By Pam Didner
Marketing Strategist, Speaker and Author
Global Content Marketing
“A business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs.” Peter Drucker never explained how marketing and innovation could work together to produce financial results. David Meyer, Spok’s Director of Product Development, and Jay Miller, Creative Director of Mentormate, shared a great case study on how marketing and innovation work together at MobCon.
Yes, it was all about that pager
Spok (pronounced as Spoke), formerly known as Amcom Software, is a leading pager services provider. Pagers?! Who is using a pager in 2014? According to Meyer, police officers, doctors, nurses and select industries still use pagers, because it’s cheap, fast and reliable. A pager is small enough that it can be clipped on your belt or tossed into your purse. In addition, the signals to a pager can penetrate the thick concrete walls of an operating room or the far-end corners of a deep basement. In life-saving and urgent situations, you need a device that is reliable to reach the right people, no matter where they are. Even though it sounds so last-century, the pager is still an ideal and viable option.
Here is the reality
Yet, with the decline of pager sales in the US, from 60M units in the 90’s to less than 6M units in 2013, Spok recognized it had to CHANGE. The product development team needed to “re-imagine” pagers. They brought Meyer in and started a small product development team to design an updated version of the pager.
Re-imagining pagers: Oh, there is an app for that
Since ‘almost’ everyone has a smartphone, what about re-inventing pagers completely and making smartphones into virtual pagers? This eliminates the need for additional, single-purpose hardware and offers much greater convenience to their customers. The product team envisioned an app that acts as a virtual pager. App development is all about user interface design and software programming, which had not been an area of focus for the development team in the past. They needed not only to think differently, but also to completely modify their product design process.
Spok started to design a communications app for a team of doctors, nurses and call-centers to care for patients from check-in through check-out. It’s not an app to just send a one-way emergency beep from the call center to a doctor or a nurse. The design team envisioned this app empowering two-way collaboration within a team of medical professionals so that they can provide higher-quality care for their patients. The app would integrate the hospital’s contact list, doctor’s current locations, patient information and more. The app would notify a team of relevant players about their patients, when emergency arises. It also allows them to talk to each other about patient status in an encrypted environment that complies with the need for privacy. No longer just a virtual pager, the app is a collaboration and communications tool for doctors, nurses, call centers and relevant team members.
Don’t jolt your sales and marketing teams at the last minute
Consider this: a company had been selling ‘pagers’ for over thirty years, then the sales and marketing teams are asked to sell and market an app on a phone. The sales and marketing team needs to be re-trained and re-educated on the new product and its features. They need time to learn, adapt and energize. If Meyer waited until the product is coded to educate the sales and marketing team, it wouldn’t give the team enough time to internalize and provide feedback about the product. To avoid any surprises and accelerate time-to-market, the sales and marketing team needed to become an essential part of the product development process from the inception. Tweet It!
A deliberate process to engage the marketing team
Spok aimed to launch the app at their annual customer conference. The team, then, worked backward to create a timeline for the app development. Since the new product looked vastly different than their current product, the team created a process to update and engage relevant stakeholders at each stage of product development.
Spok got the marketing team involved in end-user research at the ‘discovery’ stage, in product feature discussions at the ‘definition’ stage and developed the messaging and content at the ‘design and develop’ stages. Marketing was no longer the last link in the long chain; it worked as an integral part of product development.
Here is a nice visual of key marketing deliverables at different product development stages:
Since this was a brand new product, it was important to get executive approval at the initial discovery stage to receive proper funding and resources. After the features were tentatively defined, the product team shared a demo with management. The marketing team’s active engagement allowed Spok to develop messaging and story framework early. Tweet It! They even had time to create a teaser campaign to communicate with their customers. Prior to the launch, marketing related content was created for on-line and off-line communications.
The company also recognized that they were transitioning from a pager company to become a software company. The marketing team worked with executives to devise new branding and rename the company. That strategic decision signaled their customers that the company was making a bold move and aimed to provide cutting-edge products and services to their customers. A new name, a new logo, a new direction and a new company!
Meyer’s key lessons:
- Innovation and marketing must work together to produce results. Tweet It!
- Educate key stakeholders during the product development stage and seek their input. Tweet It!
- Proactively engage marketing to create story and content. Tweet It!
- After the successful launch, the product team continues to tweak the app with new features suggested by end-users and other stakeholders. Pagers will continue to exist, but the company now sees an opportunity to grow too.
Relevant articles on marketing and innovation from Pam:
Marketing is Innovation’s BFF on AdAge (the BtoB section)
New is Old: What does it mean to be original?