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Deciphering Google’s Calico Cat

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Once again, Google is getting back into the health business. After shutting down its previously failed healthcare venture, Google Health in June of 2011, it’s tossing its preverbal hat back into the ring with the launch of the oddly named Calico.

 From the Larry Page’s G+ page: “I’m excited to announce Calico, a new company that will focus on health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases.”

Here’s what we do know. Art Levinson, Chairman and former CEO of Genentech will head up Calico. Art also sits on the board of Apple and won’t be giving up any of his day jobs to run this project. That in and of itself should tell you how much emphasis Calico will carry with everyone mentioned in the press release. Beyond that, the actual details about the program are non-existent. That Google is orchestrating on an all out media blitz promoting a program that’s only oddly named vaporware at this point is a curious one indeed.

One little tidbit, buried in Larry’s G+ page is that Bill Maris, Managing Partner of Google Ventures, brought the project to life. My guess is that Calico isn’t so much a new line of business for Google, but a VC fund to invest in other start-ups.

Time magazine took the hyperbole to an extreme, labeling the venture “Google vs. Death.” If you’re hoping to read the article, which is locked behind Time’s pay wall, for some of the details of the venture, nay, ANY details about the venture, don’t waste your time. There aren’t any.

There’s a lot of work going on in the tech sector to extend life and slow down aging. Google probably sees two routes to success here. One way might be to diversify their core business by being the lead investors in the companies most likely to drive the next wave of technological innovation for healthcare in the U.S. It could be immensely profitable if it pans out. Google certainly has the cash flow to make some educated guesses, even if they never do turn a profit.

But Google is in the information business. More specifically, selling information it has about you. As the saying goes, “when something online is free, you’re not the customer, you’re the product.” Google Health was an attempt to encourage users to upload all kinds of data about their health and wellness. With that data, Google would more effectively be able identify you and your physical and emotional state of being as a means of selling advertising to brands, with that targeting coming at a premium price. The bad news for Google was that it never took off.

Whatever Google’s thinking with Calico, you have to believe the targeting ability of for tracking a users health and wellness as a means of delivering more effective ads will eventually enter the consideration set. It is their core business after all.

But that day is probably a long was off. We’ve seen Google products arrive with much pomp and circumstance only to die a quiet death. Google Wave anyone? Buzz? eBay has s ton of Nexus Q’s available on the cheap. Calico, for now, is much ado about nothing, but we’ll see what the next announcement brings us in terms of details. Hopefully it will be more than just a funny name.

The 10 Commandments of Digital Marketing

ItMoses of Digital’s that time again. Brands are starting their annual cycle of planning for the coming year. One of the quirks of pharma, that I haven’t experienced when working with other industries, is that brand managers responsible for digital turn over (through promotion or responsibility change) at an alarmingly high rate. As such, the institutional knowledge and learning for the role gets easily lost. Since a decent portion of pharma marketers enter a digital management role with little or no actual digital marketing experience, I thought it would be helpful to provide some edicts to ensure fruitful digital marketing campaigns for the years to come. Enjoy.

1. Thou shalt put no other strategy before thy brand strategy.
Too often for brands, digital strategies are created in a complete vacuum from the overall brand strategy, or worse, no digital strategy is crafted at all. Since digital is the glue that ties the entirety of a marketing plan and tactics together, anything that happens online needs to ladder up to the higher objectives of the brand. An effective digital strategy is typically composed of a group of sub strategies to effectively plan and account for owned, earned, shared, and paid assets. Take a look at your plan. If you can’t clearly articulate how your digital strategy (or objectives) ladder up in the overall brand, you need to rethink your approach.

2. Thou shalt not make for yourselves any shiny idols.
Most brands have some form of goal around innovation. And that’s important because innovations drive the business forward. But innovation doesn’t mean new, it means better. Your strategy should help you select your tactics, not the other way around. If you are seeking to use a tool or platform because you think it’s cool or innovative, and can’t identify how or why it works for your audience, you’re worshipping the shiny object and are destined to fail.

3. Thou shalt remember thy user and put no interests before theirs.
I can’t stress this enough. Too often marketers approach digital from the mindset of their own (or their brand) objectives. Users crave value, utility, and having their needs met. This is especially true online where fractions of a second can make or break a potential engagement. Instead of focusing on your needs, try and determine what your users want and how you can insert your brand or your content into their lives in a way that makes sense. It may mean you have to produce less banner ads and create more of something else. Read More…

Creating An App-Panic

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iMedicalApps.com published an article detailing Apple’s ‘new’ development policy which will reject any app that includes dosing information for a medicine. Normally I wouldn’t comment on an article from another site in this much depth, but given the way headlines suddenly become ‘insights’ in this business, I thought it would be helpful to clarify a few things.

The article starts with an ominous headline “Apple is now rejecting new medical apps that include drug dosages.” Apple is not doing this across the board. One or two devs got rejected. Which by the way, happens all the time, for all kinds of reasons.  The article goes on from there, “It appears that a number of developers have struggled recently to get medical applications into the App Store.” It doesn’t say how many developers or how wide spread the problem is. And, without any kind of context as to what the app was, or any insight into it’s functionality, it’s impossible to draw any conclusion as to why it was rejected. Given the amount of apps currently in the app store that reference dosing information (mostly by manufacturers) I seriously doubt this is a widespread issue.

A simple reading of the actual rejection sent by Apple illustrates where the developer(s?) went wrong.

“We found that the Seller and/or Artist names associated with your app do not reflect the name of the manufacturer of the medicine referenced in your app or its metadata, as required by the iOS Developer Program License Agreement.

Section 1.2: 

“You” and “Your” means and refers to the person(s) or legal entity (whether the company, organization, educational institution, or governmental agency, instrumentality, or department) using the Apple Software or otherwise exercising rights under this Agreement. For the sake of clarity, You may authorize contractors to develop Applications on Your behalf, but any such Applications must be submitted under Your developer account.

We can only accept medical dosage information submitted by the medicine’s manufacturer.

If you have published these apps on behalf of a client, it would be appropriate for your client to enroll in the iOS Developer Program, then add you to their development team so you can develop an app for them to submit under their developer account.”

I actually see this as a good thing for users. First, the developer in the article clearly didn’t follow the metadata practices of Apple’s guidelines, which is a no-no. Apple has been very consistent on making sure apps are what they say they are and aren’t playing games with metadata to boost rankings. Already I’m suspicious of the developer(s?), since they seem to be unwilling to follow or correct this issue now that Apple has pointed out it’s a problem. Second, if you are publishing dosing information and aren’t doing it on behalf of the manufacturer, you may be publishing the wrong information. Since pharma has so many checks and balances on it’s content, Apple can be assured that anything with a manufacturer’s name on it would have the content verified for accuracy.

As part of gathering the info for the Mobile App Wiki, I spent quite a bit of time in the Android store. Let me tell you, it’s hard to know who’s published what. The requirements are very flimsy for publishing an Android app, and I couldn’t tell if an app was legit or not (see the Bob in IT example).  To be clear, Apple is not asking for the content to be verified, but does have some controls to ensure the veracity of content. Given the importance Apple has placed on medical content and audiences, this seems like a logical restriction to ensure quality for it’s users. So if you are developing an app for a pharma client, or doing it in house, you should be fine.

Is Facebook Robbing Us of Our Political Power?

On March 25th the Human Rights Campaign launched a social campaign to raise awareness for the marriage equality debate currently being deliberated by SCOTUS. You probably saw the campaign, which asked users to change their profile picture to that of a red square with a bold equal sign.  When I checked Facebook Wednesday morning, my entire feed was covered with these logos, as a good portion of my Facebook friends had decided to participate. As I thought about it over my morning coffee, I was struck with the thought that all this activity, while potentially raising awareness inside the walled garden of Facebook, might not actually result in anything of substance. And in fact, it might just be completely meaningless. After all, changing one’s profile picture is a transactional gesture, regardless of the scale. It costs nothing, takes no time, and involves very little risk on the part of the participant.

To which, I posted this: “Changing my profile picture was what really tipped the scales on that political issue” – said nobody ever.”

And then a few minutes later, I pushed the idea even further: “If only Abraham Lincoln had the ability to change his profile picture, perhaps the civil war could have been avoided.

And finally, teasing out the thought to its most ludicrous conclusion, I wrote: “Can everyone on Facebook please change their profile picture to a non-perishable food item? This way we can ensure that the starving children of the world never go hungry again.” (The Huffington Post did a spoof of this 2 years ago which lampooned the issue far better than I could have.)

A good deal of my Facebook peeps were not amused. All in all, those 3 comments generated almost 30 responses. Most of these were enraged for even daring to suggest that this act had no meaning or effect. “It raises awareness!” said one person. “It’s a show of solidarity!” said another. And, in the mother of all ironies, some wrote (on my wall) that I shouldn’t express my opinions (on my wall) about the things they choose to support (on their wall).

Read More…