Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tablets, iPhones, Gamification, Big Pharma

Big pharmaceutical companies have found replacements for the army of sales representatives they've laid off in recent years: digital sales tools that seek to sell doctors on drugs without the intrusion of an office visit.

Tens of thousands of pharmaceutical sales reps have been eliminated in the U.S., creating a void that drug makers are now increasingly filling with websites, iPad apps and other digital tools to interact with doctors who prescribe their treatments.

Doctors can use the tools to ask questions about drugs, order free samples and find out which insurers cover certain treatments. Sometimes drug-company representatives will engage them in live chat or phone them back if they have more questions. 72% of U.S. doctors own a smartphone, and 95% of them use it to download medical applications. Interactive multimedia for doctors may be the new "virtual rep."

The changes are designed to cut costs and to reach doctors in ways other than the traditional office visit, which many busy physicians say they find intrusive and annoying. In 2009, one of every five doctors in the U.S. was what the industry calls a "no see," meaning the doctor wouldn't meet with reps.

About three-quarters of industry visits to U.S. doctors' offices fail to result in a face-to-face meeting. Most companies say they're using digital tools to supplement personal sales calls but widespread layoffs in the sector suggest that technology is replacing, not just supplementing, human reps.

AstraZeneca substantially ramped up its digital marketing group which is primarily focused on marketing to health-care providers as opposed to consumers. "AZ Touchpoints," Is a website doctors can use to ask questions, order free samples and ask about insurance coverage.

Touchpoints gives doctors a number to call if they want to speak to an AstraZeneca rep, or they can request a callback. Many of these calls are handled by third-party call-center providers. If those reps can't answer the doctor's questions, the call gets passed to an AstraZeneca staffer with more scientific training.

Many other drug giants are slashing their sales forces and experimenting with digital marketing. Sanofi-Aventis has, which offers services and information similar to AstraZeneca's Touchpoints, and Merck & Co. has

Digital marketing isn't always as successful as the human variety. Boehringer Ingelheim put together a digital-marketing package to target doctors, including organizing webcasts for leading physicians to speak to other physicians about the drug , but the company found that sales calls to doctors' offices were still the most powerful tool for driving new prescriptions. Danish drug maker Novo Nordisk says it hasn't cut its U.S. sales force over the past five years but is still adding digital marketing tools. Late last year the company launched a website and iPad/iPhone application called Coags Uncomplicated, which offers tools to help doctors diagnose bleeding disorders.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Can a 3-D Avatar Make a Better Impression Than You Ever Could?

A new book, Infinite Reality, predicts that 3-D conferences with avatars are coming – big time – as consumer technology is suddenly catching up with the work taking place in virtual-reality laboratories in academia.

The authors point to three developments in the past year: the Microsoft Kinect system, the Nintendo 3DS gaming device, and the triumph on “Jeopardy!” of I.B.M.’s Watson computer.

“These three events have been paradigm-shifting for avatar conferences,” says Dr. Jeremy Bailenson, the book’s co-author and founding director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab. “Virtual reality scientists have been waiting for these events for decades — and the technology is finally ready for the living room and the cubicle.”

The Kinect tracking device, sold for $150, shows that it’s now practical for you to control your avatar simply by moving around the living room — no more need for special suits or elaborate sensors in a lab. Nor do you have to wear special glasses to see in 3-D, -- the new $250 Nintendo 3DS beams a three-dimensional image to the naked eye.

With these technologies — and a few tricks already been done in the lab — you can sit at a virtual conference table and exchange glances with the avatars of the other participants. Unlike the two-dimensional avatars that are already convening on Second Life and World of Warcraft, your avatar would appear to be three-dimensional, and you’d feel immersed in the scene as you looked around at the other participants from the eyes of your avatar.

The book predicts:

1) Without leaving your living room or office, you’ll sit at three-dimensional virtual meetings and classes, looking around the table or the lecture hall at your colleagues’ avatars.

2) Your avatar will be programmed to make a better impression than you could ever manage.

3) While your avatar sits there at the conference table gazing alertly and taking notes, you can do something more important: sleep.

Now that computers like Watson have gotten so good at emulating humans, avatars could be programmed to go on autopilot during a class or meeting, according to Dr. Blascovich and Dr. Bailenson. In “Infinite Reality,” they imagine a slacker named Dave who sleeps in while his avatar attends an 8 a.m. corporate meeting.

“Dressed impeccably in a digital Italian suit, the avatar was programmed to be a perfect participant,” they write. “It laughed at jokes (taking cues from voice inflection changes of the other avatars), nodded in all the right places, and dutifully recorded the details of the discussion.”

To make a really good virtual impression, Dave could exploit a tactic that has been demonstrated in experiments involving politicians' faces. When researchers partially morph a person’s face with a politician’s, that person becomes more likely to approve of the politician — and has no clue why.

As long as the ratio of the politician’s features remains below 40 percent, the person doesn’t even realize the photograph was doctored.

Therefore, you could conceivably create an avatar with a face partially morphed with that of anyone in the room that you wanted to impress. In fact, you could customize it so that each person saw a face containing some of his or her own features. That would presumably make you more popular with your colleagues or clients — who, of course, might be using exactly the same strategy by displaying avatars morphed with your facial features.

There’d be a lot of love in the room, assuming that any of the avatars’ owners were actually awake.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Gamification is the New Web 2.0

BatesHook is my favorite name for a marketing firm. Ms. Bates and Mr. Hook are avid bloggers and well-respected marketing consultants, so this entry caught our eye:

"Gamification is the new Web 2.0"

Mr. Hook says "Try it out: Next time you talk about the future of marketing, add the words "Gamification" and "Game Mechanics." Suddenly you morph from marketing expert to marketing genius. You might be promoted on the spot. The world will be your oyster."

He goes on to half-ridicule, half-celebrate the power (and the hype) around game-based communications.

Hook's points:

Gamification will transform education and finally fix that darn Global Warming thing. Seriously, wouldn't you study that much harder if a class valedictorian was called "White Knight Paladin Level 20"? Of course you would. At least that's what Seth Priebatsch, the founder and Chief Ninja (You can't make that stuff up.) of SCVNGR told the world at his South by Southwest keynote in Austin. He referred to the education system as "one of the most perfect game ecosystems that's out there, "full of challenges, rewards, rules, allies, enemies, countdowns, and incentives, "all sorts of things that basically make school the best real-world implementation of a game that's out there. Priebatsch called education "a poorly designed game; it's kind of broken."

What is gamification? Gamification is the use of game place mechanics in order to encourage people to adopt applications and, ultimately, change behavior. Think about Foursquare: People are encouraged to check-in at physical locations in order to earn badges, mayorships and rewards (coupons, freebies, etc.). Gamification or Game Mechanics work because it makes technology more engaging/entertaining by encouraging desired behavior and taps into the human desire to play a game. It can help to perform tasks that are normally considered boring or arduous.

Gamification will gain in importance. There's a good case to be made that 'Pleasure' should be added to the 5 P's of marketing. Why shouldn't pleasure be an extension of a great customer experiences? Right now, customer experiences are mostly limited to well-working and easy to use. In the near future, a great customer experience has to add the fun factor. When you're being rewarded to do your timesheets, you'll them more timely. And it might be even a task you'll be looking forward to. You can create 'player journeys' to reward people with status, access and power – you create meaning inside of the mechanics. Loyalty programs can be expanded through leaderboards, each customer interaction can become an enjoyable experience.

But, please, don't overhype the hype. Gamification is an important tactic to help change human behavior. It can make life more entertaining and more pleasurable. It will make arduous tasks more enjoyable. It can be used to change bad habits and transform into more positive actions. But, let's stop the hype before it gets really started. Let's deliver on small promises before we promise the world.

And speaking of hype. What's the theme of this months (5th annual) Ad Age Digital Conference? "New Gaming Economy" with a keynote delivered by EA's CEO. With 700 attendees over its two day event and a goal to showcase the best and most interesting digital innovation, highlight how technology is changing consumer behavior, and highlight what's working for marketers...gamification should be giving Mr. Hook ample targets.

Gamification to Keep Employees Engaged

The power of games to drive response and change behavior is driving corporate interest in what is being called "gamification".

According to the Los Angeles Times, research firm M2 Research estimates in a recent report that spending on gamification projects will grow to as much as $2.8 billion by 2016 from $100 million this year. The story quotes M2 Research analyst Wanda Meloni:

"We know anecdotally that engagement increases substantially when game mechanics are applied. How that affects customer loyalty and translates in terms of increased revenue is still being worked out."

Among the story's examples of companies using gamification is NBC Universal, which increased page views and stickiness on the website for its "Psych" series when it added games that allowed fans to earn points. SAP is also exploring the idea of using gamification to get users more engaged with its enterprise software. It's a worthy goal, given the way many people feel about the software they use at work.

InformationWeek describes an SAP product demo that incorporated game elements, and sent a member of its technical team to the recent Gamification Summit in San Francisco. Assurant is also experimenting with business training games to help get employees in line with corporate strategy during a business transformation. The first module, covering corporate strategy, featured a challenge in which the company president, in avatar form, hangs from a parachute. With each wrong answer, the parachute lost a string. It was a hit when demonstrated for employees at an all-company meeting. Successive games allowed employees to spend a virtual “day in the life” of coworkers and learn all of the myriad and sometimes complicated ways Assurant earns money.

Meanwhile, as disparate elements from the serious games and loyalty industries coalesce around the banner of Gamification, there is debate as to whether it is the right flag to unfurl. At GDC 2011 on Tuesday, a panel debated over the term "Gamification."

Having a provocative term such as "gamification" has put a spotlight on a category very closely related to "serious games." "Gamification," after only about year of existing, already has 552,000 Google references, while the at least decade-old term "serious games" has 770,000.

Giving Avatars Emote Control

The current technology for creating computerized avatars for human interactions is relatively primitive. Judith Donath of MIT's Media Lab argues that this situation is likely to be temporary. She suggests that as programmers respond to the demand for more realistic human behavior in avatars, they will necessarily create the technology to manipulate human trust via the results.

Right now, even the most sophisticated avatars accomplish only a small subset of these behavioral collections. That's beginning to change, at least within the research community, where entire suites of behavior can be controlled by a single command. For example, an avatar commanded to end a conversation can nod its head, wave, and break eye contact. Users of such systems found them natural and more engaging, and they found their conversation partners to be more expressive.

In one experiment, researchers blended the face of a viewer with that of a presidential candidate. The blend was subtle enough that the viewer did not detect it, yet the new resemblance to the candidate was effective: candidates thus transformed were perceived to be more familiar—and therefore more desirable—than candidates who were not altered.

In another, an avatar that had been programmed to maintain constant eye gaze spoke with the subject. Such persistent scrutiny is almost unheard-of in the real world– we typically look at the person we’re talking to only about 40% of the time,or 70% of the time when we are listening. The intense gaze discomfited the subjects, but was at the same time, persuasive.

Other factors play into an avatar's trustworthiness and credibility. For example, simply making an avatar appear more human (including providing it with a clear gender) caused them to be rated more trustworthy.

Messages are more persuasive when they are delivered by an avatar with a subtle resemblance to the listener's own face. Teams of people paid greater attention to an avatar that was created with a "team face," one that combined features from the members of the team.

For more on avatars and human interactivity, please click here to read more.