4 Reasons Why Product Incubation Is Critical for Healthcare Marketers

Years ago, my son’s pre-school sent all the parents a book: Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner.

I was struck by the fact that the school was hosting the author as a speaker and generating discussion around innovation in the classroom. At that time, I decided to send my 7-year-old to an entrepreneurship class run by a company called 8andup. This company was all about getting children to think about the power of asking “What if?”

What a simple, important reminder. This question is what seeds new ideas, products and solutions to problems. Of course we must guide our children to be curious and to think about “What if?”. The kids worked on projects like designing their own town from scratch, collaborating to decide what buildings and resources it needed and map out how they would exist together. They had to present their vision of the town and make persuasive arguments. To witness the execution of ideas generated through their uninhibited lenses was amazing.

Inspiring Curiosity

At the same time, I was doing some research for my own work, when I came upon a case study on an independent company in Brooklyn called Breakfast NY. The people at Breakfast are “inventors” dedicated to successfully innovating products that seamlessly blend technology, design, utility and purpose. They want to ensure that they only work with likeminded clients who are as visionary as they are. And this is why awards and recognition seem to follow with whatever they create.

Breakfast NY exists in such a contrast to the New York agency world I grew up in, where clients said they wanted to buy promotional campaigns or tactics, and we always said we could create them. We agreed to parameters and signed a contract, and then went to off to develop what was expected. I began to recognize, though, that the traditional frameworks and past processes for delivering what was “requested” tended to pose philosophical, even physical barriers to new, fresh ways of addressing clients’ needs. In fact, over time, there was a widening gap between true commercial needs and the decision-making driving marketing execution.

Breakfast NY prototypes pioneering products such as the Forever21 thread machine, Instaprint events using Instagram, and the most sophisticated smart sign in the world, a sign that points you in the direction of restaurants, events, and landmarks in real time. Breakfast builds everything by hand, from scratch, in a completely integrated way, fitting products impeccably into the world for which they were created.

Breakfast NY has consistently disrupted the way marketing is done. Always solving a problem or rising to a challenge, the people who work there co-create and custom-build, have a lot of fun doing it, and then garner accolades in line. The company’s case studies serve as a remarkable example of the power of “What If?”.

Incubation Everywhere

These personal explorations just reinforce for me how critical it is in an ideal health sciences world to have employees at every level at every kind of company constantly asking the same “What if?”. It is undeniably when we are faced with the most gripping problems or challenges that we all tend to ask this question. And where does our world face more gripping problems or challenges than in the arena of human health?

On the Genentech website, there are various wonderful quotes in keeping with the company’s much lauded success in scientific innovation and sustainability.

“The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them.”
–William Lawrence Bragg

To this end, we can look at any thriving University town, Cambridge being an oft-cited example in the U.S., and find a multitude of sponsored and venture-supported incubation spaces that will resource seedling ideas and start-up biotech companies to be acquired potentially by larger stakeholders.

On a large scale, incubation is championed among big pharmaceutical industry leaders because they understand it is a must for relevance, sustainability, and ultimately survival. Consider J&J, where Janssen Labs (JLabs) supports therapeutic areas of strategic interest such as immunology, neurology, oncology and infectious diseases, as well as platform technologies and the advancement of any revolutionary science that targets an unmet medical need.

Through the J&J Innovation Center, smaller companies can tap the vast resources of the larger entity but only through demonstrating willingness to be part of a community, to communicate and not just turn inward to their own science, to embrace transparency and to help out other people next to them. Only this type of approach will result in the next generation of great, groundbreaking ideas.

Incubation is everywhere, and the healthcare marketers that partner with both commercial seedlings and giants need to be prototyping as well, building product development and new ideas generation into their business structures. Though this can be daunting in a service-based environment, from agencies and PR companies to digital and analytics firms, there are compelling reasons why it’s absolutely vital.

  1. No Business Can Stay Alive Without Adaptability

No business can stay alive without constantly changing to meet shifts in its marketplace. Look back at your company, the products or services that you offer, or how you operated five to ten years ago and compare that to what you are doing today. A lot has probably changed dramatically in many aspects of your business. And while you may not call that innovation, it is indeed.

However, this becomes complicated for most firms. A recent video posted by Harvard Business Review talks about the Success Trap (Reeves and Harnoss). At every company there’s a balance between what it can exploit based on success to date and the level of exploration taking place to cultivate new ideas for future business. These are the new ideas that keep business relevant, taking companies into the future in a meaningful way.

Having a cross-disciplinary team assigned to product incubation enhances, accelerates and optimizes the transfer of technology to products. In my world, the primary focus is on products with relevance to elevating healthcare for all.

The team assigned to a specific incubation includes researchers, developers, and multidisciplinary strategic planners. Developing prototypes and delivering frequent demonstrations is important to increasing commitment to the idea and refining success metrics.

When an issue with a new technology is identified, the technology is sent back to research and the incubation may have to be halted until researchers can address the issue. Then a new iteration of the incubation is started. All the while, the integrity of revenue streams cannot be compromised. This is an important balance to strike and when fostered appropriately and artfully, it means powerful results—strong culture, motivation, good growth, profits and sustainability.

The Success Trap looms when the balance between exploitation and exploration is upset. The company too heavily reliant on exploitation will not ultimately endure.

  1. Product Incubation Becomes Implicit in the Way a Business Works

Incubation facilitates the discipline of pinpointing important needs and elevating the smartest ideas to address them. What are the most important differentiators in a new product or service? What value can a company offer that makes it unique and marketable? And most importantly, what is the minimum functionality needed to deliver success as quickly and affordably as possible?

Look at all the new ideas and approaches to medical education, surgery, noninvasive therapies, and immersive experiences that are being studied explored and developed right now. Wearable technology alone is a kaleidoscope discovery zone.  While new fabrics, trackers and devices are being created for so many possible purposes, analytics are being refined and new studies are being conducted with existing and experimental technologies. It seems the possibilities are endless for guiding and augmenting behavior, experiences, treatments, data collection and overall scientific utility.

Product incubation cultivates honest perspective to reveal the greatest business opportunities. Sometimes early testing shows that a market doesn’t seem to want a new product. That can be tough to take but it forces a team to get past itself. The world’s most successful companies prevail by pivoting from their original strategy to adopt an unexpected one. Collecting feedback early also minimizes guesses and forces anticipation or keeping an eye out for emerging strategies that could put you to the top of your industry.

In short, product incubation within any type of company forces stakeholders to collaborate, iterate, and adjust smartly and quickly. This is truly fundamental to the idea of advancement.

  1. Keeping in Touch With “What If?”

New businesses are often started by people who are deeply dissatisfied, because they recognize a problem or need they care about, but do not have access to a product or adequate resources to address it. They have the creativity and ingenuity to solve the problem or fill the need but they aren’t part of a business culture that supports innovation. In other words, they have found themselves at a company that relies too heavily on exploitation and not enough on exploration. Many people can spot a need, but it takes a lot of drive and passion to devote oneself to coming up with a new solution to meet that need. There is a direct correlation between this very drive and passion and achieving progress.

Product incubation at companies big and small is born out of how design and utility can benefit our daily life experiences. It is the balance of collaboration, research, knowledge, imagination, skills, aesthetics, and good communication to achieve and deliver a successful product experience. And, it’s the ability to stay in touch with the possibilities generated by a “what if?” environment.

As a company grows and develops business areas with more product or service lines, more options tend to emerge. We all innovate in a corporate or business setting when there is a deep respect for curiosity and there are true strategic choices to be made.

  1. Fostering a Strong Business Culture

Inevitably, product incubation generates a business culture that yields benefits across all company interests. It influences:

  • Speed of execution
  • Fast access to business resources
  • A bolstered team environment
  • Company-wide innovative thinking and support
  • The opportunity to measure innovation to move into the future

The core activities of a company, those to be exploited, will invariably be infected by the best of this new culture. This helps the company stay alert and always search for opportunities that might otherwise be lost. A committed focus on incubation (i.e., new products and ideas) may improve corporate image and make it easier to attract and retain top talent. Combine this matchmaking with solid execution strategies and you have revenues and profits.

This isn’t just about a commitment to space for side projects and innovative ideas, but rather it is about having the vision to help entrepreneurs and early-stage ventures understand quality business planning, keeping focused on milestones and what it takes to build a great company. And on a larger scale with more established companies, it’s about inspiration, keeping things fresh, and shoring the best prospects for the future.

The Power of Exploration

Product incubation is just as important in marketing and commercialization as it is in research and development. It stokes creativity and innovation everywhere. Without these, curiosity goes latent, and business is relegated to exploitation, the kind that may produce revenue for a time but offers diminishing returns to its people, its users, its true potential, and in turn, its legacy.

About Elevate Healthcare

Elevate is the only agency specializing in helping guide healthcare challenger brands—biopharma and medical device brands that need to overcome more powerful competitors, market limitations, and internal obstacles to achieve their full potential. Based in suburban Philadelphia, Elevate was founded in 2016 by two successful former healthcare agency presidents, Lorna Weir and Frank Powers, as a new kind of agency, purpose-built to serve clients in the current challenging and dynamic healthcare marketing landscape.

Contact Information:

Frank X. Powers