January 3, 2018
Fostering Innovation in Digital Healthcare Marketing
My friend and collaborator Ross Toohey, president and CEO of 2e Creative, the 3-time winner of MM&M’s Agency of the Year Award, was recently asked by PM360 Magazine, “How do you foster innovation within your pharma or medical device marketing organization?” His answer was spot-on: Innovation is not the result of pure inspiration and random serendipity. It results from fostering a culture and set of processes that enable innovation to emerge and flourish on its merits.
Our experience is that innovation in technology comes from two cultural drivers: curiosity and a need to scratch our own itch.
We find ourselves asking, “What if we could [fill in with a wild idea]?”
If an idea seems remotely possible, someone will volunteer to build a working prototype, usually within a week. If it comes together, we commit more resources for a slightly longer timeline, maybe 3 weeks. As the team finds utility in the innovation, we continually commit more resources until we have something that is being used almost every day.
Here are 3 commercial-grade examples from our process at Arteric.
(1) Arteric’s SaaS Inbound Call-Tracking Application
In 2010 or 2011, we asked ourselves, “What if we could know the source of every inbound sales lead phone call, including those from print collateral, digital activities, and even pay-per-click advertising campaigns?”
We built an application that we still use today and have used on many customer websites. Our tool implemented innovative techniques to change the phone number dynamically on a website, depending on the source of the visitor. When the visitor calls the phone number, the call is rerouted to a configured phone number and we get an email with details of the call and a log entry. We use these data to measure the impact of our traditional and digital advertising campaigns. As it turns out, there were other providers of this service at the time. However, we were one of the first in pharma and biotech marketing, and we added some special magic to the mix just for our healthcare brand clients.
(2) Arteric’s Visual Comparison Tool
In 2013, our healthcare clients’ website projects began to scale to thousands of pages and the rate of updates, including patching of the content management systems, began to accelerate. This presented a challenge for a team that was faced with the huge task of ensuring that the sites are pixel perfect before and after an update. As we all know, the stakes are high and imperfection in this regard is unacceptable.
We asked ourselves, “What if we could automate the testing of our clients’ websites by automatically discovering each page on the website and comparing it to a previous known and approved copy of the Web page?”
Now, this idea wasn’t innovative. Abbott Labs was doing this with print materials in the early 2000s. They would scan in each piece of print collateral, and a computer would compare them. Our innovation was to automate this process for websites and to accelerate it. We built several tools based on different commercial/open-source technologies and then automated the discovery of the pages and the comparison of the pages. We also innovated in our approach to launching multiple versions of the same large website for comparison. In one case, we maintain 35 country versions of a client website in 28 languages, with some versions containing 600+ pages. Our solution enables us to test this website in less than 20 person-hours and to confirm that there were no changes in the material that was not expected to change. This innovation enables us to validate a patch to a content management system at scale in less than 1 day, thereby accelerating the security patch into production and protecting our client’s assets. It also dramatically reduces the cost of change management.
(3) Arteric’s Text Analysis Tool
In 2014, we discovered that one of our client’s healthcare brands was missing opportunities because of a huge gap between its customers’ needs and the content and information that the brand was delivering. I described this insight in my presentation AI – Super Hearing for Healthcare Marketers. We discovered the insight by manually analyzing more than 50,000 Google searches that resulted in a click to our client’s website. We performed this manual analysis purely because we were curious; however, it led to several “aha!” moments for our clients and spawned a new practice area for Arteric.
As we developed this practice, we faced the reality of analyzing 250,000 to 1,000,000+ rows of verbatim Google and Bing searches that led to customer interactions with our brands. At this scale, manual analysis by humans is impractical, costly, and prone to missing the insight.
So, we asked ourselves, “What if we could implement a machine-learning algorithm to build a topical map of all the searches, identify customer behavior insights, and determine the most important content for the brand to build?”
Two weeks later, we had a proof of concept that implemented Cortical.io’s Retina API, which is trained on all of Wikipedia. We then iterated the algorithm with refinements for several months. We needed it to be faster and more flexible in handling the data that we fed it. This process led to the discovery of 143 foreign-language searches in a 250,000-row dataset that we had thought was English-only.
This discovery led us to ask, “What if we could rapidly classify and translate every search for and interaction with our customer’s brand?” Within 45 minutes, our application was integrated with Google’s Cloud Translator and we were translating and classifying 100,000 searches per minute and gaining insights about topics our brand was served for in languages other than English. This insight led one of our clients to consider a new market and target audience.
Our work on our artificial intelligence solution for text processing is in its infancy, and we are actively researching and developing it.
Itching to Stay Curious
Each of these examples is the result of our curiosity and our need to scratch our own itch. They were not driven by revenue. No client paid us to develop them or research them. We decided, as a team, that it would be a fun adventure to explore the idea and see where it would lead. What is conspicuously missing from this list are the thousands of ideas we’ve explored since 1999 that have gone nowhere. We enjoy a deep willingness to try something that might fail. All software development is a series of small failures until you discover the optimal way to implement something.
At Arteric, we value curiosity, the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, extraordinary competence, resilience, selflessness, and industriousness. These ideals, values, and behaviors are at the foundation of our drive and passion for innovation, and are truly at the core of our parallel missions to:
Explore the boundaries of the possible, creating life-changing experiences through feature-rich, defect-free software that works everywhere, every time.
Connect patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers to the health information patients need to live longer healthier lives.
Our mission is aspirational and gives us a reason to get up in the morning and make another attempt at changing the world for the better. We believe that our mission, values, and process, as well as a willingness to fail, are at the center of risk taking, exploration, and discovery. They are what enable Arteric to foster creativity and innovation in digital healthcare marketing.