Let’s be honest: Very few of us had childhood dreams of becoming part of medical product industry. If you had asked me as a kid if I thought I’d be working in this business, I’d probably roll my eyes and laugh. Medical products? Nah, I had more romantic notions of becoming a professional baseball player or writing for Rolling Stone magazine.
Before I became a medical product marketer (which I am now), I was a medical product copywriter. Before that, I was a hospital and healthcare marcom copywriter. Before that, I was a general copywriter that made the successful jump from old school “traditional”/print media to “new” media and online. And before that, I was a journalist. And even before all of that, I was an aspiring academic with fantasies of being a scholar of media and culture. Of course, all of it was prefaced with the dreams I had as a kid.
Some people never stop pursuing those childhood dreams…even if that means a nightmarish adult reality. Comedian Louis CK is a shining example. After graduating high school in the early 1980s, he went after one specific goal: to become a successful comedian. And, as a result, like so many others that share that dream, he toiled in obscurity for decades in that ironically lonely and depressing world of standup comedy.
Skip ahead to last week when he announced that his self-produced and distributed online video netted him more than $200,000 in profit in less than four days. As impressive as the profits might be, what’s perhaps more intriguing is how he made it.
By his own admission, Louis CK could have made even more money had he produced and distributed the video through the traditional path of working with a major entertainment company. But that would have resulted in even more overhead—which gets passed on to the customer—and the sticky tangle of digital rights management (DRM) and DVD region complications (which provides even more hassles for customers).
Instead, he kept it painfully simple: Go to his remarkably low-tech Website, pay $5 (through PayPal), and either stream the video or download it and do whatever you want with it (e.g., burn your own DVD, watch it on your computer). Compare that to what a commercial DVD costs and the process of having to acquire it.
But back to the headline: What can we in the medical product business learn from Louis CK?
Being Good is Not Good Enough
Louis CK is widely regarded as one of the best comedians today. However, it took him years to rise above a very crowded and competitive market.
Whether it’s comedy, baseball players or medical devices, being “good” is never enough. For every good—great, even—comedian, athlete or medical device out there, there are countless others that are just as good, if not better.
For medical products, the basic algebra of having low prices and high quality is not enough to succeed. Rather, it requires tremendous belief in your product just to get it brought to market, and then even more dedication to improve it and market it so that it even has a chance of being competitive. And then there’s the intangibles, the x factors, the je nais se quoi, luck, etc.
You’ve Got to be Innovative in Your Marketing And Distribution
Nothing stays the same. Whomever—or whatever—is “good” today is mediocre tomorrow. Best practices for marketing and distribution can quickly become obsolete.
The music industry—which, due to increasingly vertical integration in the past couple decades—controls the distribution of most other complementary entertainment products, such as DVDs. Because it failed to recognize and embrace radical shifts in how entertainment is distributed channels (e.g., peer-to-peer file sharing, Napster, torrents, the ease of duplicating DVDs), it watched its profits erode—and perhaps worse, its power. This is precisely what Louis CK exploited with his relatively marginal investment in a $34,000 Website that is the portal to his video.
Twenty years ago, MediPurpose didn’t even exist. As illustrated in its success stories, ten years ago, it was a struggling startup in Singapore that would soon find a niche in the U.S. medical product market for its new SurgiLance safety lancet (a niche opened, in part, because of the 2000 U.S. Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act). The company leveraged emerging online communications with an aggressive independent sales force and got itself on the map.
Ten years later, it’s a profitable company that has since introduced two successful product lines—babyLance infant heelsticks and MediPlus Advanced Wound Care—with zero guarantees that it will be here in 10 years unless it remains dedicated to finding innovative solutions for its manufacturing, distribution, marketing and new business development.
You’ve Got to Put the Customer First
Good economy or not, people value their money, and they don’t want to feel ripped off. They also don’t want to be inconvenienced. Louis CK’s innovative use of the Internet to deliver product drastically simplified the process of acquiring (and using) a product and significantly reduced the cost—and his customers responded in kind.
MediPurpose is constantly striving to find ways to keep the customer first—which creates unique challenges because we not only offer several distinct products and services, but also because our customers are diverse. Along with the obvious “end users” (e.g., patients, nurses, doctors), we also serve our distribution partners, inventors and innovators, manufacturers and others.
You’ve Got to Embrace Online Communications
Social media, online/inbound marketing, etc. are not trends, fads or options. On the other hand, traditional marketing techniques—print advertising and direct mail, for instance—are both expensive and very low ROI.
Louis CK more than demonstrated that it no longer requires cutting-edge Websites or bloated marketing campaigns to move product.
For medical product companies, the same holds true. Although the diminished importance and value of print advertising might seem the obvious example, trade shows are perhaps an even better example.
Even to just attend a show as a non-exhibitor to “walk the halls” is expensive. Factor in airfare, hotels, per diems, entry fees and the lost productivity from not being in the office, and the cost to attend can quickly becoming a pricy investment. With a tight economy and the impact of inexpensive global communications (e.g., Websites, Skype, GoToMeeting, LinkedIn), and it’s not hard to understand why trade show attendance seems lower (in general) or scaled down (by exhibitors).
There is perhaps more than can be extrapolated from Louis CK’s recent success, but the point should be clear: Being and staying competitive in business is not for the uninspired and unimaginative. The keys for success are always out there; the challenge is with finding and knowing how to use them.