We spoke with Dom Hulton, one of our clients and a Vice President of Insulet, a company focused on creating a more accessible medical device that simplifies life for people with diabetes. Dom is a skilled senior leader with deep expertise marketing consumer medical devices that address chronic conditions. Dom shared his consumer-centric approach and how he's helped make a meaningful impact in health and wellness, along with tips for how smaller companies can compete with market leaders in highly competitive categories.

You’ve been working extensively in diabetes and women’s health. What gets you excited to go to work every day? 

The power of purpose is a core factor for me, and I feel a significant strength of purpose in what I do for a number of reasons.   

First and foremost, the ability to find ways to help people who are currently underserved or in need is objectively fulfilling. What makes this mission even more fulfilling is the fact that a part of what I do involves a healthy balance of trial and error which therefore amplifies the real-world success that gets delivered. A good proportion of this, from my experience, revolves around the eternal quest to fuel awareness and educate communities (be they patient, healthcare provider or policy maker), aiming to provide greater definition and clarity around disease management and treatment options available. My goal is to reach all communities and especially those who are underserved.

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I know we’ve all heard it before, but I truly subscribe to the premise that there is no better pathway to growth (both personal and professional) than to be uncomfortable.

I typically find myself in uncomfortable waters in my work life which in turn promotes growth and development and this certainly applies to working in the diabetes space. The pace of development and innovation to meet the needs of those living with diabetes ensures excitement is a standard element of each and every day.  

If I could sum it up in two words, what excites me about coming into work each day centers around the crusade to ensure each person living with diabetes can enjoy choice and access when it comes to the management of their condition. People living with life-consuming, chronic conditions deserve agency over their treatment choices and subsequent access to those options. The opportunity for a company to pull the brand promise away from the inaccessible world of ‘medical device’ and drive toward a consumer product position to establish a consumer purchasing decision is extremely powerful.  

You’ve competed against some much larger players and have achieved great success. What advice do you have for smaller brands with fewer resources to compete against market leaders?  

I’d start by saying that, in all reality, success is typically a direct result of good, honest hard work. Obviously how and where you focus that work and energy is critically important. Having said that, there are several strategies from my experience that you can employ to make your mark as a smaller brand, whether that be in the med tech industry or any high tech space for that matter.  

Image Courtesy of Insulet

1.    Know your niche and identify your core capability to win: Smaller entities invariably don’t have the resources to be everything to everyone so the ability to understand your core segment and focus appropriately is key. By specializing in a niche, you can differentiate yourself from larger competitors and provide a unique value proposition to a specific target audience that can grow over time. The Omnipod® Insulin Management System is a good example where the initial value proposition was targeted at the pediatric segment and those living with the burden of multiple daily insulin injections (a daily occurrence in an insulin management regimen). Positioning at the center of these two underserved segments provided differentiated value that the rest of the market was unable to match.

2.    Leverage innovation to your advantage: Seek ways to change the options available (choice).This doesn’t always need to revolve solely around hardware or software innovation. Finding avenues to enhance user experience, simplify processes, improve accuracy of delivery and develop models for easier access all enable a competitive advantage assuming that your solution  addresses a well-understood unmet need.  

3.    Collaborate and partner: Forming strategic partnerships with other category players or healthcare institutions, for example, can be powerful ways to over come limitations associated with resources, expertise and networks which can all help gain access to a wider customer base. 

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4.    Focus on excellent customer support: Prioritizing outstanding customer service and support can be a huge market differentiator. Providing prompt, knowledgeable and concise support which is clearly communicated to your customer (patient or healthcare provider) is one of the best ways to fast-track customer loyalty. Strong customer loyalty in the early phases of product commercialization is an excellent way to maintain a strong base and create a launch platform for future customer growth.  

5.    Stay agile and be adaptive: One of the amazing benefits of being a small player in a market dominated by gorillas is that you get to make decisions quickly and fail fast. While larger companies have seemingly endless resources on their side, smaller shops are always more nimble - they can make quicker decisions and course correct more rapidly. This distinct advantage should be employed to its full effect to fuel success.  

With technology changing so quickly, how do you balance the capabilities of technology with the needs of patients? 

 Balancing the capabilities of technology with the needs of patients is crucial for the success of any med tech player looking to reach a broad population –and it’s a fine balance. Prioritizing the needs of the patient should be central to any entity looking to improve lives. From there, the ability to deliver through internal systems and processes in a timely fashion takes focus, expertise and razor-sharp planning. Driving product innovation through the user-centric lens as a core facet of a company’s mission (and dare I say culture) is a critical first step. What we have found at Insulet, which will be common to many high-tech companies, is that striving to streamline and simplify the customer experience represents a constant and consistent objective. This has been extensively demonstrated in the overwhelmingly positive responses to previous Omnipod® Insulin Management System UI(user-interface) enhancements and associated reductions in steps required to access the best the system has to offer. Additionally, it's critical to understand that people living with diabetes are not a 'patient' most of the time. Understanding how to focus on the daily life-altering impact of their disease and identify where and how to improve overall needs when it comes to quality of life is a core element of that fine balance.

Image Courtesy of Mercury Health

Establishing a continuous feedback loop with patients and healthcare providers is another important step to ensure that companies in high tech markets can incorporate this feedback into product development and enhancement cycles and effectively address this balance. An additional area of importance in this regard and one in which Insulet has excelled for some time is the concentration on customization and personalization. This has been a focal point of the Omnipod Personal Diabetes Manager control unit and highlights the importance of the highly individualized nature of diabetes management. Providing options for customization and personalization within technology is the key to accommodating the myriad of patient preferences, lifestyles and treatment plans – all of which are key drivers of market development. In addition, by prioritizing the needs of patients and ensuring they are involved across the development process, high tech companies of all sizes can strike that critical balance between technological capability and patient-centricity.  

Given the advances in diabetes, what do you feel are the implications on broader consumer health and wellness?  

The good news, as already mentioned, is that the diabetes space moves at a dizzyingly rapid pace. A win for patients. The better news for the broader population is that this pace can be (and will be) harnessed to provide significant benefits in time…….and likely a very short time. It’s important at this point to acknowledge the important distinction between Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes. These conditions are separately characterized as insulin deficiency or insulin resistance respectively. In one case your pancreas stops working completely and in the other it is unable to work hard enough to produce enough insulin to satisfy the body’s needs.

Type 2 diabetes represents almost 90% of all diabetes cases globally and is currently the subject of a significant push to deliver early detection (even at the pre-diabetes stage) and prevention or delay.

This burgeoning proactive approach to overall health as a prevention or delaying tactic can have positive effects on overall wellness.  

Image Courtesy of Women's Health

 The same theme is also true, in this instance, in that the tidal wave of technology focused on personalized wellness (think Fitbit, Apple watch, Garmin etc.) via wearable devices provides individuals with diabetes of all types more tools to monitor their condition and make more well-informed decisions to direct their treatment. Now add continuous glucose monitors (CGM) and insulin pumps to this and you start to empower individuals with diabetes to really manage their condition in a proactive way. This increased focus on self-management can promote a sense of autonomy and responsibility over one’s health, extending beyond diabetes management to overall wellness. In the specific case of CGM, products like the Abbott Freestyle Libre 2 and Dexcom G6 are contributing to this network effect of personalized care and self-management which extend beyond the diabetes space and start to cement blood glucose measurement as an overall core wellness metric in the population at large. Building on this continuum, in turn, adds a key element to the growing availability of personalized health information representing a golden opportunity for better integration and analysis.  

So, what does this mean to me if I don’t have diabetes? Thanks to the advances made across the diabetes technology category, we’re starting to understand how important blood glucose is as a measure of overall wellness. The example of CGM is a microcosm of the multiple different areas of medical technology which are similarly flourishing in their own arenas to achieve the same ends.  

Understanding our personalized insulin response to different foods and any corresponding metabolic impact could have positive implications further downstream as we age. Improving population education and empowerment in this way, and effectively democratizing our critical health data, gives societies an opportunity to drive for better population health outcomes and thereby a better overall quality of life. That’s great news for everyone. 







Lynda Ferrari

Lynda is a consumer marketing expert with a track record of successful U.S. and global product launches. She has created new product innovations across consumer wellness, from personal care to digital health. She is a founding partner of Compass Marketing.

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