RxDM Storycast Ep03: Bill Evans, IBM Watson Health

Bill Evans headshot 200 x 200

RxDM Storycast host Buddy Scalera speaks with Bill Evans, CMO of IBM Watson Health. Buddy & Bill discuss healthcare storytelling, emerging trends in marketing technology, and the evolving role of marketing agencies and clients.

It’s a full-hour conversation about the IBM Watson Health technology and what it means to pharma manufacturers and healthcare researchers. Get the Bill Evans Interview on iTunes or listen on Stitcher.

This video “Why the future of healthcare is cognitive – William Evans, IBM” is referenced in the conversation, so you may want to check it out:


Bill Evans Interview: Complete Transcript

Interview Recorded January 2017.

>> Buddy Scalera: Welcome to the Rx Digital Marketing Podcast – Storyteller Edition. I’m Buddy Scalera, a Content Strategist and host of the show. I’ve been a journalist, a digital copywriter and a visual storyteller. After a career in publishing and over 10 years in digital marketing agencies, I’m now a healthcare content strategist at an innovative biotech manufacturer in New Jersey.

And before we get started I should note that the content of this podcast and the RxDigitalMarketing.com website are not necessarily the views of my employer.

In this podcast, I’m exploring concepts and strategies in brand storytelling across multiple channels. This is a personal and professional learning journey for me. If you’re on the same path, I hope you tune in every episode and join me for this educational adventure.

>> Buddy Scalera: Bill Evans is the Chief Marketing Officer for IBM Watson Health. As CMO, he has global responsibility for marketing strategy, communication, social media, demand generation, and events. He’s working to help commercialize the healthcare industry offerings based on IBM Watson’s cognitive technology.

But prior to joining IBM, Bill was the Executive Vice President and Chief Digital Officer for Team Chemistry at WPP where he led to the consolidated digital marketing business for Johnson & Johnson. That’s where I met Bill. He was an exceptionally smart, charming, and fun guy to be around, but also really knew his stuff. We’ve always kept in touch, and now that I’ve launched my podcast, Bill is gracing us with his presence today. Bill, welcome to the Rx Digital Marketing podcast.

>> Bill Evans: Thank you. I’m very happy to be here and that was a very effusive introduction, so I appreciate the kudos. And for those listening it only cost me about $20 for Buddy to say those nice things about me. Money well spent!

>> Buddy Scalera: Money well spent. So Bill, we worked together at the agency. I knew what you did there. We’ll unpack that a little bit, but what is it that you do at IBM Watson Health in your role as CMO?

>> Bill Evans: I’ll try and give a succinct answer to a complicated situation, but I would say there’s primarily three prongs to my responsibility. The first was defining what Watson Health means at an organizational level to bring a brand promise and a brand story to the market. What you probably see across things like Google Ventures and the AI businesses that are starting up is there are still a lot of inherent skepticism, and obviously in healthcare, disruption can sometime be a bit of a negative in terms of bringing something to market. Really trying to crystalize what is IBM’s mission and vision with bringing Watson Health to the market.

The second piece would really be around creating differentiated value propositions that go to market strategies for the products that we serve. So when you have the master brand story that introduces the organization and its purpose to the market, then obviously you need to tell the next step in the story as to how are we bringing solutions and outcomes that pay that promise off in meaningful and differentiated ways.

And the third is really taking those two pieces and aligning them and modifying them for our sales teams to give them both actionable content and actionable tools to work with their customers on, but also drive opportunity capture for them and ultimately bring people along the sales funnel to ultimately, obviously, purchasing our products.

>> Buddy Scalera: I think one of things that was very, very interesting that you mentioned was talking a little bit about that brand story and since the focus of this podcast is brand storytelling, can you give me a succinct explanation of what the IBM Watson Health brand story is when you’re out there communicating that to potential customers?

>> Bill Evans: We really are, at a vision level, trying to transform healthcare by solving some of the world’s biggest challenges through the utilization of cognitive as a means of getting there. Cognitive, in and of itself, I think it’s IBM’s differentiated version of artificial intelligence. There’s some differences between some of the other players out there but what that really is is explaining to people that cognitive is not the solution. It’s cognitive inside of the purpose that actually makes this work.

One of the challenges in developing this story was Watson Health was primarily scaled through the acquisition of a number of business and so when you go to market to a potential customer, what they don’t want to see is a fractured story around the solutions or the reason that you exist. They want to see that there’s an encompassing end to end solution regardless of the way that you’ve developed technologies or built the business or created the organization that you’re going into. So not only was it crystalizing at a high level what we wanted to accomplish as an organization in the market, but then obviously aligning all of the complex parts of the organization around buying into that story, being able to tell that story succinctly and being able to really internalize it in a way that – when you bring disparate companies together you naturally learn not to say “I’m from Truven” or “I’m from Phytel.” No, we are Watson Health and this is the reason that we believe. Or exist. I’m sorry.

>> Buddy Scalera: I imagine that you probably are evaluating this story more and more frequently because there are other forces that are coming and developing in real time, other competitors, other opportunities, other people with the knock off version of Watson Health, so you’re probably having to evolve your story in real time as the marketplace changes. Is that a fair assessment?

>> Bill Evans: Yes, and I would actually go a step back and I think that you’re uncovering something that probably is part of the reason your podcast exists, this is how do you take that story, which the creation of the story in and of itself is a creative challenge, but then you have to socialize that story across a number of different constituents inside of an organization to get their buy-in and their acceptance so that everybody feels comfortable that they can put themselves inside of the equation when they tell that story.

So a story that you would deliver to an analyst community is a bit different than a story you would deliver in a typical sales meeting is a bit different story than you would say if you’re standing on stage on JP Morgan or some of the other bigger conferences, but the essence of it and the values of it all have to align around a core proposition. So while we’ve done a lot of work over the past eight months to a year to really land on that core proposition, to your point, the implementation of it does change almost on a weekly basis to become either more relevant or more differentiated, especially as more and more of our products are coming to market. As we get more offerings that become systems of a whole rather than individual pieces, obviously your message has to modify and evolve to match that promise.

>> Buddy Scalera: Sounds like you’re constantly in a role of wrangling an evolving message.

>> Bill Evans: Yes.

>> Buddy Scalera: I think that was one of the things that you were really amazing at when we worked together at the Team Chemistry level, and I was only a consultant. I was on the digital counsel for a little while you there. Your role though was to wrangle different agencies and personalities to get a single holistic feeling resource for Johnson & Johnson. Is that kind of, did I characterize that properly?

>> Bill Evans: Yeah, you did. I think of the challenges that’s not unique to J&J, and I certainly saw it at Watson Health, and what I would take from one of the key learnings from that experience or both those experiences is that you can organizationally align resources that typically are not built to be aligned to each other, i.e., what you’re talking about around bringing different agencies together around a common cause. But that becomes much more “easy,” if I can use that word, when the customers or the clients are also aligned around that purpose.

I think if we did one thing well, and there’s certainly a lot of things we could talk about in the J&J experience, was finding opportunities where programs could span across brands in a way that was more meaningful for the business in terms of efficiency. It was more meaningful for the customers in terms of their experience with a Jansen or a J&J. Then obviously it creates a universal rallying point for the marketing teams, internal or external because everybody understands the goal to which their trying to drive to. Yes, in a large part, the role is not only about being a digital thought leader and how do you go to market in more unique and engaging ways but making sure that everybody understood what the mission and the promise was so that we could all align our efforts accordingly.

>> Buddy Scalera: So it was interesting that as you were talking about that it reminded me of something that you have on your LinkedIn website, LinkedIn profile rather, and I’ll read it and then you’ll comment on it, if you can. You had noted that you were the creator of an “agency inside”, model of commercial marketing development that brings best in class talent together to increase agility, improve efficiency and maximize opportunities capture through high speed and personalized deployment of programs. That’s something that you’re doing actively in your role, so what is this concept of agency inside model, and what does it mean for the agencies that serve you and also the agency inside model that you’re bringing to IBM right now?

>> Bill Evans: I wish I could say it was a brilliant realization, but the driver of it was basically economics. Where it started, having spent 20 years working at various functions at agencies when you move to the client side of the operation you start to realize how much you’re actually paying for goods and services and knowing the businesses as I do, have a sense of what margins you’re paying, what operational overhead, etc. So as a means of maximizing my marketing budget it only made sense to me that there were certain roles that we were paying for basically two and a half to three “x” what it would cost in salary. It would just make more sense to bring in house.

Also on the production side, you think about the time to market efficiencies you can gain when you have control over content and digital development over things like your own website. So just as a real word example of this, one of the things that we decided upon early on, and we’re still evolving to get the deliverables in place, was that we were going to be a content producing brand. Meaning you would come to WatsonHealth.com to learn about the business, but you would also come there to learn from the business and so being, agencies certainly, the agencies that we work with play a very critical role in the success of the business for sure, but there are also certain functions that make more sense to be, in our case, on our side of the firewall versus back on the agency side.

So in terms of the broader implications, what I asked our agencies to do was build staffing plans that were more focused on the strategic counsel and thinking and creativity work rather than the execution and deployment work because that was an area where we felt like we could get better cost value out of hiring those resources and better expediency out of getting things to market. More broadly I think you’re starting to see both of these trends happen where agencies are now evolving to be more consultative. That might be in reaction to a trend much like this where big organizations are bringing agency talent inside because it just makes financial sense but also with the rise of the Accentures of the world, which are coming at from a business-consulting practice and relationship-building standpoint, that also have the creative capabilities that they’re building on to those services. I think specifically in the healthcare world, agencies need to be less focused on the production-level work and more on the consultative value they’re bringing to an organization because it’s higher margin, higher value work but also it’s better and more beneficial for the long-term relationship because you’re more actively involved in the strategic level decisions of the business, which is where I think any agency person would tell you they want to be anyway.

>> Buddy Scalera: I think there are different types of ways that agencies can pivot as well, Bill. I’ve seen the emergence of that strategic consulting role and I think your point is well taken. I’ve also seen agencies become more boutique like in that if they are executing, they’re executing wonderful creative but on a much leaner scale, that is, you’re not loaded up with multiple account people just to get to the graphic designer. That is, you’ve got one really great account person and what you’re paying for are the designs and the great designers. I think you’re seeing the agency models sort of split down the middle. Some of them are going to be consulting and strategy, and others are going to be wonderful execution houses, I guess, for lack of a better term.

>> Bill Evans: The other thing I think that I’ve tried to do and I’ve seen more as a trend is, the big, one of the questions that came up when we were developing this plan was how do we make sure that the creative folks that we end up bringing in house have their care and feeding such that they’re being exposed to new ideas and new ideas are being brought to the organization. That is one of the tremendous value propositions that consultative agencies and creative agencies have. They work on a bunch of different projects and bunch of different (crosstalk, inaudible) practices.

Now that becomes a very difficult proposition, not difficult in the sense of executing, but agencies are by design built to execute on the work they’re being paid for and that proactivity is not always the first thing that people think of to bring in terms of value to their clients. So it is interesting to see, obviously I lived in that role at WPP, other holding companies like Publicis are aligning around this, where one of the biggest value propositions they have is exposing their clients to work that’s going on at other parts of the business. And I think in terms of the evolution that you alluded to before, that’s something that the more those systems and processes and efforts get more ingrained in the day to day culture of client management, I think the more valuable those agencies will be and I think one can focus on organic growth versus new business pitches. There’s also a very large upside there in terms of the value you’re bringing to a client.

Buddy: Prior to working with you in that role at Team Chemistry, you were at Fleishman Hillard, so you have a very rich background in agency work. What did that background bring when you came into your new role at IBM Watson Health?

>> Bill Evans: So that’s a great question. You learn these things kind of in a vacuum and sometimes you have the hindsight. Hindsight’s 20/20 so what I’m about to say I don’t want anybody listening to take as being negative about the experiences at the time because everybody was operating in what they thought was right but at the time that I was at Fleishman, the whole communications PR industry was grappling with a digital transformation that I thought was missing an opportunity because it was almost entirely focused on who becomes the owner of social media for a client.

So whether it was Fleishman or Edelman or MSNL or any of the PR firms, what I saw was a constant effort to try and position themselves as the go to consultants for social media execution because it was inherently aligned with the communication practice as a whole. To be now looking back I think that was a bit shortsighted. Again, nobody kind of thought through this at the time but you kind of see where things landed out. It missed the point that the marketing and advertising agencies also got very adept at the communications and social aspect of the business.

I think rather than focusing on who owns the actual deployment and development and production of social as a channel, it really was an opportunity for PR to look at itself as one of the primary strategic drivers of branding and messaging for engagement at a direct to consumer level and I think you’re starting to see a lot of that in the last few years, especially as all of the agencies start to try and get to that ground.

To me it was taking that learning and moving into a situation with IBM and previously WPP was aligning our internal groups to have the right constituents at the table so marketing and PR were tied at the hip, analyst relations tied at the hip, so everybody was singing from the same songbook but also doing the same thing with our external consultants to make sure they were feeling valued and bringing value to the relationship because they’re very important to that. Making sure that we’re not starting our conversations around channels and executions, but starting with like what is the goal, what is the target, what is the message we’d like to broadcast, and what is the takeaway we’d like our customers to have and then figuring out the right talent to task to execute upon that.

What I preached at WPP which I preached to our agencies at IBM was I don’t care who does the work, I want the work to be great, so your job as my client partner is to bring me the right talent for the task at hand and I’m going to hold you to that standard so if that means you have to go outside your core agency skill set to go get another set of services, whether it’s digital or communication or medical education or what have you, that’s my expectation of you because I want the customer experience to be seamless and that’s only going to work if we operate in a seamless fashion to them.

>> Buddy Scalera: I know this next question might feel a little bit down the rabbit hole of our inside baseball experience, but I have to ask you do you now see PR’s role as taking over social channels?  I feel like I’m seeing that in the marketplace because I felt like social started off in the technology teams. They were blazing the trail because it was tech based and then it sort of evolved into a marketing team. I’m curious to see if you’re seeing similar things or different things about public relations taking over social?

>> Bill Evans: Yes. I will say I’ve seen it both ways and I think that, sort of a reiteration of what I said before, I think the missed opportunity really isn’t about management of the channel but about the optimization of the message. I guess my perspective, having been on both sides of the equation here, is if I’m looking at it from an agency standpoint, the billable hours that are going to be captured by managing a Twitter feed or a LinkedIn feed isn’t really that much. The substantive work to be done is really about how do we create messaging platforms and thought leader platforms using those channels and producing the content whether it’s through video or through thought leadership or white papers or what have you that reinforces the brand message and the brand positioning. At that point who deploys it really doesn’t matter.

I will say I think because of the trend to bring agency resources in house, more and more of the actual execution of these channels is going to be done by the clients themselves because the technology is fairly mature now. There’s not a lot of mystery about how to run Twitter or how to post on LinkedIn. There’s not a skill set barrier as there was maybe ten years ago when there wasn’t a lot of understanding by some people on how you actually – what are best practices about how to deploy content inside some of these place. I would say, making a long answer longer, focusing on the content is really the place where the effort should be focused. Who posts the tweet, who manages the hashtag — to me that’s sort of low-end decisions that have to be made. They’re important, but they’re not really where the substance is.

>> Buddy Scalera: Speaking of the content, and that’s a big part of where I’d like to go with you, it seems like Watson can be used for a broad range of applications. So on your website it says it can be used for research, data analysis, drug discovery, clinic-trial discovery and more specifically, for studies on sleep apnea and now oncology research. How do you manage the content on your digital platforms so that the right people get to the content that will resonate with them?

>> Bill Evans: It’s an ongoing discussion. The reason it’s even more complicated is that Watson in and of itself needs to be trained. When you think about Watson for drug discovery or Watson for oncology or Watson for life sciences or Watson for some of these applications, that’s not one sort of Watson engine running universally. It is separate and distinct instances of Watson that have been fed a cohort of data and trained on a specific data set so that it has the intelligence, kind of brackets around, to be able to understand the questions it’s being asked and the problem that’s being solved.

You’re right, there’s a lot of different instances of the products that Watson has been infused into and how do you create the content around that. We’re actively in the middle of discussions around the best pathway to get customers to the content that they need. Obviously, we’re reliant very heavily on paid search, very heavily on landing pages specifically around the solution sets to ensure that we’re making SEO work as hard as possible for us in this environment. Also to the point about social channels, really leveraging those to deploy assets that are primarily video based as a means or targeting constituents in fields like oncology, in fields like life sciences, in the value-based care arena. To make sure the discovery of content here is working as hard possible. I think the good news for a brand like Watson and Watson Health is there’s no shortage of organic interest in what the business is up to and this goes back to PR driving that ship as well. Hopefully we’re doing a good job of that, but obviously there’s always room for improvement.

>> Buddy Scalera: I would imagine that sometimes there are people who think they are solving problems the way that they’ve always solved them so they continue to solve them that way. I guess in your case you’re trying to get people to think differently and say you know what, maybe you can use Watson to solve a problem that has been up until now unsolvable, like digesting tens of thousands of pages of research that gets published every year. No one person can read all of that, right?  So Watson could be the partner that helps you to understand and digest the meaning of all that. I was going to reference, because you had said, so there’s a video and I’ll include this in the show notes – the video is titled “Why the Future of Healthcare is Cognitive” and you’re at a conference, I forget what conference you were at, but you have this wonderful conclusion to your presentation. You said that “there’s too much data, software needs to be smarter. Computers have endless capacity for data.” And then you challenged the audience and your final statement was “what will you do with Watson Health?”  What did people do with Watson Health?  What did people start to think of it differently and start to come up with new challenges for Watson, how did that resonate?

>> Bill Evans: I think that’s been one of the things that’s been most successful in our core messaging which is not about the technology, but about the outcomes it produces. There’s been a hundred, do a quick search and you find like the accelerate – well we’ll focus on drug discovery – just the acceleration of genetic possibilities for treatments on Alzheimer’s that would have taken years. Baylor University discovering six new potential proteins to treat cancer when there had been something like nine or ten or twelve. I can’t remember the exact number.

Discovered in the last twenty years, right. It does come back to this point and Ginni Rometty talks about it all the way down through the IBM organization. For us, AI is about enhancing human capabilities. The human is still the driver in equation, the doctor, the physician, the clinician. They’re still the decision maker. Watson is providing recommendations and providing recommendations based on the chain of evidence that it’s exposed to, but you are the ultimate driver in the decision-making process.

I think as people start to understand how the technology works, “oh, I teach Watson about my problem. I give Watson data around this problem and then I work with Watson to help me find a solution.” They start to understand that because of its capacity to understand reason and learn based on data sets, it will see things that, through no fault of their own, they as a human being may have missed. To the point about the journal articles you were referencing, there’s something like 1.1 million clinical studies published every single year and I believe it’s something like 30 or 40% of them are focused on oncology. Well if you’re an oncologist, you just can’t possibly keep up with all of that.

Again, as Watson constantly learns and reads and understands these studies, when you’re at the point of care using a Watson enabled system, you just have much more information available to you to make an informed decision than you ever would have in the past. So to me, understanding that power is really what has gotten people to think about new and different ways, from small applications to enterprise wide applications of how just that data consumption and comprehension becomes an invaluable tool to somebody’s workflow.

>> Buddy Scalera: I just found the way you phrased it to not only just be inspiring, but also to put a very human and empathetic face on it. You saying what will you do with Watson Health, because people might not realize that this is a technology that is not sci fi. It’s literally here and I think that, just as a fellow marketer, I loved the way you distilled the story down and made it personal for the people who were in the audience. You were saying you’re all technology people but what are you going to do with Watson Health, and I appreciated that you took that and made it personal for the people who were there listening to you.

>> Bill Evans: I think it’s not an uncommon pitfall to focus on the product and not the people at the end of the equation. I think as a business we decided from our CEO on down that Watson Health was going to be about people. So that becomes a very clarifying messaging point because the technology is just a means to end. It’s the end that really matters. How many cases can you have Watson for oncology be exposed to and what’s the benefit for that?  How much can you accelerate drug discovery?  It’s not because you want drugs to be less expensive. All that stuff is important, but it really is about getting life-saving therapies into market faster to help people improve lives, help save their lives, etc. We believe that is fundamental to our purpose of being and I think what you hear in not only myself but other executives in the organization, whenever they talk about the business, they take that very seriously.

I think it’s been quite positive for the business as a whole because when you hear these personal stories and you hear the personification of what’s actually being done and what’s actually being succeeded, or success has being generated in the market, you can very easily go hey I have a problem I’m trying to solve, I wonder if Watson could do this for me?  As opposed to it runs this many teraflops per second, it consumes this much data. It seems very specific, but from a problem-solving standpoint, that’s very abstract. You don’t really know if that speeds and feeds could actually work for you. But these stories help you understand, “oh, I have a problem and I could see how I could get there using Watson for a solution.”

>> Buddy Scalera: It kind of reminds of when you think about what can a car do for you in your life and it’s like somebody describing what the wheels and the tires look like. “I need transportation.” I think what you did was you articulated a story that was relevant to the people who were sitting in the audience listening to you. I’m interested now on your take on storytelling in healthcare marketing. What is storytelling in healthcare marketing?

>> Bill Evans: That’s a great question. I was trying to come up with a snarky response about not being used very well but in healthcare marketing, if you think about it, and I think the consumer-oriented products are better at this but we’ll focus on pharma because it’s in the title of the podcast.

I think storytelling in pharma suffers from the same problem that storytelling in technology does which is it focuses on the functional benefits of the product and not the end-user benefits of what happens next. I know everybody out there who’s spent a minute of time working in a regulated environment is jumping up and down right now talking about quality of life and things like that but it also, from a pharma standpoint, storytelling also doesn’t have to be about a story. It can be about the journey one takes when engaging with your brand.

Like I said too often, I think the industry as a whole, and this is a gross overgeneralization, gets too focused on how my product is different from your product and how my pill is different form your pill and how this costs and all of that is very, very, very important. But in the minds of the customer, “does this product align with who I see myself as being, does this product align with the kind of life that I see myself living, the kind of values that are important to me, the kinds of things that I want to be able to do with whatever condition that I’m struggling with.”

We don’t, as an industry, spend a lot of time there, but I think that’s where the stories need to happen and you’ve seen pockets of it, patient advocacy and customer testimonials and those things are becoming more commonplace but they still sort of fall short on really getting to the aspects of what does it mean, what is my story. How does this brand become part of my life in a meaningful way, whether you’re a clinician, a patient, a researcher, a payer, it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, those stories, that emotional bond between a person and a product that they’re taking in to their body is very important and I think we’ve got a long way to go as an industry to get more relevant in terms of the stories that we’re telling.

>> Buddy Scalera: What are some questions that brand managers might want to be asking their team to consider to tell better, more effective, more personalized stories for each of those target audiences?

>> Bill Evans: I think you can start with just a fundamental question to ask yourself is, and come to the realization that “am I a purpose-driven organization or am I sales driven organization?” Neither one of those is wrong. It’s totally fine. It’s about understanding who you want to be as a business because then you get a lot of clarity.

If you’re a brand manager or you’re a brand director and you’ve been told by senior management priority number one, and this is important across the board, we have to hit a sales goal this quarter, this half, this year and it’s all about driving new shares, right. I get it. You’re establishing a product in the marketplace. There’s a real need to do that. I’m not suggesting in any way, shape, or form that’s not important.

Businesses are in business to make money or they cease to be businesses. But if you’re an organization that prides itself on being a value-driven organization, J&J is classically famous for being a credo driven organization, then I think every brand marketer should take a moment to reflect on “are my marketing and communications, are my stories actually delivering in some way on this promise to bring value as opposed to information,” right? It sounds like marketing speak, but it really is not parsing hairs. It really is a difference here to say am I producing something, from a content standpoint, that makes the person who receives this, their life better, their experience better.

Sometimes those choices include things that you can’t always prove are going to make money, but they are important nonetheless. When you focus on, what I realized spending time with other marketers around IBM is the slippery slope of being a functional brand, meaning this-many-milligrams acts this quickly lowers your A1C1 by this percent. All very important but that’s a commodity story that has no legs over time.

Whereas some of the value things we’ve talked about around how does this fit into a patient’s life, how do they live a better quality of life, what are the considerations around their life that they should be thinking about? How do you expound upon more of the lifestyle aspects of your product as opposed to just the features of just your product? Now you can start to create a journey for a customer that is sustainable over time because there’s always new reasons, new content, new stories that you can produce that bring value to them but also give them a reason to see you as relevant to their experience.

>> Buddy Scalera: Well it’s funny because I think there’s this movement that says we have to tell better stories and we can’t just be talking about features and benefits and I recoil a little bit because I say sometimes you need features and benefits and sometimes that empathetic story about those benefits. I don’t think there’s an easy answer and I think the more I explore this the more I find there’s no magic wand for this. It depends on the user’s need according to where they are in their journey.

>> Bill Evans: It’s not a direct-line analogy to pharma, but let’s use it as a thought exercise and it’s a bit of an obvious example but I’ll use it because I think it’s one people can relate to because they’ve probably been exposed to it. When, in the Steve Jobs era and even now with Tim Cook, when Apple gets up there and they unveil a product they spend a little bit of time talking about the chip and the memory and all that stuff but they really spend their time on what can you now do with this new thing.

It’s not about “we’ll show you that the lens is better and it’s got anti-shake technology in it and digital zoom and all that stuff.” They really spend time like when you take the photo how do you make the photos better, how do you use their communications systems to engage with people who have iPhones in meaningful ways like live photos and how you share moments. The Apple watch launch wasn’t about the chip or anything. It was about the Apple watch and some of its features could help connect you to other people who had Apple watches, the digital touch, heartbeat sensor, and all of that stuff.

I think that is hard work in a regulated environment because in a lot of ways you need outcomes and verifiable evidence to make certain claims and I get that. But I also think that as we move more towards a value-based reimbursement system, pharma is going to have to get to a point where it’s taking on more of the responsibility for what happens with the patient on their product outside of the a clinical setting because reimbursement models will depend on it, rankings in terms of therapies of choice will depend on it, physician preference will depend on it, and also the data will depend on it.

The payer can see that your pill plus program drives, I’ll make up numbers, 20% better outcomes than a competitor with a comparable feature set in terms of the pill, you’re going to get prescribed at a higher and higher rate. Long way around this again, sorry to be so verbose, the opportunity here actually does have a business value in terms of telling more of these kinds of stories. We’re just still in an economic model where the line to ROI revenue or financial benefit is still unclear, but the shift to value-based economics should help accelerate some of that transition.

>> Buddy Scalera: For certain audiences, that’s the information that they need, that the improvement and reimbursement and the improvement in personal healthcare are different stories and I think that brands want to have, and this is a gross generalization, a lot of brands want to deliver their message and that message may not be the thing that converts somebody or makes them take action and I think that they have to be prepared to say here’s our message and we’ve delivered it but here’s the message that we have to be responsive to and be good listeners. I think often marketers are just attuned to delivering and not listening.

>> Bill Evans: Talk with, not to, and as a digital guy that extends from a philosophical level into the kinds of experiences you create, right. Because static websites that don’t have refreshed content or opportunities to interact with subject matter experts just feels like an arcane model with some of the other experience you have, and there are real regulatory and financial challenges to doing some of this stuff that we’re talking about. I don’t want to minimize that but customer expectation is absolutely that those kind of things will exist, so even as you’re designing an ecosystem of a marketing campaign that touches a customer in multiple places, if you’re thinking about that being a symbiotic relationship back and forth versus one way you make very different decisions even about the types of channels that you want to deploy content into to.

>> Buddy Scalera: Right. I don’t mean to derail you or take you down a different avenue, but you called yourself a digital guy and I do too but I think both of us come from a similar background which I’d like you to touch on. Your training is in design. How is your background in design valuable to you now in role where you are in a digital scenario. What does design mean to you and how did it help you?

>> Bill Evans: One of the things, when I went through my BFA program, two things kind of happened. We had a design, a graphic design program that was specifically centered around using Apple, Photoshop, Illustrator, all of those programs to produce things, but it was inside of a fine arts school, so I also was exposed to jewelry design and ceramics and metals and sculpture and painting and illustration and photography, and because of that the curriculum of the graphic design was not centered around how do you build websites or how do you build emails or how do you build campaigns, but how you create ideas using computers as the medium.

So basically using a computer to make an art project and because of that I think what that taught me — even though I didn’t know it at the time — was to approach a problem from how do you create something beautiful and meaningful as opposed to how do I just create a deliverable. Having taught at and lectured at some art programs around the area, I think the pendulum has swung the other way that a lot of these programs are teaching you how to use the machine and the software and not teaching you how to think like a designer, which is what is the problem I’m trying to solve and then how do I create something elegant to solve that problem as opposed to what’s the problem I’m trying to solve and how do I build a website to fix it, right?  Then you sort of unpack what are the meaningful interactions, what are the beautiful moments, what are the things that really create interest in the minds of the viewer and that leads you to not have predetermined conclusions of what the actual execution should be and I think I have seen. And I try to counsel my teams and my colleagues away from this: don’t start with the deliverable in mind because then you’re limiting yourself to the potential of a big idea or a big experience or something very meaningful because you’re trying to shoehorn it into a preconceived notion of what the actual functional solution should be.

>> Buddy Scalera: I love that. I love that your thinking drives the team to think differently and one of the things, both of us coming out of creative services and then into digital services. One of things that I’ve noticed is that they do bring the liberal arts majors, the writers, and the designers in too late. It’s like composing a Broadway musical for six weeks with theorists and strategists, and then the night before bringing the musicians in and they go “it’s an hour and a half, so can you have it by Monday?”  I think that there has to be a shift. I think there has to be a shift to bring people back to the fact technology is part of it. It is part of the holistic wheel of the delivery mechanism but really people are looking at pictures and reading words.

>> Bill Evans: That’s right. The point you’re touching on, which made me think of this while you were talking, it also, the process that I’ve talked about is at times a bit nebulous. It’s interesting because I think the healthcare industry and pharma want to be innovative and they want to experiment and there’s a huge appetite for innovation but that also comes with not always being able to write a staff plan or an SOW that has a clean set of deliverables in it. One of the things that I did with my agencies to try and overcome this problem was I actually built two sets of SOWs.

There’s a core staff retainer so I said “ok you five people are going to be part of my core team. I’m going to buy this amount of time from you every single month and your job is to basically help me think about the business.” And then there’s a second set of retainers that says we decide on what a deliverable is then we put that into a retainer and I will sign off on that for that specific project and that includes the staff plan for the development people, the designers, the writers, the people that have to execute.

It sounds like a simple thing, but agencies are a business too and they can’t operate under uncertainty, so if you want people thinking about your business you have to pay those people to be available to think about your business knowing that it’s in their best interest to bring you ideas because obviously that turns into new SOWs and new work and new revenue, what have you, but they also feel like they’re invested in the business and you’re not just, as a client, harvesting them for ideas that you may use elsewhere.

I’m sure we’ve all had that happen to us but being on the agency side for as long as I have, as long as you have, I wanted it very clear to those people that I value their input and I value their insight and this was the kind of dynamic that we were going to have and I wanted to be fair in making sure they were compensated to be able to manage the uncertainty of what the projects were actually going to be.

>> Buddy Scalera: That’s a great approach and it probably is the direction that we’re going to see relationships like this evolve into, particularly as you have your agency inside team and then you have your external team that is out in the marketplace seeing things that you don’t see with your inside team.

>> Bill Evans: That’s exactly right.

>> Buddy Scalera: What is one technology or channel that you’re excited about?

>> Bill Evans: It’s going to be obvious that I say the cognitive in AI technology and that is primarily for two things, and I’ll relate it to content marketing in that what you’re seeing with Google, what you’re seeing with Watson ads now, what you’re seeing with what Facebook does with its AI around their platform and others. The ability of an AI to help bring more meaningful content to its customers but also help people with platforms understand how to be more relevant, and again, it’s a giant data-crunching problem. But from a creative standpoint, I’m excited about it because I think it’s going to allow brand teams and marketers to be much more agile. So what I mean by that is if you think, even recently, you wouldn’t launch a TV campaign or an ad campaign or any kind of content without rigorous, rigorous, rigorous testing which is expensive. It’s time consuming, it slows the process down but taking AI to something as simple as even an A/B testing and having the intelligence monitor and make the adjustments in real time is very interesting.

I’m also very keen on a lot of the technologies that are rising that are allowing consumers to have real time choose your own adventure experiences inside a video. If you think about the Bob Dylan video that came out a couple years ago or the “Happy” 24-hour video where customers could kind of switch between channels, from storytelling standpoint there’s something very interesting about, you don’t have to shoot from one perspective anymore. You could tell a story from multiple viewpoints and multiple experiences and then that customer sitting in front of that piece of video can basically choose the pathway they want to follow through that storytelling experience. So the combination of those two things I think are very, very interesting in terms of not only the end of experience of what the customer can engage but the flexibility it allows the marketer to be able to deploy content more rapidly and understand what’s working and what’s not and be able to spend time that would be spent in research actually adjusting, modifying, and deploying in as close to real time as possible.

>> Buddy Scalera: Are you saying that AI has the potential to help teams determine where the best media spend might go because pragmatically it is, it doesn’t have a personal relationship with the person at Meredith Corporation or something else?

>> Bill Evans: That’s exactly right. It’s all numbers. Media placement is entirely a numbers-based game. A lot of the engine that holding companies are using are basically very smart algorithms that are adjusting media buys and media bids at hundreds of thousands of times per second in some case. So that’s not somebody sitting there with an Excel spreadsheet every 24 hours loading something up to a media platform. The tools are basically computer generated at the moment.

To your point, an AI understanding, being trained to understand the goal, the business objective, the target audience, the progression pathway, the things that work cannot not only adjust experiences in the marketplace to those ends but also bring back learnings to say here’s some things you could do to build better creative experiences that can then be redeployed into the system. So absolutely. I mean we’re in the early days of this obviously but this is not unlike people like you also liked this. That’s a very, very rudimentary AI API that Amazon has, but it’s absolutely creating an experience where your shopping experience is much more relevant and personal because that AI is looking at the data of people like you and surfacing products that you may not have even know you were interested in, but there they are, right. I can also see this, media, specifically movies, books, I mean there’s a large discovery problem.

I have Apple Music. I love Apple Music. If I want to listen to something new, I could pick a band, any band, like they’re all just in there, right. But if there was an intelligence basically, and there’s some of this in Apple’s products, but saying like hey you like this kind of music, you should listen to this band next. Hey you like this kind of exercise program, this is, here’s how we can modify it. You consume this type of media, let me give you ads that you might actually want to be exposed to as opposed to, we all kind of see digital advertising especially as an annoyance, so I think the relevancy model that AI could bring to the table, the personalization model that it can bring from a content and advertising standpoint and then the learnings that it could bring back to a marketer are just off the charts in their potential.

>> Buddy Scalera: Wow.  It feels like that is a separate podcast and I hope I can lure you back on for a follow up on this.

>> Bill Evans: Sure!  I’d be happy to.

>> Buddy Scalera: But first where can people find you, where are your social hooks, where are your next appearances?

>> Bill Evans: So on Twitter I am @OhNoItsMrBill.  You can find me there.  Obviously, I don’t have a vanity LinkedIn profile but you can put it in the show notes, and if anybody wants to get in touch with me you can do so through those channels.  Off the top of my head I can’t remember where I’m speaking next, but I can send that to you.

>> Buddy Scalera: Ok.  Well Bill, thank you very, very much for your time and your input.  I feel like I learned a lot and hopefully the people that listened also learned a lot from this conversation.

>> Bill Evans: Excellent.  Happy to.

>> Buddy Scalera: Thank you very much, Bill.  We’ll talk to you soon.

>> Bill Evans: Alright my man.

>> Buddy Scalera: Bye bye now. And that’s our show.  Check out the Rx Digital Marketing tech cast featuring content engineer and MarTech expert Matt Balogh as he discusses important topics in digital marketing and the systems that deliver the content that matters to your brand.  Learn more at RxDigitalMarketing.com where we are significantly more informative than placebo.

Podcast Links:

Linked In for Bill Evans: https://www.linkedin.com/in/billevansmarketing/

Twitter for Bill Evans: https://twitter.com/OhNoItsMrBill

IBM Watson Health: https://www.ibm.com/watson/health/

YouTube: Bill Evans Presents “Big Data, Big Science, Smart Medicine”: https://youtu.be/3iKvJEPIYdE

Twitter for Buddy Scalera: https://twitter.com/BuddyScalera

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