Reasons to believe

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John Friedberg
John Friedberg

Imagine being at RSNA (the big radiology show next month in Chicago), and you encounter a sales rep lamenting how difficult it is to establish a real point of differentiation for his MRI machine. “Basically,” he says, “they're pretty much all the same. It's like a car race, everyone jockeying for the lead position.”

He explains, “One manufacturer has an upright system, two months later the competitors have an upright system. The other guy has an open system for scanning obese patients, three months later his competitors come out with a version for folks with claustrophobia.”

“I talk to the radiologists and techs, when I can,” our salesman adds, “about signal-to-noise ratios, specificity, sensitivity, the coils—any technological advantage I can make about my product for the moment.”

This illustrates everything difficult about marketing medical technology and devices, as opposed to the world of pharma. In pharma, marketers can highlight the promise of a new medicine far more effectively than they can look at how that promise is fulfilled.

In the world of med tech, a gauntlet of value analyses has been established to analyze, measure and compare which product will best meet the needs of hospital stakeholders. Technological advantages are short-lived, access to the decision-makers is often denied, and legislation throws up roadblocks at every turn.

Everyone involved is looking for every bit of information they can find to help validate their selected choice. From evidence-based purchasing to meaningful use, technology purchases are based on qualitative and quantitative data points. It's a very logical, rational and objective approach to making a decision.

Still, is the by-the-numbers approach really the deciding factor behind such purchases? Based upon what we now know about the psychology of decision- making, all of our decisions have an emotional component to them. Even, and perhaps especially, the ones where we believe that Reason has won the day.

Further, our best decisions utilize emotion. This is hard for the average person to accept. It is a cornerstone of our thinking that Emotion should be tamed by Reason, and that to be swayed by emotion is “not logical,” as Mr. Spock might say.

Of course, advertising agencies have known this long before the advent of MRI scans showing us the brain patterns that demonstrate it. From the days of Don Draper (as in the famous Carousel moment), we have talked about giving our customers “reasons to believe,” when what we really mean is “reasons to justify.” Choices are made emotionally, then justified by rationale, making that choice unassailable.

It is abundantly clear in car advertising: any car magazine will list all the various options and rate different models for you. Buyers use those ratings to prove that the BMW they wanted really is the best choice for their money, and it is not just the promise of “The Ultimate Driving Machine” that pulled them in. Emotions successfully sublimated, you can rest easy in your choice, secure in your five-star rationale.

Medical technology customers are clinicians, scientists, technologists, hospital executives, payers and accountants—supremely rational people. The industry is mandated to select technology based on one simple mantra: improve the quality of care, reduce the cost.

As a result, much of the advertising for this sector concentrates on product attributes, reducing the debate to “faster, smaller, cheaper, clearer.” Med-tech marketers too often rely solely on the clinical studies, KOL endorsements or ROI analyses.

In doing so, they miss the influence of the emotional brain on the situation. Look at the medical-technology arms race that most hospitals are engaged in, where the drive to purchase new equipment is borne from the fear of being left behind. Or the CFO who is focused on savings, but driven by the need for accolades from the Board of Directors. Or an underlying driver in the personal connection that the decision maker has with the disease state—a neighbor whose child has scoliosis, or a brother-in-law on dialysis. Certainly, wherever ego is involved, emotional decisions are not far behind.

Acknowledging the need to integrate rational brain and emotional brain is the key to compelling messaging. A marketer who can understand giving the hospital administrator an excellent rationale (the reason to believe) to back up the emotional decision, is the marketer who wins.


John Friedberg is director of Fly Health, a business unit of Fly Communications, based in New York City.
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