Marketing a new medical device often used to involve engaging and training clinicians to provide your product. Then you had to rely on them to recommend it to suitable candidates. As a sleep device company your business model, marketing, sales, and all your customer relationships were geared towards the medical community. Now the rules of the game have changed and direct-to-patient marketing is fast becoming a new business imperative.
Why? Because digital technology is empowering patients to have greater involvement in their healthcare and more control over the outcomes. Consumers are using search engines, social media, healthcare apps and other sources to inform their purchasing decisions and enable convenience-driven access to treatments and solutions.
‘Sleep device businesses that aren’t investing in direct-to-patient marketing are simply missing out.’
But for many businesses that are used to working with medical professionals and not with end users, the patient path-to-purchase can be a blind spot. When we’re working with sleep device leaders to market a new medical device at Somnowell Marketing, it’s not uncommon for them to say, “We don’t need brand awareness from entry-level up. We just don’t need to market to patients”.
The data tells a different story though. Businesses that aren’t marketing directly to patients are simply missing out. Keyword data from Google AdWords shows that in July 2015, there were 3.86 million searches for “sleep apnea” in the United States during a 31-day period. In January 2019, this had increased to 6.7 million searches during a 31-day period, resulting in a 78 percent increase in two and a-half years.
Understandably, if all of your experience and skills are built around engaging medical professionals, it can require a complete change in mentality to know how to catch the attention of say, a 55-year-old man living in Tennessee who is snoring at night. Establishing a human-centric, personalized relationship with him could be an even greater challenge.
That’s where direct-to-patient marketing comes in.
What is direct-to-patient marketing and how is it different?
It empowers patients to ask for your device by name
As the term suggests, direct-to patient marketing involves businesses engaging patients directly around healthcare issues to generate awareness and demand for their products. In the United Kingdom and the United States, it’s a complete sea change from the traditional way of marketing sleep apnea products to medical professionals. A typical situation for an oral device would have involved the patient arriving at the dentist’s office with a prescription from a sleep center to get an oral device. Neither the patient nor the dentist would have paid much attention to the brand of the device that the dental lab then produced.
Now, the oral device manufacturer will market the product directly to patients and generate appointments with an appropriately qualified dentist located near the patient. The patient arrives at the dentist’s office asking for a consultation with a view to getting that particular branded oral device.
‘In the past, neither the patient nor the dentist would have paid much attention to the brand of a device, but direct-to-patient marketing is helping to change that.’
The manufacturer can manage and measure their own marketing, control how much interest they’re generating and build brand loyalty and recommendations. They can be in the right place at the right time to help prospective patients who are having formative thoughts about sleep apnea, to learn about it and understand the options for treatment. When you compare this to relying on medical professionals to have the right conversation with their patients when they remember to, it’s incredibly powerful.
Direct-to-patient marketing benefits the patient as well. In the United States, 23.5 million people still suffer with undiagnosed sleep apnea, compared to just 5.9 million that have been diagnosed. Direct-to-patient marketing helps to create greater awareness of the condition and focuses on educating people about the importance of getting treated.
Why traditional B2B marketing didn’t work for ‘the Somnowell’ sleep device
It didn’t give patients the information they’re searching for
We started using this direct-to-patient marketing approach at Somnowell, our sleep apnea device business, almost a decade ago. Traditional B2B marketing through clinicians wasn’t performing well for us. Dental sleep medicine is niche and the market itself among patients is also small. We felt that to generate any kind of significant demand for our product we needed to market directly to patients.
It’s a lot easier to go directly to patients now because of the opportunities that digital marketing offers in terms of identifying your potential patients and knowing how to reach them. The global trend in healthcare towards a more consumer centred care model is also making it increasingly important for businesses to engage with patients directly and build personalized, human-centric relationships with them.
‘Direct-to-patient marketing is generating awareness and thousands of enquiries every month.’
In the United States, the Whole You “City of Sleepers” campaign is a great example of direct-to-patient marketing working well. The company develops medical products, many of which treat sleep apnea. Its campaign uses Facebook ads to targets cities, where it’s reaching a large percentage of people who could be suffering from the condition. Through direct-to-patient marketing they’re generating awareness and thousands of enquiries every month about how to receive a sleep test and treatment for sleep apnea.
At Somnowell Marketing, which is the digital marketing side of our business, we work with Whole You to automatically connect these patients with a local dentist quickly. We use lead distribution and response software (the LDRS) that we’ve developed, which also nurtures patients through multiple touch points to conversion.
You can see how direct-to-patient marketing applies to a range of tactics below. We’ve been fine tuning these over almost a decade of use with Somnowell’s network of more than 300 dentists and with our Somnowell Marketing clients.
8 ways direct-to-patient marketing works to drive brand awareness
- Content drives the awareness campaign. Content, such as emails, blog articles and videos on owned and paid media provide value to patients by helping them to self-educate about sleep apnea, it’s products and treatments. These can be promoted and shared across channels to foster brand awareness. Content greatly increases affinity and trust in brands, with consumers 131-percent more likely to buy from a brand immediately after reading a piece of educational content compared to consumers who didn’t read any content. Google also recognizes and rewards businesses for having fresh, original content, and together with a highly optimized SEO strategy, it contributes to healthy website rankings.
- Paid search reaches patients at all stages of the buyers’ journey. It enables you to identify which stage a patient is at so you can give them information that’s relevant to them at that point. Having an ongoing highly optimized SEO strategy – both organic and paid – is also crucial for capturing the attention you generate from any go-to-market print and digital campaigns. When someone hears your radio ad or reads an article about your business they may not act on the information immediately. A month later they may think, “What was the name of that company? What was that device?” A well performing SEO strategy ensures word searches that are similar to your business and product name bring up your URL at or near the top of a patient’s search results.
- Remarketing keeps your product top of mind. This is an area where you can be quite sophisticated in how you interact with a patient at each stage of their journey. As a prospective patient visits a page on your website, clicks your ad or reads your blog posts, remarketing ensures the content and information you deliver to them is relevant. If a patient is at the early stage of the buyers’ journey and they want to understand their condition, you can show them a remarketed ad or content that helps to educate them. If they’re later stage and comparing options, you can present content that helps them understand your product. For some healthcare products, remarketing isn’t possible on some channels. Be sure to ascertain, first of all, if it’s an option that’s available to you.
- Local SEO is a small part of your strategy but critical for product launches. It may not require a huge amount of resources to execute, but local SEO is essential for nationwide providers with multiple locations. Being well placed on Google Maps and ensuring your business is recognized as an authoritative local source of information – or a local provider – equips patients with information at a crucial stage in their journey, when they want to book an appointment.
- Paid social (like remarketing) puts your product in front of the right patient at the right time. You can add useful, educational information to a patient’s social media feeds. If engagement indicates that they’re interested in it, you can start delivering more relevant content through their feed. Once you’ve earned their trust through an informative article and they’ve shown a level of interest in your brand, you can start talking to them about your product and why it will help them. One of the real benefits of paid social is the amount of reach it gives you and the ability to target a large percentage of the population. Within fairly broad parameters you can run ads that are educational in nature and identify who is interested in a particular condition at that initial phase. It’s an effective and inexpensive way of reaching a lot of people and identifying quickly who may be in the market for your product.
- Online reviews are essential for building reputation. Your company Facebook page and Google My Business can be used to garner reviews, but it’s also where patients go to message or phone call your business. This means it’s important to have good reviews that accurately reflect the great service you provide. Always diligently deal with any negative reviews and address any issues that these raise within your business. Forums and review sites are where patients talk about products and different options available to them. Visit these often, understand the kind of searches prospective patients are performing and consider having a presence on these sites. If you’ve run a Kickstarter campaign, have developed a minimum viable product or given away product, you can also use these reviews to build reputation by adding them to your website and communications.
- High performing landing pages can make or break a campaign. With landing pages, often you’re sending a patient from an advertisement or an email to a web page. It’s important to understand the psychology of how people interact with web pages and digest information. What works best in terms of how you convey details about your product, get patients to absorb that information and encourage them to perform the next desired action, needs to well-designed to meet its objectives and to give you the best return on your investment.
- Google phone ads are important for the latter stage of the buyers’ journey. These will typically work well where a patient has a high level of intent and they’re specifically looking for a local provider or center. A Google phone ad connects that patient’s search through to the center or a practice office with one click. In our experience it’s often the one of the best performing campaigns, but it’s really for the latter part of the journey, as opposed to when patients are searching for information.
How to develop a direct-to-patient marketing strategy that works
Take control of your marketing outcomes
To develop a high performing strategy, first ensure that audience volumes actually exist. Then, if you understand where those audiences live, the price of getting in front of them – and you’re confident in your content assets and the conversion rates you’ll create – you have data that you can test against. Test the hypothesis you’ve established, learn from the results and then refine it.
It’s always important to also have two ideas, and to constantly do split tests to see which performs better. Continually push your highest performing idea to be the best it can be. Keep up to date with Google’s and Facebook’s algorithm changes and keep tweaking your bid strategy, how you build your audiences, and your landing pages, for example. Direct-to-patient marketing isn’t a set-and-forget strategy – nearly every week there will be something that needs refining if you’re to avoid poor results.
‘Continually optimize your campaigns and push your highest performing idea to be the best it can be.’
Always run two campaigns simultaneously: an awareness campaign and a direct-to-patient approach. The first uses content, such as blog articles and videos to generate awareness about your product on social media channels and via search engines, such as Google and Bing. The second direct-to-patient approach involves a pay-per-click campaign that focuses on prospective patients who are searching for information and solutions. It includes remarketing to people who are engaged with the awareness campaigns.
Over to you
The healthcare landscape is rapidly changing and the way sleep device businesses market to prospective patients is also shifting. With direct-to-patient marketing, it’s never been easier for businesses to create awareness and demand for a new product or service.
Our free Digital Marketing For Growth Guide features more on direct-to-patient marketing. It also explains the best digital marketing tactics for every stage of business growth and includes handy checklists to help you benchmark growth.