3 Keys to Launching a B2C Medical Device
Developing a B2C medical device comes with unique challenges. Here are key processes that can help you with your launch.
A couple of years ago, during a visit with my normally vibrant grandpa, I entered his home to discover him curled up in bed — nearly immobile — save for his feverish shivering. Concerned and confused about his condition, I quickly wrapped him in a warm blanket to help him stabilize. The cause of my grandpa’s distressing state soon became clear: He had not taken his prescribed medications for three days. When I asked why he had skipped so many days of his vital meds, he explained that the time-consuming process of individually sorting each one of his medications into a plastic, “days-of-the-week” pill organizer was the culprit.
As I was working to find a better med-management solution for my grandpa, my best friend — a full-of-vigor college senior — had a fainting episode that, similarly, was tied to medication management. After two of my favorite people experienced major health scares due to medication management, I knew I had to find a solution.
Unfortunately, all we found were kitchen table “robots,” gimmicks and dime-store contraptions that had landed my loved ones in dangerous cycles of frustration and mismanagement of med schedules. There had to be something more efficient, friendlier and with a sleeker style. It was at this point that we decided to take matters into our own hands. We married design and great technology to yield EllieGrid, a smart-pill organizer that makes medication management easier and more enjoyable than ever.
The friend who inspired this product is now a company co-founder, and during a recent strategy and review session, we reflected on core processes that have proven to be elemental to EllieGrid’s success. We realized that there are three key steps that are particularly important for companies launching a medical device for patient users.
1. Don’t create a medical device. Instead, create a health accessory.
When we first sought out medication-management tools, we discovered a couple of devices that tried to solve a major problem, but my friend and grandfather did not want to use them. When I asked why, each said, “I am not that sick.” Translation: “I don’t associate with these products or services.”
Turns out, hundreds of others who struggled with medication management felt the same way, per our market surveys, focus groups and research. Those canvassed responded with, “I am not that old” or “I am not that sick.”
Regardless of age or medical history — or quantities and types of meds — responses rarely varied. For example, a 75-year-old retiree managing heart and blood thinner medications and a 22-year-old college student on a daily thyroid and vitamin D regimen both logged a similar "not that old/sick/don’t stigmatize me" response.
The medical device itself was considered stigmatizing.
Existing “pill sorters” were marketed as products for use by elderly or very ill people, and for those in nursing homes or at end-of-life stages. Understandably, no one wanted products associated with these categories, including the elderly consumers and respondents.
Although none of those canvassed wanted a “medical device,” many were open to using a Fitbit or smart-watch because those products weren’t viewed as medical devices, but rather health accessories.
The heart-rate monitor existed long before Fitbit, but Fitbit was one of the first heart-rate monitors that millions of consumers purchased for daily use and wear. This was because Fitbit converted the heart-rate monitor into a — you guessed it — health accessory.
By striving to create the “Fitbit of medication management,” our team designed a tool that people are eager to use. Converting sales based on not only “needs,” but also “wants” proved a turning point in our market discovery and product-development phases.
Convert a “need” to a “want,” and develop market demand around a desirable brand that fulfills both core utility functions and design aesthetics.
2. Design for the end-user, not the doctor
“The customer is always right,” is an old-school adage that still carries weight. But, you must know who your customer is. Research, analysis and discovery revealed that our target customer is the patient or individual, not the physician.
During the early design phases, we sought feedback from doctors and patients and were surprised when we received very different feedback from both parties. Doctors surveyed showed resoundingly that design and brand were much less important than functionality. Some suggested that we white-label our product.
Patients, however, expressed a clear interest in design and branding. Doctors urged inclusion of extra functionalities, but patients wanted facility and simplicity. At this phase, it became evident that medical devices already in the market were designed based on the preferences of practitioners and healthcare organizations, not patients.
Purchasing power seemed to drive doctor-focused design. But, large-batch product orders often resulted in dead-ends or one-time orders for many device firms. This was because patients — the end-users —ultimately did not utilize devices that weren’t designed with their wants and needs in mind.
If your end-user does not want to use your product, you are in trouble.
This discovery was a turning point for our team. We knew we had to design for the end-user and gather data to prove-up our approach. We made design decisions that some doctors may not have agreed with; however, our data was irrefutable.
We found that certain bulk-sale closings could take a bit more time, based on this consumer-focused strategy, but it proved to be the best way to create a lasting business for our firm.
To bolster long-term and return sales relationships, design for your end-user consumer, and provide bulk purchasers with undisputable data.
3. Advertise to people, not patients
In many ways, medical-device sales are no different from general consumer product sales of, say, bullet blenders. For some reason, however, some healthcare-device companies don't believe that the core marketing tenets apply.
Oftentimes, medical-device companies are established by technical-field experts: doctors, healthcare professionals or engineers, who excel in medicine or engineering, but may not have experience with product or services marketing.
It can be a challenge for a field expert who is extremely close to the technical side of his or her product to conceive and provide for a consumer’s emotional decision-making process. Ultimately, however, patients are people, and people are driven by the aforementioned needs and wants, with a heavy emphasis on the wants.
Most consumers think and make purchases like people, not like patients.
Luxury brand Louis Vuitton has many target markets, but a key segment focuses on established, professional, corporate-career women who have a large amount of disposable income. In contrast, the brand’s advertisements and print campaigns often feature young, 20-something models, photographed in whimsical settings that reflect an adventurous, carefree, luxury lifestyle because the parent company, LVMH, understands Marketing 101.
People want to align with brands that can help them become who they wish to be. In the case of EllieGrid, our consumer does not want to be reminded of illness or feeble stages of life. Our consumers desire a lifestyle aesthetic aligned with health, wellness and a fit quality of life.
By shifting focus to the consumer and human desire for quality of life and wellness — instead of solely focusing on technical bell-and-whistle features, we've successfully created a groundswell of consumer demand that has helped propel major, long-term institutional partnerships and repeat purchase orders from global web and brick-and-mortar retail giants, which has significantly expanded our product and customer reach.
Be the brand that your target consumer aspires to associate with and treat your consumers like the unique humans that they are. People first, product second.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor