SAMPS was previously Association of Commercial Professionals for Life Sciences (ACP-LS)

Same Product, Different Result. How IBC Grew Sales Over 47%

May 22, 2015

My business partner, Heath Thomas, is the most talented bioscience designer I have ever worked with. I had the pleasure of meeting him at Ambion and saw him demonstrate his talent as we merged with Applied Biosystems to LIFE Technologies. When I joined Luminex, I knew he would bring creativity and excellence to transform the brand into the high-quality diagnostics powerhouse it is today.

He has often reminded me that a brand is not a logo! A logo is a part of a company's identity, but the elements that build your brand invoke feelings in the buyer. What does the brand stand for in the minds of your customers? Does it represent quality, innovation, or reliability? How do you feel when you see the Apple logo? Many devotees feel pride, a sense of coolness, a club they want to join and stay in as a lifetime member. The product line supports that cool feeling — iPads, iPods, and now Apple Watches! The logo is only a part of this cool, innovative brand. The product line supports this message and continuous innovation keeps reinforcing that cool club feeling in the minds of Apple enthusiasts.

AffloVest: moving WAY beyond the logo

Last spring, we were introduced to International Biophysics Corporation (IBC). IBC offers a surgical product line as well as a medical device line featuring a product called AffloVest®. The AffloVest is a portable, high-frequency chest-wall oscillation (HFCWO) vest for people suffering from cystic fibrosis, bronchiectasis, COPD, and other breathing ailments. It offers freedom for patients — freedom from conventional devices that require tubes, a stand-alone motor and an older technology which pounds vs. vibrates. The AffloVest truly improves quality of life for those afflicted with these lung diseases.

IBC were ready for a change. Their previous messaging was effective in the sense that it highlighted the benefits of the product — better targeting of lung lobes to customize treatment, programmable settings for individualized treatment, and newer, better technology. Their advertising showcased their target customer base — pictures of young children doing everyday tasks and older people enjoying freedom outdoors to walk the dog while wearing the vest while happily complying with treatment. This looked very similar to other medical device companies. Happy patients enjoying a better life.

IBC wanted to try something different and they were very open to suggestions. After looking at all of the collateral, it was time to bring on the creative. IBC needed some new visual elements that would evoke feeling in the hearts of their customers, both patients and prescribing physicians. They needed something that would stand out and get noticed. We knew that these visuals would most likely be different for their target customer segments.

Find the nerves

The first step was to look at the existing competitive device that has been on the market for 30 years without much change at all. We needed to know what people liked and, more importantly, did not like about the unit. Using the voice of the customer and feedback from the sales team, we came up with the following list:

  • Patients have to sit in one place for treatment due to the need for a power source
  • It was LOUD — so loud, in fact, that patients often isolated themselves from their family members during treatment
  • The treatment was uncomfortable, creating a chest pounding that was painful
  • Patients did not always comply with treatment due to the issues above, which led to lung weakness and scarring
  • Patients like having treatment options at home
  • Physicians want to prescribe a treatment that generates tangible positive results

Now that we knew the issues and the benefits the AffloVest could bring to the patient community, it was time to illustrate IBC's solution.

Strike the nerves


Figure 1. The squeezed-orange campaign.

Out with the traditional medical advertising and in with some new graphics and taglines. One of the biggest patient complaints is the thump and uncomfortable squeeze of the traditional market vest. We developed new graphics that featured an orange slice with a hand squeezing it and the tagline, "Better breathing without the squeeze." The orange campaign was featured at the annual Cystic Fibrosis Foundation meeting and was a showstopper (Figure 1).

To pull the campaign together, the IBC team gave out orange squeeze balls with their contact information. IBC reports that they had more traffic at that show than at any other show they had done previously. Same product, yet a much different response. The orange slice stirred up emotion in those who deal closely with these lung diseases and helped IBC stand out in a sea of competitors on the crowded trade show floor.


Figure 2. The bronchiectasis testing campaign.

The next campaign was for bronchiectasis. This ailment is found mainly in patients aged 65 and older. It is a widening of the airway caused by mucus blockage, creating chronic infections. This target customer group needed a different approach. This segment was just learning about HFCWO devices. Both physicians and patients needed some education on the benefits of adding this to the treatment regime. This campaign targeted physicians as a first line and featured multiple lung-graphic icons (Figure 2).

The campaign posed the question, "How many of your chronic lung infection patients have bronchiectasis?" It featured a series of graphic lung icons, some gray in color with randomly spaced orange lung icons. The random "positives" created a cause for concern. Once again, the emotional element was added. Physicians wondered, "Should I test for that?" The graphic campaign was followed up with a technical brochure highlighting more detail on bronchiectasis and the benefits of the AffloVest for this patient base.


Figure 3. The Life-Untethered campaign.

The final campaign was aimed at HMEs, that is, home medical equipment distributors in the healthcare industry. They have a different set of needs as resellers. They need to know about reimbursement rates, marketing support, and the overall marketability of the product. The graphic for this campaign depicted a helium balloon on a string with a pair of scissors ready to cut the string. The tagline read, "Life untethered." Break your string and move on with treatment (and your life) (Figure 3).

This was a very powerful image and one that made the point in the "heart" of the distributor with the supporting facts aimed at the their business "head". For example, IBC provided existing insurance codes, warranty information and lead generation activities. This campaign resulted in IBC being approached by and signing with the VGM Group as a preferred vendor supply partner. VGM Group, Inc. is one of the largest HMEs in the United States.

See through your customers' eyes

These 3 examples demonstrate how one can take the same on-market product and use fresh, new graphics to evoke feeling and get results in target segments. They highlight how graphically illustrating the problem that the segment faces makes it faster and easier to understand the message without detailing it all in heavy text. The graphics must illustrate a solution of which they might not have been aware. Make sure you get to the meat of the issue. Benefits such as time savings or decreased price might not be enough. Those are often the table stakes needed to participate into the market. What is your sustainable competitive advantage and how can you bring that to life? Does it really matter to the customer? Take some time to do the work up front — customer discovery, customer profiling and competitive positioning. Truly understand what matters to your customer and ensure your solution targets their head and their heart.

In the end, results count. It is not always easy to try another way of doing things, but risk can often bring big reward. Since these campaigns began, IBC has seen sales of the AffloVest soar. They have seen current quarterly growth of 47.86%. Their alliance with the VGM Group expanded their reach to over 2,000 HME members across the USA. They have enhanced their messaging using social media, customer advocacy pages, clinical studies, and satisfied customer testimonials. They have augmented their image in both the patient and physician communities.

It's true — a picture really is worth a thousand words — but that picture should connect with buyers on an emotional level and encourage them to take action.


Sheila Burns

Sheila BurnsSheila has been in the biotechnology industry for more than 25 years and has held executive leadership positions at Thermo Fisher Scientific, Applied Biosystems, and LIFE Technologies. In addition, she has molecular diagnostics experience as the leader of the marketing team for Luminex Corporation. She is currently the managing director of Building 12 Communications, LLC, a firm specializing in branding, strategic planning and marketing communications for the biotechnology industry.

SAMPS, Sales And Marketing Professionals in Scientific research, is the first and only organization dedicated to sales and marketing professionals within the life sciences.

The association’s goal is to serve its members who work in commercial roles for life science products and services companies and associated businesses, globally.
SAMPS was previously named ACP-LS. We feel that SAMPS more clearly describes the membership, and will form a better foundation from which to expand this membership globally. 
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