Category: Healthcare Communicates
June 28th, 2018

Why tears are good for velocity.

My dear reader I can tell you without reservation that we do not make enough time for feelings in Marketing.  Even though feelings, not logic, are the secret to great marketing.

We buy most things because they make us feel good.

Oh, when pressed we muster up all kinds of malarkey designed to justify our actions and hide our capricious nature from view. Our customers are no different. Even hard core business buyers are heavily influenced by perception and awareness. Which is why big brands invest so heavily in awareness studies (only to flail around trying to tie changes in influence to sales patterns).

Engineers are the absolute worst at acknowledging their true feelings. But masking feelings does not remove emotion from the equation—it just makes our jobs that teensy bit harder.

And introduces additonal impediments to innovation and velocity.

Here at Mortar, we are big believers in the power of De Bono’s legendary six thinking hats exercise for giving workshop participants permission to indulge their emotions—and share their deepest feelings about a project.

The results are often surprising. 

Here’s five reasons you should do the same and encourage your team to indulge in the weepy side of a project:

Stanford says we should. The cornerstone of Stanford’s famed MBA program is Interpersonal Dynamics, which pretty much everyone calls touchy-feely. “The ability to forge strong relationships with others is crucial to becoming a more effective manager in today’s complex, global, and highly interdependent organizations” says Stanford. You can’t build relationships without feeling. Interestingly, touchy-feely has been the most popular elective for at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business for 45 years. 

How people feel drives how they act. By listening to your team’s deep-seated concerns you can effectively ease anxiety—freeing up previously masked aspects of your plan. You can win friends and smooth forward progress just by listening. (Of course how you listen is a trick in itself—for which might we suggest, ahem, these guys?).

People, ie. customers and teams, buy on emotion and yes, logic. It may not always feel like it, but business-to-business marketers do have permission to indulge in the more advanced forms of emotional marketing. The more technology verges into the realm of consumer preference, app development, community marketing, networking and customer advocacy the more we can borrow from giants like Apple, Nike and Google—and present our products as something truly amazing, smart and human. 

The other guys won’t do it. Indulging how your team feels about the project, and understanding the emotions surrounding the opportunity—good and bad—is often neglected. It makes most of us uncomfortable and can feel like a weird ting to do in Corporate America. It is thus a source of competitive intelligence denied to most. We may be afraid of asking our colleagues what they really feel about their work and the jobs they have been given. But in today’s race to the finish line, any advantage—especially one so easily accessed—can prove decisive.

It works. Every marketing brief we write at Mortar has two components: how we have decided the client will be different, and the A-ha moment that is made possible because we have made the choice to focus on something new and surprising. We start with the logic, but we land with emotion. In our pursuit of emotive reasons to believe, we never case to be amazed at the quality of information our clients (and their customers) share when asked to detail how they feel about the job at hand. (Don’t take my word for it. Try it: ask your customers about how they feel about you and to detail their A-ha moment. They will ALWAYS offer an answer).

At the beginning of projects we often ask workshop participants to share a favorite object to illustrate their feelings about the topic. One Marketing Director opened a meeting with a colon-cleansing kit to demonstrate how inefficiently the organization approached marketing decision making, and detail her hope that this time would be different. We used that same example in our final presentation to management to highlight the need to address internal frustration and move forward with confidence and gusto.

Medical marketing can’t help but over-rotate towards logic, science and the facts. But in any pursuit of advantage it always pays to seek out easy ways to differentiate and move forward.

Is today the day you invite team members to share how they really feel about the product they are about to launch?

June 18th, 2018

Lessons in testing. When a good A-ha goes bad.

I never cease to be amazed by the power of small amounts of  testing.

I’m reminded of a Mortar client that made water out of thin air (they said it involved condensation, I’m pretty sure the dark arts were involved).

Like most tech teams they were in a hurry, and so the question of testing kept getting pushed further and further down the development cycle.

Only weeks from launch, our strategy was nailed, we knew how our product was different, and we had a new name, logo, and a crisp elevator speech.  All that stood between us and the Market was confirmation.

For this project we chose an engagement session: the agency, client team and prospects sit down around a coffee table for a moderated discussion. Although less scientifically objective than traditional focus groups (which make heavy use of one-way mirrors and bowls full of M&M’s) engagement sessions provide a more immersive experience for all parties.

The lessons learned in engagement sessions are often much more powerful, because the team hears the feedback directly and without filter, instead of weeks later as part of a 116 slide PowerPoint deck.

So, there we are, sitting on a couch, with eight early adopters, the pioneers we expect to be among the first to buy, and we launch into our idea.

The CTO lays out the challenge, details the product idea, and is about to reveal our first creative concept when a burly engineer leans forward and asks, “so what does the water taste like?”

The CTO turns green and starts to stammer.

Everyone else on the team is taken aback. Incredibly, we’d been so wrapped up in the genius of the technology that we never asked ourselves this simple question: what does the water our machine makes, actually taste like?

Before we can respond, the engineer says “I bet it tastes awful, am I right?”

Yes, dear reader, it turns out that water condensed from the air (or via the dark arts) has no flavor. And while that may sound like a good thing, it turns out we expect our water to taste like something, and that the lack of any flavor is… well… disgusting. How water tastes is a critical attribute for any water-making appliance.

The discovery that the A-ha Moment for our water-making innovation was not “Wow, I can make water, anywhere,” sent shockwaves through the team.

We had simply not considered that the benefit of providing fresh water would need to include taste.

That was not the only thing we took from our research.

We were also struck by the pride with which our first prospect pointed out the flaw in our marketing.

Members of the early market are often heavily invested in product details and are rarely shy about offering their opinions for improvement or further innovation.

But there is a point, as every innovator will attest, when a product should be hurled into the market, as there is no better indicator of success than purchase and use.

Still, our first customers would regard the lack of focus on taste as a critical product flaw—and it would cloud the bigger story: that they could now make water anywhere.

Not to fix the taste issue would leave our first customers feeling betrayed and ignored.

And it left me scratching my head over how I could have allowed the project to advance so far without considering such a vital factor.

My entire marketing career has been punctuated by moments like these.  I have learned the hard way that small, regular doses of feedback from potential customers are an essential ingredient of any successful marketing program.

And experiences like these are why we insist our clients test their A-ha moment before they head to market. For more on Mortar and our emphasis on the A-ha see this post: Five things we learned about A-ha moments in 2017.

June 12th, 2018

The Easy Science of Big Marketing Decisions

Malcolm Gladwell writes that proficiency requires 10,000 hours of experience in a particular field.

The practice of marketing is no different. But why are so many marketing teams—who’ve put in this time and more—struggling with fundamental decisions about what they should be doing to build their business?

The reasons are myriad, but I believe all can be overcome with three easy-to-follow steps designed to generate creative thinking. And while they may strike you as mildly contrarian, each is the result of thousands of man hours of experimentation and, as we in Silicon Valley so gleefully say, failing forward.

Lesson 1. You are not far from an answer. In fact, the answer is in the room with you right now.

I hate to admit it, but many of the core ideas we develop for our clients are not new at all, but rather a creative take on an existing notion they themselves brought to the table.

After all, few outside parties are as close to the material as you. Even fewer fully grasp the intricacies of your organization, product, strategy and industry. And none have spent as much time or energy thinking about the opportunity as you have.

The trick is to harness this power and knowledge and to use it as a source for creative idea generation.

We’ve found the best way to do that is to gather the team that owns the project around a whiteboard and engage in some radical and aggressive brainstorming moderated by an energetic and quizzical third party.

Mortar is a good third party (ahem).  We are not hidebound by or steeped in years of “doing things a certain way.”  Which means we can ask the tough questions of your team in a way that sparks conversation and illuminates what has been ignored or overlooked.

Few problems stand resolute when confronted by individuals who have permission to indulge in wild fantasies and have been granted the power to challenge the (often) unspoken conventions governing any project.

Lesson 2. The secret to thinking big is to first think small.

Big ideas are exciting. They appeal to big egos and satisfy the soul. But they are also hard to identify and articulate, and often slow and difficult to implement.

Small ideas, on the other hand, are easy to grasp. Come in multiples. Appeal to many. Don’t require uniform consensus. Can be easy to extract. Quick to fund. Simple to test. And, because they are so easy to come by, are easily discarded in favor of a more attractive alternative.

The secret is to start small. Identify modest goals. Develop long lists of low hanging fruit. Gather supporters. Test what’s promising. Watch what fails. And use the resulting energy to zero in on the truth.

Thinking small, not thinking big, is a much more manageable way to win friends and innovate successfully in big business.

Lesson 3. Remember to sell the sizzle not the steak.

We call it the pursuit of the A-ha moment.

Every smart marketing decision points towards something surprising and previously unavailable. But don’t fall into the mistake of thinking that your customers will buy your naked claims. Instead spend time thinking about what your audience will find surprising or unexpected. And then root your marketing in those emotions. A better biosensor may provide better data to the care team, but the real joy comes from how they will feel when they realize what they can do with that data.

So, get your team together with someone from the outside and give them permission to think wildly. Pursue multiple small ideas with gusto and passion. And double down on the surprise. Those are the elements of the easy science of big decisions, and the fruits of countless hours in marketing.

November 2nd, 2017

New Varian Brand Campaign

Oh, and this happened in 2017… we helped launch the new Varian brand campaign on the Internets.. (see the landing page here).

July 24th, 2017

OM1: Personalizing big data for modern healthcare

OM1 gives healthcare providers, payers and researchers the ability to reimagine how care can be measured and delivered.

Step one was discovering the strategic marketing decision that only OM1 can deliver: personalizing big data.

Which gave us OM1’s A-ha moment: Big data can be massaged to provide a singular metric, based in science, for making informed decisions that consider “what if” rather than just “what was.”
 Our work included strategy, naming, brand identify, website development. Click here to see the website.