The success of storytelling at a major medtech brand

31 Oct 2019

Image: Aerogen/Facebook

Ciara Power discusses the opportunities and challenges in building a medtech brand out of the west of Ireland.

Some companies are unafraid to declare that they are saving the world. Their CEOs unabashedly spin narratives claiming that advertising platforms enable world peace, that extensive data mining is for the freedom of all humankind, or that co-working spaces could help solve the greatest global challenges such as world hunger.

Strangely, though, companies that are actually in the business of developing life-changing products have trouble stepping out with such bombastic claims. In the medtech industry, regulations prevent brands from making unfounded claims about their products, and there’s also the need to show sensitivity to the patients whom a medical device is meant to help.

This challenge of sharing the story of a medical device in a compliant and compassionate way is what faced Ciara Power in her role as global brand manager at Aerogen.

Western medicine

Aerogen develops devices for aerosol drug delivery. Using these devices, patients can inhale medications for respiratory conditions through a mouthpiece or mask. It’s an effective drug delivery system and there are at-home options for those who need such a device outside a clinical setting.

The company holds more than 100 international patents and is a leading example of Irish medtech on the world stage. What started off as a small operation in Galway now has more than 200 staff and continues to grow.

‘If you make the effort to get involved with what Galway has to offer, you can reap a lot from it’

Following a few years in marketing in Ireland, the UK and Benelux regions, Power returned to her native Galway and the company she had interned at in 2010. Starting out in a temporary role, within two years she was appointed Aerogen’s global brand and digital manager.

She sees her hometown as a “dynamic city”, pointing to the variety of events – from business meetups to comedy clubs – happening every night of the week. “Like anywhere, if you make the effort to get involved with what Galway has to offer, you can reap a lot from it.”

There’s a real sense of pride for Galway’s foothold in the medtech space, but while engineers interested in medtech careers or international representatives with knowledge of the industry will know that the west of Ireland is a hotbed for this sector, outside of those circles it’s not as well known.

“Any time I’ve spoken to friends about it, people are surprised that there are so many medtech companies in Galway,” she said.

Getting emotional

Starting out at Aerogen, Power wanted to put her passion for digital marketing and analytics to work, but she was “apprehensive” as to how to approach this in a medical device company. “I would have looked at a lot of other companies in the area – no one was really doing anything that exciting or anything that was getting that much engagement,” she said.

“We’re talking about a product that’s used on very sick patients in the ICU or people coming into the emergency department in acute respiratory distress. Creating a more fun, emotional side of the brand was initially quite daunting.”

‘We’ve gone from looking potentially quite cold and clinical to more emotive’

Over time, though, Power found a route to success, and receiving messages from patients inspired her even further. “That would be the moment when I knew that the digital efforts were paying off – when people started talking about it and wanted to share their story without any intervention from us.”

Those patients who reached out to Aerogen were willing advocates for the product, eager to let others know how this device might help them too, and Power brought these unsolicited, unscripted real-life patient stories to social media.

“It has kind of changed the way we are marketing. Before, we were probably a bit afraid, almost, to be talking directly to the customer or the patient.”

Now, she said, “we’ve moved our marketing more from product-focused to patient-focused”. Everything from the brand imagery and its website to brochures and trade show materials, the focus is on patient outcomes. “We’ve gone from looking potentially quite cold and clinical to more emotive.”

‘Why we do what we do’

As well as sharing patient impact stories with an audience of potential customers, Aerogen shares these internally, reminding the team what it is they are working for. “It’s stories like this which are why we do what we do in Aerogen,” said Power.

At his quarterly updates, founder and CEO John Power “would always try to finish the presentation with patient stories or feedback that we’ve got in through social channels” and highlight the number of shipments in terms of patients helped – a number that currently stands at around 7m people.

“If you’re not in the marketing or commercial team, you might lose sight of what you’re actually doing each day. I think it is important to constantly reinforce these messages.”

Even HR reps at the company have told Power how candidates say the digital marketing showed them the emotional side of the company. Like all good marketing, it makes for better business all round. In a rare but much-desired win-win-win scenario, what’s good for Aerogen and good for staff in terms of both retention and attraction will further serve the patients in need.

“From our CEO down, that is the overall objective of the company: to make more people around the world get better faster.”

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Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.