Medical Marketing Maven: Interviewing StoneArch Agency President and CEO Marcia Miller
Name a prominent medical product or healthcare brand – from Medtronic, Hennepin Healthcare, Prime Therapeutics, Upsher-Smith Labs and Provation to Vigilanz, Philips, 3M, Hill-Rom and Teleflex – and the Minneapolis-based healthcare marketing agency StoneArch has probably been involved.
Our Maccabee agency has worked side-by-side with StoneArch on several shared healthcare clients and we’ve been blown away by their collaborative philosophy and creative work. After 500 product launches, 250 online videos and 150+ digital campaigns for healthcare brands, StoneArch’s approach to brand strategy and content is likely to intrigue even marketers who aren’t involved in the world of pacemakers, stents, neurostimulators, hospitals, physicians and near-miraculous devices to treat chronic illnesses.
We’re pleased to share below excerpts from our conversation with StoneArch president and CEO Marcia Miller, the former VP of Brand, Advertising and Interactive at United Healthcare and SVP of Corporate Marketing at Optum:
For marketers like us who have followed StoneArch’s growth for decades, what would surprise them about your agency’s current direction?
For 34 years, StoneArch has been known for its product launches and medical technology marketing, starting with our work with Medtronic. But today, medical device is only 20 percent of our agency’s business; our other marketing work spans the entire scope of health: health insurance, pharmaceuticals, and direct to consumer healthcare products. We still work for Medtronic and we just landed Teleflex out of Pennsylvania as a new client this year. We enjoy medical device marketing because it keeps you smart, and it’s one of the more complex pieces of our agency business.
What's most exciting is how differently consumers and patients now consume healthcare content - we've found that news about new healthcare products is absorbed in smaller tidbits, as potential customers watch, interact, respond and listen to medical content, versus just reading it.
Share with us a disruptive campaign from StoneArch for a medical product that turned out differently than you expected?
Oh, I have a great example - Medela, the largest breast pump brand in the world, is based out of Chicago in the US. Our agency worked hand-in-glove with Medela to strategically look at their audience of mothers and figure out how to engage with the new world of millennial and gen z moms (not surprisingly, that involved lots of digital and video!) Instead of Medela just talking at moms with ads, we launched The Mom’s Room (part of which is featured to the right) a personalized content program. We partnered with Medela to match up moms' major pregnancy and breast milk feeding milestones with their wealth of clinically-based knowledge, and make it easy for mom to have a deeper understanding of how her body works and what her baby needs. We were able to really demonstrate to today's moms that Medela was thinking about her throughout her journey - from the first trimester through baby's first year - and deliver that content the way she's used to and where she wants it.
It's very interesting that Medela chose to speak to their consumer targets –mothers – months before breast-feeding began, so that once the mom began considering a breast pump, they already had a relationship of trust with Medela. So what metrics did you and Medela use to measure The Moms’ Room campaign success?
We measured paid media and website metrics, including video views and comments received. The most important KPI was the number of sign-ups for The Moms’ Room, and Medela met their overall goal early in the first month of the campaign.
I take it that consumer attitudes toward breast pumps today is not the same as that of their own mothers 20 to 30 years before?
Oh, Medela faced a perception issue. The Affordable Care Act changed the rules on payment for breast pumps. Originally, a new mom would go to Babies R Us or another retailer and put a breast pump on their baby registry for someone to buy for them. The ACA changed all that by saying health insurance should be paying for the pumps. So now, Medela knows that mothers get breast pumps for free, rather than purchased for a baby shower. Imagine the change – suddenly, Medela is not only marketing to consumers, they had to begin marketing to health insurers who were paying for the pump. Thanks to the ACA, we not only had to convince moms to ask for pumps by the Medela brand name, we also had to drive awareness around Medela’s entire holistic breastfeeding offering—from accessories like flexible breast shields to services like on-demand lactation support via video chats—and make sure mom knew this was the breast pump brand doctors and hospitals trusted most.
Another change for Medela was around representation. Millennial moms are a diverse group and that diversity wasn’t reflected in the larger breastfeeding world. So we really felt a responsibility to always keep in mind a wide spectrum of motherhood whenever possible. StoneArch needed to identify the pain points that real moms have and find new ways to connect Medela with them.
What was StoneArch’s role in premiering Bind?
We were hired by Definity Health co-founder Tony Miller to launch Bind, a totally new health insurance concept that reflected how people live today. It provides core coverage for wellness and catastrophic care such as cancer, but if you need a procedure that’s more plannable such as knee surgery or hip replacements, you can add that new coverage as you need it. The premise with Bind is that you’d keep monthly premiums lower if you were healthy, but allow you to plan for surgeries and other events by adding coverage as you need it. We helped build that brand with a foundation of storytelling, which is a special challenge given that Bind is a B2B company that sells not direct to consumer, but to self-insured employers.
One StoneArch client mentioned on your website surprised me – Best Buy. That consumer electronics retailer is not a brand associated with healthcare.
Healthcare is a new market for Best Buy and they partnered with us to help them tap into it. They started a new division of senior-focused in-home, assistive technology products. One product line is called Assured Living, a monitoring system with door and motion sensors that are sold inside Best Buy stores and focused on keeping seniors living in their homes longer. I think about my mother, who doesn’t want to go to a nursing home and wants to live independently. Best Buy’s product includes monitoring devices to attach to her refrigerator or bathroom door that will alert me if she hasn’t opened the frig in 24 hours – the device would send me a text, because she needs to eat – perhaps she has fallen.
What kind of employee flourishes at StoneArch?
Perhaps this will surprise you, but you don’t have to have a healthcare background at StoneArch. You do have to love the complex. We’re not selling Coca Cola or Doritos with catchy headlines at StoneArch. Our employees have to understand regulatory rules in complex industries from hearing aids to pharmaceuticals.
You obviously enjoy working with larger medical clients such as Medtronic, but also the smaller, scrappier entrepreneurs in the healthcare space.
I have great admiration for any healthcare start-up. It takes such bravery and chutzpah to take a disruptive idea and bring it to the marketplace. My first love is with those founders who want to make a difference and care enough to change healthcare. Their tenacity is just remarkable.
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Paul Maccabee is president at Minneapolis-based Maccabee, a strategic public relations and online marketing agency.