Lessons from the auto industry: How to use mHealth to differentiate a mobile handset brand

Last week I was consulting to a mobile handset manufacturer on the opportunity to leverage mHealth to evolve and differentiate their valuable brand and very generously they’ve given me permission to share the general theme of my presentation here on my blog.

mHealth acceptance amongst mobile device manufacturers

Thankfully the audience I presented to has now fully accepted that the ability for their brand to maintain customer affinity and grow ARPU will be determined by how they evolve to integrate personal health and wellness tech and services.

This group has also all read the China Mobile mHealth report produced by Cambridge University (that I’d thoroughly recommend) so there was no need for me to waste energy labouring on about the demographic changes that anyone who reads a newspaper is well aware of (eg. the aging informed populations, rise in chronic disease, need to control healthcare spend) or the mass market mHealth opportunity.

For the talk I decided to outline the key mHealth design and marketing challenges by drawing on automobile analogies to illustrate how these challenges have already been addressed by another industry.

Why the automobile industry?

I find there are lots of lessons for mHealth to be gathered from the history of the automobile industry as its another mass market product that is chock full of innovations that happened and littered with examples of what should have happened, could have happened, needs to happen and may probably never happen. As I’ve noted before the study of these can often indicate the path of least resistance to technology adoption eg. Jaguar has decided to pass over the user experience for it’s touch screens to mobile device makers, VW group is customising it’s luxury vehicles by integrating off the shelf Apple devices (avoiding the need to develop its own in-car entertainment/navigation systems etc), etc.

Whilst the mobile industry might like to think it’s very advanced it’s still largely being sold on price (just like that Ford Model T advert above from a hundred years ago) rather than the customer value proposition:

The need to have the whole brand on side

Manufacturers of mobiles and autos have strong, highly visible brands to which customers can become very loyal. Entering Volvo and Ford into Brandtags (a crowdsourced collection indicating consumer brand sentiment) and you can see the sharp difference in customer perception and it’s a sign of the longevity that health/safety focus can give a brand:

The presence of “Safety”, “Secure” and “Sturdy” in the Volvo cloud is all to do with the consistent Health/Safety communications associated the brand as there’s obviously little/no actual difference in safety ratings between Fords and Volvo’s (Volvo having been a brand of Fords for the last decade).

Unlike the auto brands the big mobile brands attempting to position themselves as mHealth leaders are continually inconsistent in their messages and this will in my opinion continue to lead to them being disappointed with their ambitions and the results of their investments.

Vodafone provides a classic example of this eg. their $5 million investment to establish the mHealth Alliance:

Creative dedicated mHealth portal:

Engaging B2C Adverts highlighting brand strengths:

Simplistic animated future scenario building exercises (which I’ve found is a sure fire way to alienate healthcare professionals):

Actual customer experience (this is a picture taken by me of the native Vodafone mobile web homepage as seen on a patients smartphone – the patient was a 65 year old married lady):

At this stage I highlighted several of the major issues that are needlessly developing because of this inconsistent approach eg. Orange/FT Group for example has resigned from ambitious mHealth plans (“mHealth will be generating €500 million for us by 2010”) before attempting to hush up reports of major patient safety failures and finally concluding prematurely (in my opinion) that “customers didn’t value” their brand “when associated with a Healthcare offering”.

50 years making things safer

The history of seatbelts shed some fascinating insights into the need for regulation and legislation while also highlighting the opportunity for brands who understand the marketing opportunity to leverage this to differentiate themselves and become market leaders.

As we’re seeing today with DORO (the worlds best senior mobile device maker) the Swedish market continues to be the natural home to such innovation. Back in 1958 Saab was the first car maker to make seat belts standard and this was followed by Volvo when they introduced 3 point belts as standard in 1959, similarly today we can see Doro focusing on the needs of seniors (big buttons, clear sound, high contrast screens, physical shortcut keys eg SOS button, etc), launching cameras on seniorphones, buying into the home health hub market, etc, etc.

Adoption took decades and legislation (making wearing compulsory) only started in the 70’s and has even developed over the last few years following the “seat belt syndrome” associated with the basic lap belts auto manufacturers had been fitting as a compromise for rear seat passengers.

Todays leading luxury vehicles now boast a list of safety specifications that are embedded throughout the vehicle design and now extends to a time well before any impact with technology embedded throughout the tyres, active braking, active suspension and traction control systems right through to the auto closure of windows, repositioning of electric seats, pretensioning of the seatbelts and airbag/curtain deployments.

Mobile has got to a similar stage in that they are now considered safe. Most people aren’t overly concerned about the risks of EMF, you can now get healthcare content on the mobile web, you can call emergency services, your phone will make a call to emergency services even if you haven’t got a SIM card in it, your phone will automatically roam to another network to connect an emergency services call (eg. if out of home network coverage), your mobile will share it’s approximate address when you can emergency services, you can video consult with informed Doctors, etc, etc…

Hit or Miss marketing challenge of Health sensors

Just as we typically see with promising mHealth technologies (eg. the M2M home monitor that has dual appeal for security and health monitoring applications) there is often multiple different benefits of health/monitoring technologies and this provides a challenging range of choices when it comes to how to market the product.

An interior heartbeat sensor technology is something that the auto manufacturers have struggled with for some time. Initially it was thought that it would be a positive safety feature for parents of young children who might inadvertently leave their child in the car (a horrifically tragic amnesia associated problem thought to be increasingly occurring due to children being secured into rearward facing, rear seat mounted child seats).

But marketing and selling this feature introduces several challenging issues eg. is it a standard fit or an additional cost option? If standard why fit something that customers aren’t prepared to pay for and that in all likelihood they’ll never use? If an additional cost option how are you going to get the customer to tick that box? Do sales people really want to try explaining that in a car showroom to a customer about to part with $50,000? “Do I look like the type of parent who would abandon my child in a car? What type of wretched people buy these cars???”

Of course a heart beat sensor could also be used for security purposes eg. sending you a warning if someone was hiding in your car waiting to attack you. But then you get into the murky waters of disturbing commercials like this one:

Rather than thinking what an useful safety feature I can’t see how any normal person wouldn’t just conclude that this car is fitted with an inadequate alarm before questioning if the feature is of any benefit at all (what’s stopping the guy from just jumping on you in the empty car park – he has after all already supposedly managed to break into and secure himself inside your expensive brand new luxury car).

So how do you market and sell prevention?

Moving from selling systems designed to help if you’re involved in an accident to systems designed to prevent you getting into one in the first place isn’t straightforward.

The key lessons are that some will expect it, not everyone will get it, even fewer will buy it, when they do they’ll want to be buying it from a brand that they know gets it. But the whole process of commercialization benefits from evolution and this all starts when we introduce basic things that can directly help when we’re in trouble.

Thankfully the history of auto safety initiatives gives plenty of food for thought on these matters eg. pre-70’s we saw the basic stuff being introduced eg. laminated windscreens, safety belts, airbags, crumple zones, the 70’s saw basic safety measures introduced eg. seat belt reminders, rear facing child safety seats, childproof locks on rear doors, impact absorbing steering column, Child safety booster cushion, the 80’s saw advances eg. side impact protection, automatic height adjusting safety belt, ABS, the 90’s we saw it all being branded and become key to sale success of a wider range of vehicles eg. ROPS (Roll Over Protection System), WHIPS (Whiplash Protection System), IC (Inflatable Curtain), and the 00’s saw prevention eg. BLIS (Blind Spot Information System), CWBS (Collision Warning with Brake Support), DAC (Driver Alert Control), City Safety (Automatically stop car at low speeds if obstruction detected), Pedestrian Detection with auto brake being introduced.

As the sickcare industry continues to struggle to find a successful business model for preventative efforts I think it’s leaving a massive untapped market need in which mobile industry innovation will be welcomed.

In the next part of my talk I discussed what it would take for this particular mobile brand to establish itself as another Volvo with an outline of how informed patients can be increasingly empowered by mobile services and the way I think this mobile device brand could communicate this effectively within their existing strategic plans.

To help make the point I played several videos of preventative technology sales strategies that highlighted the importance of good storytelling and being a open and honest leader in a world where communities dominate brands.

To give you the general idea one of these videos was a commercial featuring Google+ boss, Vic Gundotra, communicating the story that sells the optional collision avoidance systems that are being introduced across the Merecedes-Benz range:

Whilst I don’t think it’s as bad as the Volvo ad (although it is a little bit rich to be suggesting that the completely innocent family in the vehicle in front owes gratitude to Mercedes Benz engineers because the driver of the out of control 2.3 tonne $140k car behind him didn’t rear end him in normal traffic conditions) the video did a great job of opening up the group to some of the challenging story telling that’s going to be required to sell something that’s not supposed to happen…

Opportunity analysis

Following the morning presentations the afternoon was spent with a team discussing strategic opportunities for the brand and I got some great insights into the fears and challenges device makers are presented with. A lot of these seem to relate to the important mobile operator customer relationships that a device maker has and it’s quite clear to me that although SIMLess smartphones are going to offer incredible new opportunities to innovate the quickest route to mHealth success will be found by working tightly with mobile operators who also understand the fundamental need for collaborative efforts.

About David Doherty

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3 Responses to Lessons from the auto industry: How to use mHealth to differentiate a mobile handset brand

  1. Pingback: Any mHealth lessons from the worlds fastest depreciating new car? « mHealth Insight: the blog of 3G Doctor

  2. Pingback: Rock Health looking to the car for the future of Connected Health « mHealth Insight: the blog of 3G Doctor

  3. Pingback: Neil Versal: Rewards for watching TV vs rewards for healthy behavior « mHealth Insight: the blog of 3G Doctor

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