Microsoft Announces Minus, New Social Network for Pharma

While high-profile social networks like Facebook and Google+ have recently made splashy announcements to try to gain the attention of the masses, Microsoft has been quietly, and brilliantly, working on a new social network custom-designed for pharma.

Steve Woodruff, the Pharmaceutical Connection Agent, was given an exclusive sneak peak at the platform, dubbed Minus, which is being launched today to a beta audience of one pharma company, one patient, and 25 lawyers. While detailed screen shots were not yet approved by Regulatory, a mockup of the interface was obtained, showing the sensitivity of Microsoft designers to the constraints of pharmaceutical industry communications. (click to biggify —>)

Steve Ballmer, President of Microsoft, beamed as he read a carefully prepared and vetted statement to members of the press, who were not allowed to ask questions or engage in dialogue during the announcement. “Here at Microsoft, we understand legacy systems, bureaucracy, and the need to consider the past when developing for the future. That’s why we’re the ideal partner for the pharmaceutical industry to create a social platform that will reflect how controlled, one-way, non-interactive communications can occur in this modern world of digital networks. This is what social media is all about – MINUS all that social stuff.

“Now, please view these 17 slides of disclaimers, safety warnings, software contraindications, and approved uses for Minus.”

The announcement was hailed as a great advancement for an industry dogged by difficulties participating in the public, free-wheeling world of social networks. “For years, we’ve struggled with how to communicate with the public in a safe, controlled manner that will keep us out of trouble,” said one VP of Marketing, whose identity could not be revealed due to privacy concerns. “Now, we can get our messages out there on the Twitter and the Facebook by using this Minus thing to…to…say more stuff. You know, join the conversation.”

While it wasn’t yet clear who exactly would participate on the Minus platform, this was viewed as no barrier to adoption. “We’ll just pull a Google+ on everyone and make it limited rollout for everyone in pharma who has a Klout score of 82 and above, or who has a value of 1,000 or more on Empire Avenue,” explained Ballmer. “That ought to get us to critical mass in no time.”

To appeal to its target audience, Microsoft enlisted the avatar of ancient Uncle Sam Wilson as the key figure in its marketing campaign. “Old Sam had just the right look-and-feel that we wanted to accelerate uptake of the platform,” said VP of Minus Biz Dev Sam Wilson IV. “Doesn’t he just exude social control?”

Addressing the thorny issue of user-generated content in a regulated environment, Ballmer scoffed, “UGC is so 2009. We’re looking to the future by hearkening to the past. Remember the good old days of DOS? Guess what computing kernel powers Minus?”

Reporters were encouraged to submit questions via an analog “Suggestion Box,” all of which would be reviewed by an approval committee and selectively answered within 3 weeks via a special Minus application using U.S. Mail.

(please do not tweet or share this link without prior authorization from a qualified lawyer. Any harm that comes from using this blog post in a way that it was not intended must be immediately reported to proper authorities. 9 out of 10 regulators surveyed approved this message)

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Your Input? Pharma and Social Media

I’ll have the opportunity next week to speak on a panel at the ePharma Summit in Philly, on the topic of social media in pharma.

In the 4 minutes allotted, my goal is to alert the audience (mainly pharma marketers) to the most crucial “cultural” aspects of the social media community as they consider any initiatives. What is the mindset, and what are the expectations of those who use social media?

I’ve tentatively thought of four, but since this is all about the community, I’d like to ask your help and input. What do you think are the most critical things for a marketer (coming from the healthcare space) to know ahead of time?

Here is my preliminary list, subject to revision depending on your input:

- Immediacy. For better or worse, this community thrives on “right now”.

- Participation. One-way messaging won’t cut it. Communications are multi-faceted, 2-way and multi-pronged.

- Long-term commitment. Don’t get in if you’re not going to participate over the long haul.

- Personality/authenticity. We can find impersonal message-driven communications anywhere. Here, we want a face and some reality.

As social media participants, what do you think? Are these the most important “intro” concepts, or can you suggest others? Feel free to give your input in the comments!

Pharma Web Branding, Part 10 – Merck

Perusing through the home page design of major pharma companies, today I arrived at Merck.com. First impression – visual overload! Lots of links and sections, not much white space, and the overall sense that it was going to be serious “work” to find what I needed here – or even to know what it is I need.

merck-home-sm.jpg

Of course, that’s a common problem with these big corporate sites, but the compulsion to toss everything into an up-front visual salad is, in my opinion, a fundamental mistake in interface design. Initial impression matters, and in the first few seconds, I, as a visitor, should somehow gain a connection to the company. Here, I just feel overwhelmed.

Merck does open up with a theme “Where patients come first”, which is actually better than some of the taglines that I’ve seen on other sites. However, there is a visual discrepancy that is just wrong – the most prominent graphic panel, top/center, has the headline “How patients come first at Merck” – but then the accompanying graphic is of healthcare professionals! If you’re going to talk about patients, reinforce that message with a visual focused on patients! (note: when you first come on the site, the panel is a little slide show making a few different points – reasonably effective, but the graphic above is where it “lands”)

As with the AstraZeneca site reviewed last time, this site is artificially constrained to accommodate least-common-denominator small-resolution screens. Sigh. The inevitable crowding effect, and the smallish font size, make the experience less pleasing.

Once you get past the home page and start navigating through the site, it’s pretty much big-pharma-info-overload-as-usual – tons of links, sections, and details, with navigation elements at the top, bottom, left, and right. That’s a lot of choices to make!

What distinguishes Merck? From this site, I simply don’t know. Yes, a website exists partially as in information repository. But, at the very top-level, it should immediately tell me about the company – make me feel something important. There should be a single, distinguishing message. I don’t see it here.

Prior website reviews, from my (pharma-oriented) Impactiviti blog:

Wyeth

GSK

Pfizer

J&J

Novartis

Sanofi-Aventis

Abbott

BMS

AstraZeneca

Pharma Web Branding, Part 9 – AstraZeneca

This week, it’s time to review AstraZeneca‘s home page, in my occasional forays into critiquing the websites of pharmaceutical companies. I don’t do exhaustive site reviews here; just high-level impressions of the home page and the overall navigation design.

When you type http://www.astrazeneca.com into your browser, you arrive at the home page of the AZ International site. Because they are a global company, this is a reasonable choice on the part of the company. It takes a sharp eye (far upper right corner) to find the spot where you’d navigate to the country-specific sites (they did place a fairly prominent link further down for US visitors).

az-intl-home-sm.jpg

The site design is decent – the use of colors and graphics is better than a lot of the pharma sites I’ve reviewed so far. The width of the site is artificially constrained for older computers, a choice that I hope fewer companies will make in the future. Consequently, the site feels crowded, with a lot of very small text. As with many “Big Pharma” sites, the page is very busy – there are so many categories of information that it can feel overwhelming. However, at least there is an eye-catching graphic front-and-center, with a brief tagline and a reasonably well-crafted corporate summary.

Moving over the U.S. home page, I immediately noticed that the “pedigree” of the site was clearly a derivative of the global site – again, a smart move. However, in this case, because (I assume) the United States user base has a larger percentage of modern computers, the width of the page is increased somewhat, making it feel less compressed than the International site. This site has more variety in the use of graphics, but shares the solid use of color schemes (blue in this case; purple for International).

az-us-home-sm.jpg

Going into the sub-menus on the left, the information presented in the middle and on the right changes intelligently, and the overall pleasant graphical design themes continue. There’s a lot of “heavy” information that healthcare/pharma companies have to present, and AZ uses the best method (IMHO) – a prominent graphic with summary statement, followed by a minimum of overview text, followed by links to various other pieces of more detailed information. I never felt “lost” on this site.

In short, this is pretty good execution. Some of the best look/feel and use of color that I’ve seen so far, and a better-than-merely-functional navigation scheme. All of these huge companies must make trade-offs and compromises due to their diverse audiences (patients, healthcare practitioners, shareholders, regulators, lawyers, employees, multiple countries, etc.) and AZ has done a better job than most making a good impression.

Prior website reviews (from my Impactiviti pharma blog):

Wyeth

GSK

Pfizer

J&J

Novartis

Sanofi-Aventis

Abbott

BMS

Marketing that Leaves a Bad Taste in your Mouth – on Purpose!

An interesting article from the Wall Street Journal today, about how to market foul-tasting medicine:

Foul Taste Is Part of the Cure

Cough-Syrup Spots
Tout ‘Awful’ Flavor
Of Novartis Product

By JEANNE WHALEN
November 5, 2007; Page B4

When drug makers come out with new cough medicines, they typically tout characteristics such as extra strength or improved flavor. But when Novartis starts marketing a Canadian cough mixture in the U.S. today, it will focus on a different feature that it hopes will help the product stand out from the crowd: the medicine’s foul taste.

Made from camphor, pine needle oil, menthol and Canadian fir balsam gum, Buckley’s Cough Mixture has been available since 1919 in Canada, where it has become what Novartis calls the country’s “best-selling and worst-tasting” cough medicine. It doesn’t contain sugar or alcohol, which other brands use to dull the medicinal flavor.

Novartis, which bought the Buckley’s brand in 2002, hopes to convince consumers that the bad taste proves the syrup’s effectiveness. “It Tastes Awful. And it Works,” is the tagline of the television, print, radio and Internet ads designed by Publicis Groupe‘s Saatchi & Saatchi in New York.

The TV ads show blindfolded people undergoing a taste test. In one spot, a woman sips from cups marked “Buckley’s” and “Used Mouthwash” before asking someone off-camera, “Are they the same?” In another, a man tastes Buckley’s and “Public Restroom Puddle” and says, “I can’t tell. Must be made by the same people.” Other taste-testers try “Snail Trail Accumulation” and “Trash Bag Leakage.”

It’s a tough time to be unveiling a cough syrup. The $3.2 billion U.S. market for cough and cold medicines has been rocked by controversy in recent months as medical experts have questioned the safety of using the medicines in young children. On Oct. 19, a group of experts advising the Food and Drug Administration recommended that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines not be given to children younger than 6 years old, saying that there is no evidence the medicines work for that age group. The FDA must still decide whether to follow the panel’s advice and restrict use of the medicines in young children.

Jose Rodriguez, vice president of marketing for Novartis OTC North America, says the FDA deliberations haven’t affected Novartis’s plans for the rollout of Buckley’s, which won’t be marketed for children. Novartis, based in Basel, Switzerland, also sells Triaminic cough medicine, which is specifically aimed at children. As a precautionary measure, on Oct. 11 Novartis voluntarily withdrew from the market two Triaminic products aimed at infants. Other cough-medicine makers did the same.

[Advertising]
Buckley’s advertises its ‘disgusting taste’.

Novartis gets most of its sales from prescription drugs but is trying to build its over-the-counter business as prescription-drug sales slow world-wide. In the U.S., Novartis is coming out with two Buckley’s products: a cough-suppressant mixture and a chest-congestion mixture. They will compete with Johnson & Johnson‘s Tylenol cough products, Wyeth‘s Robitussin and other over-the-counter brands. Buckley’s has been available in the New York metropolitan area in limited quantities in recent years, but this is the first time it is being launched nationally in the U.S.

Buckley’s will be aimed at adults seeking “tough love,” says Mr. Rodriguez. “We’re targeting people who don’t really care about taste.” Novartis wouldn’t disclose how much it is spending on the ad campaign but says it is “significantly more” than the company has spent on other over-the-counter products.

Tony Granger, chief creative officer for Saatchi & Saatchi in New York, says the agency wanted to differentiate Buckley’s from all of the cherry- and honey-flavored syrups on the market. “It’s kind of almost a category of candy,” he says.

In a radio spot, a recorded voice on a Buckley’s hotline asks callers to hold. “If you are inquiring about your cough mixture tasting like expired milk, trash-bag leakage, a postpedicure foot bath, a state fair porta-potty, decomposing meat fat, monkey sweat, used denture soak, New Jersey, or hippie-festival runoff, please hang up. Your cough will be gone shortly.” A print ad with a picture of the Buckley’s bottle declares the product “Disgustingly Effective.”

Ads on the Internet will ask consumers to try Buckley’s and send in pictures of the awful faces they make — motivating them with the chance to win an Alaskan vacation. Novartis is also posting its television ads on MySpace and YouTube, hoping the humor of the spots will help create buzz about the brand online.

Buckley’s has long poked fun at itself on Canadian airwaves, with taglines including: “People swear by it. And at it” and “Since 1919, we’ve been leaving Canadians with a bad taste in their mouths.”

—><—

Sometimes, the counter-intuitive message is the most effective one. We’d all like to have a maximum number of positive attributes to trumpet, but the fact is, when it comes to medicine, there is a widespread perception that it is OK for something to taste awful – that attribute is somehow correlated with effectiveness. The one area where this does not work, however: children’s medicines. Adults can tolerate the bad taste with the thought that good may come of it. Little ones will just spit it back out!

 

 

The Lecture of a Lifetime, reprise (with complete video)

Last week on my Impactiviti blog, I wrote about a moving speech by Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon professor dying of pacreatic cancer, who delivered “the lecture of a lifetime.”

This story, which was featured by the Wall Street Journal and grew viral on the Internet, led to an explosion of attention and has deeply impacted many.

Today, the WSJ does a follow up story (below; site link is here, subscription may be required) about the aftermath. Also, at the bottom of this post, a link to the full video of his speech.

The Professor’s Manifesto; What it Meant to Readers

As a boy, Randy Pausch painted an elevator door, a submarine and mathematical formulas on his bedroom walls. His parents let him do it, encouraging his creativity.

Last week, Dr. Pausch, a computer-science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, told this story in a lecture to 400 students and colleagues.

“If your kids want to paint their bedrooms, as a favor to me, let ‘em do it,” he said. “Don’t worry about resale values.”

As I wrote last week, his talk was a riveting and rollicking journey through the lessons of his life. It was also his last lecture, since he has pancreatic cancer and expects to live for just a few months.

After he spoke, his only plans were to quietly spend whatever time he has left with his wife and three young children. He never imagined the whirlwind that would envelop him. As video clips of his speech spread across the Internet, thousands of people contacted him to say he had made a profound impact on their lives. Many were moved to tears by his words — and moved to action. Parents everywhere vowed to let their kids do what they’d like on their bedroom walls.

“I am going to go right home and let my daughter paint her wall the bright pink she has been desiring instead of the “resalable” vanilla I wanted,” Carol Castle of Spring Creek, Nev., wrote to me to forward to Dr. Pausch.

People wanted Dr. Pausch to know that his talk had inspired them to quit pitying themselves, or to move on from divorces, or to pay more attention to their families. One woman wrote that his words had given her the strength to leave an abusive relationship. And terminally ill people wrote that they would try to live their lives as the 46-year-old Dr. Pausch is living his. “I’m dying and I’m having fun,” he said in the lecture. “And I’m going to keep having fun every day, because there’s no other way to play it.”

For Don Frankenfeld of Rapid City, S.D., watching the full lecture was “the best hour I have spent in years.” Many echoed that sentiment.

ABC News, which featured Dr. Pausch on “Good Morning America,” named him its “Person of the Week.” Other media descended on him. And hundreds of bloggers world-wide wrote essays celebrating him as their new hero. Their headlines were effusive: “Best Lecture Ever,” “The Most Important Thing I’ve Ever Seen,” “Randy Pausch, Worth Every Second.”

In his lecture, Dr. Pausch had said, “Brick walls are there for a reason. They let us prove how badly we want things.” Scores of Web sites now feature those words. Some include photos of brick walls for emphasis. Meanwhile, rabbis and ministers shared his brick-wall metaphor in sermons this past weekend.

Some compared the lecture to Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man Alive” speech. Celina Levin, 15, of Marlton, N.J., told Dr. Pausch that her AP English class had been analyzing the Gehrig speech, and “I have a feeling that we’ll be analyzing your speech for years to come.” Already, the Naperville, Ill., Central High School speech team plans to have a student deliver the Pausch speech word for word in competition.

As Dr. Pausch’s fans emailed links of his speech to friends, some were sheepish about it. “I am a deeply cynical person who reminds people frequently not to send me those sappy feel-good emails,” wrote Mark Pfeifer, a technology project manager at a New York investment bank. “Randy Pausch’s lecture moved me deeply, and I intend to forward it on.”

In Miami, retiree Ronald Trazenfeld emailed the lecture to friends with a note to “stop complaining about bad service and shoddy merchandise.” He suggested they instead hug someone they love.

Near the end of his lecture, Dr. Pausch had talked about earning his Ph.D., and how his mother would kiddingly introduce him: “This is my son. He’s a doctor, but not the kind who helps people.”

It was a laugh line, but it led dozens of people to reassure Dr. Pausch: “You ARE the kind of doctor who helps people,” wrote Cheryl Davis of Oakland, Calif.

Dr. Pausch feels overwhelmed and moved that what started in a lecture hall with 400 people has now been experienced by millions. Still, he has retained his sense of humor. “There’s a limit to how many times you can read how great you are and what an inspiration you are,” he says, “but I’m not there yet.”

Carnegie Mellon has a plan to honor Dr. Pausch. As a techie with the heart of a performer, he was always a link between the arts and sciences on campus. A new computer-science building is being built, and a footbridge will connect it to the nearby arts building. The bridge will be named the Randy Pausch Memorial Footbridge.

“Based on your talk, we’re thinking of putting a brick wall on either end,” joked the university’s president, Jared Cohon, announcing the honor. He went on to say: “Randy, there will be generations of students and faculty who will not know you, but they will cross that bridge and see your name and they’ll ask those of us who did know you. And we will tell them.”

Dr. Pausch has asked Carnegie Mellon not to copyright his last lecture, and instead to leave it in the public domain. It will remain his legacy, and his footbridge, to the world.

(The complete 1.5 hour speech is here on Google Video)

Another Logo from the Zzzzzzz…List

I noticed a big advertisement today in the Wall Street Journal for Covidien, the medical device company recently spun off from its former Tyco Healthcare identity.

I think it was good to separate Covidien from Tyco (which had a number of unrelated businesses under its umbrella), and the name Covidien, if not all that inspired and memorable, is at least acceptable. After all, it is a difficult challenge these days coming up with new names.

But the logo and tagline left me frowning with disappointment.

covidien.jpgI believe there is a virtue in simplicity, when it comes to logo design. But this treatment is tired. Yet another uninspired takeoff on the medical Red Cross look. Yawwwwwnnn. A company in the pharmaceutical training space that I know quite well, MedSN, did something similar a while back. At least they used a few colors. The Covidien treatment, with a few variations of blue, looks like it never got beyond a Powerpoint storyboard.

And the tagline, Positive Results for Life, is yet another retread from the pharma/healthcare/biotech bargain bin. Some of the most uninspired and insipid taglines have been adopted by these companies, all vaguely promising health/life/goodness in a way that is utterly non-differentiating. I’m reminded of a phrase from A Christmas Carol, where young Ebenezer Scrooge gives a response that is “terribly safe.” That’s what these taglines are. With an emphasis on both words.

I don’t yet know who came up with this logo. Maybe, after I finish this post, I’ll look it up. But let’s take a flight of fancy here, and imagine we’re in the boardroom, as the agency gives its explanation/rationalization for this look:

“The background field of blue represents the universal desire for long life and health, tapping into the singular global aspirations that a healthcare provider such as Covidien will be a premier provider of positive results toward that end. Since the earth is mostly water, and water represents life, we encased the logo in the uplifting presence of a sea of calming ocean blue. Of course, the medical cross symbol is recognized across the universe as a positive and aspirational symbol of well-being, and now it is softened and yet heightened by being re-stylized in enriching shades of health-inducing blue, leading the thoughts and feelings of the onlooking world to pleasant deliberations of the intersection of medical devices and ongoing health. The merging of life-giving blue, the subtly blatant medical undercurrent, and modern encapsulations of individual aspirations will create the inevitable conclusion that Covidien creates positive results for life.”

And now, rewind a day into the design studio as the logo and tagline are being feverishly finished off for the next day’s presentation:

“Did you whip that thing up in Powerpoint?”

“Yeah…took me about an hour and a half. I billed 45 days of creative time for the team, however.”

“Looks like a couple of colorized Band-Aids to me.”

“Ain’t life grand? I came up with that this morning while fixing a shaving nick.”

“And did you pump something out of that funky ObviousTaglines.com website?”

“Oh, yeah – it was great! I just told it ‘healthcare’, selected a couple standard keywords, and out came Positive Results for Life. It’s a beautiful thing. And, I now have 10 others we can use for our next client.”

All right, I made all that up. I’m sure a bit more effort went into this. But I wonder…how much did this branding cost? And why is it so…undistinguished?

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