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Everything wrong with health tech reporting in one article

Before I delve into this rant, let me start by saying that Business Insider isn’t exactly the Economist of technology reporting. I’d equate it more to a poor man’s HuffPo, but the format of their SEO-optimized clickbait articles (or listicles in this case) means that they permeate the web at a high volume. Good for their ad rates, natch, but bad for informing the public at large in any meaningful way.

I write this because these types of articles shape the opinions of a large number of people who don’t otherwise understand that most of the coverage is superfluous fluff with no real substance. The problem seems to be particularly acute in healthcare technology reporting because, in my opinion, the people writing these stories aren’t even remotely qualified on the subject matter.

Case in point: This article on BI.com “9 Ways Google Is Changing The World” Google does do an excellent job self-promoting, but most of their announcements are vaporware that the tech media gobbles up like candy. BI bit hard on these announcements time and time again and covers them like they are real. To be fair, they’re not the only ones guilty of this, but I’ll detail a few examples to show you what I mean.

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Pharma Still Sucks At Digital: A Manifesto

JERRY

In the movie Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise’s character has a crisis of conscience. One evening during a league meeting crafts a manifesto of sorts about how sports agents, colleagues, and competitors, could all do a better job serving the best interests of their clients. In the fever pitch of finishing this document, he distributes copies to every single person at the meeting and is greeted with uproarious applauses of approval by his fellow agents.

A week later Jerry had lost all but one of his clients, and his career was in ruins.

Hopefully this won’t be my Jerry Maguire moment, but much like Tom Cruise’s character, the manifesto that follows is probably long overdue because it’s 2014 and pharma still stinks at digital marketing.

Having been in the industry for 18+ years now, I continue to observe the same recurring challenges that plague the business and severely impact the quality of the work. These challenges typically take the following forms.

On the agency side:

  • Work is often done in silos: With little to no collaboration between agency teams the end result is almost always very transactional programs. Media, web, mobile, social, PR, etc., are more often than not being managed by different agencies with little or no incentive to cooperate and collaborate
  • Ideas are transactional: Isolated thinking more often than not translates into an extremely low value ideas with little to no enduring value or utility.
  • Agencies are built to sell: They approach work as a zero sum game. Less for you is more for me. Instead of focusing on brand growth, they are incentivized to try and take revenue from other agency partners.
  • Teams are highly suspicious of one another: Internal or external, the territorial behaviors associated with the previously mentioned challenges kill the scale of a program, as working with another group or agency puts your own revenue at risk.

It’s incredibly easy to focus on the agency side of things, but all is not rosy on the client side of things either. Agencies are, for the most part, a reflection of the clients that manage them, and their behavior is a result of the leaders who manage them.

Some challenges on the client side include:

  • High turnover rates = short term management: Most clients don’t stay in their roles longer than 18-24 months, so programs aren’t designed, built, or managed for mid-long term success.
  • An over-emphasis on innovation: The hunt for ‘the next big thing’ is a constant churn, and comically ineffective. Pharma clients typically define innovation as “new” instead of “better.” Any innovative program by that definition typically can’t build the kind of meaningful scale needed to be effective in the short term, as the audiences and utilization need to be grown. That lack of immediate scale leads to, you guessed it, the eventual hunt for the next ‘next big thing.’
  • Clients are built to buy: Given the relative lack of marketing experience most pharma clients have when they enter their marketing roles, the focus is almost entirely on generating tactics. This leads to an“ I’ll know it when I see it” culture that constantly churns through vendors and pitches with the end result being little to no cohesion in a marketing plan.
  • “Vendor” mindset: The end result of all of this is a disposable attitude towards a client’s agency partners. Any effort to provide strategic council is often rebuffed, and if a client is counseled that an “exciting “ idea may not fit with the overall brand strategy, the consequence for the agency is to be told “if you won’t build this for me, I’ll get someone who will.”

 

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Who Responds To The Responders?

This one is for you, Dan.

As I thought it might, my last post about social media stirred quite a bit of discussion. As such, I thought it would be useful to perhaps dedicate another post as a means of both clarifying my position, and providing some counter-points to the various responses that have been generated around the web.

To recap, my original post wasn’t meant to suggest that pharma should completely abandon social media, but rather that the interest in social engagements is over-calibrated when weighed against the potential business impact for a given brand.  There are two points that encapsulate my thoughts on how social most typically makes sense for pharma. First, for corporate communications, investor relations, and (hat tip to Craig DeLarge) corporate level customer service, social media makes a ton of sense. Second, placing content inside a given social platform, but turning comments off, relinquishes any hold on the notion of that program being even remotely “social.” While placing content in channels like YouTube can be a highly effective tactic, it ceases to be social without conversational interaction.

Those specifics being stated, a healthy debate has arisen to my point of view on this. That’s good. The industry needs more thorough discussion of the why and how communications should be rightly used to better inform all of us. But from my perspective, the counter arguments being posited just don’t hold much water.

Unbranded social media engagements provide real business impact
(Messrs. Mack and Spong)
There’s really only two situations where an unbranded program makes strategic sense for a pharma product; pre-launch, when the market needs to be seeded for a particular indication, and post-launch when a new disease category needs to be better understood by patients. I would argue that the latter makes less sense than the former, but I can see the rationale and so I’ll include it in the debate. Read More…

Dispelling 4 Mythological Beliefs About Innovation

According to the ancient Greeks, Prometheus took pity on mankind. He walked among men and noticed that they were no longer as happy as they were when Kronos the Titan was their king. He saw them living in the dark and shivering in the cold because they had no light to help them see and no fire to help them stay warm.

So Prometheus stole a spark from Zeus’s own lightning and brought fire to mankind. It was the dawn of civilization and enabled mankind to flourish.

But while mankind was now off cooking steak and smelting bronze, things didn’t work out so hot for Prometheus himself. For his disobedience he was chained to a rock at the top of a mountain and every day a giant eagle would come tear out his liver and eat it. At night, his liver would regenerate and the ordeal would begin anew each day.

It’s an interesting time for all the digital Promethei, especially those working in marketing. After all, our jobs require that we bring new and unknown ideas to our clients with the hope of ‘futurizing’ their marketing mix to make it more effective. In the America that we live in, almost everyone has a smartphone in his or her pocket. A majority of Americans have high-speed web access, and the sheer number of digitally enabled things we interact with is greater than ever before. The internet of things is upon us. The power and ubiquity of the platforms and APIs available to any given development team means things can be created at a scale and speed that were impossible 5 years ago.

Compounding the situation further is that you can’t flip through Wired or Inc. or Fast Company without reading pages upon pages about the ever-changing landscape of start-ups and internet-based businesses that are reshaping the American economy. The tech business is booming. Being a wild success with a tech idea is becoming the new American Dream and everyone fantasizes about becoming the next great digital titan.

But this has created a Jekyll and Hyde(1) type of situation. In one sense, it’s been empowering. Marketers are embracing new ideas and experimentation with a zeal that hasn’t seen since the early days of the web. Digital innovation is now coveted and the internet is no longer seen as an inferior medium compared to others. Additionally, clients are gaining a greater appetite for ‘new’ and “differentiating’ ideas and the willingness to try things may be at an all time high.

But.

As if they weren’t undervalued enough already, strategy and planning are becoming increasingly viewed as unnecessary, and clients are shifting from defining the objectives for a brand to defining the tactical imperatives of a brand. For example, it’s no longer ‘obtaining new customers’ or ‘getting a patient to stop missing every third dose’, it’s ‘build an app”, or ‘use Shazaam.’ This type of behavior isn’t new, but it does seem to be getting more commonplace with every passing day.

The problem isn’t so much the extensive tactical requests, but the inherent implication that because it’s supposed to be innovative, thinking isn’t necessary, success is easy, and poor design doesn’t matter. Mythologies have evolved with clients about what innovation is and how it happens, some of them so fanciful, they might as well come with wings and a tail. It’s time to dispel those myths and hopefully do so in such a way that we can all stop feeling like our livers are being eaten. Read More…