Friday, December 31, 2010

Remembering the Future

Sometime in the early seventies, I discovered a stash of old comic books in my grandparents' house in Flushing, New York. 

They were all circa 1954-1955, mostly science fiction-themed, and formerly (though in hindsight, still) the property of my Uncle Doug, who at the time was serving as a medical officer in the U.S. Air Force in Austin, Texas. 

But my grandmother said to take them. And take them, I did. To a guy who came to our local library, showed a few episodes of "Star Trek," and offered to buy everyone's old comic books for cash. 

God knows how little I got for them. And how much they'd have fetched today. 

The one I remember best took place on Mars in the distant future of 1974. Men and women in fashionable tights used laser weapons to fight off the various indigenous reptilian creatures that were always trying to make a meal of them. 

Imagine that: 1974 was the far off future. Just like Orwell's 1984. And the 2001 of the Kubrick/Arthur C. Clarke film. 

And here we are, on the eve of the 10th anniversary of 2001. 

What used to be the future is now the past. 

Nobody is using lasers to defend colonies on Mars from invading reptiles. And fortunately, not everyone is wearing fashionable tights. (Although my daughters and their friends have been known to wear a jeans/leggings hybrid called "jeggings.") 

But with the Internet and all it offers, we've certainly achieved many of the dreams of the science fiction writers of yore. And the pace of technological evolution seemingly compounds every day. 

Tomorrow, today will seem like the Iron Age. 

Here's to the future. Starting with tonight. 

Happy New Year, everyone. 

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Night Before Christmas, v2010

I read an interesting article about how today's kids use various online social media tools to track Santa's location with the help of NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command). With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore, I felt compelled to rework his classic poem for the times:

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, just Junior’s mouse;
The kid was on the PC, surfing Facebook with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The others were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
He picked up his iPhone, and opened an app,
Up on his screen appeared a new Google Map;
He searched around Twitter, to check out the chatter,
And found out that NORAD was streaming live data.
He reinstalled Windows and updated Flash,
For fear that his father’s old HP might crash.
He logged onto YouTube as it started to snow,
And widened his eyes at the cool video;
For what on his 20-inch screen should appear,
But an avatar sleigh and eight avatar reindeer,
With an avatar driver, so lively and quick,
He knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
Slower than molasses, his browser it lagged,
He slammed on the table and cursed as he tagged;
“%#^@, Dasher! &*%$#, Dancer! %$#@, Prancer and Vixen!
@$#%, Comet! %$^, Cupid! $#^@!, Donder and Blitzen!
The DSL line, it was pushed to the brink,
“It better not freeze,” Junior heard himself think;
Soon, over Paris, then above Amsterdam,
As seen by millions, on the live Santa cam;
Eight tiny reindeer, a sleigh and a man;
Now up on the roof, the sound of a sled,
Getting snagged in the cable,
As the connection goes dead.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Can We Cut the Cord on Our Wireless Phones?

I often jokingly tell people that my BlackBerry is my second brain and losing it would be like losing my mind. Now I know it is no joke. And I am not alone.

“My Device, Myself,” is the caption beneath a photograph in a New York Times article by Damon Darlin, entitled, “Digital Devices Can Become Objects of Affection.”
According to Darlin, we love our devices because they make us better and smarter. I know that this is the case with me. Once, I even pulled out my BlackBerry in the midst of an interview to get the name of a mutual acquaintance (PS: don’t try this, I didn’t get the job. I think they were looking for someone whose primary brain worked better.) According to the article, people literally, “grieve when they lose a personal electronic device.”
This “device as self” phenomenon isn’t some little wave cresting but a full-blown tsunami. In fact, one of the key lessons that NYT Tech writer David Pogue, imparts in his recent round-up article, “The Lessons of 10 Years of Talking Tech,” is that “Some people’s gadgets determine their self-esteem.” He adds, “You can’t use the word “Apple,” “Microsoft” or “Google” in a sentence these days without stirring up emotion.”
Given the New York Times source, I might be tempted to think this attachment to devices is merely a bicoastal trend. But it is not just the province of the MIT students and tech workers I see glued to their mobile screens when I visit Extrovertic’s new Cambridge office. This “Tech as Self” trend is now deeply woven into the fabric of the American psyche.

Case in point: my recent visit to Milwaukee for the “International City/County Managers Association” annual conference-planning meeting (I know, I know, my life is really too glamorous, I really need to join FourSquare so people can track me).

As an icebreaker at the conference, city managers from around the country were asked to “pick something in your hotel room that says something special about you.” About 50% of the respondents picked a personal digital device. Comments ran something like, “my iPod, which I use when I go running,” “my iPhone, which has pictures of my kids,” and, “my BlackBerry because I can use it to reach anybody, anytime.”

And these weren’t typical coastal hipsters we are talking about. Most of the participants were men in their 40s, from cities that make Milwaukee, Wisconsin seem like a mega metropolis: Brentwood, Tennessee; Coon Rapids, Minnesota; and Sequin, Texas.

The point is tech is defining and intensely personal – and therefore of great interest to marketers as seen by the mushrooming numbers of them lining up for mobile device healthcare conferences. After all, healthcare is intensely personal too. It makes perfect sense to think about sending health messages via mobile devices. However, as we move into this new mobile era, we should remember we are entering someone’s personal space.

Otherwise, we will suffer the fate of Aaron, the “close talker” from the classic Seinfeld episode: the very people we are trying to attract will back away.

Or worse yet, give you a social media slap in the face a la “Motrin Moms.” 

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Customer Service In the Age of Twitter

Earlier this month, Mashable announced its 5 Nominees For Best Social Media Customer Service.

It got me to thinking about how important customer service is in today's transformational marketplace.

We live in a world where user experience is everything. It isn't enough for the product to be great. Every touch point connected with it has to be great, as well.

It's no longer enough to sell the benefits of the product. Every contact with the brand must add value that syncs with the brand's personality and literally helps the consumer to experience a transformation for the better.

This goal must be imbued in every channel – from print, TV and point of sale, to online.

The digital realm, of course, is the easiest in which to have a meaningful, real time dialogue with the consumer. Twitter and and social networks like Facebook are particularly useful for demonstrating a brand's commitment to providing beyond the expected levels of customer service.

Take the two examples shown here. HP (at top) has technical support people available on Twitter. They proactively provide proof of their interest in customer satisfaction.

ZocDoc (above), a service that helps patients find doctors and make appointments in the same step, uses Twitter to show empathy for their customers and, in the process, gives the brand a much needed human face.

Check out Mashable's finalists. They have some good ideas about how to use new technology to provide better service to their customers. But there are a  many others out there, too. Some that already exist, and some still waiting to be discovered. 

We'd love to hear any examples you have.


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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

America's Tweethearts Go On Strike

Oh, my god.

As if things weren't bad enough.

251,287 secret state documents leaked to the press. The Korean War on the verge of breaking out again. The economy showing very little improvement. 

And now this?

In an effort to raise $1 million for World AIDS Day (tomorrow), a number of the world's greatest minds are going on strike. 

Yes, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Ryan Seacrest and…better sit down… two of the Kardashian sisters are removing themselves from all Twitter and Facebook activity until the goal of $1 million is reached. They're calling it the "Digital Life Sacrifice" and the picture above is from an ad promoting the campaign.

I know what you're thinking. 

"Shades of Dr. Evil! They're holding us hostage until we pay the money. How can America get through the day without knowing what Kim Kardashian is having for breakfast?"

Somehow, a bunch of pseudo-celebrities think that the public is so hungry for their every tweet that it'll be willing to contribute its hard earned cash during the Great Recession.

You know what?

They're probably right. 

Well, for the benefit of the charity, anyway, I hope they are.

But the ultimate result would be if America follows Steve Colbert's suggestion on the Colbert Report last night:

The donations should stop at $999,999.99.

Then we'd have the best of both worlds.


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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Talking Turkey At The Healthcare Table

With the holidays upon us, it’s natural to think about who will be seated at the table. That’s what interests me most about Sharecare, the new healthcare site founded by WebMD founder, Jeff Arnold: checking out who's sitting around the table.

Sharecare lets patients search for answers to common health questions, and ask new questions. Answers are provided by a bevy of non-profit health care experts including The Cleveland Clinic, The Red Cross, and the American Heart Association. But sponsors, such as Pfizer, J&J, Dove and Walgreens were also invited to the table.

This “participatory” sponsorship is a marked departure from the usual practice of seating sponsors at the “kiddy table,” while the grown-ups talk about the serious stuff. The site trusts that its sponsors will “behave” and provide answers untainted by commercial interest. Some things don’t change, however. Sponsors have to fork over several million dollars in order to participate.

The site clearly references the source of every answer. In a recent New York Times article, Arnold claimed that, “in tests of the Web site in the last year, the brand answers were read as much as the expert answers.”

The article reports that sponsors take their seats with the intention of minding their table manners and not do any overt selling. Pfizer, for example, will provide information on fibromyalgia and smoking cessation, but not about its products that treat those conditions. According to Paul Ewing, senior director for patient marketing at the United States primary-care business unit of Pfizer in New York, the company’s rationale for participating, “stems from a belief that informed people make better decisions about their health… and have better interactions with their health care providers.”

Not everyone, however, is happy about the new table mates. Headlines of blogs covering the post point to a graying of the line between professional content and information (The Medical Quack) and the forming of an unhealthy alliance (The Healthcare Marketer).

But in my opinion, this could be a meaningful way for pharmaceutical companies to participate in interactive communities. Pharma has spent years accumulating scientific information and developing relationships with experts. This is the kind of information that communities crave and the type of action that builds good will over time.

Who knows? Maybe if pharma keeps this up, they won’t even have to pay to sit at the table.

Probably a little holiday wishful thinking!


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Saturday, November 20, 2010

'Tis the Season to Be Wondering

Is it me, or does the Christmas season start a little earlier every year?

This year, the leftover Halloween candy wasn't even gone from our kitchen counter (and it goes pretty quickly at our house), before the interminable sound of Sugar Plum Fairies began dancing in my head. 

Those damned holiday songs were already on the radio, TV, and department store PA systems. 

Bah, humbug.

Excuse me, but didn't proper holiday etiquette used to dictate that the Christmas season will not start until after Thanksgiving?

In fact, wasn't the official opening of the season Santa's appearance on the VERY LAST float of the the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?

Yes, Virginia, it was.

Between the effects of global warming and the ever sliding holiday schedule, it seems as though the whole concept of seasons has been redefined since I was a kid.

I'm a true believer in the power of transformational marketing, but this is ridiculous. 

The way things are going, I won't be surprised if not very long from now, the Christmas season starts a few days after the 4th of July. 


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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dorothy's DTC Hall of Fame Acceptance Speech

Last night, I was privileged to be inducted into the DTC Hall of Fame, along with some of my esteemed industry colleagues – Minnie Baylor-Henry, National Director, Regulatory Life Sciences, Deloitte & Touche, LLP and former DDMAC Director; Andrew Schirmer, EVP, Managing Director, McCann HumanCare and Scott Grenz, Director Media Buying NA,GlaxoSmithKline. I was very touched by how many of my colleagues, past and present, came to celebrate with me. We were given the opportunity to make a few remarks, so being a typical Extrovert, I took full advantage of my time in the spotlight. Below is what I said, or more accurately, what I meant to say!

“I am very honored to be inducted into the DTC Hall of Fame. I have always admired the company Bob has built and his thoughtful commentary. The occasion also serves for me as an important reminder of something I should be doing more of everyday: thinking of all the people I am grateful to for having guided me throughout my career.

I am grateful to have started my career at Whitehall-Robins, now Wyeth Consumer, working for Andy Davis and Holly Crosbie-Foote, both of whom encouraged me to let my creative juices flow. I somehow have always been a little different and they cheered me on. I am equally as grateful to Randy Goldmann, who I had the privilege to work for at Pfizer. She taught me how to channel some of my enthusiasm so it could actually be productive. I also thank Mike Trepicchio of SaatchiHealthcare for giving me the opportunity to learn what life is like on the agency side. It’s a little harder than it looked from the cushy client side seat.

Which brings me to today and Extrovertic, the agency I founded with my creative partner, Mark Drossman. We wanted to create a different kind of agency, one that could build both the innovative marketing strategies and cutting edge creative needed to infuse new life into the healthcare marketing mix.

We were very lucky for the opportunity to start working very early on with Vertex Pharmaceuticals, whose marketers have an incredible passion for their patients. It is this kind of passion to serve patients that I hope will transform the face of DTC.

One of my favorite planners of all time, Nat Puccio used to say, 'He who knows the consumer best, wins.' That saying is now foundational to any successful DTC communication effort. In the future however, we have to go further, not only to understand but also to employ our knowledge in making a tangible, lasting difference in patients’ lives. That will require going beyond our traditional communication messages and tools to address the more stubborn barriers to good health such as financial inequities, gaps in healthcare delivery and insufficient personal coping mechanisms. To all of us at Extrovertic, the maxim for 2010 and beyond is, 'He who serves the patient best, wins.'

Thanks again for the honor and I look forward to working with you all to make a difference in patients’ lives."


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