Healthcare Marketers: The Future is Personal

At the start of 2017, I joined marketers from around the world in once again kicking off the New Year with a pilgrimage to CES. From robots that play chess to self-driving cars, the technologies and gadgets on display were inspiring and future-looking – and, notably, they have great potential application in medicine and healthcare. Beyond the individual technologies themselves, here are a few key takeaways for our industry's marketers:

1. Artificial Intelligence does more than “wow.” It promises to evolve technology from tactile to emotional.

Like many at CES, I found myself most excited about the things I did not see, like voice recognition, virtual assistants, and artificial intelligence (AI). Amazon's Echo, based on its Alexa voice-activated assistant and powered by AI, had the most buzz. Allowing customers to ask questions, control smart home devices, and order on Amazon, Alexa highlighted how the way we experience technology will rapidly change.

See also: Japanese drugmakers lead the way in digital innovation

Hundreds of devices, appliances, automobiles, and more are being connected to AI or cognitive systems, which learn from peoples' behaviors and adapt to their lifestyles, preferences, and situations. When it comes to leveraging the data these devices create, the winners will be the organizations who can get their microphone (e.g. Alexa) into the most houses, cars, and offices.

Beyond unlocking the data gathered by and intelligence of other systems, AI gives technology a human voice, embedding emotion and empathy into it. In health, where we recognize the importance of empathetic communications, the implications are vast.

See also: Pharma adopts data-science culture in move toward AI

What if Alexa could sense when a person is stressed, understand what they need to hear to reduce anxiety, and offer them some comforting words? Or if a refrigerator could coach and encourage someone on a diet, speaking to them at the times of day they struggle most? Or if cars could remind their drivers to pick up prescriptions and swing by the gym on the way home from work? AI has potential to greatly support compliance and healthy behavior – all with the human touch (and voice) we need.  

2. Wearable performance may underwhelm, but it offers important lessons on embedding technology more deeply into peoples' lives.

While the wearables market remains crowded and many innovations were on display at CES, the industry is beginning to accept that consumers are not adopting them in the numbers anticipated. Repeatedly, we hear the story of someone who bought or received a wearable as a gift, but failed to replace it once it stopped working. Wearables are beginning to seem like a fad – and it doesn't help that these innovations are disparate and disjointed. Let's put it this way: Nobody wants to wear 15 bracelets, headbands, and body patches that each do one thing only.

See also: MM&M's top health technology stories of 2016

Instead of creating wearables, innovators have an opportunity to create and embed new features into the existing products we use. For example, new features for phones and watches already in use, or for other products (like breast pumps).

3. Soon, personalization will not be the gold standard – it will be the standard.

Technology and data are converging to make personalization more attainable and drive better health. Nowhere is this more apparent than in health devices. Like the smart thermostats on display at CES, which can find a home's ideal temperature settings, the near future will see hearing aids that adjust to offer each user an ideal hearing experience in a particular environment. Or consider joint replacements and how often peoples' bodies reject them. With 3D printing, joint replacements can more easily be created for a specific person, and with a much smaller likelihood of rejection.

See also: How Digital Innovation is Influencing Diabetes Care

For marketers, this shift is noteworthy. As people receive more and more personalized experiences, they will increasingly expect them across every area of their lives.

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Above all else, CES highlighted that, in 2017, we marketers will have unprecedented innovations and data at our fingertips. In a sense, every company will now become a technology and data company. But with so much technology and data available, we should think long and hard about how we use it, continually asking ourselves: What problem am I solving?

Consumers will separate the fads from the inventions with real value (those that save time or money, educate, offer peace of mind, and/or simplify tasks). Nothing is more personal than an individual's health; the technology that will prove most effective will be solutions that are personal. Those that are human, with the ability to express empathy (AI); incorporated into real life, instead of functioning as a separate wearable; and personal, tailored to the individual.


Becky Chidester is CEO of Wunderman Health.