Charles Benaiah, the Founder and CEO of watzan, likes to describe watzanHEALTH’s latest offering as “Pandora for medical conferences with FourSquare for check-ins.” The offering is called Zen and it will make its large-scale debut at ICAAC, the premier conference for infectious diseases specialists. The purpose of the app is to personalize the conference experience for doctors, and to make it easier to find the speakers and sessions of the most interest to them. And, of course, there are plenty of opportunities for pharma marketers to both reach and learn about physicians through this platform. Benaiah spoke with PM360 about how watzan evolved from an enhanced TV guide to a doctor’s dream tool, how pharma marketers can benefit and the power of visualizing content.
PM360: Can you start off by describing how you came up with the idea for watzan?
Charles Benaiah: Absolutely. What I found when I was watching TV is that I had a lot of choices but I couldn’t find anything to watch—you know the usual line about, “500 channels and nothing on.” But after a while, I thought, “It’s not that we don’t have the right content. We’re just lacking a way to find the stuff we want.”
But I put that idea down and left it to the side. Later, I was walking through Times Square and saw the NASDAQ MarketSite. It was a big board full of green. And about an hour later, I thought, “It would be really cool if you could make TV as easy as the NASDAQ site. If it’s a show I like, make it green. If it’s a show I don’t like, highlight it in red.” It should be that simple.
That’s what drove our thinking on watzan. If someone likes a TV show, let’s make it bigger. And if your friends are all watching it, let’s make it brighter. Instead of getting a list of shows—which is really a fancy version of a 1950s TV Guide—you actually get information conveyed with the content choices.
So how did this development of a TV app lead to watzanHEALTH and Zen?
We built this for TV, we prototyped it and we took it to focus groups. And in one of the focus groups, there was a DKNY marketing person who said, “This would be great for us.” And I’m scratching my head thinking, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a DKNY ad on TV. We’re talking about a TV application.”
She says, “You’re thinking too small.” As she explained, we were providing a solution for bad navigation—how you can easily find what you want among 500 choices. Well, DKNY has 500 products every season and has equally bad navigation. If people go to their website and can’t find a dress they like, they don’t buy anything.
This led us to create watzanRETAIL and to think about other possibilities. My background for the last decade is actually healthcare marketing. I was a partner at an investment firm called BG Media and we owned a lot of different media assets including HMP Communications, which is a pharma marketing company. I ended up running HMP and I immersed myself in healthcare marketing.
More recently, about six years ago, I created a company called Sequence and we personalized content for doctors in magazines and online. We even started our own journal called The Journal of Medicine that was entirely personalized to each doctor. That way they didn’t have to weed through 200 pages—just the 30 or 40 pages that were really of interest to them. And we realized the extraordinary opportunity to personalize an awful lot of content.
And that’s how Zen was born?
Right, we realized healthcare conferences are a big deal. Almost every doctor will attend multiple conferences a year. It’s a multibillion dollar market and there’s almost been no new innovation for that industry in a long, long time. And there is a ton of content to choose from.
I’ll use the AHA to illustrate the amount of content choice. In 2013, their program guide was 640 pages, which is a lot to digest. In 2012, it was only 50 pages. That’s a nearly a 13 times increase. So now you have to dedicate a big chunk of time just to figure out where you want to be at a particular time during the conference. But anywhere there are huge amounts of choices we can help synthesize that choice so the doctor can make an easier decision.
For example, if a cardiologist going to AHA was largely interested in hypertension, then we will make anything that addresses hypertension bigger on their screen. And similar to Foursquare, if they decide to go to a particular session, any doctor who’s connected to them through the watzan system, a LinkedIn profile, etc., will have that event show up brighter on their screens in real time. So, rather than a flat guide, this is a live, real, personal mobile application. And it’s constantly changing because the types of things that it learns about you change.
How do you begin to actually personalize the app for each doctor?
It starts with a baseline. We ask the doctor about their medical school, specialty and interests within that specialty. We also like them to log in using a LinkedIn type of account because we can further personalize their content by understanding their social network. If there’s a speaker who went to your medical school or there’s somebody you’re affiliated with at the same hospital that helps our ranking system percolate a session to the top of the stack.
Or if we know your friends are going to a session, then we can make it brighter to expose the information differently. But as doctors use the system, we learn more about what they like. If they’re going to more events on the topics they expressed interested in rather than the ones with a speaker they are familiar with, then we know that that’s probably a bigger driver for them. Our weighting system will take that into consideration and learn as you use the system.
What if you find they prefer both sessions on the topics that interest them and the ones with speakers they know? How does the system make sure one doesn’t get buried over the other?
Let’s go back to our original idea, which was exposing content choices on TV. If your favorite action adventure movie is X and your favorite comedy is Y and you sit down in front of the TV and they both score a 10 out of 10, or whatever the scoring mechanism is, which one is going to percolate to the top at that moment? We realized that you don’t need to ask that question, because once you’ve got this concept of visualizing choice, you can visualize comedies using a brightness indicator. The brighter something is, the more you’ll like a comedy. The larger something is, the more you’ll like an action adventure. The greener something is, the more you’ll like a drama.
Just by glancing at it, you can say, “Okay, I want the bright ones, I want the big ones, and I want the green ones.” And if something happens to intersect and it’s big and bright and green, well, that’s an obvious home run. But even if it’s not, you can see the way that things have been ranked on multiple dimensions simultaneously. The benefit is that even if doctors only give you a limited amount of information initially, you’re not throwing away lots of choice. Their favorite thing is not going to end up 15th on the list. It’ll still be on page one, but for now it might be a medium size, medium brightness, because we’re not sure that they’re going to like it.
But by the next time, our algorithm readjusts to their interests, and it might show up a little bit bigger, a little bit brighter and they will see it more and more prominently, so they’ll be able to make better choices.
Have you been able to pull anything that you learned from your retail version of the program that can be applied to healthcare?
Yes. One of the retailers we worked with had a “sales” section on their site. And if they put a pair of pants in this section, then it wouldn’t show up anywhere else. No matter how many times you searched through the 80 pairs of pants in their “pants” section or tried to sort by color, style, price, etc., you were not going to find it. It would only show up if you looked in “sales.” Bottom line, there was nothing obvious about the best way to navigate the content on their site to find what you needed.
We talked to a couple of pharma product managers about something similar. They’ve come to us and said, “We’ve got these portals where we try to help doctors understand a particular indication” or “We try to help consumers understand a particular disease state.” But when they get to the site, the audience is forced to guess at the way content was tagged and structured, which makes it harder to find the piece of information that is relevant to them. Just as the retailer realized how a pair of pants can get exposure more quickly to the user based on their need, I think pharma marketers will begin to adopt similar paradigms by moving away from the hierarchical menuing system into something that’s a little bit more organic. So when someone types in, “My great aunt has Alzheimer’s,” the content that would be of most interest to them bubbles to the top.
What are the opportunities for pharma marketers to get involved with Zen? Can they advertise within it?
Yes, and as you can imagine, a doctor who’s going to use this, is going to use it a lot. And every time they pop it up, we can bring up a “Brought to you by XYZ brand” type of advertising. That’s what I would call level one.
A brand can also get more specific. For instance, if AstraZeneca has a big diabetes portfolio then they can just put diabetes stuff in front of them. Even better, if the doctor is looking at a discussion on type 1 versus type 2 diabetes, then the company can provide them with the prescription use case for type 1 versus type 2. And that’s what we’re doing for a couple of brands already. One I can mention at the moment is GSK’s Tivicay. They’re going to be using Zen at ICAAC in September and we also have a couple of other ones launching this fall.
Are you doing anything else that can help pharma companies engage with physicians?
We’re working on a much bigger project called MINE: Make Information Novel and Engaging. That’s focused on understanding the way doctors are interacting with content. In a lot of ways, marketers have very little insight about what doctors are actually doing on a doctor level, what information is really interesting to them and how they’re interacting with it. Go back 15 years, there weren’t that many ways to interact with the doctor. There were live reps, journals, a little bit of online, some conferences, dinner meetings, things like that. Nowadays, you’ve got long-form content, short-form content, long-tailed content. You’ve got videos, games, applications.
You almost think about Marshall McLuhan’s quote, “the medium is the message.” Understanding how doctors want their information and what information they want is less and less known as you get more and more choice. But Zen can understand what information doctors care about, how they’re going to interact with that content and how they’re going to interact with each other. We can even track how many of their colleagues follow them if they announce which session they are going to.
A lot of the companies we’re dealing with want to understand that data almost as much as—and in some cases more—than just wanting to get some messaging across. And the MINE project is going to be fundamental in trying to get that information and distill it down so that marketers can begin to use it to make better choices.
What’s the biggest lesson you have learned so far in your development of this type of personalized platform?
The lesson we learned at Sequence: Unless you offer lots and lots of choice—I mean lots—you really cannot be personal with everybody. Say you’ve got a journal with 12 articles in it. There’s only about 100 different choices out of those 12 articles, so you need lots of choice if you’re truly going to hit an audience of 50,000 people and personalize the experience for each of them.
Ultimately, the amount of choice that drives these types of personalization engines has to be mammoth. You have to look for areas where there are lots of different options available to healthcare practitioners. That’s one of the biggest things we’ve learned—and that’s why we chose to go with something like the conference market to realize that potential.