False or exaggerated claims always make for bad marketing, but medical manufacturers have to walk a more delicate line than most companies. If the government decides you’re making claims that fall outside of what the FDA says your products do, you could face serious consequences.
The False Claims Act (FCA) was first implemented to punish companies trying to defraud the government during the Civil War, but in recent years has frequently been applied to punishing healthcare companies that make exaggerated claims about what their products can do for customers. Nine of the top 10 FCA cases where plaintiffs were awarded the biggest fines were against healthcare companies.
Part of what makes FCA rules for medical manufacturers so tricky is that it’s not just about avoiding false claims, it’s about avoiding any claims at all that the FDA hasn’t already approved. That can put some pretty strict limitations on what you can do in your marketing.
From at least the days of snake oil salesmen—maybe even from the first time one human made a sale to another—people have learned to be wary of product claims. With as much advertising as people are inundated with today, the ability to gain trust through advertising has become harder than ever and talking about how great a product is just doesn’t cut it anymore.
That’s one of the big reasons for the shift in recent years to inbound marketing. If customers keep hearing from hundreds of companies about how great their products are, what can one company do to set themselves apart and get customers to actually listen and care?
The answer is to stop bragging and start educating.
Inbound marketing is about creating opportunities for buyers to find and interact with your brand in a positive way that builds trust and keeps you top of mind for the time when they need what you sell.
The restrictions you face as a healthcare marketer actually may work to your benefit, because they force you to think outside of pushing product claims and focus on other ways to bring your audience information of value that will make them care about your brand.
It can be hard at first to make the mental switch from selling to educating, but producing content that helps your potential customers does help with selling, albeit in indirect ways that often take some time to pay off. The tradeoff for taking a route that requires more time is that, when done well, it can produce more solid results. Rather than one sale, you’re working toward the goal of a building an ongoing relationship with customers.
Here are some of the main reasons it works.
What’s your first move when you have a healthcare question? Most people turn to Google.
If you do the work of providing quality, authoritative content that answers the relevant questions people frequently ask, then you stand a chance of showing up in the results when they do a search. Just to be clear, you can’t put a handful of articles out there and hope to be No. 1 in Google tomorrow, but by doing the work of providing as many good answers to questions as possible over time, you’ll start to increase the likelihood of people finding you in their searches.
Anyone who searches for the question “what are the risks of lasik” will find results from a handful of sources on the first page, including two companies that sell LASIK: LASIK.com and All About Vision. What’s the likelihood either of those companies would show up in that search if they hadn’t taken the time to produce content answering a question most patients who consider LASIK will take the time to research? Now people interested in LASIK will know these websites are good resources in their search.
Every brand dreams of the ultimate goal of customer loyalty, but it’s a hard one to achieve. According to psychological research, though, one of the best ways to get there is to show your customers you have shared values. And one of the best ways to demonstrate your shared values is to address a common enemy.
Luckily, when you sell healthcare products the enemy is obvious. Providing information that helps people fight the effects of whatever disease, illness or injury your product helps with shows your values are aligned with theirs and can help build up goodwill toward your brand.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America takes this approach with their Fight the Cause of Allergy website, which is packed with educational information on allergy symptoms, causes and treatments. Anyone sick of allergies and looking for solutions will be thrilled to find a site completely dedicated to helping them understand their options better. Try to think about ways to provide that to your potential customers.
The problem with snake oil salesmen wasn’t just that they were too focused on product claims; it was that they were focused on false product claims. If your potential customers think there’s any chance that your product won’t deliver on the healthcare claims you make, they won’t be casually annoyed—they’ll be livid. We’re talking about people’s health here; you can’t play games with that.
To be in a position to provide useful educational content to your audience, you have to first understand the subject you’re addressing. If your customers have consistently found you to be the provider of authoritative, useful information, then they’ll know your brand understands the details of what they’re dealing with and can be trusted.
All of those reasons ultimately benefit you, but to top it all off, providing educational content simply is good for your customers. The products you sell do make your company a profit, but they’re also meant to help improve people’s lives.
The healthcare industry in the United States doesn’t have the greatest reputation right now, for a number of (often complicated) reasons. Imagine if more healthcare businesses started approaching their business and marketing model with the primary goal of being helpful to patients? When patient trust increases, sales aren’t the only benefit. The relationship between healthcare brands and patients can become something more positive and beneficial. Inbound marketing is a step in the right direction toward reaching that point.