conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Posts Tagged ‘medical device

Thought Leadership Takes (too much) Time

leave a comment »

And don’t be deadly-boring

In content-creation, I talk with clients and potential clients about telling their story in a way that promotes them and their business as thought leaders. Most clients have a business expertise that is poorly understood outside their niche or industry. And that is always the way: who really knows or cares how someone else spends their day?

One of the big challenges with our social appliances (Twitter, for example, and blogs) is telling the details of our story in a way that, a) shows we know what we are talking about, and b) communicates something not-deadly-boring to a casual passer-by. This is a huge challenge because most of us are interested only in what we are interested in.

Telling what we know in a way that engages the passerby is the challenge. That’s why I often use the metaphor of talking with the stranger or telling something to a ten-year-old. When eyes glaze or when they simply walk away, then you know you’ve not told your story well.

The thing is, our social appliances do not let us off the hook with the casual passer-by. Yes, we write our messages to our core audience, those are the people we seek to help and serve and engage. But those messages still must have enough hook to stop and (possibly) engage the conscious human passing by our web page/tweet/handmade sign. Building our brand, whatever that looks like: whether marketing a medical device, marketing a specific line of knowledge about medical devices/healthcare or marketing your own book—all these require that we tell our story in a way that keeps detail in focus while showing why it all matters to life on this planet.

PostTop-2-11052014

Of course, the best way to do this is to know your topic well. Once you know your topic, mix in notions of how a stranger or passer-by would react and adjust accordingly. I find that knowing a topic and then adjusting the topic to the needs and interests of a particular audience has a miraculous effect of providing something I simply must say:

And that is a beginning of thought leadership: building out from what you know, day after day. It is very time consuming but if you are passionate about a topic, product or service—or a particular way of looking at life—than you can hardly keep from building the topic anyhow.

 

By the way, whether you write or not, everyone on earth should follow Jon Winokur’s tweets (@AdviceToWriters). His tweets should make anyone eager to create.

###

Image credit: Kirk Livingston

If a Customer Shouts in the Forest and No Customer Service Rep is Around to Hear it…

leave a comment »

Should she post a comment on Yelp?

Nancy Beiersdorf of Medtronic’s e-Commerce and global strategy hinted (in this SAP talk) at the medical device company’s evolution from a product company to a solutions and service company. One important ingredient in this new recipe will be hearing from the people with problems (people in need of a solution) and helping them solve those problems (that is, service).

But hearing from customers is not easy—even for other customers.

If you’ve ever used Yelp to locate a restaurant while traveling through a new city, you know to toss 30-50% of the comments as someone having (a) evil intent or (b) a bad day. Even our favorite national parks suffer from poor Yelp reviews:

terrible-yelp-04-2014-10172014

Sorting fact from fiction has been a traditional problem with hearing from the customer. Customer service must wade through long, rabbit-trail narratives to finally get to the actionable item. That is the way of human conversation—sometimes it takes a while to get to the point. All this unquantifiable blather plays havoc with our quality systems. Surely customer service will soon chart a metric like “Time to actionable issue” and pay employees accordingly.

Hearing from customers is an inherently messy business. Especially for Medtronic: where reps once talked only with cardiologists and electrophysiologists now there will be all sorts of real people on the phone (or more likely, placing orders and comments on a web site).

All this conversation cannot help but change things upstream and downstream. In particular I expect at least two results:

  1. Increasing masses of consumer-to-company interactions will train consumers over time to use certain words and press certain buttons to get what they want. Much in the same way we are conditioned by repetition to bypass our bank’s introductions to get to a real human.
  2. Corporations may grow more sensitivity toward customer voices–the very thing Ms. Beiersdorf  advocates. By that I mean conversations have a way of working backward into the machine-gears of a corporation. As solutions and service show up more clearly on the P&L sheets, people will start to pay more attention to human interaction.

At least that is what I hope.

Let there be more advocates for the customer voice.

###

Image credit via Adfreak

We Landed a Medtech Account—Now What? 3 Understandings

leave a comment »

Bollixed and castrated and then we begin

Advertising agencies and marketing firms are eager to land medical device accounts. These prestigious accounts are much desired and would seem to enlarge the status of an agency because of the exacting, rigorous work that helps the human condition. It doesn’t hurt that they seem to pay on time. But having worked with a number of ad agencies once they land such an account, there are a few common threads that surprise principals and employees:

GreenGiantCloseUp-4-09152014

  • You’ll need experts: people who know how to work within a regulatory framework (“Claim this.” “Never claim that.”). People who know the words that soothe lawyers while still making sense to humans. And especially people who know their sinus node rhythm from their rhythm method. You will stay on message and every claim must be neatly tied to an article from a respected (first or second-tier) journal.
  • Your creatives are (already) wringing their hands. That’s because creative solutions lie on the other side of a legal/regulatory/corporate culture grinder.
    • Yes: the company has come to you for creative solutions.
    • No: they cannot/will not back-off their own internal legal/regulatory controls. Their own internal machinery will bind and castrate many of those solutions you have used in the past. What a great beginning point!
  • There will be rounds of changes. Many rounds. Way more than you are used to. Far more than you can reasonably put in your bid. They will seem…unmanageable. Taming revisions will take your best customer service manners and may take you deep into the internal relationship structure of the firm. But that is exactly the kind of partnering that is needed

If your agency can come to grips with these three understandings without imploding or driving sane people mad, you’ll begin to build a reservoir of expertise.

###

Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Are You In—Or Are You a Loser?

leave a comment »

Is club membership really that critical to you?

Sometimes we observe similarities between work and church. Here’s a way work and church similarly lose momentum with every conversation: making club membership their most important feature.

SaintBehindFence-06252014_edited-1

At work VPs and managers and employees speak in Dilbertesque code. Acronyms are just the beginning. In the medical device world, there are shorthand words for landmark studies, shorthand words for device features and benefits, shorthand words for certain technological functions. Shorthand words for the management focus of the quarter. Unless you’ve been around the team for a time, you wouldn’t understand 60% of the conversation. That’s why advertising agencies routinely hire translators when they get projects with medical device firms—they just don’t get the gibberish these smart people are talking.

At church we put on holy language and use words that make us seem like we are in the know. We deliver these words calmly as if they were on our minds all the time. The language of doubt is mostly unwelcome in this setting—this is where the faithful come for their weekly booster shot. And so language becomes subterfuge.

The problem with insider language at work or church is that it sets up participants for failure again and again. In both settings, many of the folks in the conversation don’t understand the very words they are saying—and don’t even realize they don’t understand. Or maybe they realize it but the insider current is so strong they are afraid to admit their lack.

Plain speech is a subversive force. Not only does plain speech out those not in the know, it actually forces those who think they know to explain or realize they know less than they thought. Plain speech is a force for progress because it breaks down hidden barriers and destroys a primary rhetorical tool for those who want to sit on their knowledge and keep it for themselves and to protect their kingdom.

This is why…again…no question is a dumb question. The simplest questions often carry great power.

As organizations (like work and church) realize they need to evangelize and draw outsiders in as a matter of survival, insider language must die.

Insider language is dead!

Long live language!

###

Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Do a Dumb Sketch Today

with 5 comments

Magnetize Eyeballs with Your Dumb Sketch

As a copywriter, I’ve always prefaced my art or design-related comments with, “I’m no designer, but….” I read a number of design blogs because the discipline fascinates me and I hope for a happy marriage between my words and their graphical setting as they set off into the world.

But artists and designers don’t own art. And I’m starting to wonder why I accede such authority to experts. Mind you, I’m no expert, but just like in the best, most engaged conversations, something sorta magical happens in a dumb sketch. Sometimes words shivering alone on a white page just don’t cut it. Especially when they gang up in dozens and scores and crowd onto a PowerPoint slide in an attempt to muscle their way into a client’s or colleague’s consciousness. Sometimes my words lack immediacy. Sometimes they don’t punch people in the gut like I want them to.

A dumb sketch can do what words cannot.

I’ve come to enjoy sketching lately. Not because I’m a good artist (I’m not). Not because I have a knack for capturing things on paper. I don’t. I like sketching for two reasons:

  1. Drawing a sketch uses an entirely different part of my brain. Or so it seems. The blank page with a pencil and an idea of a drawing is very different from a blank page and an idea soon to be fitted with a set of words. Sketching seems inherently more fun than writing (remember, I write for a living, so I’m completely in love with words, too). Sketching feels like playing. That sense of play has a way of working itself out—even for as bad an artist as I am. It’s that sense of play that brings along the second reason to sketch.
  2. Sketches are unparalleled communication tools. It’s true. Talking about a picture with someone is far more interesting than sitting and watching someone read a sentence. Which is boring. Even a very bad sketch, presented to a table of colleagues or clients, can make people laugh and so serve to lighten the mood. Even the worst sketches carry an emotional tinge. People love to see sketches. Even obstinate, ornery colleagues are drawn into the intent of the sketch, so much so that their minds begin filling in the blanks (without them realizing!) and so are drawn into what was supposed to happen with the drawing. The mind cannot help but fill in the blanks.

The best part of a dumb sketch is what happens when it is shown to a group. In a recent client meeting I pulled out my dumb sketches to make a particular point about how this product should be positioned in the market. I could not quite hear it, but I had the sense of a collective sigh around the conference table as they saw pictures rather than yet another wordy PowerPoint slide. In fact, contrary to the forced attention a wordy PowerPoint slide demands, my sketch pulled people in with a magnetism. Even though ugly, it still pulled. Amazing.

###

How to Pitch a Medical Device Company #1: Know MedTech Context

with one comment

help us feel human again

I spent the early years of my working life being formed by the medical device industry. I was energized by the mission of seeing people restored and hearing joyful patient stories. I enjoyed the banter with physicians and learning about the junction of technology and living systems. And I was charmed by the folks I worked with: some of the smartest people around, with a bent toward helping others. Not everybody, mind you, but enough lively, mission-fed people that the workday was full of surprise.

Things change. Corporations mature—for better and worse. Lately it seems the balance sheet and the quarterly earnings call too easily drown out mission. Smart people who enjoy a challenge still work there, and it is an industry with more and more specific boundaries. So if your agency is pitching medical device work, please be aware of these three influences that shape the perspective of the people you will be talking to:

  • Legal pinioning
  • Regulatory straight jacket
  • Branding dead ends

These perspective-shapers sounds like a bummer, but smart agencies with a knack for operating in tight quarters can help make a difference. The first two perspective-shapers are fairly obvious. Naturally, the best medical device companies hold the patients who receive their therapies in the highest regard. And you would not want to work with a company that didn’t. But in our litigious age, there’s lots of money to be made from suing manufactures for all sorts of things. Naturally, medical device companies ramp up their risk-averting processes. Lawyers review nearly every outward facing piece of communication and regulatory reviewers—the picky cousins of lawyers—delight in ferreting out each word of potential deviation from the FDA-approved copy. And the work of lawyers and regulators is invaluable.

Branding dead ends are not so obvious and few will admit to them out loud. These take a bit more explanation, so I’ll reserve it for another post.

But in your initial approach to conversations with med tech employees, know that most of their conversations are like walking a tightrope: marketing is always a balance between what you’d like to say and what you can say given the published studies. Agencies with more consumer experience can find this deadening. But resisting the pinioning and the straight-jacket—in your own way—is one of the ways your team can add value. It’s just got to be believable. And it becomes more believable when you ask for and expect the list of approved claims before starting work on your pitch. Since every claim must have a valid reference, basing your creative on the right foundation can make the difference between making the final cut and being dismissed as not up to snuff.

###

Image Credit: Engadget

Written by kirkistan

June 4, 2012 at 5:00 am

House Hearing on FDA and Medical Devices: Even God Doesn’t Guarantee Safety

leave a comment »

A sluggish FDA is partly a response to our demand that they arbitrate safety

Great Power. Still Human.

[Full disclosure: I consult for the medical device industry.]

Tomorrow’s hearing with the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Health Care is all about looking for a better way to get medical devices approved. MassDevice reports Minnesota Rep. Erik Paulsen will be there to push for an “ ‘innovation pathway’ for pioneering medical devices.” Paulsen is also there to try to block a proposed $20 billion tax on the medical device industry.

Lives ride on the safety of medical devices. The companies I work for take this very seriously and institute redundant processes to check, double- and triple-check that all the right things were done. They take a great deal of pride in their record and FDA oversight is likely a boon to Minnesota’s culture of medical device safety.

That the FDA is slow to approve medical devices and is often seen as a bottleneck for innovation does not surprise me. How could it be otherwise, given that Americans want iron-clad guarantees that everything with the FDA seal is perfectly safe? We want and expect the FDA to play a God-like role in assuring us nothing harmful every escapes their jurisdiction. And sharp-toothed lawyers constantly circle and swim in at the first hint of blood, so it is also a big-money game.

Do we expect too much from the FDA? Is anything ever truly safe and entirely understood? Though the FDA would likely argue that they are simply applying “reasonable standards for safety,” the public doesn’t see it that way. FDA “approval” means something far more to most of us: that nothing should ever go wrong. That’s too big a role for a person or an agency. Even God doesn’t issue a decree like that: He only says that it all works out in the end for those in relationship with Him. By the way: my experience is that the FDA never “approves” anything. They just clear it for market release. Subtle difference, right?

We all need to be reminded again of what constitutes a reasonable standard for safety.

###

Image credit: Kay-too

Written by kirkistan

June 1, 2011 at 10:43 am

%d bloggers like this: