Device ad-vice: experience is the best teacher

Nancy Beesley

HCB Health

(Continued from part 3 of the “Device ad-vice series”: “Device ad-vice: giving device reps the sales tools they need”)

A key goal of this series is to address the differences between device marketing and pharma marketing. One of the most striking differences between these two worlds are the vast opportunities for device marketers to gain firsthand knowledge of their products.

Medications are aloof. They often work invisibly, their MOA is sometimes vaguely understood, and there’s nothing to learn from their appearance. As a non-patient, the closest you can get to a medication is through its clinical data.

But devices are engaging. They have a physical dimension that invites inspection. They often beg you to experience them firsthand, the same way you want to “try” that new smart phone or MP3 player.

Device reps (vs. device marketers) are often so well-trained in their products that I jokingly tell them they could probably do the surgery themselves. I cannot tell you how often I’ve witnessed a relationship between rep and surgeon that goes far beyond the traditional customer connection. There’s a reliance and trust there that doesn’t exist in pharma. These reps are well-trained to provide front-line knowledge to physicians, nurses and techs, helping medical staffs keep pace with rapidly evolving product technologies.


“Experience leads to better understanding as well as to better campaigns.”


Device reps frequently observe live operations, especially when a surgical team is unfamiliar with a particular device. Some people criticize this practice, but many surgeons – and organizations that establish professional standards in medicine, including the American Medical Association and the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons – acknowledge the value of having device reps attend live operations, provided they comply with government regulations, hospital policies, and patient safety and confidentiality considerations.1, 2

Device marketers – those of us who look at all aspects of a device and consider how to make it a valuable and successful brand for a variety of stakeholders – can also gain personal experience of medical devices and should jump at the chance to do so. Experience leads to better understanding as well as to better campaigns.

Live surgeries are invaluable to device marketers

Case in point: last year we had the opportunity to witness live surgery using the nation’s first cataract surgery femtosecond laser. Previously, femtosecond laser technology was used primarily in refractive (LASIK) surgery. HCB was responsible for positioning and marketing the first of these revolutionary devices.

We took a small team from Austin to Houston, where a prototype version of the device was being used. We observed several procedures, after which the surgeon discussed the cataract laser system and the experience of using it. We left with vivid impressions and lots of notes, which helped shape our overall strategy and flesh out several projects.


“Device marketers should venture into the field and welcome every opportunity to gain firsthand knowledge of the products they help sell.”


There are three main ways live surgeries give device marketers an advantage in their work:

1. They provide a deeper understanding: viewing the femtosecond laser cataract surgeries gave us the opportunity to watch how the surgeon interacted with the machine and how the machine performed with a live patient. We also had the opportunity to ask questions of the surgeon and technical assistant, addressing many “what about this?” scenarios.

2. They foster new ideas: by viewing how the machine and surgeon worked together to perform procedures, we were able to think of new sales tools. One such idea was the development of an iPad app where a surgeon could “test drive” the laser — without having to lug a 500-lb. machine into the office or make the surgeon come to another facility to trial.

3. They may include special-topic tutorials: between procedures, we were able to talk directly with the surgeon – one of the world’s leading ophthalmic surgeons – about the unique features of the laser. This helped us understand which features really make this technology unique and what attributes would be most important for us to focus on for positioning and strategy development.

Device marketers should venture into the field and welcome every opportunity to gain firsthand knowledge of the products they help sell. As with many things in life, there’s simply no substitute for experience.


1. American Medical Association, Code of Medical Ethics, Industry Representatives in Clinical Settings,

2. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Standards of Professionalism, Orthopaedist-Industry Conflicts of Interest,

Part 5 of this series will be published next month.

About the author:

Nancy Byrnes Beesley is a partner and the chief marketing officer of HCB Health in Austin, Texas, one of the top 25 independent healthcare ad agencies in the U.S. A powerful motivator with strong device and pharma marketing experience, she leads the HCB Strategy team in delivering the agency’s unique style of thinking. She is valued by clients for her market knowledge, business vision and straightforward approach.

For more information, email Nancy at or visit

Why is experience so important in device marketing?