#W2OSXSW Recap: 2019 Partner Programming

Another year at South by Southwest (SXSW) has gone by, and so too has another year of rich content produced by the team at W2O. Having attended W2O’s first SXSW activities back in 2010, it is incredible to see the growth in interest for the events that we organize. On that score, for the second consecutive year W2O has been an official partner of SXSW and offered up content across a wide variety of topics for all attendees to experience. Last year’s sessions were innovative, inspiring and intellectually stimulating. This year delivered those three things and more.

When you have five different sessions it can be hard to identify a few common themes, but this year’s sessions delivered some broader takeaways. First, if it weren’t clear before SXSW, technology is fundamentally disrupting health care. It’s no longer possible to dismiss the Google’s, Facebook’s and Amazon’s anymore. They are fundamentally changing the health care landscape. Second, an undercurrent of both of our events this year was data. Whether it be the more proactive use, the collection of or the protection of data, it was on everyone’s minds. Lastly, there is almost universal belief that our health care system is fractured and in need of reform. There’s almost no doubt that this will be a huge topic of discussion in the 2020 Presidential election in the United States, but the debate is happening all over the country, including at SXSW.

With those macro takeaways in mind we wanted to share some specific takeaways from each of the sessions on Tuesday.

How Big Brands are Improving America’s Health


Dan Childs, Director of US External Communications, Bayer

Larry Dobrow, Senior Editor, Medical Marketing & Media

Heidemarie Schnell, Head of Marketing, Spotlyte

Dawn Laguens, Expert-In-Residence, IDEO

From the very first session of the day you could see that there was going to be significant discussion throughout the day on the intersection of technology and health care, and the need for change system-wide. Dan, Larry, Heidemarie and Dawn spent a significant amount of time talking about three key themes. First, how do large health care brands engage digitally in a way that is not going to be intrusive for patients? The panel universally felt that sometimes the industry over-indexes on trying to get stakeholders to speak like them, instead of organically engaging and letting the conversation go where it will. Second, the panel universally felt that every health care company needs to start thinking like a technology company. Whether it be leveraging consumer insights like a technology brand might, or hiring technologists to be on the team, the group thought that health care companies need to evolve to be more like some of the technology giants. Lastly, health care brands need to embrace a culture of testing, learning and activating with their marketing programs. The first session set the tone for a series of great content throughout the day.

Marketing in an Industry Where Change is the Norm


David Kirkpatrick, Founder & Editor-in-Chief, Techonomy

Lynne Stockstad, Chief Marketing Officer, Optum

If you don’t know Lynne Stockstad, Chief Marketing Officer for Optum, you need to run, don’t walk, to learn more about her. After a long career at Microsoft (noticing the technology theme yet?), Lynne joined Optum about four years ago to continue driving its aspiration to improve experiences and outcomes for everyone they service, while reducing the total cost of care. The discussion between David and Lynne covered many topics, including advice for marketers, how the health care landscape is changing and where Optum was focusing over the coming months and years. There were a couple of very interesting things that I took away from this session. The first is the role of a Chief Marketing Officer within health care brands, and the relationships they have with the CTO/CIO. The role of CMO within health care brands is still relatively new, but with the consumerization/digitization of health, the role is becoming more popular. The addition of a CMO leads to the inevitable question of how that person interacts with other key communications and technology leaders across the company. Lynne talked about her partnership with her CTO/CIO, and how critical it is to scale things like the marketing technology stack and pushing technology into other parts of the business. Additionally, Lynne talked about the need to continually experiment and learn within the organization. She shared that Optum recently formed Optum Ventures, a $600m fund to service health care startups. The need to constantly iterate, try new things, and investing in technology that could become critical in the future is paramount.

EQ in the ER: Building Empathy Through XR


Anita Bose, Chief Development Officer, W2O

Rasu Shrestha MD MBA, Chief Strategy Officer & EVP, Atrium Health

Stephen Ibaraki, Chairman & General Partner, Redds Capital VC Fund

One of the things I love most about SXSW is that there’s always at least one panel that pushes the boundaries of what is possible today. This was that panel this year. Anita, Rasu, Stephen did an excellent job exploring the interplay between clinicians using technology to treat patients and the need for empathy. Technology, according to Dr. Shrestha, is a critical part of the treatment process, but he argued throughout the panel that the industry has been blindly embracing digital as opposed to using it to augment the truly humanistic aspects of care. It was his opinion that technology has actually created an even bigger barrier between health care professionals and patients.

On the flip side, Stephen Ibaraki shared several statistics that show we need to embrace technology even further, including:

  • Adoption of machine learning will reach 80% in the next three years
  • Adoption of wearable technology will reach 73% in the next three years
  • Adoption of blockchain and internet of things technology will reach 67% in that same time span
  • Adoption of biotechnology will reach 87% in the next three years.
  • XR, as defined by the combination of mixed reality, augmented reality and virtual reality is going to be a $210 billion industry in three years.

Stephen shared several other statistics throughout the session that were mind blowing. Suffice it to say, technology is here to stay, and we need to embrace it. 

Insights to Actions: Analytics-Powered Marketing 


Kevin Johnson, President, W2O marketeching

Julissa Viana, Senior Director of Global Social Media, Celgene

Mark Stouse, CEO, Proof Analytics

Bethany Hale, Head of Marketing, Cedar Inc. 

The penultimate panel of the day featured Kevin Johnson from W2O, Julissa Viana from Celgene, Mark Stouse from Proof and Bethany Hale from Cedar. Another fantastic benefit of SXSW is having the opportunity to hear from brands about how they are leveraging digital properties. All three of the panelists had really interesting takeaways, and so I figured I would share a few big nuggets from each person’s comments

Julissa’s comments:

  • It has never been more critical for us, as marketers, to utilize data. Social listening can be a critical data source, but we need to triangulate multiple data points as much as possible.
  • Social media can be an effective channel for all sorts of objectives, it’s about testing and learning.
  • Measurement is an important part of the job, but we need to be diligent about looking at the quantitative and qualitative performance of our campaigns.
  • We need to be open to experimentation. For example, it would be interesting to look at purchasing unusual data sets like those from Spotify and Pandora to truly understand our audiences’ interests.

Mark’s comments:

  • Mark echoed some of Julissa’s comments about triangulating data sources. It isn’t enough to rely only on one set of data when evaluating a business problem.
  • Our analytics work needs to be anchored in the needs of the business and the customers that we serve
  • Audience data of all sorts is untapped. We need to be looking at more audience data and not less.

Bethany’s comments:

  • One of my favorite comments of the entire day came during Bethany’s talk. She said it was important for brands to leverage internal data FIRST, before buying external data sets. It’s entirely possible that your organization will have what you need to address the business question at hand.
  • Bethany also shared the critical feedback that use cases are critical before launching into an analytics project. If you don’t know what you are trying to achieve, it’s hard to figure out a game plan to get there.
  • One of the questions the panelists received was centered around untapped data sets. The one that Bethany highlighted, which is one we at W2O agree with, is call center data. Call center data is an excellent repository of qualitative data.

Marketing’s Role in the Rise of Health Activism


Aaron Strout, Chief Marketing Officer, W2O

Mary Michael, VP Stakeholder Management & Patient Advocacy, Otsuka Pharmaceutical

Alexis Denny, Director of Public Affairs, PKD

Amber Tresca, Founder, About IBD 

The last session of the day was an excellent discussion on how we, as a health care industry, can do a better job of putting the patient more at the center of the experience. Each of the panelists came at this question from entirely different angles, which made it all the more compelling. A few of the more interesting takeaways included:

  • Mary Michael shared that pharmaceutical companies need a senior voice dedicated to patient advocacy. Without that senior voice, it’s hard for the organization to take this initiative seriously.
  • Alexis Denny, coming at this from the advocacy group angle, said that there is interest in working closely with pharmaceutical companies to improve the experience for patients, but trust is critical.
  • There was an undercurrent on this panel as well about the usage of data. As a patient, Amber Tresca noted that she is open to giving her data if she can see the outcomes from aggregating her data with those of other patients. Transparency is key.
  • One of my favorite quotes from the entire day came from Mary Michael. She said, “there is a big difference between listening and hearing. We do a lot of listening to patient conversations, but when we have an opportunity to interact directly with a patient, we need to make sure we hear them.”
  • Lastly, Mary shared that it’s selfish for organizations to hold onto their data and not proactively sharing it if asked. We can all be better by leveraging the collective intelligence that we have on the patient experience.

This was my tenth SXSW, and it gets better every year thanks in no small part due to the panelists who bring their smarts to the interactive community. This year’s trends centered around technology and how it was disrupting health care, the usage of data and the importance of continual experimentation. I suspect we’ll see similar trends at SXSW 2020, but half the fun is showing up and seeing what new experiences are brought to the table. See you next year, Austin!

Chuck Hemann
Chuck Hemann

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