Virtual Reality on Planes: Get Your Sick Bags Ready…


This article was originally published on the DMI Blog.

Word on the street is that Qantas Airlines and Samsung are forming a partnership to bring virtual reality to first class travelers. An article in Fast Co. states that Samsung will provide the airline with a Samsung Gear VR kit for each first class seat on Airbus A380s, which would include the headset, Galaxy Note phone, and headphones. The partnership is clearly an effort to get more people experiencing the wonders of virtual reality and considering purchasing a Samsung product, but as I read the article my question was: are planes the right place for a virtual reality demo?

On the one hand, a long flight where you’re basically confined to your seat is the perfect time to immerse yourself in another more pleasurable world. I can imagine a cross-country flight flying by as I narrowly avoid gunfire in a game, examine the process of creating a plane in a factory tour, or possibly even checking out my destination before I arrive. Honestly, any one of those things (especially the last) would be a great use of time during travel and I can see people really jumping on board. However, on the other hand you have the actual physical effects that VR can have on your body and how they might be compounded with the physical effects of air travel.

One of the first things people noticed about the technology was that it could lead to bad nausea. Now in more recent versions, developers have figured out ways to make the motion of turning your head and looking around feel more natural so that it doesn’t feel like the world turns into a messy blur every time you want to look at something. That said, air travel also has a tendency to make people nauseous and together, the two sensations could make for a nasty experience.

The pairing of those two sensations is actually the biggest issue I see with using virtual reality in transit. What makes something truly virtual reality is when your eyes and ears fool your brain into thinking it’s somewhere else doing something else. When you watch people engage with VR, their bodies often react on instinct to things that they’re seeing in the headset and their faces show a strange mix of both excitement and confusion as their brain works to process it’s environment. As weird as that is, it’s all well and good when the stimuli outside of the VR experience are limited. When you’re on a plane however, you may be seated but the plane is moving, the air is pressurized, and the clouds are vigorously trying to shake you up. While you’re in the air with VR, there’s a good chance what you’re seeing and hearing isn’t going to match up with what you’re feeling from the plane. And when your mind and body disagree, you’re bound to have some weird reactions.

VR is soon to be a bandwagon that lots of brands want to jump on because there are so many different possibilities to create. Despite my above analysis, I actually think there’s some great potential for enhancing VR through motion, touch, smell, and maybe one-day even taste. To be successful, those sensory elements have to be built to integrate with the technology so that people fall even deeper into the virtual world. It’s a little like going on a ride at an amusement park, like the Escape from Gringotts at Harry Potter World, where your seats move and shake with what’s happening on-screen. The goal is to give you a certain amount of time where you forget the world around you and for that time you ARE a soldier, or an astronaut, or an engineer, or whatever the character happens in that world happens to be. If you’re not taken into that world as completely as possible (there are bound to be some factors you can’t control) your perception will be disjoined and uncomfortable. It’ll feel virtual, but it won’t feel like reality.

For marketers, it’s always exciting to try out the latest new technologies. You desperately want to create unique experiences that put your brand out in front of competitors and simultaneously do something fun and engaging that your customers will remember. That said it’s equally important that we really think through the best uses for that technology and where and when it won’t work. There are always a ton of factors that can affect an experience and though it’s tedious to try and consider them all, even a small negative aspect can skew perceptions of an otherwise great piece of work.

I hope that Qantas has given enough thought to how their partnership might shake out. As I said, I think there are some major positives about having something so engaging available on long flights, and personally, in theory, I’d love to get on a plane and just play around somewhere else until I got to my destination. So as you think about all that I’ve just said, keep your fingers crossed that the partnership is a success, otherwise Qantas first class is about to get verrryy messy.

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Microsoft Holo Lens: This is Augmented Reality.

Image Credit: Microsoft

I’m going to be honest with you all. I haven’t been this excited about a piece of technology for a long time.

If you haven’t already picked up on some of the buzz, Microsoft (yes, believe it) announced at their latest conference, a prototypical product called the HoloLens. This device, is meant to create a practical application for holographic technology instead of just using it to bring back dead musical artists. The technology is not quite a one-to-one comparison however. Rather than creating a large-scale three-dimensional animation, the HoloLens is more akin to a Google Glass, where it brings digital information and interfaces into the real world in a way that is interactive. Right now, HoloLens is in its very early stages with just a few working demos, but Microsoft clearly has high ambitions and those ambitions are gaining the interest and excitement of tech pundits everywhere.

So what I want to do in this post is explain why HoloLens is so exciting and how it differs in a positive way from it’s most mainstream competitor – Google Glass. In order to do that, I need to explain a bit more about what HoloLens is and how it works.

HoloLens looks like a giant pair of sunglasses or Samsung’s new VR kit that you wear over your head. Don’t mistake, this is not virtual reality; the glasses don’t take you out of the world, they are translucent so that you can still see the world around you. The headset is a computer in and of itself; it does not rely on a phone or laptop or watch to power it and while it’s running, beautifully concepted “holographic” images are projected into the air around you. The images are designed to look tangible so that it feels like you can touch and interact with them. They have depth and density and are projected in context to the real world. A blank wall might become a media center, for TV or music, or a table might have a toolbox and become a work station.

This is augmented reality. This technology is meant to enhance the world around you and bring additional information and functionality that ultimately helps you learn, enjoy, and simply do things better. It’s a concept that has been in sci-fi and video games for a long time but one that hasn’t really taken off in the real world yet. There have been some applications on smartphones that attempt to use augmented reality, but it’s not a great user experience to hold your phone in front of your face for extended periods of time to look at someone or down the street. In my opinion glasses, contacts, even our own eyes are the Holy Grail here – vision that feels totally natural. However, the issue has been that there hasn’t been a small and simultaneously powerful enough computer to make that happen (untethered from another device)…until now.

Currently, HoloLens has limited uses. You wouldn’t wear something that big outside of your house, or possibly even away from a couch or desk. But the way Microsoft has found balance between reality and technology has opened up the road to innovate in this category. One of the most important decisions Microsoft made in the design of this product was to embrace the digital imagery and not to hide it. This, in my humble opinion was Google’s biggest mistake with Glass. If you look at Google Glass, the interface is tucked up in the corner so it wouldn’t impede your sight, but it’s awkward to always have to look slightly right in order to engage the technology. Instead, Microsoft puts the imagery within your line of sight so that you can interact with both HoloLens and the world around you. This also makes the technology more interactive because it can be related to various aspects of the real world. Instead of only being an extension of your phone, HoloLens has near unlimited applications as almost anything can be tinkered with. Then compound that with the fact that since each person is wearing their own headset, the same surface could be multiple things to multiple people. Thus far, Microsoft has been experimenting with all sorts of uses from projecting TV, to unique gaming methods, and even tutorials and DIY and they haven’t even touched on how multiple people might share an experience.

Now, despite all my excitement, I will stress that all of this is a work in progress and we don’t really know how “safe” it will be to use. But in theory, and based on the concepts, the imagery is surface-aware and could be designed in such a way to stay in your line of sight and still not interfere (much like many heads up displays in the gaming world).

One of the other most important aspects of this announcement is the sheer excitement that is building. HoloLens is a just a prototype but Microsoft wants to move it into consumer hands quickly. They brought a working model to their conference and have let a number of tech outlets and bloggers test out a few small demos. So far the reactions have been very positive which is good for the marketplace. It’s interesting to see Microsoft leading the charge with something so revolutionary but they’ve definitely placed the ball in their competitors’ courts with this one.

Google has already pulled Glass from the market and is revamping the concept and Apple, in their typical fashion, has yet to react publicly but we can all hope they’ll take a cue and start working on something similar (if they aren’t already). The competitive reaction is key, because we don’t know how accessible HoloLens will be to consumers. Microsoft said the device is running a unique version of Windows 10, but they didn’t say whether or not it would be compatible with other mobile and desktop systems. One of the big trends of late are developers building ecosystems in an attempt to lock users into their product lines and I desperately hope Microsoft won’t do that with such an incredibly useful piece of technology.

The HoloLens could be a game changer for everyone from product designers and manufacturers to marketers right down to the average consumer going about their daily life. I look forward to watching the development of the product and seeing if Microsoft can truly fulfill on it’s ambitious promise. If you’re as excited as I am for the HoloLens, tell me in the comments what you think the best applications for it would be. What would you like to see or change?

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Can Policy Save a Dying Brand? Maybe, but it Shouldn’t.

It may not be common knowledge to everyone out there, but I can assure you that anyone who went to business school knows that every product has a lifecycle. Before a product is released, companies will conduct a complex analysis to determine how innovative a product is, where the competitors are, and what the demand is, and use that to ultimately determine how long their product will sell before it starts to become obsolete. As technology gets more advanced and companies innovate faster, the time until a product is obsolete has gone down; and if you think about most of your electronics and gadgets, often times there’s a better version in about a year. I should clarify that a new version doesn’t necessarily mean the old one is useless but the faster new versions come out, the faster support for the old ones will go away.

The same thing that happens to products can also happen to brands. If a brand continues to create new and better products and ultimately stays relevant it can last seemingly forever. However, sometimes things just don’t go well and a brand will fall by the wayside.

There was an article going around the tech sites on Friday about how the head of Blackberry, the once great smartphone giant, thinks that under the ideals of net neutrality, companies should be forced by legislation to develop their apps for ALL available operating systems and not just the most popular (i.e. Android and iOS). This caught me off guard because I’d never really considered net neutrality in regards to content, only holistic service offerings and things like bandwidth. But then I thought about it for a bit and vehemently disagreed with the view point.

Let me explain why.

Now, net neutrality says that no internet provider should be able to discriminate price or bandwidth by user, content, site, etc. For example, if Verizon stopped liking Netflix, it could charge users extra to visit the site or slow down their internet while they’re streaming. That’s not very nice while millions are trying to watch House of Cards. What Blackberry is implying is that just as the internet itself should be free and open for people to use as they wish, they should have the same freedom to choose an operating system without worrying about whether or not developers will make new apps for it. You could look to government workers as an example. They’re often devoted to Blackberry for it’s advanced security and encryption but are thus locked into whatever apps are available on the Blackberry app store (significantly less than iOS). It’s an interesting concept that developers shouldn’t neglect those who can’t afford an expensive phone or a fancy tablet, but in reality, this argument twists the meaning of consumer choice in a way it wasn’t meant to be twisted.

In reality, consumers are always making a conscious choice and have plenty of options as it is when they purchase a gadget. It’s no secret that the most popular systems out there are iOS and Android (and possibly soon Windows Phone) and it’s very clear what features come with each of those devices. These companies are always advertising how many apps they have available and what exclusives or partners they have. Additionally, the choice of platform is important for developers and really depends on what devices their target market uses or where their content will get the most use.

Blackberry is a brand that has been struggling to keep up with the fast pace of innovation in the smartphone and tablet world. There’s still a niche group of loyalists, but the reviews of their past few devices have been less than stellar and they’ve stuck firm to a number of outdated trends (i.e. physical keyboards in place of larger screen real estate). If you read into Blackberry’s statement, which likely wasn’t endorsed by PR, it seems more like a last ditch effort to use policy to save the brand rather than a good idea. If content and apps were to have some place under net neutrality, Blackberry would suddenly have an influx of popular apps come to their platform which would expand their offerings but not necessarily improve their system, which is really what matters. The big problem is that this mindset is a slippery slope for two reasons:

1) Developers have to play to the lowest common denominator. Marketers are often familiar with having to develop for outdated technologies like Internet Explorer 8, which is no longer available to consumers yet is still present in many corporate offices. It adds effort of taking extra time to develop alternate versions of products or scaling back features so that anyone can use the product on any device.

2) If companies don’t have to work to improve their systems in order to get third parties to buy in, there’s really no reason to strive to improve a product or a brand. I realize that not ALL innovation would stop but I’d bet that it would slow down a bit. Companies just wouldn’t have to try as hard to win over both customers and investors because everyone would just have to put their content on every platform.

The truth is, there is a ton of choice in the marketplace for both businesses and consumers, and while that means that not everyone will necessarily have the best, it’s important to keep progress moving forward. Competition is key to innovation so it’s important that any policy be enacted to encourage companies to make the best products they can at any price point.

At the same time, competition and choice are not the same as the goal that net neutrality is trying to achieve. A free an open internet, one that everyone has access to in the way that today’s lifestyle demands, is going to be an important issue going forward as the debate whether or not the internet is a human right heats up. It’s important that net neutrality stay an issue that about the people and not one that is suddenly made murky by other agendas. In the end, while Blackberry makes an interesting point about the accessibility of content, it is one that should be discussed among the major OS providers and not the government.

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Tech in 2015: What I See in CES

Much like every tech and gadget junky out there I’ve been following a lot of the news coming out of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). A giant conference filled with advanced and emerging technologies that will inevitably engulf our lives and make us all smiling digital beings is just how I love to start my year.

What I love about CES is that it gives me a great perspective on how day-to-day experiences will soon be changed and improved and I instantly begin imagining how my favorite brands might use new technology to create exciting new ways of interacting, communicating, and advertising their products.

This year, I feel like I’ve seen less of the disruptive new technology and more iteration on last years trends. Wearables and smart watches are still all the rage, 3D printing is getting more advanced, and of course Oculus (and it’s slew of new competitors) is getting closer and closer to figuring out virtual reality. While this might not be the big reveal some people were hoping for it actually might be for the better.

Let’s talk about why:

1.) ACCESSIBILITY. First, there are a bunch of things being shown at CES this year that are focused on making technology more accessible. Whereas last year introduced some new technologies (3D printing for example) there was little practical use for them. Today, we’re seeing consumerized versions of these gadgets that someone might actually be able to use. People have figured out how to make these products small enough, the materials affordable, and the interface friendly so that possibly, within the next year we might actually be able to print a new bike part or wave our hands around like an idiot while we shop online in a virtual store.

2.) INTEGRATION. The next big trend I’m seeing is that we’re getting closer to a productive internet of things. Last year, tons of new “smart” devices popped up; everything from wristbands to door locks. But, one major problem was that each of these things existed in a sort of silo, where none of the devices interacted with each other. In many cases, especially within the smart home realm, these products were being built with unique communication languages that worked only with their own unique app. Now, as Apple’s Homekit becomes more available, we’re seeing more and more hub approaches where multiple devices (across brands) can work through the same system, thus making the “smart home” a lot smarter.

More recently, the problem has been that certain devices will only work with certain OS’ as Apple and Google try and lock you into their ecosystems. I tend to be torn on this issue because I like a seamless experience among a group of products, but at the same time I know that there’s a good chance I can’t afford to do that. Luckily, companies like Alcatel are exploring how to design smart products that break down barriers and work across multiple systems. Again, this makes it possible for people to purchase the devices THEY prefer and still create a more efficient, more integrated environment for their devices. Personally, I’m hoping to see some industry collaboration on a standard system (think wifi) for the good of the customer rather than just the company wallet, but that’s another issue…

3.) “SMART” BECOMES SMART. The last trend I’m excited about is the inclusion of fancy new sensors in many of the upcoming wearables and smart devices. These will enable all of our trackers to start automatically giving us information that actually means something. While it’s been nice to see our steps calculated and our calories burned, this is all very surface level data that has limited actual use when we try to change behavior. Some of these new sensors are able to get much deeper into our health, fitness, and even leisure tendencies. Calculating key metrics like heart rate, blood oxygen, BMI, sitting vs standing, nutritional components of various foods, is essential to truly being able to understand our personal health data. Paired with trend number two, this data no longer has to be applied only to it’s own category (health to health, fitness to fitness) but can expand to see interesting and valuable correlation between parts of our lives. We might be able to see whether the temperature in our homes affects whether or not we exercise, or whether eating too much fat in one day skews our sleep habits. It’s really exciting and will make wearables much more important for our day to day wellbeing.

There’s still progress to be made of course, but some of the new or improved technologies being shown at CES are really exciting. Even if customers can’t get their hands on it yet, many businesses can begin to invest, which means more fun, interactive marketing. Hell, the concept of VR shopping alone could totally revolutionize online purchasing trends. As more and more devices begin talking to each other, marketers will get meaningful personal, situational, and environmental data which will enable them to paint a clearer picture of the customer. For the savvy business people out there, that means smarter, customer centric targeting and product decisions.

One day, I will actually attend this conference and likely die in a geek-crazed frenzy of 3D printers and VR headsets. I’m excited to see these products continue to evolve and get into the hands of creative people who can turn them into something truly great.

As CES trucks on, what have been some of your favorite products? If you haven’t been following, tell me what sort of gadgets you hope to see come out in the coming months!

Coke Gives Us All a Lesson in Crowdsourcing


My last blog post was all about the importance of culture on global marketing initiatives and this article about Coca-Cola actually fits nicely within that same theme. While this post won’t be about culture, it does act as a nice transition into the topic for today which, as the title suggests, is crowdsourcing.

AdAge published an article about an upcoming creative campaign that Coca-cola is going to launch in China. Now initially, Coke wanted to export a successful English campaign however they quickly realized that the simple expression, “Aaahhhh!” doesn’t translate quite as well into other languages. So, with their campaign now on hold, they decided against a traditional research methodology and went with the more modern-day approach of letting their customers come up with the idea for them. If you’re not familiar, this is really the essence of crowdsourcing – drawing on your customers for ideas and solutions to problems. In crowdsourcing, the customers, in this case likely members of the target audience native to China, are doing the majority of the ideating and eventually these rough user-generated ideas will become the basis for Coke’s new branded marketing efforts in China. Coke will of course reward the winner (or winners) of the project for their ideas before taking them and selling huge amounts of product.

Coke certainly isn’t the first to do this, a variety of different companies have used the technique to solve problems ranging from campaign ideas and core messages, product design challenges, innovation challenges, even as far as to develop new treatments for diseases in record time! There are so many benefits to crowdsourcing for almost any problem/solution scenario in business. Social media and new technology has made this an extremely efficient mode of research. Basically, all the company has to do is write a brief for what they need created or solved and let the people go! Participants can ideate, share, discuss and refine amongst themselves, adding a fun, competitive element to the process.

At the end of it all, the brand will get tons of highly personal, emotional ideas across a wide spectrum. They can look for themes or similarities and aggregate them into a refined idea or if it’s a campaign challenge like Coke’s, just use it all in a big consumer focused campaign. There’s less pressure on crafting the right message (outside of a little massaging) when it comes right out of the mouth of your customers and if you choose multiple submissions, it’s easy to create something that will resonate with multiple segments within your audience.

As I said earlier, there are more benefits than just some good ideas and not all of them are benefits that the brand receives. Crowdsourcing is a great way to build loyalty and vocal advocates in your customers. Giving them secret, inside information and allowing them to participate directly in the creation of a brand they love is a chance that doesn’t come around often. It makes people feel incredibly close and important to the brand. To make it even more impactful (and sometimes a little more organized) the brand can have representatives collaborating and engaging with participants so that it really feels like a team effort rather than just a competition. Despite that, the competitive element and the grand prize is important and can help amplify the experience, encouraging people to one-up each other and really work hard to create something unique and meaningful. And, to round out the whole experience in a positive way since there will likely only be a handful of winners, the brand could feature all entries on a microsite or via social media. This way, even losing participants get some face time…after all there are bound to be a lot of effective entries that still maintain the brand voice.

Though crowdsourcing isn’t new per se – it’s been around for a few years – not everyone is making use of it. Despite it’s benefits it can be a little scary bringing the public in on the process. Obviously it’s important to assess the situation and make sure everything is right for crowdsourcing but I think it’s a method worth trying. Research, even qualitative research is up to the interpretation of the brand team in the end but crowdsourcing can help keep things customer centric since the submissions are from the people themselves.

The Wikipedia page on crowdsourcing has some pretty good examples of successful cases if you want to learn a little more about how this can be used in practice. If you’re familiar, I encourage you to share your favorite crowdsourcing projects in the comments below!


Think Global, Act Local. Your #1 Cliche for Global Marketing Success.

Global Marketing. Image Source:

An infinite number of books, textbook chapters, articles, analyses, etc have been written to give perspective on the various aspects and considerations involved with global expansion. There are market assessments, operations, government bureaucracy, and other processes all of which must be heavily analyzed and sorted out before any plans can be enacted. But there is another aspect, one that I have always been interested in from a marketing perspective, and that is the impact of foreign culture on the global positioning of a brand or product. Now, while this may not be your first consideration, once the decision is made to enter a new market, I firmly believe that a cultural analysis is essential to the success of that expansion.

In college I majored in International Business and this is the first place I encountered the word Glocal. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s one of those buzzwords that became quickly overused in lectures, papers, and textbooks but that said, it’s an incredibly important mentality for a global marketer to have and one that I have consistently referred back to in some of my recent global endeavors. Essentially what it means is the same as the title of this post, “think global, act local.” As someone looking to take their business outside of their native country there are things you have to plan for that require a view of the world at a high level. Things like shipping, suppliers, and logistics — often things that involve the business on the backend and its business partners — need a broader, global perspective because in many cases, these operations involve crossing boarders and choosing people based on their professional qualifications which are fairly consistent from place to place. On the opposite hand however, there are other things that require you to take a local, ground level view of your business. These are often things that are customer facing…really anything that involves an interaction with another person because people are not the same from place to place. We may have similar gadgets, cars, and even clothing, but there are little nuances to our behavior that can make a big impact on how we perceive the world and conduct ourselves.

To me this has always been one of the most interesting aspects of global business. As someone who has always had a particular curiosity for the philosophies of other cultures and how they relate to or differ from my own, I have always loved learning about how different brands adapt or alter their products to fit the specific preferences of a specific market. Essentially the problem at hand is whether your brand or product will be met with interest and acceptance, or with negativity, even going so far as to offend. You may think a quick (or lengthy) customer analysis might handle this issue but in reality, there are so many different aspects to this particular puzzle that if you’re not asking the right questions, it can be a real challenge to solve. As an example let’s consider the amazing and wonderful widget. Do people use widgets? If your widgets are a luxury good do people aspire to higher end status or are they more humble? Does the technological infrastructure of the country support the features of your widget? How are people using related products and does that conform to the way people in your current market are using yours? You could (and should) even take it a step further and consider whether things like brand colors, the logo or the slogan might mean something different in one country or another.

This analysis is difficult and extensive but having this knowledge and this mindset is essential to your actual expansion. It surprises me that in some of my more recent global engagements this seems to be one facet that is completely missing from the planning efforts. What I’ve seen recently is a desire for global campaigns that can be efficient and cost-effective, looking for as close to a one-size fits all approach as possible. I can understand the desire for a quick turnaround on a project like this, looking to leverage as much similarity as possible between markets so that the biggest cost is translation and deployment in the various markets but from my perspective that is the fast, but improper way to go about this.

And so I return to the word Glocal.

Don’t misunderstand that what I’m saying here is that there is no way to be efficient in global marketing or that everything has to be done at the local level. I’m not qualified to make a statement like that. What I’m saying is that there are global and local components to any project. If the goal is to look for efficiencies to create a cost-effective campaign that’s fine. First approach it from a global level. Look across markets and uncover commonalities in perceptions and pain points that your brand can overcome. Cross reference those similarities to how your brand operates in its home market to determine if there is any usable material already at hand so you’re not starting from scratch. Your output here is a strategy and implementation plan that can be applied globally. There will be creative elements that will be consistent across markets — things like core brand elements and reasons to believe — and the benefit of this approach is that if you’re successful, it will be easy for media to pickup on the fact that this is a major campaign with pieces across the world. The consistency makes it easily recognizable.

After this, when you get into the actual creation stage, it’s time to dive deeper into the local level. What order do the messages need to be in to cater to the preferences of each market? Even if the message is the same, are there different decision makers that may alter your target audience in one market? How does the imagery need to change? What channels can best be leveraged based on the behaviors of various cultures? These nitty gritty details lead to an output that may look slightly different between markets but, if you look at some of the most famous global players, you quickly realize that rarely is a brand exactly the same country to country. McDonalds has specialty dishes in almost every country, like burgers made of lamb in India where people don’t eat beef. Pizza Hut and KFC are positioned and designed as luxury, sit down restaurants in Asia where American style fast food is perceived differently. Walmart sells live seafood and chickens in its China stores because people go shopping for only the freshest ingredients which they prepare themselves. There are innumerable examples to draw from, but all of them show that you can create a broad strategy for global expansion that determines where and when to expand and how success will be determined, but in the end, when it’s time to determine who to target and how to expand, a deeper customer and market analysis which includes an examination of culture is key.

Taking culture into consideration is a customer centric approach to going global and that’s never a bad thing. So in closing, remember to always think globally and always think about the future of your brand but act locally and think about the people you’re actually interacting with.

What are your favorite examples of brand that have adapted to specific markets? Let me know in the comments below!






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Apple’s Warning To Developers Means More Health Value for Customers

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Tomorrow is a big day for both consumers and marketers alike as Apple is poised to announce the launch of their next iPhone and it’s accompanying operating system, iOS8. This year, one of the big highlights of the updated technology is a focus on personal, data driven health. As wearables continue to be all the rage, Apple and Google both are rumored to be including advanced tracking mechanisms into their phones, allowing them to go beyond simple surface level data (such as steps, diet, calories, and sleep) into more meaningful measures of personal health. When you pair that with another big trend, data aggregation, you get a device that can do what many electronic medical record systems have failed to do well: namely, provide deep insight into personal health that can be used by both a person and their doctor to stay ahead of any complications in their health. 

As a healthcare marketer, I’ve already been thinking about how we could potentially leverage this platform for various patients and disease states to bring added value to the pharmaceutical products we represent.  However, last week Apple issued a statement to developers saying that no HealthKit data can be sold to third party advertisers. After hearing this, I decided to think a little bit more about this decision.

The way I see it, Apple doesn’t want HealthKit to become a mess of banner ads, plaguing the screen real-estate and taking people away from the information that’s really important. They want a clean experience that can actually affect the way people look at their health. Seeing that they also want this to be something that helps doctors and patients collaborate, it probably wouldn’t serve well to turn HealthKit into WebMD, where everyone and their mother is giving you a diagnostic opinion. Additionally, Apple and third-party developers have to tread carefully regarding HIPAA (health information privacy) regulation and the sharing of personally identifiable information (PII). I imagine, while this is something they could work with the government to overcome, it may be better left alone for now. 

On the other hand, it’s a little unclear whether or not the third-parties, who tie their apps into HealthKit’s system, will still be able to sell data through their own apps if they so choose. Since HealthKit is really just a visualization platform (as far as I can tell) consumers would still be doing a lot of their interaction through third-party apps. Thus, it remains to be seen whether a third-party can sell their own data to advertisers through their app. Basically we’d get only one piece of the data rather than the full profile of a user. 

Personally, while I lament the loss of such great targetability, I think this is a good decision by Apple. As marketers, there is so much more we can do than just send out really targeted push messages. Apple is giving marketers and pharmaceutical companies the chance to really add to a person’s health experience and build tools that allow patients on these products keep an eye on multiple issues at once. In the office we often discuss how to build platforms like this, that can help the patient truly understand their situation and their treatment plan and I think HealthKit has the potential to make great strides on that front. 

One of the great hinderances of healthcare marketing is that you can’t really make implications or associate your product to anything outside of its specific indication. This can be limiting for patients since often times there are significant lifestyle impacts or potential effects on other aspects of their life even when only considering treatment for one condition. Think about the relationship between asthma and exercise, diabetes and diet, or smoking and emphysema. HealthKit will allow pharmaceutical brands to keep their information contained on their app but by tying it into HealthKit, they can still (theoretically) allow patients to look at their medication and disease related information in context of all the rest of their health information. 

Until the official release (and likely even longer judging by the FDA’s track record) it remains to be seen how the FDA and regulatory teams will respond and view this new tool. However, that should not deter marketers but rather challenge them to explore and experiment in an effort to actually guide and modernize this regulation. We should be looking for new and better ways to use these new systems that could standardize health tracking for A LOT of people. In many cases, health is not a one-and-done transaction. It’s important that as these trends become more important and more common place that we treat health and chronic disease as the long term relationship. Rather than the unfortunate standard where we often awkwardly continue hard-selling people who have already bought, we can and should be leveraging this technology, when applicable, to help patients navigate the entire course of their treatment from beginning to end, never leaving them to fend for themselves. 


How do you feel about Apple’s upcoming HealthKit (or Google’s Fit for that matter)? Let me know in the comments below! You can also find the original Fast Company Article here:


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