Reinvention Through Play

How to Shape Better Branded Experiences

Few industries exhibit the symptomatology requiring a prescription for innovation more potently than the world of biopharmaceuticals. With players across the healthcare system looking to introduce patient-centric design to their services, it’s easy to see where challenges remain. Due to the regulatory barriers they face, biopharmaceutical companies seem to lag behind other industries when it comes to serving the ever-evolving needs of healthcare practitioners and patients. With reputations on the line, eroding margins, and considerable barriers to growth, those at the helm of these organizations must challenge their “business as usual” mantras.

When these companies find their agile innovation stifled by regulatory barriers and long lead times, where can they invest in the meantime? In these red tape environments, major players are turning to other tactics to reinvent themselves. A well-received treatment option? Reinvention through play.

Introducing Service Design Using Play

Reinvention starts by looking inside. The inner workings of large organizations are often designed to address the complexities of yesterday, not tomorrow. Senior leaders who choose to address this daunting challenge are seen by the world as bold. But the employees impacted – the ones who deliver services to customers on a daily basis – are left fearful of what reinvention means for their customers, the business, and themselves. Play brings levity and curiosity to the process of reinventing the employee experience (EX), and, more importantly, it allows senior leaders to accelerate new models of thinking and collaboration, ultimately allowing for iterative innovation.

For a company to boldly present their reinvented self to the world, they must also use play to reset what their customers have come to expect. In doing so, they can help customers prepare for a new and improved customer experience (CX) – one that engages them in a meaningful, relevant manner. Service design is what bridges the gap between EX and CX. It can provide the framework for organizational leaders to pursue bold new strategies for CX through reinvention of the EX. The following case studies highlight how major companies have harnessed strategic service design through play to reinvent themselves from the inside out.

Problem Solving Through Play: How to Extract Creativity and Teamwork

The growing complexities of the healthcare industry have brought forth new expertise and functional groups within large organizations, including experts in population health, health economics, and access. This is not a new trend – medical affairs was originally folded under commercial sales, and once upon a time, legal did not play as large as a role as it may today.

The complexities of the workplace seem to hinge on a key ingredient: teamwork. This seemingly rudimentary idea encompasses how the best organizations get work done. The companies that are able to transcend their disciplinary silos can solve problems through methodological innovation that goes beyond discipline-specific approaches. Play gives teams the opportunity to level the playing field and tackle problems rigorously through the lens of creativity.

Adobe, for example, is a leader in enabling designers to take their profession anywhere – and to any technology. As a company that builds world-class collaboration software for creatives, Adobe offers many important lessons on teamwork. Part of what keeps Adobe nimble is Kickbox, a kit they launched for their own workforce to deploy innovation at scale. Imagine the creative power that could be unlocked within an organization if all employees were given a pre-loaded $1000 credit card accompanied with step-by-step instructions on how to disrupt the company. This is exactly what Adobe offers with Kickbox. The kit upends how innovation is found and implemented at scale; it is designed to empower employees to create, test, and validate ideas within the organization. Want to try it out? Adobe has open-sourced their kit and made it available online.

Another exemplar in this space is the neurology business at UCB, a global biopharmaceutical company. Rather than relying on the siloed approach of the past, UCB’s Neurology Patient Value Unit organized its field leadership by creating multidisciplinary regional teams based on concentrations of patient populations. To enable these transdisciplinary teams to unlock their individual creativity and learn how to leverage their varied skill sets, UCB undertook team challenges – from conquering escape rooms to navigating re-creations of pediatric patient environments like study halls and classrooms – and they began to reward teamwork.

This created new surroundings that helped keep the teams inspired while also allowing them to be trained on new material. Play unlocked their ability to leverage each person’s strengths, and with this collective approach, they were able to bring their focus back to the patient. As Kimberly Moran, Head Catalyst, Neurology at UCB explains, “Play works as a medium to enable collaboration… simple, tangible objects disarm people to be more comfortable and honest.”

Customer Engagement Through Play: How to Reinvent What Customers Have Come to Expect

Typically, we restrict customers’ options to play with a brand to the world of CPG, retail, and agencies that craft B2C marketing experiences. Pop-ups like Kraft Dinner’s Fun Shop, a 2014 effort by KD which asked customers in downtown Toronto to play in order to earn “fun” as a currency to pay for products, seem to make sense for CPG. However, brands in all verticals are increasingly developing these types of activations to create play-based experiences and start the dialog about a new product through customers’ social media channels and networks. Large-scale engagement opportunities, including conferences, have also been reimagined to harness play. A notable example is Dreamforce, an “unconference” held in 2017 by Salesforce, which featured a series of concerts and parties. With this four-day event, Salesforce managed to entirely transform customer expectations of what software conferences can be.

Medical conferences exist at the intersection of science and sales. They present a unique opportunity to bring together the community of actors behind a disease and get them to rally for the betterment of patients. They also present a platform for B2B companies to interface with their customers as a brand. Unfortunately, few pharmaceutical companies have defined the CX of conferences as a way to communicate a patient-first approach to an external audience. Patient centricity – which has taken hold across the healthcare world and promises to transform the way we practice medicine, design hospitals, and create holistic approaches to care – has not yet woven itself into the fabric of pharma.

The medical conference floor, which has even tighter restrictions than consumer tech events, may seem like the last place to find balloons, light displays, dogs, sidewalk chalk, stickers, and 3D puzzles – but at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Epilepsy Society, UCB used this venue to make a visible commitment to becoming the kind of biopharma company that could be held to a new standard of care.

Here, the big pharma company moved away from the large spinning brand signs of the past to bring forward interactive stations; they engaged in play to create more meaningful interactions and discussions, including talks on controversial issues, such as stigma in the epilepsy community and how a ZIP code can define a patient’s access to care. These conversations were serendipitously orchestrated through the highly tactile and playful instalment of a string wall (think of a peg board meets cat’s cradle) and a striking digital-era Lite Brite that users could interact with on an iPad to create light patterns. As one conference attendee reflected after the event, “This was an amazing space that engaged the five senses. It made me rethink how I treat my patients.”

Reinvention Demands Play: Service Design Provides the Method

To the average onlooker, the juxtaposition of a balloon canopy in a notably conservative medical conference may seem more carnival then caring. But when childish glee displayed itself across the faces of the people who interacted with UCB’s American Epilepsy Society installation and wrote their commitment to elevating care on balloons, the dawn of a new kind of “business as usual” felt imminent. It will be one where patients’ best interests are placed at the forefront of conversations concerning drug indications, and “beyond-the-pill” solutions are considered deserving of equal air time.

Organizational reinvention is a daunting task that’s reserved only for the bold. Socializing this new way of doing business to external stakeholders in a highly visible way is a no-turning back kind of strategy. With service design providing the framework for bridging and transitioning from EX to a CX, organizations can reinvent themselves and what they stand for from the inside out. In the stodgy environment of regulatory bodies, red tape, and long lead times, play has a unique opportunity to be the tool to level the playing field, create collaborative cultures, spark new ideas, and unearth important conversations.

The ultimate benefactor of the efforts by those bold enough to challenge industry norms in pharma? The patients.

the author

Sydney Kidd

Sydney Kidd is a senior innovation analyst at Idea Couture.

the author

Zachery Oman

Zachery Oman is a product manager at Connected.