Jan 29, 2011

Twitter, my second business news channel

A Twitter account can serve multiple purposes, but it is best not to mix them. Some people view Twitter as a way to keep track of the latest whereabouts and activities of friends. Others, including myself, find it a terrific, focused continual news source.

I am fairly selective on who I follow on Twitter, and on what I tweet about. I keep it to business and professional interests. If you would like to see who I follow on Twitter, check it out.

The categories include Analytics areas like:
BI Analytics News

Analytic Bridge, by Vincent Granville

KDNuggets, by Gregory Piatetsky Shapiro

and Health Topics like:

Dr. Jenny K

New York Times Health

and advertising news such as AdTech, Ad Age, and Agency Spy
There are also a few pharmaceutical companies that tweet, and I follow some, and try to keep pace.

Finally, there are like minded professionals I respect for passing along good news.

Why is this my second favorite professional news source, after The Wall St Journal? Because the social network is sending my way filtered content rapidly; like a marketplace of filtering. My network of colleagues and sources has interests that overlap mine, but do not exactly duplicate. They re-tweet breaking topics that I find fascinating, and I try to reciprocate when I can. So I am exposed to news items and trends that are aligned with my interests.

I suppose RSS Feeds can accomplish the same thing, but Twitter also enables the multi-way, networked interaction. I do not check Twitter often, maybe once every other day. But that's enough for me to keep track of the industry and professional trends I care about.

Jan 22, 2011

Startup companies: reason for failure - meta analysis

Fortunately at The CementBloc I am at a successful startup that is now heading for 11 years. Now, in my line of work at analytics and technology for healthcare communications, I am continually working with young startup companies: software companies, advertising agencies, analytic consultants. Also, with downsizing, many of my talented former colleagues in the corporate world are starting their own small firms.

With this in mind I was very intrigued to read the post-hoc meta-analysis of 32 failed startups done by Chubby Brain. This is summarized as "Top 20 reasons why startups fail."

The top reasons include customer focus, responding to a dynamic marketplace, and team chemistry. But there are others as well. I encourage anyone in small business to take a look. I might also encourage those who employ small companies to look as well, for the right signs in who they are giving their contracts to.

Social Dashboards of Web Dashboards? Cut to the business

Website analytics has been an area I have been practicing for over 10 years now, back when this was an active software area of many startup companies (with colorful names like WebsideStory) outdueling each other for the most strking visualizations and most insightful path analyses. Nowadays, I have first found it surprising to see the rise in use of the free but spartan Google Analytics over the more mature and visually robust Webtrends and Omniture (now part of Adobe site catalyst). Those two have gobbled up many of the aforementioned startups.

Lately this month I have stumbled across new developments: software that take Google Analytics output and create new dashboards. One is Unilyzer software for dashboarding social media trends out of your Google Analytics output. The other are actual Google Analytics post-processing apps. I'll bet there are more that post-process in this way. I myself often take "G.A." output and visualize in my favorite dashboard prototyping tool, Spotfire. Tell me ones you know!

How to learn about the best choices for dashboard design, cost aside?
Much has been written over the past two decades about effective display of visual information in dashboards.
The work of Edward Tufte
is foundational, and there are excellent texts like
Information Dashboard Design by Stephen Few, reviewed in UX Design.
One can even read about dashboards in other original areas for inspiration: see this
blogger on automobile dashboards

However, don't forget the main purpose of your dashboard should be to drive business decision making. Therefore be business focused. Create the dimensions that matter to your application domain and to your clients. All data miners say that data processing to get clean,insightful KPIs is up to 80 percent of the project. Do not push that off by merely re-displaying the raw feeds. Make sure you get right to the drivers of your business.

Jan 21, 2011

Cloud Computing and iPad based selling

We have seen before in this blog: the mad rush of pharmaceutical companies to develop sales force selling "detailing" materials on the iPad. A nice perspective on this is provided by Eye for Pharma The appeal in terms of cost, ease of use, and the flash factor is irresistible. The initial wave has been primarily in the guise of developing nice visual detail presentations. The CementBloc is one agency that is developing iPad based selling capabilities

The first wave of iPad based selling has been divorced from other sales functions.
But what about more complete sales force automation (SFA) systems? Since the iPad is so new, and not directly compatible (yet) with traditional pharma infrastructure and databases, it is not surprising that SFA would be delivered via cloud computing. What is cloud computing? -- internet based servers, using software as a service rather than infrastructure investments. The WSJ has a nice overview of cloud computing, or for more technical, see Infoworld.

A case study from cloud computing developer Veeva, on Millenium Pharmaceuticals sites a sales rep solution, to save IT costs. But this was using more traditional PC based clients.

The latest, according to Medical Marketing and Media, iPads will in February be enabled with sample signature capture using aVeeva systems new sales platform called iRep. The company reports it is compliant, and that several pharma companies have already signed on for the February launch.

Once sample signatures are solved, the rest of SFA on iPads in the clouds will not be far behind.

Jan 19, 2011

IMS acquires SDI: the data firm nesting continues

The news that IMS Health is acquiring SDI (see IMS press release here) is a jolt to those of us who have worked in the pharmaceutical data industry for ten years or more.

Both companies declined to discuss the acquisition beyond a joint statement released last Friday afternoon. Unnamed company sources told Ed Silverman, who first reported the deal on his Pharmalot blog, that as much as 15% of SDI's staff could lose their jobs as a result of the acquisition.

Gary Gatyas, an IMS Health spokesperson, declined to speculate on timing for the completion of the deal, citing pre-merger notification requirements with respect to the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976.

SDI itself was made larger by the acquisition of Verispan in 2008. Verispan was in fact a conglomerate formed by the 2002 combination of multiple data vendors like Scott-Levin, SMG, and Kelly Waldron. This reminds me of the Russian nested doll pictured here, the matryoshka.

Why have there been so many combinations in the data, and informatics consulting business? Driven in part by profitability issues, intense competition, adn the mergers of the pharmaceutical manufacturers themselves,

If this deal goes through, With this latest IMS acquisition there will come a short term hassle for major pharmceutical clients in 2011 as the landscape gets sorted out. Then longer term, there will be less competition for information sources, and perhaps slow down the rate of innovation.

Jan 16, 2011

Managing display and search simulatneously

An interesting new research study by Efficient Frontier and Forrester Consulting showed that digital marketers are struggling with managing integrated search and display campaigns.

I have witnessed these struggles on my own as a pharmaceutical manufacturer employee, and see it now in my clients, as we deliver communications and we partner with media companies.

Some possible underlying reasons for the struggle

* Media companies are often conglomerates, and have acquired distinct and separate sub-agencies that handle search from the people who handle banner placement.

* The two tactics have fundamentally different objectives: search is for mid to bottom of funnel consumers that are expressing an interest in finding out more or in making a transaction. Banners are for upper funnel consumers, where you catch them by surprise in their reading other web pages, and hope your visual branding and offer may be appealing to warrant an interaction or a click.

* You cannot use impressions for both in the same way. Search text boxes do not grab the same share of attention as banner ads do.

* Therefore click through rates mean slightly different things.

* Interestingly, search click through rates are much higher than banner click through rates, since the consumer is more interested in the results. This despite the over-inflated impressions.

Nonetheless, a good marketing agency or media company should explain the relevant value of each of these digital channels, as they relate to the client's brand goals.

Jan 15, 2011

Measurement's role in the journey to health

A trio from the CementBloc, yours truly included, described the journey to wellness in a recent article on Mediapost.

In particular, consider the role that measurement plays as patients are taking medication to get healthy. Illness is often accompanied by one or more physiological metrics that are out of the normal range. As a patient is undergoing treatment, a primary way to measure return to health is by tracking those metrics as they return to the normal range. A patient can work with his or her physician to adjust the therapy based on how these health-related metrics change over time.

Metrics on wellness can be thought of individually or collectively, and technology plays an ever-increasing role in both cases. Individually, patients have more means than ever to quickly and automatically see how their health is improving. Just a few examples are the Wii Fit with built-in scale, the Bayer Contour USB glucose meter, and the Nike training and heart rate monitors. Pharmaceutical relationship-marketing programs come with pill reminders and online pain management diaries. These diaries have evolved from paper-based journals to secure Web pages, and now reside as apps on personal digital assistants (PDAs) and mobile phones.

Collectively, healthcare companies and device manufacturers want to measure overall utilization of wellness, conversion, and adherence tools placed in the marketplace. Web analytics data can signify which patient resources are most being utilized, and which features should be improved.

It is fascinating to think of what role media can play on this journey. Imagine if one's weight loss is not progressing as rapidly as needed, or pain relief is not coming quickly enough. Could one's PDA tracker or personal monitor someday become a venue for product placement for better nutrition products, exercise equipment, or even medication? As our country debates individual Web site data privacy issues, this may be a new angle to consider.

Jan 12, 2011

Managing expectations on RM

In her blog "My life as a focus group," Elizabeth Elfenbein commented on managing expectations so that your clients are not disappointed. This is especially true in a consulting role, and with relationship marketing programs. Individuals want some kind of comfort if they are getting a positive ROI. Yet the systems being deployed are sometimes innovative and have uncertain response rates. Furthermore, crowded markets and channels create clutter and reduce response.

So, what to do to make sure expectations are met as you field innovative marketing programs liek CRM and PRM?

A few questions to ask to manage expectations:

- What is the current status quo of Rx, conversion, and adherence. Can you exceed it?

- Can you use low and high estimates of response rates, and conversion and adherence rates to put a range on the expected return

- Rather than stay fixated on a single number like ROI, what are leading indicators that also show progress?

Also, encourage a mindset of a phased approach and continual improvement, not just a one shot measurement. For some thoughts on implementing continual marketing optimization in the digital world, see this issue of the "Business 2 Community" blog.

Jan 11, 2011

Efficiency, in fitness and business

Efficiency is a great metaphor for summarizing the transition from 2010 to 2011.
I plan personally to become more efficient physically this year, by dieting, losing weight, increasing regular exercise. Making the most of the energy I input, reducing the fatty waste, and outputting even more energy as a result.

While working at General Electric I was trained in six-sigma methodologies, a relentless drive to reduce time and cost while keeping quality high. Six sigma provides excellent workshop, project management, and mathematical techniques for improving efficiency.

A consulting firm or advertising agency also needs to think about efficiency as well. Keeping costs within check while still delivering the best thinking, innovative processes, and high quality creative. In six sigma jargon, those are the critical to qualities. Process, milestones, and metrics are the way to insure the high quality stays or improves as you get efficient.

However, do not forget the investments. An efficient engine still needs fuel to grow and innovate. Note the WSJ article on how major ad agencies are growing their training investments in 2011,

So invest time (and money) in that better exercise regimen and workout for your personal fitness. Also, wisely invest in digital innovation knowledge and apply it.