Let’s face it: Most medical products are not exactly known for their sex appeal. Let’s set the bar even lower: Most medical products are not known for their consumer appeal at all. Next time you’re in the doctor’s office or visiting a medical product manufacturer’s website, you’ll see what I mean. The historical customer for these companies has largely been the physician, and the focus has consistently been function over form. Bland colors, minimal branding and function-over aesthetics design practices are hallmarks of this industry.
But that world, or at least some elements of it, could see a reinvention in the near future. One of the reasons that the design aspects have been so minimal is that consumers (patients) have had very little information about the products. Direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising has been minimal. However, in the world of wearable medical technology, there could be a whole host of new ways to engage consumers and get them interested and informed about specific branded products.
My colleagues on the tech side recently wrote a blog (with more to come in that series) about some of the key factors in launching and succeeding in the wearable devices markets. They correctly point out that understanding customer needs and delivering on them will be critical to success in that market.
As we think about these wearables having health applications, I suggest that medical technology companies have an enormous opportunity to reach directly to potential consumers in a very meaningful way. The devices will continue to improve, and even the early ones can be configured for a variety of ongoing, unobtrusive data collection and/or immediate feedback.
How about this scenario: Imagine a diversified medical products company (think Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic, Abbott, etc.) supplies you with an Apple Watch (or similar wearable device) at no cost to you. Perhaps it even shows up in the mail, unannounced, in the same way that samples of consumer packaged goods sometimes arrive today. Imagine that in addition to all of the non-health features of the watch (calendar, music, games, etc.), it comes preloaded with opt-in health-related apps, and monitors some leading indicators of various health issues. And imagine that when those indicators begin to point toward a potential event, it serves up an advertisement for the company’s products and/or advice about getting to a doctor, perhaps suggesting a particular provider location.
Think of the Abbott stent or the Medtronic defibrillator as becoming patient-preferred products. There would be segments of the population who are worth so much to these companies that it would be worth it for the company to provide those people with the watch free of charge … just for the chance to market directly to them, ultimately increasing their likelihood of asking their doctors for the branded products.
Those medical products companies will cease being almost solely focused on business-to-business (B2B), and will expand into the business-to-consumer (B2C) space. This B2C environment will be a massively new world for most of these companies. They will need to change their mindsets, their product development and their DTC strategies.
Using the watch, or another wearable technology, as a platform for consumer education, the companies will also be able to launch campaigns about disease awareness and other public service announcements. Healthcare providers may be able to push suggested content to the individuals, too. This should lead to better health, due to increased knowledge levels and a higher likelihood of going to the doctor and asking questions. In this way, doctors may be able to diagnose and treat diseases earlier, and ultimately can take better care of patients.
There are other thought-provoking scenarios, beyond the one outlined above. Imagine the possibilities of patients with implants being able to interact with their implanted device, via some wearable technology. This can give them a feeling of control as well as a way to get feedback about their health. Similarly, physicians can get significantly more feedback about patient health, potentially providing predictive power of acute events.
In this way, the scenario(s) outlined above would be a win for all stakeholders. As with any other loss leader, the watch (or other wearable device) becomes a means to an end. Beyond watches, there are companies jumping into this broad category by introducing jerseys, shoes, etc. that measure biometric data, as well as even linking to insurance companies. So the possibilities of data collection, feedback and message delivery will almost certainly be a norm of the future as we aim to improve our personal health and become informed about decisions along the way.
What will be the limits of ailments diagnosed with wearable devices?
How will these marketing tactics change the current paradigms?
Who will win in this new world?
I look forward to your thoughts.