Upstream Medical Device Marketing: 5 Steps to Success

Let's start with a question. How far in advance should you plan out your medical device company's marketing strategy? Take your time. You can expect to scratch your head a little here.

The truth is, there's no one solid answer. You can't have an excellent short-term plan without an equally reliable long-term plan. While you probably know this, what you might not know is that these are referred to as upstream and downstream marketing plans. Today, we'll focus on upstream marketing and how to apply it to your medical device manufacturing company.

What is upstream marketing?

Aerial View of Amazon River in Belem do Para, BrazilTo begin, we'll start with a simple definition. Upstream marketing is a strategic approach to your company's long-term marketing goals. A good upstream marketing plan focuses on the challenges that you expect your customers to have and helping them resolve them. The goal is to put yourself in their shoes and imagine what you as a customer would want from your product.

Your upstream marketing plan will look at problems from a high-level view. You can think of it like you've been dropped into an unfamiliar forest and have to find your way out. You can plot out your path by climbing to a lookout point to survey the landscape. It's not as if you're climbing up to enjoy the view. Like strategic planning for your upstream marketing approach, you're looking for certain things like obstacles, advantages, and things that can help you along the way. In both scenarios, it's crucial to look first before you set out. Many companies face unnecessary obstacles due to not serving the current market and seeing how your product will fit in or if it fits in it all.

What is downstream marketing?

If upstream marketing is the act of surveying the landscape, downstream marketing is the path that you plot to find your way to your destination. When you put both concepts together, it's clear that neither can exist independently. If you don't survey a landscape, how can you trust that your path will get you where you need to go? If you understand your environment but don't have a plan to navigate it, you certainly won't end up where you intend. Upstream marketing is the planning, and downstream marketing is the execution. So, in a way, you can think of upstream marketing as a long-term plan and downstream marketing as the short-term steps to get you there.

When you work with your downstream marketing, you'll consider what resources you have that can accomplish goals such as getting more customers, contract renewals, revenue, or partnerships. These resources are things you see in your marketing every day such as:

  • Digital ads
  • Email campaigns
  • Downloadable content
  • eBooks
  • Social media
  • Website content

These tools will give structure to your upstream marketing plan. Each time you find one of these resources, it's like taking another step towards your end goal.

How to create an upstream medical device marketing plan

To get the right answers, you have to start with the right questions. Using who, what, where, when, how, and why questions will help you understand how your medical devices fit into the broader market. By the time you have a completed upstream marketing plan, you should know your target customer’s problems, how your product solves them, and your unique advantages compared to the rest of the market. A couple of questions you can ask yourself are:

  • Who is my ideal customer?
  • What are their biggest three problems?
  • How do the current medical devices on the market solve those problems?
  • How do the existing devices on the market fall short of solving their problems?
  • What is the support from other medical device manufacturers like for their clients?
  • How is your product different from the other ones on the market?
  • When do they tend to make decisions about which company to purchase from?
  • Why would and wouldn't they want to work with you?

Outlining these details by asking yourself questions gives you a clear idea of how to position your product. One of the most critical aspects of this planning is deciding on your customer segment to create detailed buyer personas. Empathy is the secret ingredient that will help you achieve greater success. When you take the time to understand your customers and their needs, you'll create a better experience for them and your company. Don't be afraid to change your mind when faced with new information. Researching your customers will turn up new facts that shed light on their problems and needs.

Five steps to creating a bullet-proof upstream marketing plan

To help you create the perfect upstream marketing plan for your medical device manufacturing company, we've come up with five steps to help you, no matter what products you make. You'll have better results if you start these steps earlier in your product development journey.

0: Approach your planning with an open mind

Why is this step zero? Because none of the other steps can happen if you don't start here. Approaching your planning with an open mind will help you adapt quicker to the market and find unique opportunities you may have otherwise missed.

You may already have the idea of a perfect product on your mind. Even more, the product might already be in production. But your success will depend on you having an open mind and knowing that there will be times when a change will bring better results than holding on to your existing plans. Significant changes may initially appear overwhelming, especially with the regulatory requirements and red tape in medical device manufacturing. However, the quicker you incorporate new information and alter your course based on your findings, the more long-term success your company will find. This step must happen first. Without it, you'll find yourself prone to mistakes stemming from choices made with unreliable information. This is not to say that you won't make mistakes; you will, and these are invaluable tools to understand what doesn't work in your market.

1: Observe your landscape

Now that your mind is open to new information, attentively examine your environment. What do your prospective customers look like? What are their current options to solve their problems? Are there any trends in the industry that impact a product's viability? Concentrate on what drives your customers, their needs, and the details of their situation. You must prioritize verifiable data, statistics, and research to know that decisions based on this information will be reliable. You'll often come back to this step, and while it can't be completed before step 1, you will return to it through the rest of your upstream marketing process.

2: Compile your data

As MythBusters' Alex Jason says, "The only difference between screwing around and science is writing it down." Once you've got your information, put it to work. Start writing down in categorizing your information to create resources like buyer personas and brand positioning guides. The trick here is to be as straightforward as possible. Know what you do as much as what you don't do. Being specific will help you focus your resources on marketing campaigns that are most likely to pay off.

3: Get creative

Now, you can take the information you collected and use it to build your marketing plan. This is where you begin to incorporate downstream marketing. Build out your campaigns and (returning to step one) collect data wherever possible. Test out your ideas and see if the results were as expected. For example, use A/B testing on an email campaign to see if formatted or plain text messages have higher click-through rates.

4: Evaluate the outcome

If you get everything right on the first try, I deeply envy you, and you probably don't need to be reading this article. For everyone else, everything doesn't always happen as you anticipated. New data will give you more information that helps you get closer to your goal. The aim is to get closer to your target, so keep tweaking your approach and improving depending on what your data tells you.

There are also times when it's not immediately clear what caused a project to perform differently than expected. Thankfully, this isn't the last step. For situations that need a little more insight, go on to step 5.

5: Swim back upstream

If you've been trying everything you can to solve a problem in your performance, the cause of it might be outside of where you're looking. In this case, take a critical look at the information that you collected before to see if something has changed. Remember that not all statistics last forever, so regular checks keep your data current.

Don't be afraid to take your time with this step. Review the facts that you're using to design and measure your campaigns until you find another possible cause. Remember that the idea is to constantly improve, so opportunities like this are an invaluable resource for growth.


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