Category: Marketing Insights
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.

May 30th, 2018

Four ways Medical Device Marketers can win in 2018.

For the last 15 years device marketing has been big business at the Mortar. As an agency on the forefront of technology and healthcare marketing, we took a step back and asked ourselves what we would do if we were the VP Marketing or Chief Marketing Officer. Here’s four things we believe most medical device–hell, healthcare–marketers miss:

A big market attracts Big Tech. So maybe you should get into bed with Amazon.

Healthcare spending is huge. Massive. After weapons, we spend more on our health than any other item. The biggest market is here in the USA. But the rest of the world is following along fast. And why? Because we all want to live longer and eat more cheeseburgers. Call it the pursuit of the fountain of youth or simply just a desire to keep sinning, healthcare is a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs seeking to make their mark on the planet.

For evidence, look no further than Jeff Bezos’ Amazon. Amazon is already well down the medical device path. It has sold supplies and equipment to clinics and hospitals for years, and is now looking to build out that business by bringing its Alexa artificial intelligence (AI) business into the operating room.  It is one thing to compete with an Abbott or a Baxter. It is quite another entirely to feel Big Tech giants like Amazon breathing down your neck.

But are most medical marketing chiefs running in fear of intrusion by Amazon? The more contrarian move would be to understand Amazon’s deep-seated desire to be a healthcare leader–and play into that strategy.

Your patients are learning to ask more questions. But are you thinking of them as connected customers?

We are increasingly customers first and patients second. Healthcare marketing is pushing us to ask doctors to do what we want, and many consumers are refusing to settle for what their doctor thinks is best. Large numbers of smart consumers are on the verge of not trusting what their doctor tells them.

Rising expectations in the face of inefficiency and an unwillingness to change are the perfect conditions for innovation to thrive (look no further than Uber and the Taxi industry).

And yet, in their conversations with us, most large medical device makers discount the impact of innovation from new players, secure in their ability to buy and integrate promising technologies into existing product channels. That is a dangerous position to occupy for too long. And it can certainly prove expensive in the long-term as behemoths come to realize the full impact of nimble rivals.

Traditionally, the big buy the small. And Big Medical is no stranger to snapping-up promising innovators. But big device marketers do not need to wait for the M&A guys to encourage their product managers to adopt new innovations like machine learning and AI. Where are the integrations with the genetics players? What about using consumer applications to give healthcare professionals and families access to better care by smoothing communication and networking? Customers want more ways to connect with their doctor, on their own schedule, and when it suits them.

Designers need to think hard about how consumers differ from patients–and build those features into their business models.

In a connected community, dumb devices are well, dumb.

The network is available to more and it can do far more. Partners, providers, internal teams, insurers, patients, prospects: we are all connected and our community is linked together in new and surprising ways. Still, most devices are dumb and were designed for single use and not to talk to one another or to us.

That’s changing fast. Our work for Vital Connect, a mobile, super-accurate, FDA approved biosensor, has now become the backbone of a solution connecting physicians to their patients everywhere and all-the-time. Increasingly our community demands that our devices talk to one another, to our physician and to us.

However, many modern device makers are much more comfortable selling business-to-business style to physicians, and far less adept at marketing (like say Apple or Google) to connected professionals and consumers. Could someone like Vital add a voice assistant, a healthcare database and modern AI to treat common ailments and keep patients out of clinics and hospitals—you know they can.

Hardware companies are becoming software companies. And that means you are in the App business.

Driven by those seeking to exploit the cloud, machine learning, genetics; technology is fast changing healthcare. Which means we need to think very differently about the devices we create and how we tell the market about them.

Another Mortar client, Varian, is known as a global healthcare hardware innovator. Yet the giant of Radiation Oncology markets multiple software solutions that connect Varian machines to the clinical team, to the braintrust (the Tumor Board) and other institutions, so caregivers can share the best treatment plans; in that sense Varian is taking the first steps to becoming a kind of network for cancer care professionals.

Elsewhere in our portfolio, Cisco’s “Network. Intuitive.” (another Mortar project) demonstrated the power of converting millions of dumb devices into a digital fabric of organic, learning machines that can continually adapt to changing conditions. Very soon that same machine lace will carry more of the burden for diagnostics and healthcare delivery. As start-ups like Doctors On Demand demonstrate, that same network has already replaced one million face-to-face consultations with virtual patient assessments conduced on a laptop or tablet.

Every device player is a software company whether they like it or not. And of course every software company should have a place on the iPhone. Med device marketers have long passed the point of needing smart and robust apps. The harder part is what comes with app development: learning to think and act like a software company–which requires reengineering how teams approach innovation. And the now dawning realization that the app may actually be the product. (More on that in later posts).

The belief that healthcare and device innovation lags popular technology like Apple, Google and Facebook by at least 10 years is widely held in Silicon Valley. But as healthcare spending continues to bloom, and successive administrations attempt to reign in public spending, the winners will be those pushing hardest to integrate new tech with their products, actively courting innovation to narrow the gap between today’s technology and tomorrow’s bedside.

March 15th, 2018

Get your marketing priorities straight

Pisa’s famous tower started leaning only five years after construction began in 1173. Erected on unstable soil with a foundation too shallow to support the structure’s weight, the building quickly started to shift. After 800 years of renovation the problem has been fixed and the tower finally stopped listing any further.

Before setting out to make marketing history, it’s always a good idea to survey the decisions you are making about your business foundation. Take care to verify you are standing on solid ground, and you’ll avoid unexpected A-ha Moments.

Looking to build concrete confidence in your marketing efforts? Drop us an email at: heythere@mortaragency.com and we’ll angle you in the right direction.

March 9th, 2018

Great marketing isn’t rocket science

In 1999, NASA lost a 125 million dollar Mars orbiter in outer space. Seems one engineering team used English units of measurement, while another used the metric system. The mismatch prevented the correct transfer of navigational coordinates, and the aircraft missed the red planet entirely.

Before launching any new endeavor (be it marketing, or a mission to Mars), success often depends upon team alignment. The measurement mistake killed NASA’s mission, as well as the engineers’ expected A-ha Moment: a celebration of the craft’s entry into Mars’ orbit.

If you’re planning on entering new space with your marketing, drop us an email at: heythere@mortaragency.com and we’ll make sure the all-stars on your team aren’t light years apart.