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Why marketing matters for health tech start-ups and scale-ups

By Dr Alastair Kirby, Industry and Technology Navigator, Kent Surrey Sussex Academic Health Science Network



Dr Alastair Kirby, Industry and Technology Navigator at Kent Surrey Sussex Academic Health Science Network (KSS AHSN) reflects on why effective marketing is crucial to the success of new products and how innovators can kick start their marketing activities.

Why am I not being noticed?

You’ve got an innovative and excellent product, so why aren’t NHS influencers and decision makers talking about it?

Simple answer may be that they don’t know about you, your product or its value. Effective marketing can help you to change this.

As part of this blog, Mark Venables, CEO and one of the founders of specialist agency Highland Marketing, helps me to explore the challenges health-tech / med-tech start-ups and new product teams face.

Marketing is about translation

Mark helpfully summarises marketing as “being able to explain your product quickly to help understand its relevance and how it meets needs.”

I see marketing as translation.

A lot of start-ups and new product teams focus on product development, but they don’t think enough about what the impact of their product is for potential users.

Med-tech and health-tech innovators are often clinicians or technologists with passion and a brilliant idea rather than entrepreneurs.

Their skills are in technical areas, not necessarily in explaining benefits to influencers and potential purchasers.

However, they need to translate their product features into benefits, then get the message out to their customers.

The challenge is converting ideas into value. You can convert ideas into value by investing in a thought-through marketing, public relations, and sales strategy.

In the early stages of an idea, this investment could be time but, as your product scales up, your strategy will need allocated funding.

Articulate your value

Mark shares an anecdote about a start-up sharing an investment deck with him. He showed it to some contacts, but no one saw much value in it.

However, when one of those contacts met the start-up managing director and got talking about the product, what he heard bore no resemblance to the deck, but was of very real interest.

So, a business idea well worth consideration, but the document intended to drive investment just didn’t translate its value.

Bottom line, you can’t expect a potential investor or customer to work out what’s good about your innovation, it’s up to you to identify and articulate the value proposition of your product.

Cut through with a clear message

You can articulate your value by cutting above the noise, with a message that’s crisp, clear, relevant, and segmented on your customers.

Case studies and stories are a great way of showing impact on clinicians’ lives and on patients’ outcomes.

There’s a real benefit in bringing in a specialist too, an organisation or a consultant that understands communication, knows how to workshop your messages and stories, and understands the health and care context.

As Mark, says you’re dealing with a sophisticated audience who want to get to the facts quickly and to know they can trust your knowledge and understanding.

Invest for success

Innovators often ask the KSS AHSN Industry team where they should invest time and money on promotion and relationship building.

Mapping this journey is different for each innovator, but there is a common theme – clearly articulating your value to the NHS is vital for success.

Some innovators view marketing costs and time as something to be minimised, given they take resources away from R&D and headcount budgets.

Innovators need marketing as much as they need product development or senior team members. It’s fundamental to getting your message and impact across to an expert audience.

Mark’s view is that 20-30 per cent of revenue to get you established, then diminishing over time. It’s a difficult call though, especially at the early stage when there’s no meaningful revenue.

However, if marketing spend isn’t regularly on your list of major budget items, or on your investment deck, you’re probably not spending enough.

Marketing as a forethought

Marketing as an afterthought is a major problem.

This is when an innovator waits until they have understood a need, worked on the technology and developed a product before thinking about how to talk to people about the product.

My advice is to include marketing from the get-go.

Marketing is as much about listening to your customers as is it talking to them. Seek feedback, thoughts, and advice on your idea at an early stage.

This doesn’t have to mean a five-figure budget. You also need some headspace to focus on commercial matters.

Ideally, you’ll have a senior development team colleague reflecting customer needs, crafting the value proposition, and setting the strategy and plan.

Work with a partner

Mark’s biggest piece of advice for start-ups and scale-ups is “don’t underestimate the importance of working with a partner that has an understanding of the market space.”

I entirely agree.  Whether you’re focused on a new product, or running a lean start-up, chances are you’ll benefit from both an external perspective and expert input.

Both of our organisations – KSS AHSN and Highland Marketing – are in that business. We can help you get started with clearly articulating your value.

Get in touch with our team at KSS AHSN to find out how we can help. Highland Marketing are available to advise via the following link.

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