Marshall Dahneke turns problems into profits at Performance Health


Marshall Dahneke, CEO of Performance Health, came to a company that, for years, had carved out a successful go-to-market strategy. It practiced direct marketing of its brands — the topical analgesic, Biofreeze, and its therapy exercise bands, TheraBand, among others — straight to health care practitioners such as chiropractors, massage therapists and athletic trainers — anyone who comes in direct contact with patients.

It’s a symbiotic relationship in which health care practitioners get personalized marketing materials to distribute and Performance Health gets the coveted clinician’s recommendation, which it can then pronounce on all its marketing spaces.

That was and still is a lucrative strategy, and generated the lion’s share of its business. But one day not long ago, a national retailer came upon Biofreeze through the gray market — acquiring it outside the product’s normal distribution channels and without a relationship with Performance Health. And that happened just four months after Dahneke joined the company.

The shtick

“With few exceptions, at the core, every one of the brands is all about clinical endorsement,” Dahneke says. Biofreeze, he notes, is the No. 1 clinically endorsed topical analgesic.

This focus on clinicians helps Performance Health reach patients.

“We provide products to those practitioners, they use those products in their practice, they dispense or sell those products from their practices to patients or clients who bring those home and use those in between visits,” Dahneke says.

The linchpin of the arrangement is when clinicians with direct or implied endorsements introduce the brand to patients. This presents the opportunity to use the product with the recommendation of a trusted authority.

“For a long time — I’m going to guess probably at least 15 years — we have provided free Biofreeze samples to hands-on health care practitioners,” Dahneke says. “All they have to do is ask.”

Each Biofreeze sample comes to clinicians with a card, custom printed by Performance Health. The card introduces the Biofreeze brand, explains what the product is and how to use it, and gives space where they can print contact information for their practice.

“As they’re describing their services and what they do and what is important, they can provide this simple little value-add to anyone who stops by, which provides that individual with a sample of Biofreeze. But it also connects directly back to that practitioner’s clinic,” Dahneke says.

“We give out north of 10 million of these samples a year, and have been for many years.”

Performance Health is working with what Dahneke calls “a small army of hands-on health care practitioner partners across the country and around the world.”

That was the plan, at least, until everything changed. Without its knowing, an unseen group of people acting independently forced Performance Health to adopt a retail strategy because it was discovered they were selling Biofreeze at retail.