Monthly Archives: September 2009

Health records and dying babies: Marketing against inertia

This CBS clip above shows how actor Dennis Quaid’s baby twins were almost killed by a nurse in 2007. A week after being born, his twins developed a common staph infection. Staph is easily cured with 10 units of heparin, but Quaid says a nurse grabbed the wrong bottles and gave each baby a massive overdose of 10,000 units. Quaid and his family recovered, but Quaid became an advocate of so-called Electronic Health Records — the use of computers, not paper, to track your body’s history.

Call it the tragedy of group inertia

Your local hospital or physician likely uses vast amounts of paper to track your health — paper with no backup, that cannot be searched, that cannot be quickly checked to avoid mistakes. About 100,000 U.S. citizens die each year as a result of hospital medical errors. The Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology notes that small medical practices, say with 20 physicians and assistants, can save $250,000 a year simply by replacing manual chart pulls with electronic records. It’s obvious computer systems could improve public health and reduce costs, so why aren’t hospitals jumping on such modernization?

Solutions that require consensus from group decision-makers, even those with obvious benefits, are difficult to sell.

When demand is disconnected from supply

President Obama has earmarked $46 billion to help U.S. hospitals invest in patient records, but those funds are reimbursements, and cash-strapped hospitals must grapple with the upfront investments, training, and installations. Unlike products that are marketed easily by single companies with profit motives, Electronic Health Records are a more complex sale — requiring decisions by hospital boards, service line executives, and chief medical officers. The dramatic benefits in cost reductions and improved patient care arrive years in the future, while costs must be budgeted today. Patients themselves, the actual real beneficiaries, have little incentive to get involved, because most people rarely use health care — until they get sick — so the issue has as much top-of-mind awareness as whether your local fire department has enough hoses.

Compare this tar-pit morass with the “normal” $400 billion global ad industry. In common marketing dynamics, suppliers profit quickly by stimulating obvious demand. Geoffrey Miller notes in Spent that when Coca-Cola bought Glacéau in 2007 for more than $4 billion, it began running ads of a nearly naked Jennifer Aniston — pushing demand for a product that works out to $5.20 per gallon vs. $0.006-per-gallon tap water. Is bottled water really better? No matter. The customers gained desire. The company gained profits.

But what about services where desire and profit are not clearly connected — say, fixing aging bridges, keeping public water supplies clean, or using low-tech bar codes to save little babies’ lives? Like cleaning out your garage, such missions fall through the cracks when distant (but real) paybacks don’t stimulate demand to take action, and inertia takes over. Add the requirements that entire groups agree before action, and the issues stall further.

The way to market against inertia is finding pressure points that move groups to action. We’ve seen this recently in the antimarketing against public healthcare reform, where the labels “socialism” and “death-panels” fueled groups to push against a fuzzy, complex issue. There are people with power in bureaucracies who can be convinced to take the lead and incite others to action. Mr. Quaid alone can’t stimulate demand for the Electronic Health Record solution, but he gave it a nice push.

Via Susannah Fox and

Cablevision throws switch on clickable TV ads

We noted a year ago that cable systems Brighthouse, Cablevision, Charter, Comcast, Cox and Time Warner were in talks to launch a new ad targeting system. “Project Canoe” would use details on viewer demos to customize TV ads; say, if you have a pet, you’d see dog food commercials, while if your neighbors have girls, they would be served ads for Barbie Dolls while watching exactly the same channel.

Those one-to-one ads aren’t here yet, but Cablevision is out of the gate with another form of interactive TV ads — where consumers can get more information by clicking on their remote. Benjamin Moore is the first advertiser aboard; during its commercials a pop-up screen will invite viewers to hit “select” on their remote to receive a coupon for a color sample. Cablevision hopes to eventually add e-commerce capabilities (imagine clicking for more pizza during the Super Bowl). Could be a healthy move for beleaguered television; 53% of ad spending in the United States flows through direct marketing budgets, and if cable TV can go direct, wouldn’t Cablevision love to click on that?

Image: Ben Sciciuna.

Facebook to become a telephone (changing the future)

In a few weeks Facebook will join internet voice players such as Skype by offering voice chat. That’s right — Facebook phone service. You will sign up by installing a simple plug-in from Vivox, and away you go, chatting with Facebook friends.

Thank “Voice over Internet Protocol” (VoIP), the fancy technical term for phone calls sent over the internet instead of the old public telephone networks. The revolution of VoIP is driven by a little pricing secret — your old phone company charges you for voice transmission based on time, but internet costs are tied to the amount of data transmitted. The difference is like that of a lawyer who charges you based on the good ideas he provides instead of by the hour. Since the actual data sent in a phone call is relatively low, internet calls are exponentially cheaper than old-school phone minutes, and service providers can give it away practically for free.

Finally, human networks out of the office?

The Facebook voice service has several hooks designed to make it scale in adoption — it will include free dial-in numbers to set up conference calls, and Vivox is making its system available to all other third-party developers so they can add voice to their Facebook plug-ins. Players of those dreadful Mobster/Farmville games on Facebook can soon talk with their fellow gamers. Mashable reports Facebook is working on a video version, too.

Play it forward and the future will give you video conferencing standard on every computer or handset, as cheap as water from a spigot. Telecommuting will finally take off. Ad agencies could form using virtual communities of the best talent around the globe. Businesses will create partnerships quickly without plane flights or time-intensive proposals. Teens will go to college without moving away from home, saving room and board. As the surge in cheap video transmission erodes wireless revenues, companies such as AT&T will need to innovate more rapidly in product design and services to defend their customer base. Driven by this competition, mobile phones get exponentially sexier, adding new features. And marketers, faced with a vast increase in video inventory, will finally work on one-to-one personalization to make their messages break through the content supply overload.

All of which means that by 2015 you, with a tiny glass handset, will video-conference in the pizza delivery guy, who in turn remembers exactly how much you love double pepperoni.

Image: 2 Dogs.

Ben Underwood, seeing without eyes

Researchers at the University of Alcalá de Henares in Spain have announced they’ve proved humans can learn echolocation — sending out sounds like dolphins and bats to “see” the world around them, even when their eyes are closed. Years prior to this news, Ben Underwood was already doing this; Ben was totally blind and yet could rollerblade sensing cars around him by clicking his tongue and listening to the echos that came back. Apparently the trick is rather simple. Put the tip of your tongue at the top of your mouth, snap it backward (not downward) quickly to make a click, and continue rapidly with eyes shut. With enough practice, you will hear variances in the sound returning to sense objects in front of you.

Ben Underwood died in January at age 16 from the cancer that robbed him of his vision. He left a new vision behind. The fact that most people can’t do this might give advertisers pause; in a world awash in messages, how do you get individuals to really listen?

Patrick Swayze’s dirtiest dancing

Whether you work in advertising, write editorial or jot blogs, your real goal is to create memes: cultural ideas that (you hope) are passed from one mind to another. More than impressions, readers, or sales, the real goal of any content creator is to influence society — to get everyone to believe his or her idea/religion/product is worth sharing with others. Memes (pronounced like “beams”) were coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, which explored the transmission of ideas within culture.

Tonight, scanning Twitter, we learned Patrick Swayze had died 20 minutes before CNN reported it. And then, just as quickly, one of Swayze’s funniest moments began being referenced — his old Saturday Night Live skit with Chris Farley. A meme we can’t forget, or stop laughing at. RIP, Mr. Swayze, and you too, Mr. Farley. Meme on.

What the AT&T apology means for the iPhone

Last spring at the annual South by Southwest Interactive conference in Texas, Guy Kawasaki had just started to interview Chris Anderson on stage when a cell phone went off in the audience. “It can’t by AT&T,” Guy cracked, “because they have no coverage in Austin.”

AT&T has gained notoriety as a spotty network, and so has launched an apology campaign with “Seth the Blogger.” The videos have in turn caused a little controversy, since Seth is really Seth Bloom, a senior vice president at Fleishman-Hillard, AT&T’s PR agency, and not a techie blogger. (Unpaid bloggers get upset when paid professionals impersonate them. No matter.) We think Fleishman-Hillard struck the right tone and got the message out, namely that the iPhone is a data-guzzling beast and keeping up with it requires significant investment in infrastructure.

iPhone over?

The real story here is the glow may be fading from the iPhone’s design beauty. The iPhone gave AT&T huge momentum — AT&T, the sole carrier of the Apple phone, shot from 70 million to 77 million wireless customers in 2008, and ended the year as the United States’ largest mobile provider. Margins have grown fatter too: AT&T’s wireless segment operating income margin ballooned from 12.2% in 2006 to 22.5% in 2008, driven largely by increased data usage from iPhones. But as glass pads with apps become a low-cost commodity, AT&T may lose its Steve Jobs advantage. AT&T notes in its last annual report “we have three to four other wireless competitors in each of our service areas and compete for customers based principally on price, service/device offerings, call quality, coverage area and customer service.” The market is saturated with sexy phones. Time to build out the network.

To hear a whimsical debate on the matter, catch The BeanCast advertising podcast, which we recorded last night with host Bob Knorpp, Bill Green, Greg Verdino, and Åsk Wäppling. Åsk lives in Malmö, Sweden with gads of bandwidth, and wonders why we Yanks don’t have video conferencing on mobile yet.

Antimarketing cont’d: FedEx smacks down UPS

Speaking of antimarketing, FedEx takes a swipe at UPS, accusing the “mega-corporation” of “trying to use its political clout to get a bailout from the U.S. Congress, leaving you to pay the tab.” Apparently UPS employees say they were forced to lobby against FedEx, UPS is asking Congress to limit competition, and most Americans oppose a UPS-type bailout.

True? False? Doesn’t really matter. Seeding doubt about opponents is enough to stall a healthcare bill helping 46 million uninsured, so it might swing a few packages FedEx’s way. How do we know FedEx is behind it? Check the copyright at the bottom of the web page.

Via former Peppers & Rogers colleague Brian Roberts. (Disclosure: Our Mediassociates colleague Charlie Menduni once led media planning for UPS’s “What Can Brown Do For You?” campaign, but those days are past and we’re simply reporting the news.)

Are you filming Apple pie?

Apple, the computer company, unveiled new Nano music players this week that double as video cams, and Slate asked the obvious question: why do little devices keep getting so damned complex? Turns out companies add features to defend higher prices, and consumers keep paying because they love features (despite the occasional odd industry reset to lower-quality MP3 formats or cheap Flip cameras). Even markets expect advances; investors are so calloused by Apple’s yearly leaps they dinged Apple stock this week, apparently disappointed the thumbnail-size music players only capture film images and do not yet levitate.

So: What happens if you play technology all the way forward?

When lenses and storage and GPS and wireless internet fall to the Andersonian price of zero, every device — your watch, earrings, wedding ring — will have video broadcasting capabilities. Video we said, not text. Psychologists debate whether 93% of communication is non-verbal, but it’s at least more than half; aeons of seeking high-quality mates while avoiding tigers have taught people to see the world with eyes. So the final pinnacle device of communication, a nanochip that records and shares the world in 3-D from your retina to our minds, will free our most human needs — to communicate visually, record the environment, share thoughts, and reach all the world. Like the lit highways radiating out from cities and small towns at night, our communication streams will spread from anywhere to everywhere.

The impact on business communications will be huge. Advertising, for instance, cannot possibly intercept the haze of all of those future broadcasts … because streams will originate from billions of individuals. The supply of ad inventory will reach to the sky, and prices for ad space will plummet as media publishers face competition in the air around them. Noted Ad Age columnist Bob Garfield calls this the Chaos Scenario (a bit of a punt, we think), but his point that ad media someday may be recalled as a passing 20th century fad resonates.

Riding the balloon

Of course advertising will endure, just in choppier weather. Marketers will still have voices, customers will still long to consume, and marketplaces for information will evolve to help buyers and sellers make choices. Advertisers may gain in the short term as increased competition for their dollars, driven by ballooning communication inventory, drives down ad prices. (You can see this trend most visibly now in the plummeting CPMs for online advertising space.) At the same time, advertisers will have to measure results carefully to ensure dilution of media does not weaken their results.

Perhaps one approach you should test in the coming year is content that you can film cheaply and pass to the masses for their own modification and replication. Is your organization comfortable using cheap video? Can you produce material nimbly and quickly, giving up draconian controls and HR legal constipation for rapid response? Have you practiced seeding images to the masses? Your customers are going to find and share film anyway. If you don’t get involved, they’ll just shoot apple pie.

Video: Anime

Tweet Adder: Should you game the Twitter system?

Imagine the telephone was invented in March 2006, and now, three years later, marketing executives remain confused by this startling technology. “It’s a network to communicate with people, but only if we know their numbers? And they have to answer? So how do we make money off this?” the CMOs ask.

Ah, but new software promises to help marketers identify phone numbers of prospects, and then schedule automated phone calls every hour. Executives relax. “We can do robocalls! And at X percent response rate, we’ll make money!”

Sounds good, right?

Twitter, invented in March 2006, is becoming just such a robocall wasteland with software services such as Tweet Adder promising to help you “CAPITALIZE on the NEW Twitter phenomenon very quickly.” This is not necessarily good or bad; ethics, after all, are just agreed-upon levels of moral values, and if you have to sell like most of us do, then outbound contacts are not above you. Ad consultant Michael Gass has a detailed post about how to use these software systems to identify business prospects and then ping them with automated tweets; he pushes 373 old blog posts through two Twitter accounts trawling for leads. Some of the world’s most innovative businesspeople, such as VC dude Guy Kawasaki, fill their streams with useful links that appear human but are really scheduled with automated broadcasting software. Tweet Adder refines this approach by allowing you to identify people who work in certain industries; for example, you can follow everyone who in turn follows @mayoclinic to develop a target list of doctors and hospital service line execs to pitch for your ad agency or technology service.

Automation vs. authenticity

Go too far down this path, though, and you risk losing authenticity. New users often see Twitter as streams of random thoughts, but soon patterns emerge — people going @ateachother, carrying on conversations, debating ideas, sharing information. Within any active Twitter user’s base of 2,000 followers there may be 50 or 100 people who develop a close-knit communication club. Your expertise may be noticed by other firms, and PR people, and the business press. Authenticity is the way to build trust in that audience, and any whiff of automated salesmanship is the surest path to erode it.

If you just want to use Twitter to sell, by all means, build 50,000 followers in your target industry using tools like Tweet Adder and then robotically broadcast your blog posts with, say, SocialOomph. You’ll be spraying bait into fish-infested waters, and some may bite. But if you want to be known as a human being, you can always play the network like a real person. Your social network growth will be slower, but someone important out there may take notice … and give you a call.

Image by Tranchis. Hat tip to Edward Boches.