Collecting ideas and thoughts slightly too big for @digital_pharma

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It wasn’t that long ago that my mother got all of her email on paper. Once a week, she would check her email, by which she meant she would have my dad log in, delete the junk mail and print out anything that was relevant, interesting, or useful. Then, she would call people back. She was proud to tell people that she was up on new technology like email and would give out her address to anyone who seemed interested.

Since most people didn’t get a response for almost a week via a completely different medium, eventually everyone learned to just call.

This begs the question: was my mother really on email? (is “on” the right preposition? Whatever.) She had an email address, and she got information through it, but wouldn’t you say that she was just bending the medium against its inherent… “emailness?” You might cover yourself in feathers, but that doesn’t make you a bird, does it?

I have a similar (mostly internal) conversation about pharma and social media. We all know that social media is mainstream. Does anyone reading this not have their own personal Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn accounts? I didn’t think so. We’re social, and the numbers tell us that pretty much everyone else is, too. When you post to Facebook, have you ever thought about turning off comments? No, of course not. You might think about blocking your brother-in-law because he’s obnoxious and won’t stop posting political rants, but you would love it if everyone you knew commented on that photo of yourself, especially if they comment how good you look.

In return for comments, you’re more likely to comment on other people’s posts, maybe even share videos of babies giggling or helicopters made of stuffed animals. The funny thing is that you might have done stuff like that even before Facebook. You might have had a blog of great links, a LiveJournal, or maybe you just passed emails around with your friends and family. You were “social” online long before you were on Facebook.

We can’t mistake the platform from the intention. Facebook the “social” platform merely facilitates your intention, which means that simply being on Facebook doesn’t mean you are being social – you’re just leveraging a social platform. Being on a social platform doesn’t mean you’re social. To return t the bird analogy, it just means you’re covered in feathers.

So many pharma brands are patting themselves on the back by claiming to be social, when they are really just on Facebook, furiously fighting to turn off all the functions and features that make Facebook social. To pharma, Facebook is just a blogging platform with a lot of unnecessary (and risky) opportunities for people to talk back. However, it is the conversational features that make Facebook social, and what made it popular in the first place.

No one wants to get messages from Pepsi and Doritos and the new Batman movie. What they really want is to be social, either with other fans, or to the brand itself. For example, if you “friend” the TV show Archer (it’s a cartoon for adults) on Facebook, you will get posts from the character Archer himself. You can reply. You can be social.

Now, I appreciate that there are rules and guidelines and all sorts of medical, legal and regulatory concerns that keep you from making your brand more social. Maybe that means you shouldn’t be spending all this time and money trying to pretend to be social. The same resources, if dedicated to smart emailing and texting (tech that’s more than 30 years old, now) would reap far more benefits without having to pretend that your Facebook page’s seventy friends (almost all of whom work for the brand in some form or another) are worth the money it takes to post.

It’s very possible that pharma brands’ trying to be social is as valuable as attempting to email people without a computer. Sure, you could create email accounts for all of them, allowing you to claim some great innovation, but since your targets can’t actually access them, what’ the point?

I’m not anti-social. I love social media (my twitter accounts attest to that). But we need to use it right, or else use it not at all. Pretending to be social in the pharma sector is just a great way to spend money.

And get covered in feathers.

I am a hoarder. Not the “I’ll be appearing on an A&E series next month, buried in my belongings” type of hoarder. I’m more the “Oooo, that book looks interesting! I’ll buy it and probably never actually read it” type of hoarder. I used to have shelves and shelves of books, but then I started paring them down to the point where I bet there aren’t 50 books in my house. However, I have hundreds of electronic books that I hoard like an old lady with cats.

I hoard them because they make me feel as if I have access to new things. Every new book is the opportunity to learn something new and amazing (though, in reality, it’s really like there’s a 4.7% chance the book will be worth getting past the first few pages). I collect them in some vain hope that having them on my iPad will make me more likely to be smarter by some sort of mental osmosis.

Alas, it doesn’t work for college kids who buy their textbooks but never crack them open, and it doesn’t work for me, either.

I’m guessing you have collected a lot of data lately. A lot of sales numbers. Geographic distribution data. Attitudinal data. Behavior data. Data about how many and who opened that last email, and the one before that, and the one before that. You know who is registered on your site, who watched the last eLearning, requested a rep, requested samples and requested patient sales cards. You know their specialty, probably where they practice, probably how old they are, where they went to school and if they ate lunch you paid for.

That’s a lot of data. What good is it doing you?

Ostensibly, you’re going to use that data one day. You’re going to hire a bunch of geeks who did their own math homework and probably majored in mathematical modeling. They are going to unlock that data and turn it into something called “usable insights.” You are going to apply those insights, increase brand awareness by 17% per annum without spending any more money, and get that promotion and corner office you always wanted.

That’s a great story, but are you really ever going to use that data?

How much did you spend on your data in the last month? The last year? The last five years? How much do you spend to maintain all that data every month? What could you spend that same amount of money on to make the needle move right now?

Let’s explore a simple “what if” scenario. If I told you right now that female PCPs over the age of 45 are prescribing your brand 20% more than the average (a fairly interesting and important finding), what could you do with that information? How long would it take you to design a campaign that focused on that segment and got it approved and launched? Three months? Six? Would the insight I just gave you still be useful in six months?

To that point, how hard would it be for you to turn off existing messaging to that audience? Could you do it in a week? A month?

The ability to respond to data insights is as important as the data itself. Just as the ability to leverage the knowledge in your books is predicated on reading and digesting them, getting value out of your data is a function of being able to change course. The CRM that holds all of that data is worthless without the system in place to leverage it.

Now, I’m a known fan of CRM strategies. But if you can’t commit to one – if you can’t commit to building a system that can respond to new information –  stop what you’re doing right now. Those nice reports they give you are pretty and interesting, but if you haven’t used one to make a business decision in the last couple of months, or if you simply can’t change anything based on the data, you should stop looking at them. They will only stress you out.

Stop being a data hoarder. Data is only as good as its ability to influence your decisions. Keeping it around in the hopes that magic springs out of it is as silly as sleeping on your textbook.

You know all the numbers already; it appears that nearly every HCP target has or is about to get an iPad. They all had smart phones last year. The numbers are growing so fast, that some people have just stopped collecting them and have begun to simply say, “We are rapidly approaching maximum market saturation” and moving on to other, more interesting questions.

A quick check of your web stats and email applications confirms that almost 40% of your traffic is mobile. This leads you to one simple and inexorable conclusion: you need to get mobile.

If you talk to your agencies and partners, they will be more than willing to spend your money and re-build your website and your online tactics (eLearning, request forms, formulary tools, etc) into a mobile version that will look good on a phone. Some may even suggest that you put all that into a set of apps (one for iPhone, one for iPad and one for Android) to allow for device specificity.

Sure, you could do all that. And you could also just send me a check for six figures.

But you shouldn’t.

When talking to your agency partners, listen to the one who uses the phrase “responsive design.”  You may have already heard it, and not known what it was. Well, let me help you sound like an experience, and savvy web solution shopper.

If you go the old route of building a site for the desktop, the tablet and the phone, you have three sites. You know what kind of hassle it is to update one site already: between label changes and marketing position changes, it is a lot of work (read: expensive). Having three separate sites doesn’t get you any benefits of scale. You have three sites that must be coded completely differently, even if they have the exact same content. The management costs alone would make you blanch. Maybe you’ve already done the math, and that’s why losing 40% of your traffic to mobile isn’t the catastrophe I made it sound like before [link]. Maybe the return on investment to three sites doesn’t work for you.

Responsive design is the solution to the same problem that you and every other web business is having (this isn’t a pharma issue, it’s a web issue). The solution is a change in mindset for the coding of your site. Using HTML5 and CSS3 trickery, they can build a site once (with only a single maintenance budget) and have it look and work completely differently on a laptop, tablet or phone. The code can tell what kind of device the user is using to request the page and delivers the version that’s appropriate. It isn’t just a matter of making the text smaller or anything, with careful planning, it can do everything from make the link buttons on the phone big and easy to use, or even resizing the graphics for new retina-display screens.

Even the images can be adjusted, re-shaped and re-sized on the fly to maximize their value on a given screen.

This kind of responsiveness may already be in place in some of your sites, like when it delivers slightly different versions of code to different versions of browsers. The current understanding of responsive design just takes the idea and moves to its logical conclusion: one site that looks and acts like many.

The framework can even be used to more easily port content into device-specific apps. Users can download apps – which are really just slightly modified browsers – that pull your responsive site through their window.

Now, it’s not magic. But it’s not free, either. You can expect to pay more for a site that uses responsive design practices. But one responsive site is far cheaper to build and maintain than three sites.

No, wait. Just because this is going to be about CRM doesn’t mean you need to bring your call to action into the room. This will not be about computers. The problem is that we just see the acronym and not the words themselves. You think you know what CRM is, that it’s a big database filled with info about all your customers and it spits out all sorts of insights like what channels each target prefers and what messages they seem to respond to.

Except none of that is in the name itself: Customer relationship management. No tech. No servers. No database. No channel preference. It’s just a way to manage the relationships you have with your customers.

If you owned a bar, knowing what the regulars liked to drink and remembering that Ol’ Joe gets a little maudlin after his fourth – that would be customer relationship management. You wouldn’t need a server, because you would know many of your customers by name, by drink, and by story. That’s what a good bartender does, right?

So why do we need to inject databases into the concept? When you think CRM, don’t think servers and analysts, think strategy.

Because that’s what CRM is — a strategy. It is a way of thinking about your customers to help them have a positive experience, so that they come back for more. It is a system and structure that forces you to put the customer in the center of all your marketing thinking.

Allow me to be specific. You’ve got a target list. Maybe you’ve broken it down by deciles. And you are recruiting everyone on that target list to opt in to your email campaigns. Now, your email campaigns, are they a bunch of emails you send out every few weeks in a specific order? Maybe you occasionally interrupt that order with breaking news about a conference or a label change? Yeah, I figured as much. So what’s that getting you? Are you learning about your targets? No, you’re shouting at them. And worse yet, you’re shouting at them all the same way. The twenty email messages you’ve spent the last nine months crafting and pushing through MLR are to be sent in order, to everyone who opts in, are they increasing your prescription rates? Are they increasing your rep and sample requests? Are they increasing your target’s understanding of your brand?

I’ll buy you a drink at ePharmaSummit West this year if you can answer ”yes” to all those questions.

Let’s assume you’ve embraced an adoption path for all your targets, that everyone was either unaware of your brand; aware but ignorant of what the drug does; educated but unconvinced of its value, convinced of its value and prepared to prescribe; or ready to tell other people about their positive experiences with the brand. Which of your twenty emails speaks to which of those audiences? Are you sending your messages in a way that moves each target from one step to the next? Can you confirm that each target has moved to the next step before you send the next message? (Did you notice that every question asked where the customer is? This is what I mean by customer-centered.)

This is what CRM can tell you. With proper implementation, it can see that Dr. Smith is aware of the brand (because she went to a conference and dropped a business card in the bowl to try and win an iPad). So it sends Dr. Smith three emails in a row about what the purpose of the drug is. The system knows that after the second email, the doctor clicked the link to learn more and watched most of the eLearning video. This means that our target has moved to the next step, so skip the third ”brand awareness” email and move on to the campaign to get them to request a sample.

At the same time, Dr. Jones already is aware of the brand and it’s mechanism of action, so a series of messages are sent about requesting samples and formulary information.

This is how you manage your customers. The strategy comes first. We can figure out how to build the database and tracking system later.

Here’s the scary part: you can’t say that you don’t think CRM is valuable because every business tries to manage their relationships with their customers. It’s a cornerstone of building a good business. What you may object to is the way that strategy is implemented, but you can’t ignore the strategy itself.

So tell me: how are you managing the relationships you have with your customers?

You have a lot of possible and actual targets, and almost as many ways to describe those targets: deciles (based on past prescribing data), deciles (based on predictive modeling tools), engagement scores, adoption path position, geographic area, specialty, practice type, and more.

The problem with many of these descriptions is that they tend to paint a partial picture of your targets. For example, deciling by past prescription data says ”this group used to prescribe a lot, this group used to not prescribe much.” That’s great information if this were a history class.

Conversely, deciling by predictive modeling (so sexy, so hot this year) is so complicated, most of us can only say ”based on an equation so complicated I’d need PhD and a white board the size of a building to explains it, this group should prescribe a lot and this group shouldn’t.” It’s less like history class and more like science fiction.

The issue is that while this kind of segmentation tells you who should write and who shouldn’t, it doesn’t try to tell you why. And that’s important because if you know why, you’ll know what you want them to do, which means you’ll know what kinds of messages to send them to change their behavior.

So, let’s call this this the Context Quadrant Metric (all you MBAs should feel very much at home, they rest of you, don’t worry — this is easy). It’s a two-by-two chart. Across the chart, plot out engagement. You can decide how you want to measure this. It can be as simple as decile, but you could also count all the different touches you’ve made back and forth (number of emails sent, videos viewed, speaker programs completed, honoraria received, etc). Low engagement to the left, high engagement to the right.

Vertically, plot the number of prescriptions written in the last year. No prescriptions at the bottom, lots of prescriptions at the top.

Now, you’ve got four quadrants. The bottom-left is filled with targets who are low-engaged, writing few prescriptions. Call these your “Unlikelies.” In the bottom-right you have highly-engaged, low prescribers. Call these your “Underachievers.” Upper-right corner is your highly-engaged, high prescribers. These are your “High-Responders.” Finally, in the upper-left, you have low-engaged, high prescribers. These are your “Overacheivers.”

What does this tell us? Well, we now see where there are correlations between the marketing actions you are taking and prescribing. We’ll also see how in many instances the actions you make have nothing to do with the outcomes. For example, you spend a whole lot of money trying to talk to the Underacheivers, but they don’t seem to be doing what you want. How much money is too much? Or maybe it’s proof that your marketing message isn’t working for them. Maybe these are the moochers who are happy to watch any videos you put in front of them for the free MREI at the end. Maybe no amount of MREI in the world will get them to prescribe.

How valuable is that information?

And what about your OveracheiversYou are spending a lot of money trying to talk to them, but they are ignoring you entirely without negative consequence to your bottom line. They have massive ROI. Maybe instead of trying to get them to opt in, you should just start sending them thank you emails and leaving them alone. How much money would you save that way?

By understanding the contents of each target group, you can make smarter marketing choices, saving huge amounts of money on dead-end or already-satisfied targets that can be used on new messages to those who will actually respond to them. You can frame marketing strategies (and budgets) around better understanding your audiences.

If you haven’t heard of Pinterest yet, you are probably purposely avoiding it. It has become the fastest-growing social media site in the US (#3 behind Facebook and Twitter, ahead of #4 LinkedIn) and it has a fairly rabid fanbase. But what is Pinterest? How is it different from the other social networking sites we’ve grown comfortable with lately?

To understand Pinterest, you need to think about the internet not as a bunch of ones and zeros (bytes), but as a collection of things (photos, articles, posts, videos, graphics, infographics, PDFs, etc).

Typically, you might spend a lot of time crafting an article that includes a bunch of text, a few images, an infographic, and maybe some links. You think of the article as the unit of transfer – the product produced and distributed. This is a holdover from the previous generation of media (magazines and journals).

But what if the pieces were as valuable as the entire article? For example, let’s say you have a set of instructions on how to make something interesting. A headboard, for example. You will write the instructions out and annotate it with a series of instructive photos describing each step. To you, the information, as defined by this collection of text and images, is the thing. Except, the final image is really pretty. It allows people to see the outcome and mentally project it on to their lives (or, in this case, in their bedroom). To them, the final picture is the thing, with a bunch of semi-interesting text and explanatory images along for the ride. The picture of the dessert is far more important that the recipe. The picture of the dress is more important that who makes it (but not who sells it, as many retail brands are finding that Pinterest is a more effective channel for sales that Twitter or Facebook). 

Think about it. The information needed to create something isn’t as important as the marketing tool wrapped around it. That is the thing that Pinterest trades on. So people see the image and pin it to their board (it’s like “Liking” something on Facebook, but allowing the user and their fans to see all the related likes in one place). Beyond that, other users (via searching or via networking) see the image and may choose to like the image as well.

This is Pinterest: A very visual array of ideas grouped by a user to collect inspirations on given topics. 

If you’re confused by my examples (headboards, desserts, dresses), then you don’t know the audience for Pinterest (whether it was the intended audience or not). Depending on the source of information, Pinterest’s users are 68-97% female. What is successful on Pinterest is very pretty, very cute, very clever, or very funny. The marketing piece (the final product, the lavishly-designed graphic, the snarky line) trumps the supporting content. If you want your material pinned, you had better have a gorgeous photo or killer infographic.

So what does all this mean to pharma? Based on the meager existing pharma usage of Pinterest, it’s very hard to say. Like all social media, the tool is designed to facilitate conversations between people, a conversation that might sound like “I like this thing, and you might, too.” Despite the value that pharma brings to people’s lives, there isn’t much activity on the boards. For example, a search for the enormously popular Viagra leads to seeing three pins: one bottle image, one ad, and one picture of red pills forming a heart. A search for Paxil shows roughly 20 pins, where Paxil is as likely to be used as code for “chill out” as in a professional frame. And searching for Nexium shows far more pins for “natural alternatives” and online pharmacies than anything the industry might consider useful or productive.

From the other side of the fence, Bayer US’s Pinterest page (53 pins currently) is filled with advertisements for its business, sustainability, innovation and education initiatives. The only brand shown is for pet med Advantix.

We can see that Pinterest may not be an obvious channel for pharma. It is open (people can comment freely and re-purpose a pharma pin onto a board of any name they choose), it is conversational, and it is very visual. These are traits that do not lend themselves to pharma.

That said, there is a massive community here (mostly younger and female). If we look at the example of NuvaRing (female contraceptive), there aren’t many pins, but almost all of them are serious or informational in tone. Clearly, the audience here understands the value of this product to both themselves and their peers. The question is: will Pinterest become the way women talk to each other about this brand? That remains to be seen.

You have a great eLearning program. No, really. I can see every dollar you spent on getting that KOL on film with a killer script that nails your message. The camera work and editing is spot-on. The coding work you did to build a custom interface is delightful. The website is fast, clearly laid out behind a login, and it even remembers which videos I’ve watched and where I left off last time. Excellent stuff. Kudos to your agency partners for putting it together. I bet you get great traffic, and that everyone involved got a nice pat on the back when it came time for their annual reviews.

There’s just one problem. It might as well not exist on my phone.

This is unfortunate, because I get all my email on my phone, and you guys send me emails all the time. They practically beg me to click on the link and watch the video, but when I do, I get a big grey rectangle. Or an error message (which is funny, because I didn’t do anything wrong). I wonder how much time and money you spent on that pretty video that is completely useless to me.

Suddenly I don’t like your website anymore, mostly because it’s built around encouraging me to watch a video I can’t actually watch.

You’ve looked at your email metrics lately, right? You know that mobile devices account for anywhere from 40-60% of all email views, right*?

*[how do I know that? Because we have access to 29,000 Texas HCPs and we send them bi-monthly newsletters and that’s what our email metrics say.]

Have you looked at your web metrics? In particular, the percentage of mobile traffic to your site, and how it has grown at a near-exponential rate for the past year? That means that all those technical decisions you made only 12 months ago are kinda worthless now. Can you see how desktop traffic stays around and watches your movie, just like you want them to, but that your mobile traffic is almost all gone a minute after they show up? I bet you can (and if you can’t, I’m betting your web team can show you).

If you embrace the idea that mobile is here to stay (and if you’re reading this on a tablet or phone, I think you do), you need to understand how people use these devices.

Allow me to direct your attention to a study [] that shows that tablet and phone users are more than happy to watch a ten minute video on these portable devices. The small screen is no deterrent. In fact, sitting on a train or waiting in line might be the only time your target has a chance to watch your epic video.

The problem isn’t just the file format. It’s not too much trouble to re-render the movie into some format other than Flash, but any interactions you’ve built in need to account for the fact that on a tiny screen, buttons need to be big and easy to use. And a mobile user is more likely to need that pause button. The rule of thumb, as described here [] is that the smaller the screen, the smaller the slice of time the device works best at filling. When they start watching your movie in line at Costco, they may need to come back and finish it later. Not accommodating that behavior means that HCPs just won’t come back.

We’ve also seen that emails opened by phones tend to get opened sooner. We think it’s because most people carry their phones around with them everywhere and are happy to check their email dozens of times a day, rather than checking their email a few times a day at home on the laptop.

So are you ready to embrace mobile and walk the walk? Just don’t walk while texting.  Will you go full-mobile to get your eLearning video seen by more of your target list? Yes? That’s what I figured.

There’s no preamble or cutesy anecdote to draw you in this time. Just a question:
What’s your online ad-buying strategy?
Maybe the question should be: do you even have an ad-buying strategy? Well, Besides picking a budget and spreading the money around. I’m not sure that counts as a strategy.
You’ve got SEM and display ads, you’ve got sites and targeting. You’ve got email, mobile and push ads. You’ve got conference targeting. You’ve got re-targeting. And any one of those idea has about a dozen (or a few dozen) channels, and each with a bunch of people willing to sell you on that channel.
Where do you spend the money?
Do you prioritize by saying that you need to hit this conference and that conference? What if only one of those conferences has an official web site? For that conference, you’ll need to spend money on some other site about the conference. Surprisingly, the official conference site is far cheaper to advertise on than the non-conference site.
And you’ve got to hit the search engines, right? That’s where people (HCPs or DTCs) go looking for solutions to their issues – solutions you solve. This is where you aren’t interrupting their web surfing so much as speaking up when they are looking for you. So, you’ve gotta be there.
And what about social media marketing? Facebook has got a great ad system, if you know how to use its targeting system properly.
What about channels? Should you be advertising on EHR sites for your HCP market? But they are still pretty spread out with no one vendor taking up the lion’s share of the market, let alone the majority. So if you’re gonna play there, you’re going to have to spend on two or even three sites.
And what about re-marketing, where, after having visited your site, you continue to hit them with ads, even if they are on someone else’s site? The cost is a fraction of what the big medical portals charge, but has anyone shown that HCPs who see your ads while shopping for khakis are at all inclined to click? Or even become more brand-aware?
And then there’s the big medical portals. Big money for the right audience, and no one has ever gotten fired spending money there, right?
So with all these choices, how do you make spending decisions? Do you print out your media plan on tabloid paper and throw darts at it? Medscape in January, Google in March, EHR#1 in June? Cut the insertion orders into bits, glue them onto turtles and race them down the hall? First turtle gets the biggest buy, so stop when you hit your budget numbers!
And what about benchmarking? If you are spending all this money, what do you expect to get out of it? Are you measuring clicks or conversions? What about micro-conversions? Can you correlate ads with prescription changes? I bet you’d like to, wouldn’t you?
Do you ask big broad questions like, ”If I had to spend it all on SEM or display ads, which would be better?” or, ”If I pilot a re-marketing campaign, how many conversions would be a success?”
Do you have all your click/conversion data in one folder and your budgeting/costing data in another? Why don’t you combine them and see the cost of each conversion on each channel?
If you can’t answer these last questions, can you really say you have a strategy? And given the amount of money you’re spending, shouldn’t you have a strategy?
Fight back in the comments or just yell at me on Twitter.

Yesterday, my boss’s boss’s boss (hi, @ormshr) asked me to talk more about this idea I have about how certain sites/tools/companies have DNA that they simply can’t escape.

For example, the DNA of IBM means that it will always embrace structure, hierarchy, and rules, no matter what the rest of the world does. It may have taught elephants to dance when it moved from PC powerhouse to enterprise services, but it did so through structure, hierarchy and rules.  When it finds a new challenge, it will fall back to that view of the world and itself to meet that challenge. That’s what  mean by corporate DNA.


Let’s start with the DNA of Microsoft. You know what I hate? Microsoft commercials. All of them. It doesn’t matter what marketing team they hire, they will always be bad. Why? Because all of Microsoft’s marketing is based on its DNA, that all of our problems can be solved with the rigorous application of office tasks. Currently, there are two commercials which show a family hanging around the house, creating powerpoint slides (and no, Microsoft Word, I refuse to capitalize “powerpoint,” no matter how angrily you add red squiggly underlines). Now, I have to assume this is some sort of alternate dimension, because I’ve never been in a house where creating a slide deck was considered something fun a family did. Nor have I ever heard of a family deciding to buy a dog because of persuasive powerpoint deck. In the Microsoft world, the only reason you have a computer at all is to write memos, work on spreadsheets and craft slideshows. The web? Angry Birds? Facebook? These are distractions to the true purpose of computing: get a promotion. And helping you get that promotion is the nature of Microsoft’s DNA.

No matter what product Microsoft puts out, it will be in service of the office task. Whatever fun veneer they apply to it (the only reason the Xbox succeeded is because it was treated as an almost separate company from the start), the root DNA is all about the “TPS Report” or “Billable Hours” or “Corporate Memorandum.” What do you mean they can’t come up with an iPod competitor?! I’m shocked!


The mirror image of that Microsoft is Apple, who’s entire DNA is about how much you want to get out of the office. Every product they release is designed to make you forget about the office, that you should pick up your tools and work in a park or coffee shop, that the end of the workday is almost here and you can go play. If you have to be at work, at least the tools are designed around the idea of exploration, curiosity and play. I mean, what percentage of Apple commercials involve people dancing?

Even tools used in a professional setting (like current Siri commercials) don’t seem like “work.” It seems like a friendly, fun process to figure out what your next meeting is about, or what that last text said. From the smiley-face Mac that shows up on boot, to the magic mouse that is really a big touchpad, everything Apple produces is imbued with that feeling of discovery.

The reverse example: What was Apple’s biggest corporate failure in the modern Steve Jobs era? The Xserve server. No one wants to “play” with servers; it just didn’t fit with the DNA.


Then there’s Google’s DNA. Google started as a search engine, and that’s significant. Google believes that there is no problem that can’t be solved or any situation that can’t be improved when you are given the right piece of information from the right place at the right time. It doesn’t matter if what you need is a photo or book, web page or blog post, it wants to give it to you. Remember that email you needed? Or that document? Or that calendar event? Or that song? Or that movie? Google wants nothing more than to be the obedient puppy butler that gleefully retrieves it for you and waits, tail wagging, for your next request.

Google+ is a great example of what happens when you try to break out of your DNA. Google doesn’t understand social, it understands finding and delivering useful information. Google could be good at retrieving something on some other social network, but building its own doesn’t make any sense. When it tries to be truly social, it’s like watching Shaq trying to be a jockey: its DNA keeps it from succeeding. (G+ should be seen as a way to collect, store and share all your personal online information, not at a place to display your “status”.)


And then there’s Facebook. As the youngest company on this list, its DNA might be the easiest to see. Facebook’s DNA is a 17-year-old punk-ass, snot-nosed kid who wants to find a lot of people it can call friends without ever having to be too close, who respond to their whining and rants with cheers for more. Facebook’s DNA is our collective Id, responding with dopamine bursts at our righteous indignation and joyful squeals. Facebook wants to be your social secretary and best friend gossip, not talk about logic or complex issues. It’s is pure lizard brain, connected to 800 million other lizard brains.

Is it surprising that the idea of a meme, while fairly old, didn’t really explode on the internet until Facebook made it easy to share these ideas with our friends? David at the Dentist ( and only 107 million views) and that surprised kitty ( and 60 million views) wouldn’t have existed if they didn’t cause some sort of protean emotional reaction in our reptile brain. And Facebook is the delivery mechanism.

Think about what additions and partnerships have succeeded on Facebook: Zynga games are all about distraction. Newsfeed tickles that “I need to know what’s going on RIGHT THIS SECOND” fear in the Id. And the Timeline is pure nostalgia trigger. Facebook will not be publishing a treatise on Plato or helping you navigate the complex waters of making important life decisions. There is no financial planning app in the works. Facebook’s communal Id is what makes Facebook so successful.

Einstein’s last project before he died was the search for the grand unified theory, proving how all the major forces in the universe are related: gravity to the speed of light to the attraction between electrons and everything else. It remains the “holy grail” of physics, something huge, important, and possibly unknowable.

HCP marketing has a grand unified theory that marketers are trying to understand. A unified theory would tell us that a married male gastroenterologist in Alabama with a degree from a public school who works in a small private practice needs X touches before he will change their prescription behavior, but an unmarked female Obstetrician in a large hospital in Seattle will need Y touches. 

Our unified theory shows us how tactics are related to each other. If an HCP has seen a complete eDetail, for example, maybe they need five fewer touches than one who has never seen one. What about rep visits? Or conference attendances? How do they all interrelate, and how much work do they do in encouraging behavior, by themselves or in tandem with the other tactics?

It’s far easier to think in smaller terms. Here’s a hypothetical campaign: Send a million emails and see how many someone has to get before they’ll go to a web site. How many web visits do they need before they register? How many registrations turn into an eDetail viewing or sample request? How many samples (both with and without a rep visit) will lead to more prescription writing? 

We look at these questions in isolation because looking at them in the larger picture is… messy at best, requiring very complex mathematical models. To be fair, if any of us were better at math, we’d probably be engineers instead of marketers. And the kind of math we’re talking about goes beyond the pre-calculus class we took freshman year. And if I had a nickel for every marketer with an MBA who said that they barely passed their stats class, I’d be able to retire. To an island. That I owned.

That’s why companies exist that are full of math nerds who can run modeling data and tell us what our deciles are. They tell us who should be prescribing and aren’t, and who needs a little push based on what data they have available to them.

But again, this is small ball. What if we started thinking big?

What if we took all the data we had… But, we don’t have enough data. We need a lot more data, and it’s gonna take a little work to get it.

For the next year, every banner ad you put in the field needs to get a dynamic ID number. In places where an HCP has to login, correlate that ID number to the HCP ID. You already know what emails are being sent to that target in your brand, so figure out a way to get all your brands to collect the same data so that you can put it into one big pool. Take all the data the reps send back (oh yeah, you might need to teach reps how to collect info so they can tag and input it into your CRM). Take all your eDetail data. All those business cards you collect at the conference to win a free iPad. All the mailers. All the web traffic (cookies, people). Every giveaway, every teleconference or teledetail, every meal, every pen left behind. All these things are collectible and able to be connected to a given target. Then add everything else you can find out about your target: specialty, school, practice type, practice size, gender, age, geography, marital status, family status, psychographic data about their parents and how they were raised (what, you think that’s not available?), everything. Think like Amazon or Target. Collect every coupon that’s been redeemed, every prescription filled, every visit, everything. We’re playing for the majors now, so stop thinking small.

What could all that data in the hands of serious math nerds tell us? Here’s a sample of the questions they can answer: are reps effective (broken down by specialty, brand, location, practice type)? How many emails does it take before a target prescribes (and how many before they will opt out completely)? Do nurse practitioners ever click on banner ads? Is there value in seeing your brand name again and again on an ad even if it doesn’t lead to a click? Which is better: email then a rep visit, or a rep visit and then email? Which works better at a conference: a lot of little trinkets or a chance to win a big prize? 

The days when a brand didn’t know which half of their marketing was effective is long long gone. These days, we aren’t far from knowing if a PCP in New Jersey wants your brand emails every 21 days or every 18 days, and how many they need to receive before a rep shows up to make the visit worth the trip.

But it all starts with thinking big and collecting the data. What data are you collecting? How are you planning on using it? 

Maybe you need better answers to those questions.