Health-tech: the crucible of innovation

Martin Wootton

“Ooh, now that’s clever.” This is the reaction every health-tech company wants from its customers. Invent something innovative, interesting and in a class of its own, and you won’t go far wrong.

I’ve been finding myself saying “Ooh, now that’s clever” surprisingly often in recent months, as we do more and more research in the health-tech sector. The rise of wearable devices, the ubiquity of mobile technology, and a healthcare sector finally waking up to the benefits of remote technology: all of these have now come together to trigger a creative explosion in health-tech innovation. And some of the products that have been launched recently are genuinely innovative, novel, and, well, just plain clever. Here are some of my favourites:

  • Aira’s smart glasses for the visually impaired. Using smart glasses connected to a mobile app, poorly-sighted people can have an agent describe what they are seeing in front of them and talk them through potentially dangerous situations, like crossing a road or finhealth-techding their way home
  • The smart hairbrush – a hairbrush that tells you whether you are brushing too hard or too softly
  • Aflac’s robot duck, specifically designed to help children being treated for cancer.
  • Smart shoes, which automatically locate the wearer and can sense the risk of them falling over

Great though these are, not every fantastic innovation is going to translate into a successful business. Some will fall by the wayside, victims of poor marketing and bad timing. Companies with innovative ideas and innovative marketing strategies will be the ones to prosper rapidly.

In the race to get to market, it’s all too easy to presume that what’s worked in the past will work in the present. Before launching a new product or service, smart marketers will do their research to check whether there’s a genuine market for those new products and services: something more than just a novelty factor. Even smarter marketers won’t just do research with their customers and prospects: they’ll also research their channel partners and market influencers. Both consumers and business customers are increasingly reliant on the opinions of people and sites they trust, so it’s vital to get these people on board.

When it comes to new concept testing, however, doing market research doesn’t just mean asking people explicitly what they think about your new product and how much they’d buy it for. It means tapping into behavioural economics and System 1 thinking, to understand the subconscious drivers of choice and the emotions that underpin a product’s appeal. haven’t just helped fuel the boom in health-tech innovation; they’ve also triggered new innovations and applications for the market researcher. Applying neuroscience techniques and new wearable technology to research enables us to get a truly complete understanding of what a customer really thinks – even if sometimes they themselves don’t realise it. Take, for example, the amusing news story about US soldiers inadvertently giving away the location of military bases in Syria through their use of the fitness app, Strava.

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