Three Things Medical Device Companies Can Learn From Apple’s Averted “Antennagate” PR Crisis

Posted by: in Medical Devices, Social Media Insights & Trends on July 20, 2010

1.  Apple recognizes that every customer is important – and they make sure you know it.

In Steve Job’s brilliant press conference on the antenna issue in which he had the media absolutely eating out of his hand,, he must have repeated the phrase that “every customer is important” as least a dozen times in different contexts. Even though the antenna issue only affected .055% of iPhone 4 users (making it NOT statistically significant for you p-value addicts out there), you couldn’t have walked away from the press conference without thinking, “Geez – Apple really cares about their customers.” What might have seemed like Steve Jobs just “talking” in a time of crisis wasn’t – in fact, it was just the opposite. Apple, who has always been very meticulous about what they give to their customers (as noted in the July issue of Fast Company:, carefully crafted a message, no doubt product of thoroughly developed talking points and numerous rehearsals to make sure that above all else, Apple reassured customers and non-customers of their commitment to the end user.

Also on this point, medical device companies could do a better job of following Apple’s “every customer is important” mantra as we are in a unique position. We’re not just giving our patients a pill to take; we’re combining the best of both technology and healthcare to provide physicians and patients with an innovative solution. We have the opportunity to create a brand experience for our physician and patient customers that engages them and turns them into our ambassadors. If we recognize that every single patient is truly important AND actually treat them like they are, we can see what a great opportunity we have to create an ambassador army made up of every physician and patient customer with whom we interact.

2.  Apple identified what their customers were saying and what they wanted in a timely manner.

It took Apple only 22 days from the day that it shipped its new iPhone 4 to identify the antenna issue and proactively offer a solution (albeit some may think that this was at the behest of social media). 22 days is quicker than getting a piece of collateral through legal and regulatory review. How were they able to do this? Easy – they were listening! Yeah, yeah you say, but they are a tech company – of course they are listening online to what their customers are saying. I can guarantee you that there’s just as much being said about medical devices online that you don’t know about (but would care about) than there is about Apple’s “bumper.” You just have to know where to be looking and what to be listening for. So what’s your excuse not for listening? By engaging customers online and actively listening to what is being said about your brand, medical device manufacturers are able to identify issues proactively and not wait until issues spiral out of control. Best practices for effective brand management doesn’t just suggest active online listening…it demands it.

3.  Apple gave their customers what they wanted (this time)…and more.

So should medical device companies. I know not all medical device companies have Apple’s resources or their brand reputation. Few companies do and even fewer recognize how to use these effectively – however, whether you’re a small, VC-backed start up or the largest medical device company of the world, you need to give your customers what they want and then go beyond that by to give them even more – what they weren’t expecting. Too often today, we see companies relying solely on the value proposition of a given therapy to convince patients or physicians to choose their device. Medical device companies need to recognize that this is only 50% of the equation, especially in the crowded marketplace the device industry is becoming. What services do you offer? What added value do you bring to the physician? What experience do you give to patients? How do you improve the way they feel about your brand? This is what makes your customers choose your brand over your competition and it’s what keeps the Mac addicts coming back for more every time Apple puts out a new product.

By: Scott Shadiow

Account Director

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2 Responses

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  1. Karen Halsey said

    Great insights, particularly for those more elective, consumer-facing technologies and treatments.

  2. Scott — Nicely done. The lessons are exactly right for medical device companies, especially #1.

    (Though, for the record, I don’t think Apple quite took your lessons to heart: a medical device company that waited 22 days to address a known issue (an issue that might have been picked up pre-market by their engineers), then issued a release saying it was a non-problem, then held a press conference in which they minimized the issue and trashed their competitors would be defending themselves to the FDA/Congress so fast it would make your head spin.)

    I think there is another interesting lesson here that’s germane to life science companies: the difference between relative and absolute risk. Jobs made a point of saying that only one additional call out of 100 was dropped by the iPhone 4, compared with the 3GS, an absolute increase of just 1 percent. But data suggests that the 3GS itself dropped one call out of every 100. So the iPhone 4, by dropping 1 additional call out of 100, is actually 100 percent worse than its predecessor. 1 percent isn’t a big deal. 100 percent is. Life science companies have long known this. Now Apple is learning it, too.

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