6 Health-related Themes From CES

By Anna Gaudio, Experience Strategy

6 Health-related Themes From CES

Once a year, as resolutions are made and holiday celebrations come to a close, the greatest imaginations collide at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) to show off their technology-centric solutions and make a case for their claim to innovation. Here, we have a glimpse at the not-so-distant reality that promises to change and challenge the way we perceive our lives in the future.

Perhaps you’re thinking that this mentality of futurism–of rapid, imperfect prototyping and iteration–stands in stark contrast to the backdrop of the health industry. The landscape in which we’ve operated for decades has proven slow to evolve and hesitant to embrace change. But if we’ve learned one thing in the past decade, it’s that only the fearless, relentless pursuit of improvement will survive the ever-changing tides of technology advancement and consumer behavior. So, in our quest to build a better world for our customers and deliver benchmark-setting health experiences, we see great hope in 6 resolute trends that were both shouted and whispered in the CES halls.

Power in Partnerships

The adage “teamwork makes the dream work” has become a platitude often shared in a manner of jest or oversimplification of a group effort. But team sports and Will Ferrell comedies aside, this in-tandem way of working has created a world of efficiency in which brand strengths build the ultimate complementary, meaningful experiences.

One of our favorite partnerships came from an unexpected source. We don’t traditionally think of airlines being at the forefront of technology solutions. But Delta, in partnership with Lyft, is rethinking the flight experience. From data sharing that saves customers time and headaches, to effortless baggage claim and beyond-flight entertainment, this partnership celebrates the best of old and new mobility companies.

Other partnerships that inspired us include the venture funds that both AARP and Bosch established to elevate and encourage startup ideation. Their thoughtful and strategic alignment with digital-native companies makes innovation more accessible and sustainable for their companies, and communicates a dedication to solving customer needs (at last, we see “customer-centricity” become more than a buzzword).

And last, we saw partnerships between companies such as Philips and Delta Dental, which provide added value to customers who opt to share their oral care regimens with Delta Dental, which is then able to optimize their own care delivery with personalized offerings.

The End of a Wellness Vertical

2020 is the year of blurred lines. Two forces are shifting the owners of the “health” category, once solely owned by healthcare providers and therapy manufacturers. First, traditionally non-health companies are claiming “wellness” as a backbone to their brand offering, whether physical, mental, financial, or social wellness. Second, the age of the “quantified self” puts more power in the hands of consumers and changes the assumed role of the healthcare provider.

For instance, we saw IBM’s continued effort to apply their approach to blockchain to ensure a more transparent, secure supply chain process, applicable to everything from fruits and vegetables to complex biologic therapies. We saw brands such as Haier build a sustainable kitchen for the health of our planet and our bodies. And we saw Toyota’s plan to break ground on an autonomous city at the base of Mount Fuji in 2021, where the sustainable mandates of the future come to bear.

As cross-industry companies reach for a piece of the health pie, this could represent a terrifying threat to established health and wellness brands, or an unmistakable opportunity to break poor habits and play a critical role in setting new, better standards of healthcare experiences. When paired with the truth of partnership power, potential connections begin to paint a future where blurred lines construct more clarity than silos ever could.

Meaningful Robots

Robots have become a staple of CES, with visions of The Terminator and The Jetsons dancing in our collective expectations. While a ping pong-playing mechanical arm and a Charmin toilet paper-delivering robot captured attention, we saw a few robotic revolutions that are inherently born from customer need and exhibit the applicability of robotics for good.

LIKU is the most precious of all the hardware, with the power to move, observe, and express feelings autonomously. It can interact with humans in a near-human manner and learns more as it engages with people. Similarly, PECOLA is able to identify and analyze living conditions, physiological and psychological variables, and employ a video-based fall detection technology. Imagine the possibilities for elder care, or helping individuals who struggle with mental illness or loneliness.

Other robots we love include BrainCo’s prosthetic hand that more closely mirrors natural movement by integrating with the brain’s neural network, and Genkicam for smarter baby monitoring that provides emotional and physical feedback to caregivers in real time.

The Sixth Sense

As technology is becoming more human, it’s also allowing us to better partake in the human experience. Its sophistication is augmenting, replacing, and empowering our sensory experiences. Orcam, for instance, has created an attachment for glasses that can read and provide audio to the visually impaired in a non-invasive, discreet manner. Similarly, their new AI-powered camera can connect to a wearer’s hearing aids and, based on the focus of the individual, both control background noise and improve the sound quality of the desired audio source.

We also saw Weart digitize the sense of touch among remote individuals with a wearable ring that creates sensory experiences based on what is viewed on a screen. And, of course, Bhaptics continues to create full-body sensory aids that can be used in everything from gaming to medical education.

Shared sensory experiences are necessary for shared emotional and physical meaning, and we can’t assume that we all experience equally. So when building your next brand plan, think about how you can use tech-enabled sensory experiences to level the playing field and build a shared meaning context for your brand to live more effectively.

From Prediction to Prevention

We’re knee deep in data. With a smartphone, and give or take 20 other personal tracking devices, users can track health data to flag potential issues or inform actions. But the future of this data promises to transition from prediction to proactivity and prevention. In the coming months and years, the information personal data tracking devices gather will automatically adapt and adjust a user’s behavior.

Some early innovations include DNANudge, which applies an individual’s DNA to help make smarter dietary decisions in real-time. Or the smart belt, Welt, for those who are prone to fall, which can gather movement data and identify patterns and signals, ultimately preventing falls. Finally, VoxxLife has developed socks and insoles with neuroreceptors on the bottom of the feet that will prompt simulation for pain relief and improved mobility. Early studies show application to anxiety, depression, as well as non-study indicators in balance and coordination.

When we consider not just the disease states of our brands, but the patients who experience them and other comorbid conditions, our focus must be on capturing only the data that influences health, and applying that data to affect care.

The Need for Joy

For years, we’ve referenced customer journeys in an effort to remove friction, address pain points, or meet unmet needs. But this mindset has always been about removing something without replacing it with something else. This just leaves us with empty experiences.

Multiple brands are beginning to take on this emptiness and strike a balance between service-oriented initiatives that aim to produce time well-saved, and experience-oriented initiatives that aim to end with a sense of time well spent.

Some companies we see doing this include Delta, which is using facial recognition software and Clear technology to aid in the check-in and security process. Their hope is to create more personalized travel experiences, and even include surprise-and-delight tactics that fill the void of most travelers’ woes. We’ve also seen companies such as Withings take steps to remove the feedback loop barrier of consumer healthcare data sharing with providers. And, of course, there are multiple pharmacy platforms that have alleviated consumer burden–both logistically and psychologically–and replaced it with security, such as Capsule, Roman, and Nurx.

So in your next tactical planning session, consider the ways in which you can partner with other like-minded companies to break down industry walls and better service customers. Be bold and seek to turn robotics or sensory experiences into meaningful brand engagements, or think about how your brand can not just subtract or predict issues, but insert joy.

A Year of No Fear—What I Learned in My First Year in Advertising

“You have no interest in health, that’s exactly why you should be here.” That’s what I was told on the first day of my internship, which was also my first day working at an advertising agency. Ever. And I’ve thought about that every day since.

As I reflect on this past year of working in advertising, there are some important lessons that stand out. They all came out of one thing. Fear. Fear of not knowing what I was doing, fear I wasn’t good enough, fear I made the wrong choice. I know that fear can be restricting, but I actually think that when channeled the right way, it can produce amazing results. And honestly, if you’re not a little scared, that’s probably a bad sign. This is what I learned while standing up to the fear.

Keep an Open Mind

It took me only about a week to learn that healthcare advertising is definitely not boring—and not in any way settling for less. I’ve always been taught to look for a career that constantly makes me feel challenged. That’s how I’ve felt working this past year, and along the way I’ve learned it takes courage to let yourself be challenged, to channel that fear or uncertainty, and use it to produce great work in the end.

When I started at the agency, I asked almost everyone I met, “Why health?” I have no special interest in science (what I figured would be the common connection), and I’ve never really understood medical terms easily, so why should I try it out? The answer that stuck with me the most was the simplest—“That’s exactly why you should be here, because you never thought you would.” It’s that different kind of thinking that’s going to change the work that’s being produced, and that’s the kind of work that is going to make a difference—not only in the industry, but ultimately in people’s lives.

Never Lose Your Imagination

Starting out in advertising felt intimidating, especially when all I had to compare it to was Mad Men. But I think the excitement of realizing that what you studied and worked towards starts to pay off drives the best work. It makes me think of being younger, when imagination had no limits, when nothing was too ridiculous or unrealistic. I try to bring that to my work—and keep remembering that I never want the excitement I feel for this work to fade. It’s easier said than done, of course—too easy to be consumed by other things and lose sight of the big picture. But I think becoming more self-aware when you’re holding yourself back is the way to channel the five-year-old you.

Make Complacency Your Enemy

The more time we spend in the same place, the more things become routine and passion fades away. The tricky thing is, it doesn’t happen all at once but, before you know it, the thing that excited you just doesn’t have the same effect any more.

Throughout the year, I learned this firsthand. People would hear my excitement about being in the working world, doing what I’d always set out to do, and they’d say “Oh, the spirit of youth,” or “Fresh eyes, so optimistic.” While there have been plenty of days the past year where I’ve been stressed or frustrated, when my “youthful” excitement was fading away, and I thought, how amazing it would be if everyone treated each day like the first day, in terms of being ready for anything, and even feeling a little scared. Every day I’m still learning something new, whether about process, a specific brand, or new ways to think and write.

I think that approaching it with the same type of fresh excitement is what drives great work. When we get a new project or direction, it’s easy and almost second nature to think “How quickly can we do this?” or “This is routine,” but when you find yourself going down that path, take a second. Look at it again, with fresh eyes, as if you’ve never done this before. I feel that even the most experienced people can benefit from finding new ways to approach projects and generate novel ideas.

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

This brings me to one last, equally important lesson I’ve learned: Never stop asking questions. That one was easy for me at first, because it was the key to getting anywhere. But I’ve since learned it’s important to make yourself ask questions, even when you think you know everything there is about a project or situation. I think that sometimes there’s a bit of a negative connotation to asking questions, that it highlights your inexperience or makes it seem like you’re not totally sure what’s going on. But really, it’s the key to pushing boundaries.

As my first year comes to a close, my goal continues to be to remember how I felt on the first day, and keep that with me. Feel challenged, feel the fear, and know it’s how you use those feelings that makes a difference in the quality of your work. I’m surrounded by great team members and mentors who teach that every day, who work hard to not let fear get in the way. Let’s remember every now and then how we felt when we first started, and channel that little-kid imagination, to keep the dream alive and stay excited about what we do.

Finding Courage in the Era of Possibility

I’m really big on yearly themes. Perhaps it’s the strategist in me, but I consider my yearly theme to be my own personal growth objective, and my corresponding resolutions to be the supporting strategies. As I entered 2019, I didn’t have to look further for theme inspiration than one of the most intellectually advanced television shows of our time: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

In one particular episode, Dee, the primary female lead, has been conned into selling a product that, her three friends point out to her, is part of a pyramid scheme. During their quick investigation of the situation, one friend points out that she was bamboozled. That she “got got.” And in response he says that he would be able to walk into the same room in which she was deceived but leave as the victor rather than the victim. Because, he says, “We don’t get got. We go get.”

And there, ladies and gentlemen, is my theme for 2019: “We don’t get got. We go get.”

At the risk of projecting my own growth opportunities on the pharma industry, I would like to propose that we as a community of industry professionals take on this credo as our own theme, celebrating courage and rejecting fear.

Why are we so afraid?

A good portion of my day is spent playing technology therapist to internal and external team members. There is widespread recognition that we are in a time in which we can do anything. Build anything. Create anything. Dream anything. But rather than running through this open door of opportunity, many pharma professionals are crippled with fear, I’ve found, paralyzed to move beyond comfort zones. I hear excuses like, “Show me how this has been done successfully before” or “That feels like an above-brand idea” or “That’s going to be difficult to sell into upper management.” All reasons driven by fear.

To an extent, I can appreciate that most large pharmaceutical companies are not comfortable diving headfirst into experience, software, or device design. These are large companies whose bread and butter approach has supported their continued growth for decades, and leadership is wise to be thoughtful and purposeful in expertise expansion. However, this hesitancy to innovate without a prior example or experiment without certainty stands in stark contrast to the companies that are now thriving in the digital age, such as Uber, Amazon, Disney, and Southwest Airlines.

The issue, I believe, is that the focal point is always on the technology and not the experience the technology enables. In its purest form, technology is an accelerator to forward momentum but not the creator of the momentum itself. When we place all of the weight on the success of the technology, we make the tool greater than the project. When you bake a cake, the serving dish is not the goal. The goal is the cake. Similarly, and as an illustrative example, we don’t increase therapy adherence with a chatbot or app. We increase therapy adherence with surround sound community support, 24/7 healthcare provider access, medication reminders, or cost and coverage tools, delivered in a mode that is readily accessible and usable to all patients.

Uber isn’t about an app, it’s about being able to know who your driver is, what time he will arrive, and how much it will cost. Amazon isn’t about a website. It’s about quickly finding an item, ordering it, and having it delivered as soon as possible. Disney’s MagicBand isn’t about card-less purchases. It’s about augmenting the magical theme park experience. Southwest isn’t about featuring the newest plane. It’s about a company that cares about getting you to your destination.

How do we change our fear to courage?

One of the best and most compelling, profession-driven books I’ve read is Jim Collins’ Good to Great. In Collins’ vast research of those companies that have evolved from average to exceptional, he concludes:

Those who turn good into great are motivated by a deep creative urge and an inner compulsion for sheer unadulterated excellence for its own sake. Those who build and perpetuate mediocrity, in contrast, are motivated more by the fear of being left behind (Collins, 2001).

I don’t believe it’s naïve to say that striving for “sheer, unadulterated excellence” should be the backbone of each decision we make. To constantly seek “better” means that we never stop pushing. It means we intimately understand the needs of our customers in the context of and in support of our brands. It means that even micro-moments of engagement with valuable brand assets, when woven together, tell a story more cohesive than disjointed block-and-tackle initiatives that are created as part of maintaining status quo. Or, in a more tragic scenario, creating a state-of-the-art, technology-driven, immersive customer service tool that doesn’t get used because it doesn’t ladder back to a relevant, observed customer need.

To get to excellence requires a deliberate choice to place the customer, rather than the brand, at the center of decision-making. It’s elevating “who” the brand stands for to the same level as “what” the brand stands for. When we do this, we uncover the interconnectivity of health decision influencers and the breadth of opportunity for the brand role. The more we understand each of these levers of influence, the more reasoning we have to support stepping beyond our comfort zones to tell a more compelling story, leaning in to reduce the friction our customers’ experience within the context of our brands. And the more we understand our customers’ behaviors, mindsets, biases, and habits, the more powerfully we can position the brand as an enabler of better health.


Collins, Jim. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t. New York: Harper Collins; 2001.