What do medtech brands have in common with Apple, Google and Coca-Cola? Not enough, it seems. We don’t do a good enough job of branding our products and services, and in an environment where we need to show value and build trust, this needs to change.
I used to work for Procter & Gamble, where brands are lovingly built and jealously guarded. Branding was highly professional and well respected: Brand identity was informed by hours of focus groups and reinforced through pages of guidelines, along with Pantone colour charts, fonts and image libraries all about communicating the brand equity in a consistent way across all customer segments around the globe. This probably sounds like overkill for medical devices—especially surgical equipment or implantables that the patient never sees—but the patient’s voice is increasingly important, and when it’s the physician, surgeon or nurse making the choice, the values of a brand are just as relevant.
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A brand is all about trust. It’s a historical mark of provenance: a symbol branded onto cattle to differentiate ownership, or a name on a sack of flour or coffee beans to show quality. A brand now conveys the values and promises that a company makes to its customers. This is more important than ever for healthcare companies, but we do it badly. Interbrand’s global ranking includes no pure medical products companies in the top 50. Cross-sector companies such as GE, Philips and Siemens make it onto the list at No. 10, 41 and 52, respectively. Johnson & Johnson is at No. 73, presumably largely for its consumer division; its medical products rarely use the J&J name (they’re from DePuy, Ethicon, Biosense Webster and so on). There’s an interesting question here around whether to brand the big entity or the sub-brands. Should they keep Ethicon or go with J&J? Plenty of other examples exist, such as Bard and Davol, Hill-Rom and Welch-Allyn, and soon Abbott will need to decide what to do with St. Jude. Either way, no other medtech companies or brands make the Interbrand list.
Why is branding important for medtech?
- Value: We all recognize that we need to go beyond the product and justify our value economically as well as clinically. We need to brand our offerings—our solutions to customers’ problems. At one end of the spectrum of medical products, we do, in fact, see companies doing this: I’m thinking of the Siemens Healthineers or Philips branding, for example. Consumers pay a premium for brands, and there has to be more opportunity to use our respected brand names to promise higher quality and service compared with lower-cost competitors.
- Trust: In my colleague Matt Scheitlin’s recent blog post, he discussed how medtech organisations are trying to focus on the patient’s needs, and how some are interacting directly with patients. Consumer-facing medical products do have some strong brands with names that you might recognise, such as Acuvue contact lenses, Invisalign clear braces or Accu-Chek glucose monitors. Again, consumers will pay a premium for a trusted brand. If I ever need a hip replacement or a pacemaker, I want the best one available at the time, but I would have no idea what to ask for. The first company to really invest in consumer marketing with a decent brand strategy, digital presence and social media savvy is likely to reap significant rewards.
- Differentiation: Many of our industry sectors include products that are relatively undifferentiated, and some are even commoditised. Branding is, of course, an opportunity for differentiation: Why don’t we use it more at the company level? Partly, it’s risk management. If something goes wrong or the company sells the category, it’s better if the brand is a product rather than a company, but surely that’s a risk worth taking in order to realise the benefits of value and trust. More likely it’s just a lack of recognition that branding is a worthwhile investment for medtech companies.
Increasing the value of our brands doesn’t require massive innovation or investment; it just needs some marketing expertise and discipline. In a recent blog post, my colleague Brian Chapman wrote that the medtech industry “significantly lag[s] where we need to be in the overall quality of talent and total investment” in marketing. To grow our brands, we need strong marketers who can decide on brand strategy, test it with customers (and end users), execute with excellence and quantify the value. Which medtech brand will be the first to make it onto Interbrand’s top 50?