Pfizer brand teams competed in an internal shark-tank style challenge, and the winning teams received funding for their ideas. Out of roughly 100 ideas, 10 were pitched directly to a committee of commercial leaders, and the top ideas selected were funded.

John Cusumano, Pfizer’s senior director of global mobile and emerging technology for Pfizer’s Center of Excellence, shared these and other details during a keynote talk he gave at a recent MM&M event in New York.

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One innovation funded by the internal shark-tank competition was Quitter’s Circle, an unbranded mobile smoking-cessation app developed by Pfizer and the American Lung Association. The app was launched in June 2015 and has since been downloaded thousands of times, Cusumano reported.

The brand team received additional funding from the drugmaker to fund development of the multichannel program, which includes a Facebook community and a website.  

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The Quitter’s Circle is unbranded and thus does not market Chantix, Pfizer’s smoking-cessation drug. Other drugmakers have also chosen to market non-product-related mobile apps successfully to broad audiences. Johnson & Johnson’s 7-Minute Workout app, which is designed to build aerobic and muscular fitness and doesn’t require expensive workout gear, has been downloaded more than 1.4 million times.

But Cusumano noted during his talk that healthcare companies still have quite a ways to go before they provide the same customer service that companies like Amazon and American Express do. It was just a few years ago, he noted, that every brand team wanted to build a mobile app.

Now, whenever someone asks Cusumano whether to build an app, he responds with, “It depends.”