What to Expect in the Digital Health World at This Year’s CES

Apps and tech centered around healthcare and services will be a huge talking point

This year's CES will hopefully hold exciting change for the world of health apps. Getty Images
Headshot of Claire Gillis

As the world’s biggest consumer tech show boots up in Vegas, I find myself pondering a mischievous question: Will the innovations that cut through at CES 2019 be a triumph or a failure of marketing?

CES’ global outreach is every marketer’s dream. Every year the media fawns at the smorgasbord of gadgets they claim will ultimately change our lives. But how many of tomorrow’s life-changing inventions fulfill a genuine consumer need? The high failure rates of tech startups provide a sobering counterpoint to the marketing hype.

Technology for the sake of it is a failure of marketing. As Peter Drucker said, marketing’s job is to “understand the customer so well that the product fits him and sells itself.” It says much about current application of customer insight that few new technologies solve recognizable unmet needs. Has the allure of technology distracted marketers from the customer-centered fundamentals of marketing 101?

The transformative tools of tomorrow will be person-centered, not tech-led.

Technology is not a panacea, but first world problems like kale going limp should be the lower rung of our ambitions. When innovation is founded on deep customer understanding, it can transform areas that truly matter, like healthcare. With half the world unable to access essential health services, technology can change and save lives by freeing up resources, reducing health disparities and ensuring care reaches those who need it. Advances in telemedicine, remote monitoring and mobile technology are redefining healthcare delivery. The future should be bright if marketers ask the right questions and listen to the answers.

The health and wellness marketplace is one of the hottest tickets in town. Last year’s CES extravaganza showcased everything from smart swimsuits and sleep trackers to digital sunglasses, wearable health coaches and intelligent socks for diabetics. Alongside them and invariably integrated with them, mobile applications are capitalizing on consumers’ growing desire to manage self-care and chronic disease. It’s a wonderful thing, but it could be so much better.

There are currently over 300,000 digital health apps on the market with around 200 added every day. However, a high percentage struggle to demonstrate value, squandering the data they capture and failing to connect the ecosystem to empower healthy decision-making. Fundamentally, too many digital tools are built by software developers who are experts at designing beautiful solutions but know little about patients, disease, the complexities of behavior or the science of creative communications. It’s difficult to fashion valued solutions without understanding these crucial components.

Therein lies the opportunity of marketing. As communicators, customer understanding should be our signature dish. It’s within our gift to engage diverse stakeholders to craft insights that shape brands, markets and creative communications and influence interventions that can change lives. But we cannot do it on our own.

The transformative tools of tomorrow will be person-centered, not tech-led. Developing them requires co-creation that goes beyond platitude and encourages all stakeholders—patients, clinicians, payers, consumers, technologists, life sciences, communicators—to work together to identify a genuine unmet need.

Open collaboration is rare in healthcare. Too often, one of the driving forces of medical innovation, the pharmaceutical industry, is excluded from the conversation. However, if interventions are to deliver value, pharma and its partners in healthcare communications must have a seat at the table. It’s only by marrying technological know-how with a specialist understanding of disease, stakeholders and creative communications that technology’s true value will shine.

Whatever your industry, the game-changing innovations of tomorrow will be rooted in customer understanding. It may be marketing 101, but it’s our gateway to co-creating brands that make a difference.

As you navigate the maze of CES and evaluate the technology you encounter, ask yourself the fundamentals. What unmet need is it trying to solve, and is it the product of comprehensive customer insight? Is it going to change someone’s life, or is it a pole-dancing robot? The former is a triumph; the latter, at best, is an unequivocal failure to read the modern audience. Let’s not make the same mistake.

@GillisClaire Claire Gillis is international CEO of WPP Health Practice.