Thinking

Hacking Healthcare

The hackathon model and its promise for pharma marketing

Hackathons have been popular ways to do rapid prototyping in the software development industry for several years.
 
The basic idea is to get a cross-functional group of participants from content experts and software developers to user experience consultants and end users all together in a large room for a significant but time-boxed period to solve a problem. Ideally, the goal is to get a working prototype in 24 to 48 hours. The methodology transforms the typical “waterfall” methodology of multiple weeks or months of development into a weekend.

This approach works because all the key stakeholders are in one room for the duration of the prototype project. This creates a clear focus on efficiency and relevance.
 
While this methodology is not new to software, it’s begun to spread beyond technology. Several healthcare organizations have embraced the weekend hackathon concept. It's become popular with universities, government entities and large hospital groups.
 
So how could pharma and pharma agencies use this approach?
 
I can think of three immediate applications that could benefit from a weekend hackathon. Let's consider multichannel marketing, exploring "beyond the pill" applications, and annual brand planning.
 

1) Multichannel Marketing

As pharma brand managers attempt to build their multichannel marketing strategy for healthcare professionals or patients, they have a challenge. There is always the long and onerous medical, legal, and regulatory (MLR) review process. Med legal review is not new - it's always been a part of marketing. But it becomes magnified when we are trying to build a broad interactive platform.
 
It can take weeks, even months, to get personalized content through the review gauntlet.
 
Consider this: a digital hackathon that brings together every stakeholder for a weekend This would include brand team members, the digital agency, internal MLR members, and end users (healthcare professionals and/or patients). Together as a team they would work through the content strategy and build a prototype. And all in a weekend.
 
With this approach, you would have real users actually weighing in on what content works for them. Is it relevant? Is it at a language level that they understand? Is it easy to comprehend? Is it easy to use? Is it meaningful?
 
At the same time, the budget stakeholders and the brand strategy people will be in the same room. The goal? Gain consensus on both the strategy and the content that they’re trying to get approved. And participating in real time will be the MLR team. They can weigh in with an opinion on what would be "approvable."
 
The outcome is consensus on creative and messaging. At the same time, there will be clarity on what will be useful and relevant to the HCP and patient customer.
 

2) Exploring “Around the Pill”

A second potential use of the hackathon is to explore patient support products and services. Called “beyond the pill” or “around the pill,” these types of offerings attempt to multiply the value of a Rx. This larger solution around a pharmaceutical product can combine services, technology and content.
 
A hackathon will get all the relevant folks in one room. These might be the product manager, customers, developers, creatives, user experience experts, and MLR (of course). Together they can brainstorm, prototype and test new ideas and concepts. It might even produce a software prototype.
 
The hackathon approach will get the team to a strategy and a set of deliverables in 24 to 48 hours. Getting to a user-centric prototype in a weekend is much more efficient than trial and error over weeks and months.
 

3) Annual Brand Planning

Finally, annual brand planning meetings may also benefit from using the hackathon approach. One of the challenges in brand planning is the multitude of agencies, some competitors, all trying to work together. Agencies are reticent to throw out new ideas for fear of losing them.
 
With the hackathon approach, you could address some of these internal competitive issues. Once the brand objectives are presented, individual agencies can break into small groups with end users and a MLR person. Periodically, the small teams can present to the larger stakeholder team at the hackathon, get feedback, and then huddle again to refine their proposals.
 
The hackathon model can redefine the process of achieving meaningful outcomes from brand planning meetings. Instead of limiting the event to the traditional agency partners, the hackathon approach brings in additional internal and external stakeholders. The end result is a vetted strategy within a very short timeframe.
 
Hacking Pharma Marketing
The hackathon model holds great promise for pharma marketing. From brand planning to multi-channel marketing to new patient services, this could breath new energy into the way pharma marketing does innovation. This model is a proven cost and time efficient way to get products to market faster, products that we know will be effective in the market.
 
Consider identifying a project in one of these three areas around which to create a pilot hackathon. It might be your best weekend in a long time...
 

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