Category: Healthcare Communicates
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.
April 30th, 2014

Why Can’t Every Problem Be Solved By a Bulldog in a Hawaiian Shirt?

At Mortar, getting a number wrong usually results in us trying to order a pizza from a dry cleaner at 2 a.m. But for healthcare providers like Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, the ramifications are much more serious – after all, 50ccs of a medication is a far cry from 15.

Taking basic steps, like saying “one-five instead of 15” makes a surprisingly huge difference. And that’s just one of the techniques that can be used in the hospital to eliminate preventable harm.

The question is, how do you communicate these somewhat mundane-yet-crucial rules to staff in a way they’ll pay attention to (after all, these are some of the brightest and busiest doctors and nurses in the field) while staying consistent with the warmth and care you’d expect from a children’s hospital?

Our answer: Punimals!

packard-trainingcards-ant

packard-poster-paws

 

Pairing adorable bespoke animal illustrations with equally adorable and punny headlines allowed us to communicate life-saving information in a manner people wanted to engage with. And, we gave employees plenty of opportunities for doing just that – through posters, mouse pads, training cards, magnets, screensavers and even direct mail postcards sent to employees’ homes.

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Saving lives and keeping children healthy was clearly the most important goal of the campaign, but we have to admit to grinning when we heard people were going out of their way to collect all 10 characters. Now, if only that dry cleaner would arrive with our deep dish pie.