A challenger brand is exactly what it sounds like — a brand that, as an emerging company or division of an established company, is challenging the status quo. It’s an organization going up against a market leader to solve a new or existing business challenge. But a challenger brand’s main selling point is its approach, how it aims to solve challenges by tackling the problem from an entirely new angle and shaking up how end users view the market in the process.

And shake things up they have. Uber, Airbnb and HelloFresh are challenger brands that successfully broke through the noise and changed the way we see transportation, accommodations and grocery shopping. Beyond these new “household name” brands, the medical industry also has its fair share of challengers — whether it’s introducing a new way to screen for diseases, a new implantable heart device or a different delivery method for vaccines, there are plenty of companies disrupting the market with a new approach to solving an old problem.

Most challenger brands — especially start-up challengers — face obstacles when attempting to capture attention and market share for a new idea: low brand awareness, limited resources and lack of understanding from buyers to name a few — but the medical device industry in particular must overcome more hurdles than others.

Rules and regulations
Most challenger brands can prep the market before launch, building excitement with sneak peeks and big disruption promises. Think about how Apple had long promoted a portable, simple, connected computer, so when it launched the iPad, buyers were already lined up.

Challenger brands in the medical device industry face obstacles when attempting to capture attention and market share for a new idea: low brand awareness, limited resources and lack of understanding from buyers to name a few.Click To Tweet

Because of the nature of its heavily regulated industry, device brands can’t rely on pre-launch tactics. In line with FDA regulations, these companies must be extremely careful about medical claims and are unable to prime the market unless they’re providing scientific, educational materials that follow strict FDA guidelines. Any pre-launch marketing must be factual and formal, and designed only to explain the labeled usage, techniques, safety and risks associated with the device.

The obstacles don’t stop there. Surgeons are extraordinarily risk-averse stakeholders. Understandably so. They like proven technologies, brands and devices they’ve had success with in the past. Getting their attention for a new, unproven and unfamiliar device can be nearly impossible, especially if they don’t know your brand’s name.

While these challenges make marketing difficult, it’s not impossible for device brands to take on traditional industry leaders. Challenger device brands must simply take a different approach.

Hold focus groups
Surgeons can play an important role in the development of any device. As a challenger brand, a device must hit a home run with its stakeholders, and what better way to ensure surgeons are on board than to allow them to guide its creation?

In surgeon focus groups, brands can begin talking about a device category and soliciting feedback during the initial design and development process.

Product managers can explain the traditional ways a procedure is done, the limitations of that method and the offering being created. Then, ask for input. Do they see any obvious flaws? Are there barriers that would prevent them from adoption? Do they see the value in the product? What would ultimately convince them? How would they use it?

Focus on education
Medical device brands can’t promote a product before getting approval on a submitted Premarket Notification or 510(k) from the FDA, but it’s possible to share trial data or research. Data-driven and science-backed education is the name of the game. Think of it as the difference between a peer-reviewed journal article and a promotional brochure. One educates and the other sells.

Clinical trial data and research can help educate surgeons, using data to show comparisons of existing solutions and how a challenger device could be an improvement over existing solutions. By using research-backed education tactics to reveal gaps and opportunities, the challenger brand can effectively prime thought leaders in the market for its eventual FDA approval and launch.

Research also is an effective way to overcome surgeons’ aversions to risk. This market needs to know the challenger brand is designed to be a better offering for both surgeons and patients. By sharing research that indicates performance, surgeons can take the first step toward interest and trial.

Education can be a powerful tool when approaching investors as well. While an indepth technical explanation may resonate with surgeons or even patients, this isn’t necessarily the best way to reach early-stage investors.

Brands need to adapt the message to convey market and research data, educating
investors on the offering’s importance, without clouding it with industry jargon. The investor messaging must answer questions they care about: How much does it cost to make? How much does it cost the patient and the health system? How much margin is possible? What are the risks? What makes it unique in the market?

Challenger brands must convince investors there is a realistic potential for the offering to earn a percentage of market share as it goes up against incumbents.

Work with thought leaders
Identify the key medical organizations that are influential with your stakeholders and develop a strategy to share research and educate these groups. Having trusted leaders in the industry — with no ulterior business interest — support your research lends credibility to your brand story.

Med device challenger brands can strategically partner with thought leaders by enlisting them to author and share relevant content or inviting them to be spokespeople for media and at industry events.

Keep in mind there’s a spectrum of how coordinated these efforts can be. For example, you can work closely with specific thought leaders, carefully mapping out the partnership agreement, or you can share a “toolkit” with brand information and resources and take a more hands-off approach.

Most importantly, the thought leader must maintain their credibility, meaning you’ll need to refrain from overprescribed talking points, allow the thought leader to express information in their own voice and stay transparent with your stakeholders.

Creativity is key
Your challenger brand isn’t following tradition, so why stick to traditional communication tactics? To boost brand awareness and stand out among established competitors, challenger brands may need to get creative. Try a few of these strategies:

Video assets. A compelling video can convey the problem with current market solutions, research or even surgeon testimonials from clinical trials. This approach to education can go a long way in changing stakeholder perceptions and impacting their willingness to engage with your brand.

Experiential marketing. The best way to get surgeons to understand your offering is to get them to interact with it. For example, a physical or virtual cadaver lab could be the perfect place to let surgeons get up close and personal with a device, seeing the benefits first hand.

Half-day symposiums. Relevant trade shows gather your key stakeholders in the same place at the same time. Take advantage of these opportunities by hosting a half-day symposium before or after the show to officially launch a product (after FDA approval, of course).

Above all, don’t be afraid to try new ways of communicating, as long as you stick to the rules for your regulated industry. If you’re going to challenge the status quo and fight for market share, you must be willing to be bold, to communicate through channels that others are not and to share your research as often as possible. Challengers, this is no time to be timid.

This article originally appeared in O’Dwyer’s, October 2018 – Healthcare Issue. 

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