In the eleventh of our series of interviews with healthcare industry professionals, Jeremy Stokes, Marketing Manager for stoma and continence care specialist Fittleworth Medical Ltd, talks to On Target about his working life.
What happens in your typical working week? What challenges do you face?
We’re still a small company, with a marketing department of only three people, so the week consists of a lot of multi-tasking: meetings, planning, lots of variety. It fits the typical marketing mix pattern of strategic and tactical work: spending time looking at markets and at our competitors, trying to understand what they’re doing and how we can respond to them, looking for opportunities for the business.
In addition I have to deliver our campaigns – we tend to have three or four every year. At the moment we have just started our spring campaign, and now that it’s running we’re planning our campaigns for the summer in more detail: starting to buy media, prepare adverts and designs.
As a delivery company, we work independently of manufacturers. So the budget we have for marketing is limited, which forces us to be creative and look for unique selling points. For instance, last year we launched our World Assist programme to support people when they go overseas and need an emergency delivery. This kind of initiative takes a lot of planning, especially finding overseas partners. World Assist is an excellent example of my role, combining marketing communications and new service enhancements, making what we’re doing at Fittleworth unique.
I try and get out and about frequently, to ensure that our marketing is not an ivory tower operation but reflects what is going on in the marketplace. I often see hospital and community nurses and get out with the sales team to understand the issues they’re facing and how marketing can help them.
We do a lot of direct mail and combine this with marketing tools that spread our reputation through word-of-mouth open days and similar events, where we can get in front of people and tell them about the service we provide. Advertising is limited because I feel that you need a big budget to make it work: regular repetition in a wide spread of magazines. We don’t have the budget to make that pay back for us and tend to do much more specific, one-to-one focused marketing.
Who are your target customers? How do you reach them?
Our target customers are segmented into two groups: stoma care and continence. The specialist nurses in the hospitals are a key market: they don’t buy from us in the usual sense, but they are an important channel recommending their customers to choose as a delivery company for their goods. On the continence side, there are the urology nurses in the hospitals, but also a lot more community nurses – again, we try to work with them and understand their needs.
A lot of my marketing output is giving our sales team a reason to call on the nurses. Because we’re not a manufacturer, we don’t have any new appliances to demonstrate. This is why things like the World Assist campaign are vital. We launched a locker box last year that is silver-coated, so it’s resistant to MRSA and other bacteria. This gives hospital nurses something to show their infection control teams, allows them to work more effectively, and demonstrates that Fittleworth is aware of the problems they are facing.
Outside that, we market our home delivery services directly to the community. Especially on the stoma side, there are many people who have managed their condition for years without seeing a specialist nurse. We have to find ways to make them aware of Fittleworth and encourage them to join us. The patient associations are keen for their members to stop thinking of themselves as ‘patients’ and live a normal life. Therefore we treat everyone as our customer rather than our patient. The marketing is all about communicating a discreet, reliable service.
How is the stoma and continence care market changing? How does that affect your commercial strategy?
The market is in a state of change, because we’ve got a consultation going through from the Government, looking at everything on Part IX of the Tariff. Although that seems to be coming to a conclusion, until it is signed and sealed you can never take anything for granted. So we are spending a lot of the time looking at contingencies and alternatives for all the possible scenarios. It’s a difficult time to make any long-term plans. The key thing for us is to maintain the level of service for our customers that we’ve achieved over the last 25 years.