Making Sense of Medical Marketing

An Interview with Eric Siebert, VP Global Digital Marketing and Global Brand Strategy, Boston Scientific

Eric Siebert is no stranger to big brands. Over his 25-year career he has managed brands for Unilever, IBM, Clear Channel, and Samsung, among others. In this conversation he discusses his transition to medical device marketing, innovations he is driving at Boston Scientific, and how much marketing opportunity lays ahead for the field.

PJA: How did you go from managing the Samsung brand to overseeing one that makes stents and defibrillators?

Siebert: I'd never considered a career in healthcare, not because I was averse to it but the other career opportunities that came my way were in different industries. When the Boston Scientific opportunity arose, the first thing I did was go to the website and start to learn about the company. I looked at all these medical devices and thought, “My God. What does that contraption do? And will I ever need it someday?”

PJA: Clearly, you kept looking.

Siebert: As soon as I started to learn about the technology and science behind it, I realized that these were fascinating scientific wonders. When I interviewed there, what got me was how genuine the people were and how committed they were to the higher purpose of working in healthcare. I also realized that I could help them create a much better expression of their marketing in digital channels.

PJA: That’s probably true for all healthcare marketing.

Siebert: I think marketing has been undervalued in this industry because it’s been under-understood, if that’s a word. If you define marketing based on what medical device companies do, it’s easy for it to be sales-based. The big promotional driver is sales, and smart salespeople tend to be put into Marketing Director and VP roles despite the fact that they don’t bring in any marketing experience. So companies have just perpetuated the sales-oriented nature of marketing. That’s changing at Boston Scientific as more people with solid marketing backgrounds have been recruited into the company. Medtronic gets this now, too. Of course, you can’t just turn on a dime and say, “As of today we're a marketing company.” We're building towards it.

PJA: What does it mean to be a marketing company in this space?

Siebert: At a minimum marketing should an equal seat at the table with Sales and R&D as engines of growth and engines of the strategy. Marketing should be identifying new sources of innovation and collaboration. The other part is the recognition of the value of marketing communication as a way to influence purchase consideration. I don't think most of our sales reps would get an appointment with a physician if that physician didn't know they were from Boston Scientific. It’s the power of the brand that's getting him or her that sales call in the first place. Marketing communications can play a role in shaping the perception of us as a premium company. Clearly, when medical device companies only spend around 1.5% of revenue on marketing, including trade shows, that power hasn’t been recognized yet.

PJA: As people take greater charge of their personal healthcare information, you must see brand equity becoming even more important in medical devices.

Siebert: Oh, yes, of course. Neuromodulation is one example. We make an amazing product related to deep-brain stimulation. And we've got a great digital marketing team that’s all over it. They recognize the importance of the Boston Scientific brand as a validation point of first-rate quality in medical care. All you have to do is search on Google for “pain solutions” and see all the communication there from fly-by-night, unscientific people who are going to solve your pain issue with this pill, or that treatment. Clearly, recognition and awareness of the manufacturer is going to be a point of entry to explore that product further. Some positive perception of legitimacy and honesty is the next gate that you're going to need to take that patient through.

PJA: Turning to trends in healthcare marketing, what kinds of interesting things are you seeing out there?

Siebert: Definitely a greater use direct-to-patient marketing, social media and new forms of content engagement.

Direct-to-patient is a huge opportunity for medical device companies as aging Boomers take much more control of their healthcare. They are seeking, and in fact are demanding, comprehensive information from many sources – including manufacturers.

Social media is still very under-applied by medical device companies, but using social media to activate key opinion leaders is a valuable and growing practice. I like seeing what our Urology/Pelvic Health group is doing in pioneering social media panels, which include Twitter conversations at conferences and curating what’s happening real-time.

The application of YouTube has been a terrific channel for medical device companies because we've got long-form content around procedures. Those have hundreds of thousands of views. Doctors want to be able to go in and see those videos to keep their skills fresh. If they're going to do a procedure they haven't done it in a while, they can go online the night before and review the essentials. That's been very valuable.

Finally, in the content engagement area, I think we're starting to see some virtual reality make its way into trade shows. It’s still more of a cool factor than bringing forth a whole new dimension of communicating, but imagine taking someone on a virtual tour of a catheterization lab, for example, and you start to imagine the possibilities. You can bring your products and services to people rather than vice versa. We should definitely continue to explore there.

PJA: But there’s more to do.

Siebert: There’s much more to do, obviously. Boston Scientific and our competitors have been years behind in building first-rate Web infrastructure and Web presentations. Now we’re learning the lessons that other brands learned a long time ago. We’re finally getting organized under a single global Web platform and bringing premium branding consistency across all pages, not to mention those other lessons around navigation across and within our different specialties. We're also doing some catch-up in customer relationship marketing based on tailoring communications to discreet customer profiles for greater response rates. As a consumer I always like to get information from vendors that reads my mind and moves me along in my understanding of a particular area, versus “Let me send this email out, and maybe they're interested and maybe they're not.”

PJA: How about go-to places you visit to understand the marketing landscape and how it’s evolving?

Siebert: You always have to be a sponge in this area, and I have files where I'm always storing away best practices and food for thought. I look at MM&MAdweek and I get things from Forrester and eMarketer. I also try to pay attention to what’s being presented to me from an offer or user experience or creative expression standpoint when I’m online. How are they getting the message across and how could I apply that? One way of saying it is that pretty much everything I'm exposed to online as well as offline influences my understanding of marketing and where medical device marketing could be going.

PJA: How would you define your creative philosophy as a marketer?

Siebert: I'd much rather start with the big idea and a compelling expression of the big idea that really connects with people. Then let's figure out how we can adapt that and execute it in more efficient ways. I guess I don't know what to do with technology without a compelling creative idea. It’s like trying to work with half your brain.

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