Promo Close-Up - Creative Compassion

A Doctor Uses Promo Products To Help Others

Creative CompassionAthlete, mother of four, and Johns Hopkins-educated physician Elizabeth Chabner Thompson has focused her entire career on improving patient care. However, it wasn't until becoming a patient herself that she came up with the idea for her company, Best Friends for Life (BFFL Co.). The company strives to enhance the patient experience before, during and after a hospital stay.

After her own hospital experience, Thompson found that there were many items missing that could have offered better care and comfort during her stay and recovery. She also found that her own patients and friends were concerned and confused about their upcoming hospital stays.

So Thompson created the BFFLBag (pronounced "biffle,") in 2011, a line of cheerful bags filled with surgical accessories and helpful amenities to improve the hospital-stay experience. Items include a support pillow, skin care products, a water bottle, skid-resistant socks, a care kit for mastectomy drains, toiletries, a folder to hold cards and important papers, a pen, a notepad and snack bars. "Since she's been through the same experience as her target audience, she has a real understanding of their needs that allows her to create the right product," says Marcy Rye, principal with Wire Media, a creative strategy firm. "She found a very specific niche market and developed a product especially for it."

Thompson has been busy lately developing more specialized products to ensure the BFFLBags improve the comfort and care of a wider range of patients. Thompson and her best friend, Sara Kerr Reges, who's a nurse, have created the Neuro/Brain BFFLBag for patients recovering from traumatic brain injuries, brain trauma, concussions, brain tumors and strokes. Most recently, Thompson launched the New Mommy BFFLBag for both delivery and postpartum care, as well as a Prostate Cancer BFFLBag.

As the marketing machine of the company, Thompson says she tries to reach as many people as possible through media, hospitals and nurse navigators. "By approaching people in a targeted way, she can better find her ideal audience in an effective manner," says Rye. The BFFLBag costs $100, 15% of which is donated to either Friends Fighting Breast Cancer or Sole Ryeders, depending on the end-user's choice. "Donating a portion of the proceeds to a cause related to the patients' illness offers a strong motivation to buy something you need anyway," says Rye.

What's the lesson here for distributors? It's twofold. First, it's important to be consistently creative in any sales and marketing strategy. Secondly, there are big benefits to trying to put yourself in the shoes of end-users, Thompson believes. "Many strategies change as your product hits the market," she says. "We thought we would be a company marketing gifts to women from women. We soon discovered that the hospitals themselves were our customers."

Rye applauds Thompson for demonstrating flexibility and openness to adjust her approach based on the response of the market. "When she found that her real clients were hospitals, not patients, she changed her marketing approach to meet the demand," says Rye.

Thompson also showed a broad vision which Rye thinks is a good strategy to emulate. "She thinks of it as a company that ‘improves the hospital stay experience,'" says Rye. "This broader vision, about what the company is in business for allows her greater flexibility in the face of changing market demands, and provides more avenues for success. For example, it allowed her to expand her product line to create special bags for other types of illness. If Thompson maintains this mindset about what the company is in business to do, she may find even larger opportunities as time goes by."