Zed Williamson

4 Signs You’re Not Ready for Direct-to-Patient Advertising

DTC advertising can be a great way for med device companies to lift revenue and get patients asking surgeons for a procedure. But is it right for your team?

At a certain point in the journey to medical device commercialization and scale, many leaders start to ask whether direct-to-patient advertising is the answer to strategic growth. Whether the motivation is to build a competitive moat, construct a clearer path for insurance coverage, or simply capture patients before they’re diagnosed, the question is one worth entertaining.  

After all, you may have seen companies like Cologuard, Axonics, Inspire, or Urolift, who have employed direct-to-patient ads and grown from it. Perhaps it can work for you too.

But before you jump in, it’s important to understand the right conditions and parameters that make for a good DTC opportunity. For some med device companies, direct-to-patient advertising (also known as direct-to-consumer advertising, or DTC ads) can be a great way to lift revenue and get patients asking surgeons for a procedure. But for others, it can be a rapid fire way to spend cash in hopes of behavior change, but get little in return.

Top reasons why direct-to-patient advertising efforts fail

Unfortunately, too many med device companies get into DTC for the wrong reasons, and often before they’re ready. And it’s easy to see why. Consumers are overrun with commercials and advertisements for pharmaceuticals – why not do the same with your technology?

To understand if you’re ready for this approach, it helps to know what is NOT a good fit for direct-to-patient advertising first.

1. You have silos between marketing and sales

Typically, direct-to-patient ads aren’t looked at as a tool for sales. This is a mistake, because if your sales and marketing teams are heavily siloed, you’re going to struggle. You can’t advertise enough to replace device reps, and reps can’t influence patient behavior.

Heavy silos will result in mindsets like, “well I did my part” or “this is a waste of my time”. If this sounds like your teams, you’re going to struggle.

If these two teams act independently, with minimal communication, or even disdain for the other, you should definitely not get into DTC advertising. The right DTC campaign drives patient behavior that field teams can leverage for sales conversations.

2. Your message doesn’t matter to patients

Simply put, if your device only benefits the surgeon, there’s no patient benefit, so you’re going to have no leverage with patients. Without that leverage, you could run all the ads you wanted and still not have any patients requesting your procedure.

The best direct to patient advertising triggers an emotional response from a patient, in response to a pain that they have. It’s often something that they haven’t heard from their provider and so you’re wanting them to take action from the message. For example, promoting a technology that is less invasive and will help rid them of minor knee pain for life, that’s a patient-focused message. Telling a patient that the alloy in their technology is 200 times stronger than the one the surgeon was using before, that’s never going to matter to the patient so it should not be marketed directly to them.

3. You don’t have an appropriate level of commitment to getting it right

If you’re coming at this approach with the mindset of “we want to try this,” you’re probably not ready. But if you’re coming at it from an angle of “we are doing this and want to figure out how to do this effectively,” then you might be.

This comes down to how you handle data and attribute campaign results, as direct-to-patient advertising can produce ambiguous ROI.

For example, let’s say a med device company runs a direct-to-patient campaign and books 40 appointments, tracking 5 procedures that were directly attributed to the campaign. A company with unsophisticated analytics might say “this campaign generated 5 procedures,” but this isn’t the full picture.

This scenario ignores the 60 other procedures happening across the target region, which leads to a much more substantial revenue lift from the ads, despite not having an obvious attribution to the campaign. Unfortunately, with a lens like this, a company could make poor decisions about when to start, stop, or change campaigns simply due to ambiguous ROI.

In short, if your organization is going to gauge success of a campaign by a directly measurable result rather than overall revenue lift, then you’re not ready.

4. You’re treating DTC as a way to reduce your sales force

Direct-to-patient advertising is not the same as a sales professional. Too often, companies will treat DTC advertising for med device as if it were identical to pharmaceutical advertising, with a mindset of “if we run enough ads, we can reduce our sales force.”

This is a mistake and it’s caused by some key distinctions between the industries.

First off, pharma reps are in more of an order-taking position, so companies can more easily replace the need for reps using ads. DTC for med devices also finds more value in regional campaigns, where they can treat cities differently based on which surgeons are users for the device.

For med devices, the true value of DTC ads comes from market agitation, helping convert non-using surgeons into users. It’s more about behavior change and adoption vs knowing an option is simply available.

Pharmaceutical ads target patients who are already caught up in primary care, hoping they switch to a medication they saw in an ad, and has a much lower barrier than a procedure since medication doesn’t require nearly the same behavior change on the patient’s end. These are surgeries after all, not prescription pads, and device reps still need to work with the surgeon in the procedure room.

How to determine if you’re ready for direct-to-patient advertising

If these signs didn’t cause you to postpone your plans for a direct-to-patient campaign, here are 4 signs that you might be ready to start with direct-to-consumer advertising:

  1. Your marketing and sales teams are working together to achieve common goals
  2. You have a specific desire for impact with direct-to-patient advertising, beyond “getting the word out”
  3. There’s a clear patient benefit from your device or therapy that helps patients take action on treatment, when they may have been avoiding it in the past
  4. Your device or technology has specific patients who are in the “watchful waiting” phase of treatment

Sound like you? You might be ready to get the ball rolling.

Consider learning more about TrackableMed’s fast, insight-driven DTC approach, which can help you get results in a matter of weeks — without the high costs for media or creative production.