By John Burns, Ph.D.
Medical products are entering the marketplace at a faster rate than ever before. In the US alone in 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cleared more than 100 new products, the most ever on record1. This data point is merely the tip of the iceberg in an upward trend that began at least a decade ago.
The opportunity for medical-product manufacturers is great. With this opportunity, however, comes the challenge of increased competition. Differentiating your product in a crowded marketplace is as critical now as it has ever been. Unfortunately, in my experience as a consultant to medical products companies, many fail to effectively position their product to succeed in the current environment. Recovering from a poor positioning is far more challenging and costly than dedicating the time and resources to getting it right the first time. Below are several steps you should consider to effectively position your product at the start.
Present a clear and compelling value proposition
It sounds simple, but this is a common problem leading to poor positioning at product launch. A clear value proposition communicates the underlying benefit in simple and effective terms. Improved efficacy is one obvious benefit. Other examples could include offering a patient self-administered test (rather than requiring a trip to the clinic), or conducting a less-invasive surgical procedure to minimize recovery time.
In contrast, less effective value propositions typically rely too much on promoting an array of product features, rather than emphasizing the underlying benefits of the product. It’s important to communicate features, but if product doesn’t have a clear benefit that the features achieve, you’re far less likely to have a value proposition strong enough to differentiate your product in the marketplace.
Have a story to tell managed care
In a managed care environment, if possible, it’s important to position your offering in a way that improves the patient experience and minimizes the cost of the procedure your product accomplishes. For example, a medical product that reduces the number of clinical office visits by allowing for treatment at home, rather than requiring a clinical visit, can provide significant cost savings. It can reduce the number of patient visits, as well as provide benefits to patients by reducing travel time, planning for transportation, and costs.
In addition, a less-invasive surgery, such as that produced by an energy-surgical device, can reduce tissue damage and minimize wounds. With the cost of a single night in a hospital running in the thousands of dollars, reducing recovery time is potentially a significant cost savings. This can lead to faster recovery time and result in significant cost savings. These benefits help define your value proposition for the clinicians who will use them and the managed care environment these buyers operate in.
No substitute for primary research
Conducting primary market research early in the process is critical. Understanding the needs, aspirations, and fears of the patients, physicians, caregivers, payers, and others important to your product will enable you to effectively develop a clear value proposition and tell a story for managed care (if you can). In my experience, many medical products companies wait too long to conduct primary market research, often conducting it only after they have a prototype or concept to show.
This is a mistake. By this time, many of your internal biases about what patients, physicians, caregivers, payers and others want are well established. They have framed what you’re developing. It’s far better to conduct systematic research to uncover a full understanding of the market prior to developing prototypes, concepts, or anything too focused on a solution. The time spent doing this right will save you time and money in the long run.
For a method used successfully by many medical products companies, read our groundbreaking article, "The Voice of the Customer"
The opportunities for medical product companies are bright. One challenge, however, is how to effectively position your product in a competitive environment, one that’s getting more competitive each year. Developing a clear value proposition, showing the impact for managed care, and using systematic research can help set you on the right path from the start.
For more on using market research to optimize medical products, view our collection of case studies.