Technology branding for a radical innovation in brain surgery.
Let’s imagine for a moment that you have already created one of the most recognizable devices for the treatment of cancer within the brain. Among neurosurgeons and radiation oncologists, your device is one of two of the most widely used systems for radiosurgical treatment of cancer. The world’s leading academic institutions teach their students its many benefits. After many thousand successful treatments, hospitals and clinics trust its clinical history. After 25 years, insurance companies hardly question reimbursement.
By traditional measures, you’re successful. But what comes next?
As a serial entrepreneur, you might ask yourself: How do I improve? By innovating. How do you make treatment more accessible to more people around the world? By removing any exiting barriers and making it more affordable. How do I alleviate the fear that comes with radiation, a proven yet contentious treatment technique for extending the life of a patient with cancer? By changing radiation for the better.
“ZAP is not about what I have accomplished, but what I failed to accomplish before. Serving the two million people who lack access to non-invasive treatment. With ZAP-X, we go where the patients are.” John Adler
So it only would stand to reason that when the innovator behind one of the iconic devices in cancer treatment announces a new and better device, that the market would line up and sing its praises. Right?
And you might even think to yourself, haven’t I already done enough?
Well, not if you’re John R. Adler, the celebrated Stanford professor, renowned neurosurgeon and founder of CyberKnife, the epochal robotic device for non-invasive cancer treatment.
No. In fact, if you are Dr. Adler, you feel that even with a tool as effective as CyberKnife, or its older symbol of influence, the Gamma Knife, that they are simply not doing enough. Why? Because the machine and maintenance is expensive, they require highly specialized protective rooms (called “bunkers”), and their volatile consumables are a recurring expense. So whether, it’s about cost or geography even the preference of their doctor, brain cancer patients simply aren’t getting the treatment they need. In fact, every year, millions of people worldwide don’t get the advanced treatment they deserve. Imagine what you could do with a machine that could fill this need and treat more people in more places.
It is never easy for a new product to enter an already mature market. In healthcare, it’s particularly difficult, given the stringent safety regulations and very real risks involved when a patient’s health and well-being is at stake. In the medical device industry, it is clinical evidence provides the necessary assurances for healthcare administrators to green-light capital investments. Therefore, the issue is that no clinical evidence exists to support the claims of a new product. And existing technologies were almost embedded in the DNA of universities and teaching hospitals who are training the next generation of neurosurgeons and radiation oncologists. These students were literally taught the benefits of competing technology. Talk about branding! These are the future doctors whose reputations may depend on the tools they were using and recommending.
To look beyond these challenges requires a level of trust and vision for a reputable cancer hospital or clinic to assume the risk, to make the required investment, and to implement new technology and processes within their existing workflow. The regulatory issues around the use of radiation are complex and time consuming. It’s easier for a healthcare administrator to simply push the promising new technology aside and take the path well traveled, even if business as usual compromises innovative care and investments in old technology further kick the can down that dusty path.
As if these issues weren’t enough to overcome. Add to the mix a founder, with a reputation for being a brilliant neurosurgeon and an aggressive entrepreneur. After nearly fifty years, there are bound to be champions and detractors. As the long-time figurehead of Accuray (the company founded on his CyberKnife technology) was also a challenge; Dr. Adler’s success was a certain threat to his competitors. He was a vocal critic of the entire healthcare industry as well as his specific area of expertise. But he was passionate about serving the underserved. That was clear.
How did OVO approach the solution?
John Adler is an unconventional company founder. When he approached OVO, it was about making a documentary film, not building the comprehensive ZAP brand. The need to establish the ZAP brand platform, the visual and verbal identity, and the tools to support it, came later. “This should be an arthouse film opening at Sundance,” Dr. Adler said. “This is about our first patient. It’s not about me or the product. It’s definitely not another corporate video.” Upon hearing this charge, of course we were game. We just needed a first patient and ZAP-X wasn’t yet in use at its first installation; at Barrow Brain and Spine in Scottsdale, Arizona.
So when Dick Rosene, Vice President of Global Sales, initiated the brand development effort, it was an opportunity to learn more about the perceptions of ZAP and its unique approach to radiosurgery. That began with qualitative research: In-depth interviews with key corporate figures, including Mohan Bodduluri, ZAP’s visionary lead design engineer.
But the most valuable findings came from discussions with the neurosurgeons and radiation oncologists, who recognized our earlier suspicions regarding the challenges. More importantly, they confirmed there were great opportunities and interest in ZAP. They saw ZAP as specialized, highly suitable for treating the brain as part of their mix of treatment technology rather than merely a replacement for existing tech. They allayed the benefits of a self-shielded device and its unique applications for specialty clinics to offer treatment “at the point of care” which meant patients and their families could remain close at hand during the procedure. And moreover, for the first time, these clinics could reasonably acquire ZAP, given its unique economic model.
Unlike competing devices, ZAP-X utilizes a modern linear accelerator to reduce the costs and challenges of handling radioactive isotopes. Its self-shielded design eliminates the need for costly radiation vaults. This approach to cost-effective care results in world-class non-invasive radiosurgery accessible to more patients.
With this feedback in hand, OVO was equipped to recommend an actionable script for building the visual and verbal components of the brand and position ZAP as a platform with differentiating qualities as the core of the value proposition: 1. Self-Shielding; 2. LINAC source; 3. Innovations in Safety, and that 4. ZAP offered Better Economics for more centers and clinics.
We would clearly define our promise to each audience: Physicians, Health Care Administrators, Specialty Clinics, and Patients.
Its unique gyroscopic mechanism would introduce a new descriptive terminology for how the delivery of treatment would be referenced: ZAP-X Gyroscopic Radiosurgery (GSRS).
OVO would position ZAP as an advanced innovation in the spirit of a Tesla: A dynamic technology platform, capable of changing an industry through technology at a cost that was accessible. And while we would revere the devices that came before it, ZAP must be seen as representing the future of radiosurgery. ZAP was next.
While every other competing device was off-white molded plastic, OVO focused on the unique form factor and striking material and color of the ZAP-X. We recommended the use of ultraviolet to underscore the delivery platform and set the tone for visual differentiation among the competitors’ plastic ocean of beige, blue, and green. The typographic system struck a balance between vibrant, positive energy and foundational stability. The “bolt” that was a prior mainstay of ZAP was redrawn and the primary signifier “ZAP” was designed as a custom wordmark.
“ZAP-X is a novel platform designed to bring neuro-radiosurgery to the millions of patients who every year lack access to such non-invasive therapy.”
How did OVO help ZAP make radiation better?
It’s natural for a product such as ZAP to want to oversell its promises when there are so many reasons to be excited. OVO was critical in providing focus to ZAP. First, by helping them to prioritize the pillars upon which the company would be built. And second, by helping them execute quickly. Effectively.
Our work with ZAP has been the result of a successful collaboration at all levels of the organization. And while ZAP has defined their product development innovation with focused strategy and execution, they doubled down on their efforts to break through to a market defined by administrative convention and a healthcare system driven more by insurance than by innovation. Add to that a market dynamic that fears the impending changes led by technology and its most visible leaders in Apple, Google, and Amazon. Any change in the establishment is met with resistance. These realities would inform our recommendations.
So OVO approached development of ZAP’s messaging and design language with truth and clarity. We have advised ZAP that talking points must remain simple and the promise, believable. Moreover, this approach would make it possible for ZAP to deliver upon those promises and for their customers to easily recognize and convey the many benefits of the product. These are the very tenets of successful brand development. Along the way, patients will also help share the story of hope for treatment accessible to more people in more places. We are only beginning our journey with ZAP and we are excited by the opportunities that lay ahead.
We built the position upon what was the most validating discovery for us: That in the fight against cancer, ZAP is changing radiation for the better. And with it, hope for more people and their families.
As of this writing, ZAP is successfully treating its first patient. In time, the clinical evidence will follow.
All by changing radiation for the better.
Praise from ZAP:
“OVO helped us with three of the four “P’s”—Product, Place & Promotion. Their expertise in brand strategy has improved our appeal to physicians in general and specifically to neurosurgeons involved in cancer care. OVO’s design and positioning have already created significant buzz for ZAP.”