Category Archives: Strategy

10 lessons I learned in healthcare social media analytics

It is said that experience is the best teacher. Here, I want to share the 10 best lessons I learned in the past 1.5 years, while establishing Social Media Monitoring and Analysis practice serving the global pharmaceutial and healthcare industry.

  1. Machines rarely deal well with human emotions. Natural  language processing  software or textual analysis software may be good at recognizing  patterns of how certain keywords appear in certain sequence and how that can be interpreted, but when it comes to understanding opinions of patients or reasons for switching drugs or therapies, they rarely do a good job. That is why you need human analysts or medical experts  in the team who exactly understand the content and tell the truth.
  2. The problem isn’t always “big data”. Most approaches to social media analytics start with the assumption that data volume is very high and users are increasingly conversing, thus compounding the problem. This may be true of certain consumer goods, but when it comes to healthcare and prescription drugs, big data is not always the issue. In fact, for prescription drugs, data volume doesn’t become “big data” during pre-launch, launch and post launch phases; it takes years before the drug is adopted by a mass of people and data becomes big. By then, there is not much left to change.
  3. Statistical sampling doesn’t work in qualitative analytics. It is always safer to look at the entire quantum of data for drawing conclusions; a sample section of the data rarely gives an accurate big picture. This is possible to be done during the decision making phase, since the data is not yet big. If you want to be confident about the accuracy and quality of analysis, there is substitute to manual analysis of large part of the data. Afterall, we are talking healthcare here; the analysis may have serious consequences.
  4. Standard syndicated reports are limited in their value. Syndicated brand reputation report covering entire competitive landscape are good to have, but they rarely offer insights. They don’t solve problems or provide competitive advantage. Deeper dives are needed to reveal brand specific insights and most clients are often willing to pay for custom investigations.
  5. Influence of patient generated content extend beyond geographic limits. Clients seem to believe that social influence is local. So most affiliate (country level) offices aren’t interested in what is being said internationally, although the brand is global. The reality is, patients read everything that appears in searches and don’t necessarily spend time in selecting comments only from their geography. In order to understand what influences patients in a certain geography or country, it is better to focus on the content being consumed there, instead of focusing on the content being produced there.
  6. Social media analytics is not an event; it is a process. Short term analysis of patient comments done within a time window, may reveal insights. But that may be only a section of truth. In order to understand long term trends, changing opinions, shifts in brand perception and conversation triggers that caused them, continuous monitoring is needed.
  7. Adverse events reporting using social media is rare. Patients rarely use social media for actively reporting adverse events. Even if we assume that they inadvertently do so, most of the times, social media content doesn’t qualify as reportable adverse event.
  8. Even if there are some AEs, reporting can be easily managed. Some may not buy point 5 and may believe that there may be some patients who report AEs using social media. There is so much to be gained from listening to consumers that there’s no point in sacrificing it all for concerns around AE reporting. Social media AEs are easy to manage. Define a process. Create protocols. Delegate responsibilities and put a team together. Treat social media as another channel for reporting AEs, just like other channels such as a reporting form on the website, or a call center number or through physicians.
  9. It is critical to think from the consumer’s perspective. Social media is not about large corporations and drug manufacturers; it is about people and their lives. Patients talk more about their own condition and their experience with your brand. Social media is deeply integrated into the patient’s treatment journey. Patients use social media as soon as symptoms start appearing and continue right through, until they are cured or come to manage a lifelong condition . This way of thinking should lead to social media initiatives targeted at patients at each stage of the treatment journey.
  10. Integrated marketing is the right approach. To build a sustainable competitive advantage using social media, we have to think holistically. Social media is a part of the digital marketing strategy, which in turn is a part of the larger brand marketing strategy. You don’t have to do all the marketing in-house. Partner with an agency which can work with you across the digital/social media marketing continuum i.e. social media monitoring and analysis, integrating insights into the marketing mix, social media marketing and engagement and dollar impact measurement.

(Views are personal.)

Digital and Social Media Marketing – Strategic Framework: Introduction

Digital and Social Media Marketing – Strategic Framework

More often than not, digital marketers or social media marketing managers tend to chase their next successful campaign. There is ample advice on the web around campaign management. Typically, such content address tactical issues such as how to initiate a digital or social media campaign, how to optimize it, how to improve click-through rates, how to perform better on conversions, which analytics tools to use, how to integrate multiple campaigns into one platform etc. If you find often find yourselves consuming such advice, there is a good chance that you manage such digital initiatives for your employer or you work at an agency that manages them for clients.

This series of blog posts is for companies or managers how haven’t aren’t there yet. Which direction would you take if you are starting from scratch? Which factors would you consider if you are asked to set up digital marketing at a company? Below is a framework that direction to think about this.

In upcoming blog posts, I will elaborate on both strategic as well as tactical aspects of this framework. I will also present another framework aimed at providing direction towards establishing a self-sustaining unit that creates value.

The most significant value proposition of this model is that it envisions the measurable parameters right from the beginning. The problem I am trying to solve it simple; never lose the sight of the “measurable”. What gets measured gets done. What gets done gets rewarded.

Digital and Social Media Marketing Strategic Framework

Digital and Social Media Marketing Strategic Framework


Indian IT industry – growth areas and missing piece

The India Union budget of 2011 was recently presented by Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee and India Inc. has largely hailed it. The Indian economy is on the rebound and the IT industry; the firebrand of modern technological India will experience substantial growth in near future. There is a talent war in the industry and every IT company worth its name is doing everything possible to hook up good talent that will set the company apart in the highly competitive global IT market place.

Leaders of the IT industry seem to agree on one point as regards to the overall changes taking place in the Indian IT industry: that the Indian IT industry is at an inflection point.

To take on the new challenges offered by the tectonic shift in how IT manages business in general, the Indian IT majors seem to have plans in place, although each one’s different from the other. Some companies are investing in developing new service models, some in developing new product offering, creating new technology platforms and some reorganizing their internal company structure. For instance, Cognizant has invested in creating a Cognizant 2.0 platform and Wipro has recently made structural changes to its management. Some players are also expanding in sectors other than there core strength such as healthcare and hospitality, besides strengthening their presence in the tradition banking, financial services and insurance.

Having said that, it is also worth taking note that there are three opportunity areas around which the entire growth plan of the India IT sector has been centred i.e. mobile, social media and cloud computing. But there is a missing piece, a fourth thing that Indian IT companies ought to think of, if there were to take their clout in the global IT scenario to the next level. Before I elaborate on that, let us take a quick look at the three areas of focus.

Mobile Computing

Mobile doesn’t only mean cell phones and smart phones, but other mobile computing devices such as tablets, slates, e-readers etc. This space is proliferating. In addition to the existing leading brands such as iPhones, Blackberry, Nokia, Samsung, etc. the space is getting innovation challenges from operating system makers such as Google’s Android. Not to mention the smart apps which seem to be hot selling products on the applications’ market-place. Mobile games are attaining new dimensions and there all companies seem to want the share of the pie, from tiny tech star-ups in Bangalore to Japanese gaming giants.

A different set of mobile devices that hasn’t caught the attention of the mainstream media is smart healthcare devices. Microsoft is also developing softwares (Ex. Microsoft HealthVault) that run on or integrate with such devices.

Mobile computing is in and the IT companies will have to have products/services around mobile computing.

Social Media

Here’s the fun and equally challenging part! There is abundant literature on the web around this subject and within this blog post, I don’t have much to add. But some of the commonly faced challenges are around control, measurement, and monetization. Even after having so much content around the topic, companies are grappling with getting social media right.

I will be putting up some presentations and frameworks shortly to take a dig at grasping the entire picture. Social media is huge and there are many types of software trying to support the social media ecosystem. These software ranges from content dissemination, to content filtering, to large enterprise level analytics systems such as Google Analytics, Radian6, Webtrends, Omniture etc.

Going forward, companies who understand social media better than others, who develop capabilities to handle enterprise level social media marketing efforts, monitor-measure-optimize them and link them to revenue and ROI, will have the edge.

Cloud Computing

Famous New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, in his classic book “The World is Flat”, mentions 10 flatteners that shaped the global economy in the past 15 years or so.

I would insist that Cloud Computing is also a flattener. Cloud computing removes all the capital investment barriers by eliminating the huge costs for installing IT infrastructure for small and medium business, levels the playing field by changing the costing model to a utility based one and making scalability a matter of hours than a matter of corporate level broad meetings. Large global IT conglomerate including Microsoft, Google, Amazon etc. have invested in the technology.

Needless to say, Indian IT companies that develop expertise around enabling cloud applications for small and medium enterprises, establish smart and dynamic workforce around cloud implementations and reduce costs by rapidly progressing along the learning curves, will win in the long run.

Companies that have capabilities in one of more areas from the above, or ideally all the three will thrive in the market.

Indian IT industry - Growth areas

Indian IT industry - Growth areas

There is a fourth thing without which, any advance in the above by any IT company in India, however big and technologically capable, will not succeed. And that is “Digital Marketing”.

Digital Marketing

The Indian IT sector will not succeed if it doesn’t market itself brilliantly well.

Why did I mention only digital here? Because in the coming years, there will be no marketing without digital marketing. All marketing will have a strong digital component; at least as far the IT industry is concerned. In any case, we don’t know of many Indian IT companies that succeeded by doing TV commercials.

Good digital marketing doesn’t limit itself to only to good product demos and classy looking PowerPoint presentations. It encompasses all that and goes well beyond enchanting Prezis, engaging webinars, case studies, blogs, white papers, social media apps, industry events, framework, research papers etc. The secret lies in articulation. The Indian IT industry needs market managers who can articulate well, irrespective of the format.

Another valuable skill these marketing managers should have is knowledge of international marketing, global business management expertise and exposure to diverse cultures. An international business MBA would come in handy. Articulation should also be augmented by meaningful conversation, engagement, enchantment and long term relationship building ability. Indian IT managers should be able to talk as comfortably about Charlie Sheen’s last quote and US healthcare policy as about their outsourcing expertise coding strength.  They should know as much about Groupon and Angry Birds as they know about backwaters of Kerala or the Mysore Palace. This new marketers should be as expert bloggers about new ideas in marketing as they are experts in nitty-gritties of Cricket.

Essentially, this new marketing breed should be a tribe of true digital citizens of the millennial generation.

Have any thoughts? Please comment on this post. I would love to hear from you.

Referral potential – where does it come from?

A large number of online/digital marketers or social media marketers aim to generate “customer referrals” for their products or services. A referral offered by one satisfied customer to another, creates a strong lead and usually more likely to convert. The potential of a referral in generating a sale cannot be emphasized enough and it applies universally. The products or may be sold online or offline. The domain of operation may be business to business (For instance Eloqua) or business to consumer (Axe) or business to business to consumer (Intel).

Every marketer worth his name knows that a happy customer is the best sales person he can have. The best marketing strategy is to get your customer sell your products; it works most of the times and needs a very low marketing budget. That is because it is an emotional and a social occurrence.

But a larger question that marketers often find difficult to answer is “What creates a referral?”

Where does the potential to refer come from? Where is it built? I think it is not only for the marketers but for the enterprise as a whole to answer this question. This question should not only be posed to the marketing team (who will often say that they can figure it out, but never admit that it is challenging), but to operations, finance, strategy and sales as well.

Let me make a modest attempt to answer this question: Where does the “referral potential” for a product or a service come from?

Before I start, let me define referral potential in simple words – Referral potential is the ability of a product or service to exceed customer expectations, offer value for money, create a remarkable experience and as a result, be worthy of a voluntary recommendation.

There are three primary areas in which the referral potential is built in, i.e. product, customer service and price.

Referral Potential

Referral Potential

Take a look at the above figure.

Product excellence – Nothing can beat this. If you have an excellent product, it is bound to be referred. Talk of iPod, iPhone and iPad of Apple. They are excellent products. People line up in front of stores, before they are launched. Such is the expectation from Apple. They have a cult following. Sure, there are excellent products from other companies as well. Some of the most popular are Microsoft Windows and Office. They are essentials and have a mass following. I should say that they have risen far beyond the referral level but that is how they started. So having an excellent product is absolutely essential.

Fine Customer Service – If your company has a commoditised product, why would customer pay you? One strong reason can be that your company offers a fine customer service. Customers tell their friends about you because they are pleased with the way you treat them. Indeed they are happy to offer a voluntary referral because their association with you improves their social value when they refer you. Dell, at least it the US is supposed to have a great customer service, so is Home Depot.

Price attractiveness – This is a no brainer and it works rather well during the times of recession. Great prices are hard to resist. Wal-Mart offers great prices.  This is also often called as low cost leadership. An entire industry is emerging around our desire to save, socialise and get wholesale prices. This new industry, Social Commerce, is being pioneered by Groupon.

Surely, you can have any combination of the above to generate a referral. So the game is either you have a great product, or you have a great customer service or you have an attractive price. Needless to say, either of the two or all the three will offer excellent results. Interestingly, availability of one and lack of other two will still get you customer referrals but they will be limited. Having two at a time amplifies the possibility of creating referrals. Combination of all the three is killer combination.

The next question is how does a company achieve the above three? Let me put it very shortly.

  • Product excellence is a result of innovation
  • Fine customer service is a result of well configured process and hiring people with a service mentality
  • Price attractiveness is a result of efficiently managing operations that improve productivity and reduce costs

Any activity at an enterprise level should be aimed at improving either of the three. In fact, ideally, all the activities should be aligned towards achieving the killer combination i.e. each and every employee should be working towards either making great products or delivering fine customer service or reducing costs.

The above strategy will not fail, but the challenge lies in the execution. Where do you think leadership comes into play?