Forget Mobile First, Think Customer First

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Matt Balogh shaking hands with the future of health tech at SXSW 2015

Observations and inspirations from the Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide team attending SXSW 2015 in Austin. Our healthcare specialists are reporting activity in real time. Our team will post updates as they become available. Check back daily for event coverage, local flavor, and insights that will help you accelerate your healthcare marketing efforts.

Report by Matt Balogh/

If you’ve never been there, SXSW Interactive is five intense days of formal sessions starting in the morning and running past dinner, with various meet-up and gatherings before and after. Layered in the middle are three massive expos: Trade—with everything from startup tech to NASA; Gaming—with all the latest experiences; and, new this year, Med Tech and Health—having a dedicated stage and hall, elevating and centralizing healthcare within the SXSW Interactive experience. It’s a fantastic opportunity to meet up with like-minded, passionate individuals who are truly making a difference, to exchange stories, and to create lasting relationships and partnerships.

This year’s SXSW Interactive was an amazing mix of brilliant speakers and entrepreneurs across multiple disciplines and backgrounds covering various topics. But if I had to distill all that passion and insight down to just one idea that transcended any individual, event, or context, it would be this: to do great work, start with your customers in mind, form a hypothesis around them, test, repeat.

Though not my first session, the first time I really started considering this as a key takeaway of SXSW Interactive was listening to Mariya You, Xanadu Mobile, talk about Rapid Iteration on Mobile. In an industry of 2.5 million apps in the Apple app store, with users averaging between two to four on a daily basis, and where it can take $50K to build an iPhone app that only averages $4K in revenue, it literally pays to think about what your consumers want. She went on to articulate a well-defined, pragmatic framework of creating a hypothesis, prototyping, and testing in the mobile world. Reduce problems down to the simplest “core loop” (a gaming term that defines a core set of actions that support both you and your users) and build from there. This is user-centric design.

Again I heard the same message from Nick Crocker, MyFitnessPal, while discussing how MyFitnessPal cuts their mass amounts of data to understand not just what people are doing but also why they are doing it, and then use those insights to adjust the experience to help them do it. He continued on to say, always reduce it to the simplest, most digestible form to make sure they come back tomorrow. Don’t use yourself as a proxy. Consider the 45-year-old mom in Wyoming with three kids and a partner who works, who has been fighting obesity for the last 25 years and doesn’t have easy access to good fruits and vegetables.

Vinnie Ramesh, Wellframe, and Jason Oberfest, Mango Health, reiterated this with the comment, “You are not the consumer. Many times you need to have empathy for the user but, for instance, you’ve never had cancer before. So it’s harder to relate than with something like commerce… What consumers want is different than providers, is different than physicians, is different than payers, and is different from pharma.” Oberfest continued, “Real innovation needs to be making people’s lives better every day.”

I even found this trend in a random talk I stumbled into with a fun name, “Would You Torture a Robot?” led by Richard Fischer, BBC Worldwide. In this group discussion, we touched on human-computer interactions and creating affinity by naming machines like Amazon’s Alexa (the given name of their Echo product). In this fantastic group discussion we talked about adding value through context, which only comes through research and plenty of testing. Research and testing that is becoming so increasingly important as healthcare quickly adopts mHealth, remote care, and monitoring chronic conditions, and we rely on these interactions to provide better, personalized care.

On the high end of the spectrum, Geoff McGrath, McLaren Applied Technologies, talked a lot about Formula 1’s immense use of data and insights and how we can apply that to healthcare. In a sport that spends hundreds of millions of dollars on optimization, “Data,” says McGrath, “is not there for simple insights, it’s there to change the way we think about the system… you have to optimize the person and the machine, but you have to really think about how they work together.” Julian Jenkins, GSK Research & Development, further noted, “It’s important to be thoughtful and understand the question you are trying to answer… when you have the right question to ask you will be effective.”

And, of course it won’t surprise you to hear this same message was delivered by Astro Teller, Captain of Moonshots at Google[x]. “Get out of the conference room,” he says. “Nothing beats getting in the real world to test what simulators say is possible, and to create the list of 10,000 things you didn’t anticipate.” When it comes to things like giant power-producing kites, networked balloons that travel on the edge of space, or self-driving cars, there’s no substitute for high winds, -40 degree temperatures, or getting people behind the wheel to see how they act. Google had self-driving cars ready for highway use years ago, said Dr. Teller, “but when we put them out for testing in real world situations, we found humans aren’t a very good backup plan for automation, so we went back to the drawing board.”

When people talk about healthcare, they think about regulatory oversight, rules, laws, and an abundance of red-tape processes all driving up cost and time to market while pushing down quality and experience. At first brush, many dismiss healthcare as too difficult of an industry to follow constraints like hypothesizing, prototyping, testing, and refining.

But I disagree.

When it comes to healthcare, these same reasons are the reasons we HAVE to iterate. The further down the line we are when we test something, the less apt we are to accept the feedback we receive, to change, and to be better. Our complex system of checks, balances, and reviews actually mandates that we get it right the first time. User-centric design is more imperative within the complex world of healthcare communications than it is outside. Here we don’t have six major launches per year or constantly rotating materials—we don’t always get an immediate second chance to course correct. We need to be leading these methodologies, not following. The reality is that it’s in pharma’s DNA to innovate, to keep moving things forward—developing, understanding, and enhancing the standard of care.

Just at the end of Dr. Teller’s keynote, someone texted in a question paraphrased as, “Google is a big company—how can the rest of us afford to test and fail like you do?” To which Dr. Teller responded, “You’ve missed the point! You can’t afford not to!”

Report by Matt Balogh/

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