This may be the ultimate proof that the diabetes device business is becoming consumer-focused: companies are now aggressively "out-marketing" each other with tempting tactics to get patients to switch to their brand.
This past week, the Diabetes Online Community's been buzzing about Medtronic's new trade-in offer for its Minimed 530G with Enlite sensor, a pretty brazen move to lure customers away from the competing Dexcom G4 Platinum system.
Medtronic's new "Better Together" offers Dexcom customers a chance to save $800 in buying a new Minimed 530G system with Enlite sensor: you get $500 off the new pump-CGM system by trading in your Dexcom G4 with sensors (hmm, do they want to study the competition?). And they're offering an additional $300 for customers willing to submit photos, video, or written testimonials on why they chose the MedT system. Wow! They've packaged a call for fresh marketing material right into the offer.
There's no end date set for this offer yet, we're told, but that will be evaluated over time.
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Medtronic also tells us that for the creative project, the sentiment of what someone writes or records does not impact the discount at all.
We have to assume that Dexcom systems submitted to MedT as part of this offer will go into the labyrinths of the company's R&D for comparative testing and study, but naturally Medtronic wouldn't comment on that.
Seems like a bold move by Medtronic, no? When we queried the company, we received this statement from spokeswoman Karrie Hawbaker:
We're always working hard to find ways we can to help improve access to our therapies for people with diabetes — especially in today's economic climate. As you know, we contract with 600+ insurance plans nationwide and offer financial assistance to those who meet certain criteria. In addition to that work, we've developed several programs to help offset out-of-pocket costs for people interested in the benefits of MiniMed 530G with Enlite. Better Together is one of these programs.
Because of the heavily-regulated health care industry, we're only permitted to offer customers discounts or credits if there is a fair market exchange for their time, effort, or products. We've found that activities like trading in Medtronic or competitor products, writing about their experience with the therapy, or taking surveys, are usually manageable and acceptable for our customers, while being helpful and relevant to Medtronic.
Though we've run competitive trade-in programs before and this one launched several weeks ago, we just started some online advertising to make the diabetes community aware of this program. That might be why you're hearing about it now. Of course, as with any advertising campaign, we'll be testing the ads to see which language resonates best with the community.
It is true that this type of promotional offer isn't entirely new -- and in the nature of any competitive business -- even for these kinds of diabetes diabetes.
Last year, within three months of the G4 Platinum getting FDA clearance here in the States, Dexcom offered a $200 promotional rebate for Medtronic and Animas customers willing to buy a new G4 starter kit. That wasn't a full product trade-in program like what MedT is doing now, but the rebate did require the Medtronic pump serial number and CGM transmitter, if customers were using that.
We've seen this type of offer before in the insulin pump world, too. When Smith's Medical discontinued the Deltec Cozmo insulin pump in 2009, the pump competitors moved in like vultures trying to bring former Cozmo users into their customer fold. And Medtronic led the pack, offering a $500 trade-in discount for Cozmos. (I actually took advantage of that myself and went back to the Minimed pump that I'd switched from a couple of years earlier.)
Nevertheless, on Facebook and Twitter, the DOC has been expressing some less-than-positive opinions about this latest trade-in offer from Medtronic:
"It's surprisingly hard to articulate how that kind of marketing makes me feel. Not positive anyway."
"Curious that @MDT_Diabetes wants to pay PWDs to stop using a CGM that has been repeatedly documented to be superior."
"Smells like desperation."
"... I'm sure you can get better control if you're coming from Life Without a CGM. But I doubt it goes that way when you're switching from Dexcom, and I wonder how much they have to tap dance around the FDA with that sentiment."
In my opinion, this offer is different than previous pump trade-ins, because we're comparing the all-important aspect of glucose monitoring accuracy and reliability -- two issues much more significant than exactly how any particular pump gets the insulin into your body.
It's also important to point out that Dexcom has its own promotional marketing campaign underway called Dexcom Heroes, in which a number of Dexcom-wearing PWDs share their stories and thoughts about the product. But unlike Medtronic's "Better Together," that one from Dexcom doesn't pay people to do the posts; we're told by some D-peeps featured in the videos that their only compensation was a one-time box of CGM sensors. No money exchanged or account discounts applied.
Meanwhile, when it comes to the two CGMs on the market duking it out, it's tough to look past the proven disadvantage that Medtronic has when compared head-to-head with the Dexcom G4 sensor. That independent research showing better accuracy and reliability is the biggest flag out there for customers making choices -- and personally I've read more reviews from fellow PWDs complaining about the 530G than those praising it.
Obviously, it's a personal choice and some PWDs love their Medtronic systems. But, it's tough to take that data showing Dexcom's fundamental advantages out of the equation when wondering about the motivation for this new trade-in and testimonial offer.
It's proof in the pudding that diabetes is a business, and competitive offers are part of the game.
For anyone considering making the switch who might have been holding back because of financial reasons, this "Better Together" program may just the motivation they've been waiting for. We just hope that financial incentives don't cause any PWDs to lose sight of their real disease management priorities when choosing a device that's best for them.