythm method. You will stay on message and every claim must be neatly tied to an article from a respected (first or second-tier) journal.
  • Your creatives are (already) wringing their hands. That’s because creative solutions lie on the other side of a legal/regulatory/corporate culture grinder.
    • Yes: the company has come to you for creative solutions.
    • No: they cannot/will not back-off their own internal legal/regulatory controls. Their own internal machinery will bind and castrate many of those solutions you have used in the past. What a great beginning point!
  • There will be rounds of changes. Many rounds. Way more than you are used to. Far more than you can reasonably put in your bid. They will seem…unmanageable. Taming revisions will take your best customer service manners and may take you deep into the internal relationship structure of the firm. But that is exactly the kind of partnering that is needed

If your agency can come to grips with these three understandings without imploding or driving sane people mad, you’ll begin to build a reservoir of expertise.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Are You In—Or Are You a Loser?

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Is club membership really that critical to you?

Sometimes we observe similarities between work and church. Here’s a way work and church similarly lose momentum with every conversation: making club membership their most important feature.


At work VPs and managers and employees speak in Dilbertesque code. Acronyms are just the beginning. In the medical device world, there are shorthand words for landmark studies, shorthand words for device features and benefits, shorthand words for certain technological functions. Shorthand words for the management focus of the quarter. Unless you’ve been around the team for a time, you wouldn’t understand 60% of the conversation. That’s why advertising agencies routinely hire translators when they get projects with medical device firms—they just don’t get the gibberish these smart people are talking.

At church we put on holy language and use words that make us seem like we are in the know. We deliver these words calmly as if they were on our minds all the time. The language of doubt is mostly unwelcome in this setting—this is where the faithful come for their weekly booster shot. And so language becomes subterfuge.

The problem with insider language at work or church is that it sets up participants for failure again and again. In both settings, many of the folks in the conversation don’t understand the very words they are saying—and don’t even realize they don’t understand. Or maybe they realize it but the insider current is so strong they are afraid to admit their lack.

Plain speech is a subversive force. Not only does plain speech out those not in the know, it actually forces those who think they know to explain or realize they know less than they thought. Plain speech is a force for progress because it breaks down hidden barriers and destroys a primary rhetorical tool for those who want to sit on their knowledge and keep it for themselves and to protect their kingdom.

This is why…again…no question is a dumb question. The simplest questions often carry great power.

As organizations (like work and church) realize they need to evangelize and draw outsiders in as a matter of survival, insider language must die.

Insider language is dead!

Long live language!


Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

How to Sap Energy & Steal Creativity: “Just Execute”

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Don’t think. Just do.

A talented strategic friend chatted with the vp of marketing at a medtech startup. What was the company looking for in their posted marketing hire? They just wanted someone to execute. Just execute? My friend was floored. You want to hire someone and not use their entire brain? You want to disengage the emotion that arises from thinking through a problem? You have such knowledge of the market, you’ve considered every angle, you know all there is about your target audience, you are so confident you don’t need anyone else thinking this through? Or—was the pressure so great to show results that they could not waste time on strategy. Either way, the entire conversation pointed out this was a company to avoid.

“Just execute” is corporate bully language for “Do it because I said so.” Nearly every human benefits from knowing the “what” and “why” behind an order. And even God entertained modifications to His plan while Moses verbally worked through the mission as they chatted around the burning bush.

Don’t misunderstand: there is absolutely a place for “just execute.” Stuff gotta get done. Yes. But long term, stuff gets done much more effectively when we enlist whole people to work with us. And that means bringing people along with us as we process our mission. Just say “No” to the smoky backroom where highly paid C-suiters work out the details and then send a courier with decrees out to the rank and file.

This authoritarian tendency looks even worse in a volunteer organization like a church. Because money is not a factor there—it’s all about feeding motivation. Avoiding rich conversations about “why” short circuits the process and makes whole people flee.

Whatever your position, do yourself and your organization a favor by helping people see the big picture. Helping them form and reform and personalize the big picture. Whether you are a manager, a volunteer coordinator, a pastor or lead worker on an assembly line. This is what leaders do.

And know this: Those who won’t share or budge on the big picture will not attract or retain talent. But they will find themselves starting from scratch again and again.


Image Credit: C-front

Written by kirkistan

June 29, 2012 at 5:00 am

How to Pitch a Medical Device Company #3: Don’t Pretend

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Language is telling.

In Quebec City not so long ago I tried my lame bits of French when ordering or to strike up a conversation. Naturally, there was no hiding that I am an American. And this: if some Francophile took pity on me and answered in French, I was immediately on a slippery slope of wordlessness. Maybe one word in French? Oui. Two words? No.

Language says a lot about what we know the moment we open our mouths. And the game played by medtech firms involves a very firm grip on the language used to explain how their therapy works and the medical problems it solves. These language skills are honed through long discussions with physicians, clinicians and researchers. One doesn’t just pick up such a vocabulary. In some ways, it’s a kind of birthright of people who’ve grown up in the industry.

But just like the Canadian French speakers, they melted (well, a little) to hear my butchering of their language. It meant I was trying. In the same way, medtech firms want to know you are ready to learn. But mostly they don’t expect you to be ready. You’ve come with something else: a track record of ideas and executions that someone imagines refreshing their brand.

So don’t pretend to know the details of their business. Better to be a learner with a solid track record.


Image Credit: via Frank Perry

Written by kirkistan

June 15, 2012 at 5:00 am

How to Pitch a Medical Device Company #1: Know MedTech Context

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help us feel human again

I spent the early years of my working life being formed by the medical device industry. I was energized by the mission of seeing people restored and hearing joyful patient stories. I enjoyed the banter with physicians and learning about the junction of technology and living systems. And I was charmed by the folks I worked with: some of the smartest people around, with a bent toward helping others. Not everybody, mind you, but enough lively, mission-fed people that the workday was full of surprise.

Things change. Corporations mature—for better and worse. Lately it seems the balance sheet and the quarterly earnings call too easily drown out mission. Smart people who enjoy a challenge still work there, and it is an industry with more and more specific boundaries. So if your agency is pitching medical device work, please be aware of these three influences that shape the perspective of the people you will be talking to:

  • Legal pinioning
  • Regulatory straight jacket
  • Branding dead ends

These perspective-shapers sounds like a bummer, but smart agencies with a knack for operating in tight quarters can help make a difference. The first two perspective-shapers are fairly obvious. Naturally, the best medical device companies hold the patients who receive their therapies in the highest regard. And you would not want to work with a company that didn’t. But in our litigious age, there’s lots of money to be made from suing manufactures for all sorts of things. Naturally, medical device companies ramp up their risk-averting processes. Lawyers review nearly every outward facing piece of communication and regulatory reviewers—the picky cousins of lawyers—delight in ferreting out each word of potential deviation from the FDA-approved copy. And the work of lawyers and regulators is invaluable.

Branding dead ends are not so obvious and few will admit to them out loud. These take a bit more explanation, so I’ll reserve it for another post.

But in your initial approach to conversations with med tech employees, know that most of their conversations are like walking a tightrope: marketing is always a balance between what you’d like to say and what you can say given the published studies. Agencies with more consumer experience can find this deadening. But resisting the pinioning and the straight-jacket—in your own way—is one of the ways your team can add value. It’s just got to be believable. And it becomes more believable when you ask for and expect the list of approved claims before starting work on your pitch. Since every claim must have a valid reference, basing your creative on the right foundation can make the difference between making the final cut and being dismissed as not up to snuff.


Image Credit: Engadget

Written by kirkistan

June 4, 2012 at 5:00 am

Please, Back Away from the Controller.

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It’s about interest, not control.

It’s about interest, not control.

It’s not like you can just adopt this new channel, buy space and you’re good to go.

It’s more like learning to be a friend again. I described the equivalent of “winning the lottery” in a dialogue-based medical device marketing context, but Seth Godin takes the next step with his Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. Instead of focusing on the tools of social media we all find so interesting (or not), he posed the provocative question “Who is it we should be leading?” His question presupposes this inward-looking beginning point for any who care to begin dialogue: “What change am I passionate enough about to lead?”

I like that Godin helps me see that the coming dialogical world is much broader than today’s set of bloggy-twittery-searchable tools. The questions we ask when moving from monologue to dialogue have more to do with what we all care about together. Finding what we care about together is a necessary stop on the journey. And knowing what we care about together is a step beyond carefully controlling the conversation with fine-tuned messages.tribeimage-10062009

What we care about together as humans has always been different from the one-dimensional messages with which we’ve surrounded our product messages. The secret to dialogue is what we learned years ago when our first friend showed up that summer day: we look for common interests. We expect give and take, and a willingness to hear and try something new. Friendship is formed when we stop claiming to know all the answers. Inviting marketers to rethink friendship is a step toward dialogue and a step away from monologue. Inviting marketers to find their place of leadership within friendship and within dialogue is a step toward freeing them to be the leaders they secretly want to be. The tribe-formers we need them to be.


Medical Device Firms Using Social Media, Step #3: A Busker’s Tip for Making Friends in the World

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Studio perfect or street-corner authentic?

Studio perfect or street-corner authentic?

When thinking about social media or advertising, there’s a familiar hurdle for every medical device marketer: a narrow audience. Unless you are marketing consumer goods, most target audiences need to be found through existing channels that cater to the specific needs of that particular, well-defined audience. It was a function of our old scarcity economy, where there were few channels that spoke directly to, say electrophysiologsts. So we ponied up our advertising dollars to buy a double-truck ad in PACE.

But communication is changing as fast as media opportunities emerge. How to take advantage of them? Let a busker answer the question. For Rob Firenix, a fire-dancing comic I met in Windsor, Ontario at the International Busker Festival, the best part of busking is “speaking directly to the audience.” Standing before an audience he has gathered lets him tweak material and get instant feedback.

Glen Hansard, the Irish musician, “Once” actor and Oscar winner (with Marketa Irglova) for best song started his artistic life as a busker. “When you are playing in the street, you are open to the street around you. The street becomes your club and people start to trust you.” Hansard describes the difference (around six minutes into this World Cafe  recording) between making music in the studio and making it on the street. The studio allows the opportunity to perfect the sound while putting together something light and airy out in the public has a different kind of authenticity.

After looking for dialogue partners and pursuing the important internal conversations, find a way to get your conversation going with the people you want to reach. You want to start a conversation that will attract the dialogue partners whom you would have only received 10% interest from with your PACE print ad. But engaging them the way a busker attracts and holds an audience is worth the effort. Find your dialogue partners with authentic posts, useful information and well, entertainment.


Why not start today?


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