Vice Chairman/Chief Innovation Officer
One of the pioneers of social media marketing, Bob Pearson is globally recognized as a marketing visionary who is driving “pragmatic disruption” in the new world of what is now called Social Commerce.
Bob is Vice Chair and Chief of Innovation Officer for W2O Group, an independent network of digital communications and marketing companies known for their creation of algorithms and ability to evolve current models and create unique advantage for their clients worldwide.
He is an author, frequent speaker, and blogger on digital marketing, as well as an instructor for the Syracuse Center for Social Commerce and the US State Department’s Marketing College. Bob’s thoughts about our constantly changing world can be found on W2O’s blog, which includes the “Millennials Unplugged” series, which he writes with his 21-year-old daughter and other millennials at W2O. He has written two books(Pre-Commerce and Storytizing) based on key learnings from the firm’s work with innovative companies and individuals.
Prior to W2O Group, Bob worked as VP of Communities and Conversations at Dell to develop the Fortune 500’s first global social media function — an industry-leading approach to the use of social media, as highlighted in the best seller, GroundSwell. Before Dell, Bob was Head of Global Corporate Communications and Head of Global Pharma Communications at Novartis Pharmaceuticals in Basel, Switzerland, where he served on the Pharma Executive Committee, and he served as Vice President, Media and Public Affairs, for Rhone-Poulenc Rorer (now Sanofi).
HTA - Tell us about your personal/professional background?
I grew up in New Jersey playing sports every day. My Dad was my high school baseball coach and a continual mentor on how to play games the right way. It taught me how important teams are to achieve success, why a “win” is always about the team’s effort, never the individual and it instilled in me a strong desire to practice every day, since those who don’t practice, win less often. In my professional career, that has translated into similar things. I always talk about who your +4 is (the four people who are smarter than you in an area who report to you), I do my best to share credit whenever I can and I read relentlessly, since I am always assuming that someone somewhere else is learning faster than I am.
HTA - You counsel veterans of war to continue their education, network for jobs, and start new companies. What have you learned from that?
That life is simple. A young man or woman decides to protect us and join our military. We, as citizens can also make a decision to support those same veterans upon their return. We don’t owe veterans “jobs” when they return, we need to help them build “careers”. It’s a big difference and it is why I joined the advisory board for Vetted.
HTA - How can Austin become known as an epicenter for Health Tech?
By trying to be Austin, and not Silicon Valley. Health will require a combination of disease expertise, medical provider know-how and technology fluency. The Valley is always going to be the best in technology. We can be the best in all three.
HTA - As a former pharma exec, why are drug prices so high in this country, and what needs to be done to reduce the cost to consumers?
When I worked at Novartis, we did an interesting analysis of the top 20 countries in the world over a 25 year period. Those countries where the government took over more control and greatly reduced prices all had the same exact pattern over decades. Each country had less patents, less PhDs, less start-up companies, less drug companies and less of everything else associated with innovation. In the US, we lead because we allow a semi-free market to prevail. If we ever give that up, well, we’ll get what we deserve. Said another way, it is easy to get lost in the sound bites of today. It takes more effort to think through what happens over decades. Those facts are sitting there, but few pay attention to them.
HTA - How can social media help improve health literacy?
Literacy is a relative term here. If sensors can teach us about our actions and our bodies, we will get healthier. If we can more easily interact with experts, particularly related to wellness and prevention, we can bend the cost curve. We also have to realize that bad actors are innovating faster than we are to drive people towards counterfeit drugs and bad health choices. So I would say companies and organizations must become fully fluent in social media to protect current and future patients and we all need to ask if our actions are truly improving health.
HTA - What do innovative companies do differently than those who are not?
Innovators are relentlessly focused on solving a problem. They don’t care about committees, processes or many rules for that matter. Innovative companies work hard to keep that energy unlocked while gently scaling some process, so there is not chaos. It’s why innovators inside companies will always complain (a bit) and managers will do the same. The most innovative companies have leaders at the top who represent this mindset. They solve problems and hate bureaucracy, so they use just enough to survive.
HTA - What kind of content does health care need to show more? What does it need to show less?
The answer is to ask the audience directly. We live in a world where we can see exactly what the audience desires, what type of content is preferred, which medium, what time of day and even who they want to hear from. The answers or clues, if you will, are right in front of us.
HTA - How big of an opportunity is the pre-need phase vs. actual health care delivery for the industry?
Think of ourselves. I don’t think of myself as a “patient” but I know I’ll need doctors now and then. Who can help me now vs when I have a medical issue? I don’t believe we think through this customer journey outside of a disease. We should think of a lifetime customer journey instead. It would lead to different conclusions on what to do.
HTA - Why has health care lagged behind other industries in digital marketing? How is that changing?
Regulation leads to fear and fear leads to a follow the leader approach. The work we do in industries with less regulation is where we get to innovate far faster, than we apply it in a health setting.
HTA - Tell us about the MedicAlert Foundation, and what have you learned working with them?
Many people have a moment where they cannot advocate for themselves. We call this a MedicAlert Moment. A person may have dementia and go wandering or you might have a major allergy an EMT has to see and decide what to do while you ride in an ambulance. MedicAlert is built to be your advocate, essentially, when you have such a moment. I joined because I know how many people can benefit, and we have an obligation to reach all of them. It really bothers me when I think of anyone not getting the healthcare counsel or treatment they deserve simply because we didn’t reach them. I find that unacceptable.
HTA – How do you learn? What are you reading?
Well, I read about one book every two weeks and publish the results every quarter. I like to read in themes, so this quarter I am reading about Science, Technology and related areas. I just finished Nobody Cares About Crazy People (mental health), Being Mortal (aging) and I am now reading Warnings (finding Cassandra’s to stop catastrophes) and an MIT book on Machine Learning. I also just finished writing my third book, Countering Hate with Haroon K. Ullah. It looks at how bias, hate and extremism form and how we can all join together to counter hate. It will be out in March, 2018.