Archive for September 2009
Frank Luntz writing for the Los Angeles Times (reprinted in the StarTribune) points to town hall meetings as evidence that “Competing ideals are actually competing.” Though the dialogue is rowdy, it is dialogue. With leadership generally viewed as lacking integrity (for lots of reasons, from scandals to bail-outs to clear hypocrisy to “Question Authority” in modern or post-modern guise), talking together is one of the beginning points to rebuilding trust.
What if marketing and marketers led the way by engaging audiences in real talk–talk that is broader than just their product?
My industrial client sees the logic behind building a community of interest around the technology and processes they expertly provide. But building community means sharing information—and that’s problematic. This client’s industry is rife with corporate espionage, where one small step ahead of the competitor is a huge win. So they want to share their innovation story but they don’t want the information spigot open too wide.
The alternative is to continue to hold back the necessary ingredients for building relationships with would-be brand loyalists. Silence in a room gradually filling with talkers will eventually remove you from the game entirely.
Swapping one-way messaging for dialogue in medical device marketing starts with a question. But “Who am I talking with?” is just the beginning. Conversation requires more than just a change of audience—it requires a reversal of communication style. Preparing for this change starts deep inside the protected medical device community. Marketers must talk with regulatory folks. Lawyers need to join the same discussion. It’s important that all the right people join the conversation so it steers clear of the legal and ethical issues different sectors of the medical device community are currently answering for.
Starting conversations with the right people has always been something of a tightrope walk: back when internal regulatory folks and lawyers were thought of as enemies of marketing, they were not invited to the discussion so as to quiet their nay saying—at least until the final review process. But those days are gone—and thankfully so—because the different disciplines will have the best discussion when they speak openly about the requirements they represent, but with the willingness to bend as much as possible to service their patients, physicians and clinicians.
The kind of conversations needed are far from adversarial. Marketing, regulatory and legal need to open new ground for discussion. Opening that new ground includes the goals and parameters of each disciplines. It also includes the rhetorical elements of conversation: the giving of an idea and the listening to what someone else says. It’s just regular, ordinary dialogue. And if it cannot happen inside a medical device company, can it really happen outside?
News today that Abercrombie and Fitch must pay a Minnesota family $115,264 for discriminating against a disabled person when the store refused to accommodate a daughter with disabilities. The autistic youth needed help in the dressing room from her sister, which A&F clerks would not allow. After repeated attempts, the girl said she “felt like a misfit” at Abercrombie and Fitch. It took a lawsuit to even get the matter noticed by the company. The result was a fine, though certainly “hefty” by the standards of a $3.5 billion business (in sales last year).
Two interesting features of the story reported in the StarTribune: one is that disabilities are not always outward in appearance. You cannot always see a person’s disability. Though Abercrombie and Fitch had a policy for accommodation, stores clerks understood that to mean visible disabilities and would not accept that there are other types. And that points to a lack of training at Abercrombie and Fitch, though in fact they say they have an “innovative and provocative approach to [diversity] education that we call reality-based learning.” Perhaps someone needs to mention to Abercrombie and Fitch that just calling something “reality-based” does not make it so.
I cannot help but wonder if the very goals of Abercrombie and Fitch are as much to blame as the lackluster clerk training. I’ll admit I know next to nothing about the organization. But from a brand perspective, I have gained all the information I need. The truth is still the same: brand impressions are the extent of our interactions with most organizations. After raising teenagers and hearing their impressions of the merchant, and just by simply passing the store myself, the brand message is clear enough: become a beautiful person by buying Abercrombie and Fitch stuff. The store’s narrow understanding of beauty and constant attention to sensuality trivializes the human condition and sends a load of false messages to everyone who comes in contact with it. I know that the Minnesota girl is not alone in feeling like a misfit—I saw my kids and their friends rejecting the company’s narrow view, along with the products they peddled.
There’s no question that beauty and sex sell—they always have—but Abercrombie and Fitch’s surface perspective seems to have affected their approach to everything. And my evolving impression of the Abercrombie and Fitch brand is that they use beauty and sensuality to sell false versions of reality to kids. And now I know their surface way of looking at things discriminates against people with disabilities.
It’s time to shop elsewhere.
Medical Device Firms using Social Media, Step #1: Have You Defined Yourself Out of Conversation Success?
Launch plans have always been about sharpening one-way messages and sending them out through as many channels as may get noticed (and as many as you can afford). But what if your next product launch changed up the usual one-way messaging mix of brochures, ads, comparison sheets, case studies and article reprints with a few simple tools that help you get traction where it counts—in engaged discussion?
In the next few blogs I’ll offer suggestions about how regulated industries can begin to build communities using social media. One thought to start: Who are you talking with?
As a medical copywriter and communication consultant, I’ve spent years working with marketing colleagues to stay focused on target audiences. You see, we had these sharp and polished messages we wanted to shoot—and we needed to know who to shoot them at. Getting these messages ready for communication battle was tough work because each message had to zip through all the natural barriers every human erects around their will. It surprises me now that some messages actually did get through.
But there’s this new thing going on: technology plus market proactivity plus searchability are turning the tables so that the person with the moneybag to spend on communication no longer owns the medium. Of course, it was mere mirage that such a person actually did own it—since the brand conversation has always been in the hands of customers.
One first penetrating question as you develop launch plans: Who are we talking with? It is right and proper to continue to develop and hone benefit messages for new products. New devices must be born with clear benefit statements and positioning otherwise they never even get seen in the market. But the exercise of teams crafting marketing messages usually results in one-way messages toward target audiences.
“Who am I talking with?” is a different question than “Who are you aiming at?” Aim is one-way focused, so the message gets there. Or not. Talking is a two-way conversation. But conversation is not a delivery vehicle for one-way messages. Talking to a person who delivers only one-way messages is like listening to a monologue: at best it is only mildly interesting. Usually we do our best to politely hang on. But conversation is a give and take where both parties remain interested, both parties have a stake in continuing, both parties get something from the conversation.
Going beyond the question of aim to the question of conversation brings another level of discussion to your marketing meetings. Questions like, what would a genuine conversation look like? And who would we be talking with? Physician? Clinicians? Patients. Possibly yes to all three. And what could a conversation accomplish? Just to ask this question is to begin to see things differently. And it is also to begin to prepare for a future where one-way messages have an even more limited power and where conversation is a vital element of any launch.
So: are you conversing with interested partners or are you delivering a monologue alone in the middle of the room?
Next-up: Building Community among Frenemies