The background: Saving newborn lives through better surgical training

Esophageal atresia is a scary phrase at the best of times. But imagine hearing these words as the parent of a newborn baby, finding out that your child’s esophagus has failed to form properly - a life-threatening condition. Most children born with esophageal atresia (EA) also have a tracheoesophageal fistula (TEF), an improper connection of the esophagus and the windpipe, and need emergency surgery to treat these conditions.

EA/TEF are very rare conditions, and any surgery on a newborn baby is fraught with risk, let alone the difficult EA/TEF procedure. That raises an obvious problem—how can surgeons acquire the advanced skills they need to perform the necessary surgery and save these babies?

In 2017, a group of New Zealand surgeons were discussing this conundrum. They were concerned that if the surgery isn’t done well, neonates can end up with lifelong disabilities and illness. At that stage, surgical training for this procedure consisted of practising on animal tissue, which is both expensive (creating barriers to training) and only approximate to real life (meaning the training didn’t necessarily give surgeons the skills they needed). They concurred that there must be a better way to help surgeons gain the technical skills they need without risk to patients. They assembled a scientific team with expertise in bioengineering, material science and medical physics – the birth of Symulus.

The Symulus team created a high-fidelity surgical simulator—a fully synthetic model of a neonate’s chest, which they clinically validated through research. This fully portable “simulator in a box” allows surgeons and trainees to practise their skills any time, any place. Given the very significant time investment required to perfect these skills, this was a major step forward.

The challenge: Getting Symulus’ solution into surgeons’ hands

The Symulus team wanted to launch and export their surgical simulators globally from New Zealand. They knew the simulator stacked up clinically, but needed an effective strategy to get it into the marketplace and into surgeons’ hands, where it could do good. That’s why they engaged Resonance.

How Resonance helped strategically: A surgical approach to strategy

Resonance got to work to create an international marketing strategy. We drew on the team’s clinical and scientific expertise through a series of workshops, and on international evidence and inspiration through desktop research. The resulting strategy addressed Symulus’s:

• Offer: What would the customer experience in terms of both product and service?
• Segmentation: Which segments of the market should Symulus approach?
• Business model: How would they make the necessary financial returns?
• Pricing
• High-level value proposition and messaging: How should Symulus communicate to help people understand the value of their simulator?
• Competitors: What other companies and solutions are part of the market landscape?
• B2B (business-to-business) marketing: Best-practice marketing for this type of product.
• Communications plan: Effective, practical steps to tell the Symulus story.

Symulus found the resulting marketing strategy compelling. They quickly adopted it and asked us to help them bring it to life creatively.

How Resonance helped creatively: Cut-through with surgeons

We collaborated with Spinifex and co-ordinated a project to develop compelling taglines, messaging, and cut-through visual advertising. The concepts generated were designed to illustrate the portability of the simulator. With Resonance’s David Reid behind the cameras, we executed a technical photoshoot highlighting the fact that for the first time, surgeons could train at home. The Resonance team also designed marketing tools to be used in-person and as a leave-behind.

The result: Spreading the word about a life-saving simulator

While this is still early days for Symulus, these tools, along with the visual and branding collateral we collaboratively created, set Symulus on their journey to tell the world about their simulator. With a strong marketing strategy underpinning all their efforts, they’re well-placed to keep spreading the good news that there’s a better way to get the surgical expertise that neonates need.

All of us at Resonance found it an absolute privilege to work with the talented team at Symulus, and play a part in their life-saving mission.

“We have all been blown away by the outputs of this process and are confident of the market we are seeking to develop.”

Rory Jones, Symulus director and plastic engineer

“Resonance provided us with great clarity around how we should be promoting our product, identify where our market was, and the factors we needed to consider to make it all work.”

Spencer Beasley, Paediatric surgeon & Clinical Director at Christchurch Hospital