Start a conversation about Google Glass in a room filled with people and you are sure to get a plethora of responses. Words you may hear include interesting, awesome, innovative, dumb, ridiculous (in a good way), ridiculous (in a bad way), expensive, useless, useful, revolutionary, DOA. To be fair, this is probably not different from any of the recent technological advances we have seen over the past few years (smartphones, tablets, etc.) or even the last century (televisions, computers, etc.). But there is a lot of hype surrounding Google Glass with little idea of how it will be accepted. How should marketers approach a product that could either completely change the way we view the world on an everyday basis or just crash and burn in a few months?

First, let’s take a step back for anyone who is unfamiliar with Google Glass. For those uninitiated, click here to experience a first-hand view of the world through Google Glass. Basically, it presents a hands-free (and potentially 24/7) augmented reality view of the world. Yes, many of those features are available on your smartphone, but in order to see them you have to hold your phone out in front of you as you walk (which may not be the safest way to travel). But with Google Glass you can get instant navigation, reminders, and a hands-free camera and video-recorder all right in front of you and controlled by the sound of your voice. This certainly opens up a world of possibilities, especially for marketers. However, for now, Google does not have any specific plans for how to integrate marketing.

“What we’re focused on today is making the hardware available and providing ways for developers to create really useful applications for consumers,” says a Google spokesperson. “That’s what’s great about our Explorer program—people will be able to determine what the many compelling use cases are for this kind of technology.”

But, with their Explorer program (aka, beta testing) in full swing it has not stopped others from speculating on uses for the device. Just take a look at this video to see how some cynics, or perhaps realists, are already imagining what Google Glass will look like after marketers get their hands on it. Whether that discouraged you or inspired you, there is no denying there is potential in this channel.

“Google Glass is for the eyes what stereo headphones are for the ears,” says Craig DeLarge, U.S. Leader, Multichannel Marketing & Customer Business Line Support at Merck. “It will be revolutionary for healthcare practitioners and highly engaged health enthusiasts, especially once it is past the initial hump of the ‘hype curve.’ I see it as a great new home for apps and it will take augmented reality use to the next level of convenient application. Marketers: ignore at your own peril. But understand this is not your father’s new advertising channel—it’s all about service, not advertising.”

Many marketers agree with DeLarge. It is not about forcing pop-up ads onto people as they walk by a store, but providing them with a valuable service. A few marketers were willing to speculate on exactly what those services could be.

The Enhanced Patient’s Point of View

We are already living in the world of the empowered patient, but Google Glass could take that a step further.

“Imagine looking at your physician, or a directory of physicians, and having his/her ‘score’ from Healthgrades and Vitals appear on your glasses to better inform your choice,” says R.J. Lewis, President and CEO of eHealthcare Solutions. “Imagine looking at your prescription bottle, and having a video reminder of when to take the medication, should it be taken with food, milk or just water? Imagine looking at two medications and being warned that you should not take them together due to a possible drug interaction. Imagine reading this article and being presented with articles of a similar nature by other authors, all other articles I’ve written, my LinkedIn profile, and a means to contact me. The possibilities for saving lives, impacting care and improving our personal lives are endless with augmented reality.”

Ben Plomion, VP Marketing & Partnerships at Chango also sees the opportunity for increased patient safety thanks to the device’s ability to visually display health and allergy warnings on harmful or allergenic products, such as Surgeon’s General Warnings or Nutrition Facts.

“This could be done through augmented reality product recognition,” Plomion explains, “and be much more effective than regular warnings or nutrition labels because the label could be tailored to users based on what information they consent to share with their medical provider.”

There are even some applications that would allow Google Glass to be used as a medical device.

“It’s not hard to imagine an Alzheimer’s patient or a visually impaired person getting directions around their town, or even their home,” says Kurt Mueller, Chief Science and Digital Officer at Roska Healthcare Advertising. “Or identifying people and places just by asking the Glass for information.”

There is also an added bonus if Google Glass can be classified as a medical device—price reduction.

“The [reported] $1,500 price tag is obviously a challenge, but it’s only a matter of time before competition and innovation drive that cost down,” says Mueller. “And if Glass is classified as a medical device and/or diagnostic tool, then insurance coverage and business tax deductions may put it more within reach of a large audience.”

A New Look for Physicians

Patients are not the only target of healthcare marketers who could enjoy some new benefits by sporting these advanced glasses.

“Imagine a physician examining a patient and effortlessly recording what he/she sees and hears, then sharing that with relevant specialists or receiving guidance on diagnosis and treatment options,” says Mueller. “Pharma should be driving these development efforts. Consumers and physicians are more responsive when they feel like they’re part of a larger story centered on the patient’s care, and Google Glass makes that experience more possible than ever.”

Meanwhile, Jen Fuhrman-Kestler, Senior Manager at GolinHarris, sees three key attributes of Google Glass that healthcare providers could find useful and how marketers could take advantage of those uses:

  • Google Glass is hands-free. Being able to physically examine a patient with access to their EHR or prescribing information would enable an HCP to seamlessly move between accessing information and interacting with the patient. Marketers can integrate highly targeted product information or advertisements that appear at the right moment.
  • Google Glass can improve bedside manner. Conversations had between a patient and a physician on a laptop or iPad mean a lack of eye contact. Many patients feel a lack of connection as their doctor keeps his or her head down. The simple act of being able to have a face-to-face conversation can increase a patient’s overall medical office visit and trust in his or her provider. For marketers, finding the right opportunities to participate in those face-to-face conversations through Google Glass, rather than disrupt them, will require a thoughtful and patient-centric approach.
  • Google Glass will transform boring MOA videos. An MOA video is a helpful marketing tool, but they can be dry. Developing an augmented reality experience to demonstrate MOA will make the educational experience exciting, therefore, more memorable.

Brendan Gallagher, SVP, Emerging Technology & Channels at Digitas Health has heard from one beta-testing doctor who sees great potential in the product, including the possibility to make his rounds easier, create the ability to collaborate with colleagues in real-time, and perhaps eventually replace the stethoscope with a cardio app built onto Glass. He also thinks the device could have use in surgery and emergency medicine as well—with procedure tracking and hands-free access to information in times-sensitive situations.

“Marketers shouldn’t wait around for Glass to start thinking about augmented healthcare experiences,” says Gallagher. “The best thing a healthcare marketer can do now is to think about how wearable technologies will change healthcare itself and what marketing’s role in that change will be. Don’t think advertising. Think about helping people make more confident healthcare decisions.”

A Beta-Testing Healthcare Marketer

Michele Perras, VP Strategy at Klick Health was lucky enough to have been invited into the #IfIHadGlass Explorer program as a Glass beta tester. The company’s goal in participating in the program was to investigate and better understand the patient experience.

“After decades of ‘Funny Hat’ Augmented Reality, many of which have successfully solved tactical problems in closed systems, Google may have created the wedge that opens the door to more mainstream augmented experiences,” explains Perras. “The real opportunity here is the integration with Google’s vast network of products, services and infrastructure. Their set of APIs and SDK enable multiple third parties to access and build upon the Glass framework. Through a healthcare lens, there are a multitude of tactical services that will be forthcoming, including reminders, location services, personal tracking and monitoring, or caregiver and social connectivity, and this is only the start. Glass also presents interesting challenges regarding privacy and compliance management.”

Perras continues: “The technology itself is an interstitial. While it has definitely made an impact on the public’s consciousness, its form will continue to iterate into newer, more diversified hardware products as behaviors change and adapt to new interfaces. As it stands, Glass offers Google, partners and users a wealth of opportunities to experiment, evaluate and drive the future of digital health.

What Should Marketers Do?

Not everyone is so gung ho about Google Glass.

“I classify Google Glass under the banner of BHAG (Big, Hairy Audacious Goal),” says Jim Lefevere, Director, Global Digital Marketing at Roche Diagnostics. “It is a project that casts a guiding vision for them. I think they are doing it to prove that they can—and not necessarily for the commercial aspects of the product. It’s very cool and proves that the movie Minority Report was prescient in many ways; but I think it will appeal to .50% of the population and won’t have a significant commercial impact on pharma/diagnostics for some time. I think it will take upcoming generations (Millennials and Gen Z) to drive widespread adoption of this type of technology.”

(For the record, Lefevere instead recommends that people pay attention to Google Fiber. “That will be disruptive,” he says. “They will be the utility company (bandwidth provider), the content provider and advertiser in one.”)

Gallagher also doesn’t see healthcare marketers putting big dollars into Google Glass.

“The implications for marketers, at least at first, won’t vary greatly from the marketing behaviors associated with smartphones,” says Gallagher. “Considering the chasm between ad dollars being spent on mobile and actual mobile device use, it’s safe to assume that Glass won’t disrupt ad spending for quite some time.”

However, the key, as always, is to pay close attention to your target audience.

“An important consideration for marketers will be weighing the excitement of a ‘wow factor’ against the actual number of HCPs using Google Glass,” explains Fuhrman-Kestler. “Google Glass’s availability will not change healthcare marketing overnight, but as more and more HCPs and patients decide whether or not it is worth the investment, innovative marketers will no doubt develop new and exciting ways to embrace this new technology.”

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