Your money: Cosigning a student loan? Be prepared to pay

Your money: Cosigning a student loan? Be prepared to pay

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Is your college-bound child a good credit risk?

FILE PHOTO: Messages and artwork are pictured on the top of the caps of graduating students during their graduation ceremony at UC San Diego in San Diego, California, U.S. June 17, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

Consider this very carefully before cosigning a private student loan.

Some 49% of private student loan cosigners over age 50 end up paying some of that debt, according to data released in May by the AARP Public Policy Institute. Half of them, mainly parents and grandparents of the borrowers, voluntarily do so to help out. But the rest pay only when the student defaults.

“Some people cosign and don’t realize that they will be responsible ultimately if student borrower does not pay,” said Lori Trawinski, director of banking and finance at the AARP Public Policy Institute.

The risks go beyond just having to pay bills. One missed payment will tank credit scores of both the borrower and cosigners. Miss more and you go into collections, which will damage all of your finances for years to come.

It is very easy for months to pass in default if the student is trying to hide what is going on, said Ken Ruggiero, president and chief executive of Ascent Funding, a private student lender based in San Diego.

“There is confusion about who owes the bill. Meanwhile, the calendar is ticking by,” Ruggiero said.


Private student loans make up about $120 billion of the $1.5 trillion in U.S. student loan debt, according to the AARP study. Almost all are cosigned loans, because students rarely have the credit history or income to qualify on their own.

At College Ave Student Loans, for instance, 96% of its $2 billion in loans are cosigned.

Families typically turn to private loans to cover shortfalls after they exhaust the limits of federal loans for students as well as their savings.

Parents can also get federal Parent PLUS loans, which come with low interest rates, very few restrictions, and some income-based repayment options. But, according to AARP’s data, more families turn to cosigning private loans in students’ names.

“Both are pretty poor products in terms of protections and options,” said Adam Minsky, an attorney who focuses on helping student loan borrowers in both Massachusetts and New York. That said, he recommends a Parent PLUS loan over cosigning a child’s student loan.

Interest rates are a key factor. The 2018 rate for PLUS loans was 7.6%, while private loans vary. At Ascent, which has about $50 million in loans to date, variable rates range from 4.23% to 13.23% and fixed options range from 4.98% to 14.16%, depending on your credit history and other factors.

Even Ruggiero said of Parent PLUS loans: “If you have bad credit, it’s a screaming deal.”

Another point to consider before you sign a loan is consumer protection. Borrowers can discharge a federal loan in case of a disability or death, Minsky said. Private loans do not offer that option, and parents could be on the hook, even if their child passes away.

Cosigners can ask to be taken off a private loan if repayment is going well. But the process is not transparent or simple.

“Lenders have total discretion. Even if you meet requirements, they don’t have to go through with it,” said Minsky, who has rarely seen it happen.

The easiest way to avoid bad loan choices is to pick a school the family can afford.

“We need people to not have to rely on debt to finance education, and we need more options that are cheaper,” Minsky said.

Editing by Lauren Young and Richard Chang

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New visual search innovations tap human emotions and biological buying triggers Search Engine Watch

New visual search innovations tap human emotions and biological buying triggers

New visual search innovations tap human emotions and biological buying triggers

There’s a science behind what engages shoppers and gets them to purchase and new visual search tech implementations promise to exploit that and reinvent ecommerce as we know it.

A shopper’s decision to buy products is more influenced by the primal brain areas and less from the analytical side. Us humans are hard-wired to our emotions which spring from the same areas of the brain, the right side, that processes and reacts to visual stimulation. In the early days of mankind, it’s largely how our ancient ancestors survived in the wild.

Similar to Facebook’s emoticons it rolled out as “reactions” in 2016, our modern emotions emerge from four core feelings, happy, sad, afraid/surprised (“wow”), and angry/disgusted, based on research conducted by the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of Glasgow.

Smart marketers can appeal to our right brains that communicate in feelings and respond to images that increase conversions and sales because people tend to act based on emotions. Most of the purchase decisions people make are emotional, not practical. Retail shopping therapy is, perhaps, an offshoot of this science-based truth.

When it comes to shopping, decision-making, and conversions, another experiment conducted by the George Washington University and UCLA, found that playing to the emotional side of our brains is a far better strategy than using too many facts and figures that appeal to the decision-making areas of the brain.

The researchers found that ads that use logical persuasion (for example, “this car gets 42 miles to the gallon”) scored lower for conversions than those that “seduced” people by circumventing “consumers’ conscious awareness by depicting a fun, vague or sexy scene”.

Visual search will revolutionize ecommerce and SEO

The rise of visual search is powered, in part, by people’s desire to discover products and brands, and it’s playing out now in the new trend of shopping on social media channels such as Instagram and Pinterest that’s spreading most quickly amongst millennials as the next big thing.

Yet, “creating technology that can understand images as quickly and effectively as the human mind is a huge undertaking”, wrote Adam Stetzer in a trend piece on visual search last year. “Visual identification is a natural ability made possible through a wonder of nerves, neurons and synapses. We can look at a picture, and in 13 milliseconds or less, know exactly what we’re seeing”.

Google is making rapid advancements tied to the increasingly visual nature of the search for ecommerce. For example, in early March it rolled out a new pilot program to digitally connect retailers and consumers, who can now make purchases from results of Google Image searches.

For the pilot’s launch, Google cited a figure that 50 percent of online shoppers said images of the product inspired them to purchase. Google is currently testing its “Showcase Shopping” ads on what it calls “a small percentage” of traffic with select retailers, surfacing on broad queries such as “home office ideas”, “shower tile designs”, and “abstract art”.

Certainly, the visual search trend will impact the programmatic ad industry’s innovations for future offerings. Advanced AI and computer imaging will be two core technologies that power dynamic personalization and highly customized ads that boost campaign performance tied to consumer’s visual search behaviors. For instance, it enables offering up winter jackets in the shopper’s favorite colors as fall approaches, or quickly serves up visually or stylistically complementary dining sets to match a new dining table or tablecloth search or purchase.

Adtech leaders’ R&D programs have already begun to focus on new AI-powered marketing innovations, including research and development from Facebook, Google, and Pinterest, and new strategic partnerships such as the one announced by Amazon and Snap last year.

Shoppable visual ads take off on social media platforms

The powerful combination of influencer marketing, using emotional buying triggers we’re hard-wired to respond to, and the highly visual nature of popular social channels such as Instagram and Pinterest have sparked the fast growth of shoppable ads on social media platforms.

Many industry watchers are betting that Instagram and Facebook will lead the pack here. Late last year, Salesforce predicted that Instagram will grow 3X faster than overall social-traffic boosts, citing data from Cowen & Company that 30 percent of internet users reported purchasing a product they discovered on Facebook or Instagram.

The overall trend of social media’s impact on purchase behavior is well-documented. As many as 76 percents of consumers have purchased a product they’ve seen in a brand’s social media post, per data from Curalate.

Influencer marketing and consumers’ purchase of products, as a result, is nothing new. For example, many kids who grew up in the 1970s and their parents bought Wheaties back then based on the cereal’s “Breakfast of Champions” campaign because they were inspired to be like Bruce Jenner after his decathlon triumph at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

While the mediums have changed, and we can now click on ads and have products delivered within the same day, and be much more granular in terms of micro-influencers’ campaigns that pinpoint targets and conserve campaign budgets, the psychology of why it works is the same.

New platforms such as Shopify make it easy for brands and merchants of all kinds to create engaging, highly connected sites that are helping to energize the social aspects of the web.

Large companies such as Amazon, Pinterest, and Instagram have done an excellent job of figuring out consumer sentiment, emotions, and online behaviors. We’re getting much closer to narrowing down to a “segment of one“, a trend that many retailers today are focused on in order to increase the personalization of advertising and improve the experience for consumers so that promotional offers to purchase products become more like a personal shopper catering to them instead of a pushy salesperson who annoys them to the point of departing the store.

And if Pinterest is any indication with more than 600 million visual searches each month, and fact that image-based Pinterest ads have an 8.5 percent conversion rate, the role of visual search in helping to capture our attention, personalize the advertising experience, and seduce us to buy is here to stay as ecommerce and SEO evolve around it.

Gary Burtka is Vice President of U.S. operations at RTB House, a global company that provides retargeting technology for global brands worldwide. He can be found on Twitter .

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Brent oil moves toward $73 on Middle East tensions

Brent oil moves toward $73 on Middle East tensions

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices rose on Thursday for a third day running as fears of supply disruption amid heightened tensions in the Middle East overshadowed swelling U.S. crude inventories.

FILE PHOTO: Pump jacks operate at sunset in an oilfield in Midland, Texas U.S. August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford/File Photo

Brent crude futures were up $1.03 cents at $72.80 a barrel by 1344 GMT, heading for the biggest weekly rise in about three months.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were up 83 cents at $62.85.

Oil was drawing support from the risk of conflict in the Middle East, with helicopters carrying U.S. staff from the U.S. embassy in Baghdad on Wednesday out of apparent concern over perceived threats from Iran.

“Brent looks poised to breach the upper bound of its recent $70-$73 a barrel price range as bullish headlines from the (Mideast) Gulf continue worrying investors,” Citi said in a note.

A rise in U.S. crude oil inventories to their highest since 2017 helped to cap prices, though government data [EIA/S] pointed to a smaller increase than previous industry data, with falling gasoline stocks also providing some price support.

Also keeping prices in check is uncertainty about whether the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other producers will continue supply cuts that have boosted prices more than 30% so far this year.

OPEC said on Tuesday that world demand for its oil would be higher than expected this year.

U.S. crude inventories, weekly changes since 2017:

Despite continuing trade tensions between the United States and China, which have weighed on the demand outlook, the oil market is marked by tight supply.

“There is … more supply at risk to a new U.S. war in the Middle East than demand at risk to the continuation of the trade war with China,” Petromatrix analyst Olivier Jakob said in a note.

An end this month to U.S. waivers that allowed some countries to buy Iranian oil after the reimposition of U.S. sanctions has prompted Tehran to relax restrictions on its nuclear program and threaten action that could breach a 2015 nuclear deal.

An attack on four oil tankers in the Gulf on Sunday, for which no one has claimed responsibility, and Saudi Arabia’s announcement that armed drones hit two of its oil pumping stations have compounded supply-side fears.

Attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil pipeline, ships off UAE’s Fujairah port:

Additional reporting by Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Jason Neely and David Goodman

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How to Align Sales and Content Marketing Teams

How to Align Sales and Content Marketing Teams

Businesses traditionally grow to a size at which Sales and Marketing are forced into separate corners. But business leaders recognize that these two departments affect each other at every step they take. Without the help of the sales team, Marketing might fail to properly understand the needs of its target market. And if Marketing were to vanish tomorrow, leads for the sales team likely would as well.

Yet the teams often don’t work as collaboratively as they should. In fact, they may even be at odds. Sales might blame Marketing when leads are lacking, and Marketing might criticize Sales when a lead falls through the cracks. The result: more division, less revenue.

Only 46% of marketers describe their sales and content marketing teams as well-aligned. That means 54% of companies are relying on sales and content teams with too much tension between them and not enough cooperation.

To get the maximum return on investment from their content marketing and sales teams, executives need to create a culture that enables those teams to work together. Here’s a three-step guide to creating that kind of company atmosphere.

1. Make communication easy

You don’t have to hold more meetings to encourage communication. After all, nobody likes to sit in a meeting when she could be cracking away at her to-do list. Marketers want to be creating content and marketing materials, and salespeople want to be closing more leads. So rather than cramming these two teams into a room together for a few hours a week, encourage collaboration in an organic, enjoyable way.

At my company, our marketing and sales departments sit right next to each other. When one of our marketers has a question for the sales team, all he has to do is scoot a chair a few feet away or get up and take a short walk. That isn’t just an easier way to answer work-related questions, it also allows these teams to chat and get to know each other better. And it’s a constant reminder that the two departments need to work together cohesively.

If your sales and marketing departments can’t work in close proximity, they can still interact in a beneficial way. Encourage communication through Slack or Skype. You can create specific chat groups or threads that can be designated for the sales and marketing teams to ask questions and collaborate.

Some companies, such as LinkedIn, eBay, Uber, and Google, swear by Slack. Instead of letting large company size interfere with their departments’ communications, they use the platform to enable those departments to regularly interact with one another. When rapid decisions need to be made and key inter-department input is needed, there’s no holdup; and that leads to much more efficiency and transparency.

When borders, halls, or streets have to be crossed to achieve in-person communication, it’s crucial to implement a strategy that allows for faster response time, but it can be difficult to get the masses on board. The easing of this process truly does begin at the top, so a great way to get your departments using these types of communication platforms is by first encouraging the leaders within your company to adopt and use them. Others will follow.

2. Involve both teams in content creation

Isn’t content the marketing team’s job? Well, yes, but that doesn’t mean only the marketing team should work with it.

One of the biggest alignment-related issues is that sales teams often don’t know how to use content in their roles. Though marketing teams are great at creating content that ranks well on Google or pulls in clicks on Facebook, that content might not be easy for the sales team to use for helping potential clients.

The best way to overcome that issue? Get Sales involved in the content creation process. According to CMI and MarketingProfs research on business-to-business content marketing, feedback from Sales is one of the best ways for marketers to research their audience.

Salespeople will know what questions their customers have most often, and marketing teams can create content to address those questions. And hey… your salespeople might even want to create a piece of content themselves!

And content isn’t just blog posts. It can take the form of videos, infographics, podcasts, and other formats.

I’ve found guest posts in relevant publications to be especially helpful. Potential clients are impressed when your company leaders write for trusted industry publications, and sales teams can help you learn what publications their clients love. At Influence & Co., our 2018 research found that the vast majority of publication editors planned to publish the same amount of guest-contributed content, and this year’s numbers show no signs of diminishing. Marketing teams have a huge window of opportunity to guest-post.

When salespeople are involved in the content-creation process, whether by providing a question that needs answering or by recommending a type of content that clients will respond to, they feel more invested in marketing efforts. They’ll know what the content covers, and they’ll be more inclined to share it when an opportunity arises.

3. Keep content updated and accessible

If you have a great marketing department—and I’m sure you do—it’s probably created amazing content about every topic under the sun. But for a salesperson, accessing that content isn’t very easy. Nobody wants to scroll through pages and pages of marketing material to find the right article to share, so most salespeople just don’t.

There are a few ways, however, that marketing departments can keep their sales department informed:

  • First, ensure your team has a content marketing strategy mapped out: 81% of B2B marketers say a documented strategy helps align teams so they can work toward a shared mission and goals.
  • Second, provide the sales department or the department leads with weekly updates. Start by sending an email with links to and summaries of each piece of content published during the week. That email takes just a few minutes for salespeople to review, and it ensures that they know what content is available as it goes live. If a salesperson requests an article about a specific question, send that article to him or her individually.
  • And third, create a content bank or a resource library. Includes all content your marketing department has ever produced internally, and organize it according to the sales situations in which each piece of content is most useful. That will make it even easier for your sales team to use it.

* * *

Those are just a few steps you can take to better align your sales and marketing departments. When those departments work hand-in-hand, your content is more effectively and frequently used and clients are better served.

Getting your sales and marketing teams on the same page is the best way to achieve content marketing success.

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Your money: Should you pay to stop phone spam?

Your money: Should you pay to stop phone spam?

NEW YORK (Reuters) – If your phone log is anything like mine, the list of incoming scam calls makes it look like you work for the State Department: Sri Lanka, Lithuania, Russia, Bosnia, Benin, Croatia and Sierra Leone. And if you are anything like me, the thought that may cross your mind is: I would pay anything to make these calls stop.

FILE PHOTO: A woman talks on her mobile phone whilst sitting in a park in central London, Britain, September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo

“Nothing is protecting voice and text, so all the criminals sneak in,” said Aaron Foss, founder of Nomorobo, a scam-blocking service.

Until a foolproof way is found to stop these nuisance calls, here is what you need to know.

Your cell phone carrier’s service

Telecom giants tout the billions of calls they block each year, barely mentioning that the system is far from foolproof.

“About 20% of our calls are scam,” said Greg Castle, vice president of engineering for T-Mobile. “Some get through.”

Still, Castle considers T-Mobile’s track record – with its free ScamID program – a success. A free, additional opt-in product called ScamBlock removes those calls from your view.

AT&T , Sprint , Verizon and other major carriers offer similar services. Most are free, but they usually require you to opt in.

Some carriers sell the highest level of services, like Verizon, which charges $2.99 a month for its Call Filter. Of course, considering how much typical cellphone bills run these days, most people probably think like me: that paying anything extra is not worth it unless the service truly eliminates all the unwanted calls.

Third-party apps

Companies like RoboKiller, Hiya, Truecaller and YouMail aim to block robo calls by tagging incoming calls as scams, or removing them from your view completely.

For $4.99 a month, RoboKiller hits back at scammers by answering their calls with bots which tie up the line.

“We wasted 113,000 hours” in April, said Ethan Garr, RoboKiller’s senior vice president of strategic growth. “If a telemarketer is talking to our bot, somebody else is not getting scammed.”

But some calls still get through. Garr uses the RoboKiller app a couple of times a month to identify unwanted calls so the algorithm learns from it, he said.

Nomorobo’s more straightforward approach uses an app that works in the background for $2 a month. According to Nomorobo’s Foss, the company updates its database every 15 minutes, and misses just 3% of scam calls. False positives, which mark a legitimate call as a scam, account for less than a 10th of a percent.

Foss testified before Congress earlier this month to push for technologies like Nomorobo’s to be applied when the call reaches the network, before it hits the consumer’s phone.

“It means putting more pressure on carriers to put this in natively – that will be ultimately what solves the problem,” Foss said.

Common sense

Until a foolproof solution is found, the best line of defense is your own scam radar. If you do not answer, the calls cannot cost you anything.

If you do pick up, do not engage. And never, ever, give out your Social Security or credit card information to an unsolicited caller.

“Scammers will scam,” Castle said. “Obviously, if you answer a call and it sounds too good to be true, just hang up.”

Editing by Lauren Young and Richard Chang

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Laying the foundation for experimentation-based digital marketing in healthcare

Laying the foundation for experimentation-based digital marketing in healthcare

The headlines are everywhere: biosensors, point-of-care diagnostics, artificial intelligence, next-generation sequencing—the healthcare industry is evolving rapidly. The way healthcare is marketed and delivered to consumers and patients? That’s another story.

The Current State of Digital Disruption in Healthcare

Overall, the global digital health market is growing steadily. In 2015, it was valued at $80B. By 2020, it’s expected to increase to over $200B. The estimated global electronic health records (EHR) and electronic medical records (EMR) market in 2020 alone is $24B. The forecasted global telemedicine market size in 2021? $41B.

Healthcare digital industry growth

Perhaps that explains why a 2018 study from Ernst & Young found that 91% of healthcare companies already had or planned to begin a digital health initiative within the next year to improve patient experience. How? 51% of healthcare companies said data analytics were the top initiative, followed closely by competitive benchmarking, among others.

Medical startups are securing ample funding in 2019. In fact, the total digital health industry funding worldwide in 2018 surpassed $14B.

Healthcare startups growth

A study conducted by a team of scientists last year indicates that the best way for large companies to approach digital disruption in healthcare is likely through collaboration. Corporations must learn from startups, and vice versa:

Digital transformation is an opportunity to accelerate health care performance by lowering cost and improving quality of care. At an economic scale, business models can be strengthened and disruptive innovation models enabled. Corporations should look for collaborations with start-up companies to keep investment costs at bay and off the balance sheet. At the same time, the regulatory knowledge of established corporations might help [startups] to kick off digital disruption in the health care sector.

The study looked at how technology corporations, life science companies and medical startups are investing in digital disruption. Technology corporations are investing heavily in adherence hardware and treatment platforms. Similarly, life science companies are investing heavily in adherence hardware and software. Treatment services are also becoming a priority.

Medical startups, on the other hand, are more diversified, actively exploring all six major customer needs: adherence, diagnostic, lifestyle, patient engagement, prevention, and treatment.

Healthcare startups areas of focus

With the proper funding in their pockets, the increasing demand and their diversified efforts, medical startups will only add to the mounting pressure to tackle digital disruption head-on.

Currently, however, most companies are falling short of consumer and patient expectations.

Michael Song from MedImmune presented some surprising numbers at Digital Pharma EAST late last year:

  • There are 325,000 health and fitness apps on the market.
  • Only 41 of them have more than 10M downloads on Google Play.
  • In fact, 85% have fewer than 5,000 downloads.
  • 50% of mHealth apps will never break even the 500 downloads mark.
  • Over 50% of apps see a usage drop-off rate of 64% after just 30 days.

Yet, according to a survey conducted by Transcend Insights, 64% of patients say they use a digital device (e.g. mobile apps) to manage their health. 71% believe it would be useful if their doctor could access that data as part of their medical records.

Again, the demand exists, but isn’t being met (yet). All of this information paints a clear picture: consumers and patients want the way healthcare is marketed and delivered to catch up to the pace at which healthcare as a whole is going digital, yet companies are consistently falling short of those expectations.

The tricky thing about this industry shift is the sheer number of factors to consider. For example, according to Bain and Co., the five pillars of digital disruption in healthcare are:

  1. The Amazon Effect: As non-traditional healthcare companies, like Amazon, enter the space, competition and innovation are heating up.
  2. The Digital Revolution: Tech innovations, such as smart devices and machine learning, are making digital treatment and care a reality.
  3. Regulatory Change: New and complex regulations, like the debate over the US Affordable Care Act, make for an unpredictable future.
  4. Consumerism: Consumers and patients have more choices than ever before.
  5. Personalized Medicine: Medical products and services will be increasingly tailored to specific consumers and patients based on their unique medical history.

This digital disruption is a healthcare evolution, not revolution. You will notice the impact in small pockets of the industry first, but it will continue to spread. The best time to start thinking about this shift was yesterday, but today is the second best.

What was going on in your business when you decided to start running experiments?

“It goes back to Providence’s mission. We’re here to help the poor and vulnerable, to ease their way. How can we make the experience as smooth as possible so consumers can get to the healthcare solution they need faster? Answering that question seemed like a really important, worthwhile task. A combination of analytic thinking with that desire to make the consumer’s way as seamless as possible prompted us to drive toward experimentation.”Marc Schwartz, Director, Growth Marketing at Providence Health and Services

John Ekman from Conversionista shared a few industry-agnostic tips for companies looking to chase digital transformation at CXL Live 2019:

  1. Digital transformation is a result, not a goal.
  2. Digital transformation is largely the result of combining momentum, proper resources and strategic evaluation.
  3. There are five ways to “go digital”: digitize the product itself, add a digital service layer to the product, digitize your processes, digitize your marketing and sales strategy, and come up with net new digital products.
  4. Allocate budget and resources to new projects first.
  5. Listen to what your consumers need, act quickly on those needs, and scale.

For the rest of the article, we’ll focus on how to digitize your marketing and sales strategy.

The Challenges of Digital Disruption in Healthcare

You will encounter a number of contextual challenges as you start to digitize your marketing and sales strategy, from stakeholder support to resourcing. Universally speaking, though, there are two major challenges that make going digital particularly difficult in healthcare: Personal Health Information Protection Act (PHIPA) and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA); and the lack of a traditional online transaction in healthcare.

1. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Personal Health Information Protection Act (PHIPA)

As Bain and Co. suggested above, regulations, both new and old, have a big impact on the healthcare industry. HIPAA and its Canadian counterpart, PHIPA, complicate the collection, use, and disclosure of personal health information.

These acts are incredibly wide-reaching and nuanced. HIPAA is designed to protect patient rights and promote the safeguard of electronic protected health information (e-PHI). Here is a high-level summary of what’s covered under HIPAA:

  • All e-PHI created or received must be kept confidential and available to those entitled to access.
  • Anyone with access to e-PHI must take all reasonable steps to identify and eliminate potential threats to the security (and integrity) of that e-PHI.
  • Anyone with access to e-PHI must take all reasonable steps to identify and eliminate potential impermissible uses, disclosures, alterations, or deletions.
  • Anyone with access to e-PHI must take all reasonable steps to ensure HIPAA compliance within their entire organization.

Here is a high-level summary of what’s covered under PHIPA:

  • Consent is required if you want to collect, use or disclose personal health information.
  • All personal health information is considered confidential and those in possession of it must take all reasonable steps to maintain its security.
  • Everyone has the right to access their personal health information at any time.
  • Everyone has the right to instruct those with their personal health information to not share it with others.
  • The rules around using personal health information for research, fundraising, and marketing purposes are even more rigorous and nuanced.
  • Everyone has the right to correct errors in their personal health information at any time.

There are a lot of gray areas here. These acts cover everything from a single practitioner medical office to multi-national health plans. What’s important for us, as marketers, to remember is this: PHIPA and HIPAA make sourcing usable data for marketing activities in the healthcare industry particularly difficult.

How have HIPAA restrictions impacted your strategy?

“HIPAA is always top of mind as it should be for healthcare companies. Consumer privacy is of top importance in dealing with such sensitive issues like health. It was interesting to learn In some of the research we did around personalization, that one of the assumptions that people have about healthcare companies is that we’re going to be trustworthy and reliable. Because HIPAA exists, that’s implicit.

We also found that consumers give more data use latitude to a healthcare company if it helps them. So it puts the onus on the healthcare company to ask, ‘Is what I’m doing helpful for the consumer?’ It should never just be helpful to you.” — Marc Schwartz

2. The missing transaction

As Marc Schwartz, Director of Growth Marketing at Providence Health and Services, explains, there is often a lack of a traditional online transaction in healthcare: “There’s no basket. There’s no actual care that happens on our site; the care happens in the doctor’s office. Our doctors and their services are our product. So how quickly and easily we get someone to a doctor’s office becomes really important. Your measures of success need to be different.”

This forces you to adopt a utilitarian mindset. Your visitors already know what they want to do and they’re already convinced they need to do it, they just want to get it done as painlessly as possible. They need to find a doctor with availability, they need to find a clinic close by, they need to book an appointment with a specialist, they need to understand the science behind their unique condition—you name it.

The burden of persuasion is lifted, but this forces added pressure onto your user experience (UX) and customer journeys.

Why Experimentation is the Crux of “Going Digital”

Think of experimentation as your emergency vehicle through this complex period of digital disruption. Why? There are the internal benefits, of course:

  • Experimentation brings voice of customer data to the forefront by prioritizing consistent research and improvement.
  • Experimentation encourages strategic resourcing and unbiased digital decision-making.
  • Experimentation processes can be applied to every element of your sales and marketing strategy.
  • Experimentation fosters a test and learn culture.

More importantly, though, experimentation benefits the end consumer.

Schwartz explains: “Experimentation has made us realize how many hoops we make our consumers jump through just to do a transaction, and how frustrating that is. Experimentation forces you to ask why and the more you ask why, the more you realize your language is confusing, the number of steps required is too daunting, you don’t give enough direction, etc. Frankly, experimentation has shown us how hard we’ve made it for consumers to do what they want to do.”

It’s not enough to simply “go digital”; you have to “go digital” effectively. That means a commitment to fine-tuning the UX and customer journeys, a job that’s never truly done, according to Schwartz: “In reality, our biggest competition is always the latest consumer experience that someone has had. That changes the playing field, you’re never done.”

If digital disruption and transformation is the destination, experimentation is the emergency vehicle with its lights on and sirens blaring. Without it, at best, your digital sales and marketing strategy will be stagnant. At worst, you will be making important business decisions based on bias and subjective opinion.

What’s the most valuable thing experimentation brings to the table, and why?

“It’s helped us understand what’s most important to consumers. The site doesn’t exist for us, it exists for our consumers. Experimentation is one form of research that gives you insight into the mind of the consumer, which then allows us to drive action and results.

One of the questions you have to ask when an experiment wins is why. What makes it a winner? Same thing when it loses. Why did it lose? Were you out of touch with the consumer? Winners and losers, research—it’s all an opportunity to listen to the customer and improve relevancy. If you’re not helpful to consumers, if you’re not of value to consumers… why do you exist, why are you here?” — Marc Schwartz

How to Lay the Foundation for Experimentation

Before you launch your first experiment, you want to master the basics and lay the groundwork for an effective experimentation program that will grow with you through your digital expansion. That means:

  1. Setting meaningful goals and defining your metrics.
  2. Defining scalable, repeatable processes for identifying and prioritizing opportunities.
  3. Mapping your existing customer journeys, defining your ideal customer journeys, and identifying gaps and opportunities.

1. Setting Your Goals

The lack of a transaction makes setting goals and defining metrics more tricky in healthcare than in other industries. Often, it means there are more customer journeys to account for, which means more conversion points to optimize. Take Swedish Medical Center, for example. Here’s their current “Find a Doctor” page:

Healthcare digital marketing example
The “Find a Doctor” funnel.

From here, a consumer might:

  1. Use the search function to find a doctor based on a number of different inputs.
  2. Find a doctor based on a single filter (e.g. “Specialty”) below.
  3. Call the 1-800 number to have a representative help you find a doctor over the phone.

Each of those three options leads the consumer down a separate customer journey to achieve the same result: finding the right doctor.

In e-commerce, on the other hand, you would have a more structured, linear funnel. The consumer visits the product page, they add the product to their cart, they enter their shipping and payment information, they review the order, they complete the purchase.

You need to get aligned on what’s important to you as an organization from the beginning. Is it as simple as the number of appointments booked? Is it how quickly visitors are able to book their appointment?

Ask yourself a few questions before moving on to step two:

  1. What metric restrictions exist currently? What’s feasible and what’s not? What will be feasible in the future? What’s worth investing in now to make things easier and more reliable in the future? For example, only some doctors have online appointment booking enabled on Swedish and Swedish has no control over the availability of the doctors.
  2. How comfortable are you with directional metrics and data? What’s your risk tolerance?

2. Defining Your Processes

Amateurs rely on hacks and tactics. They throw opinion after opinion at the wall to see what sticks. And sure, occasionally, they might get a big win. But they won’t know why or how to replicate the success. Instead, they’ll simply continue to throw more ideas at the wall.

A better way to approach experimentation is through repeatable, scalable processes that prioritize insights and learning. Pros design experiments in a way that brings value, regardless of whether or not the experiment won.

At WiderFunnel, we use the Infinity Optimization Process to generate experiment ideas and lift revenue:

Infinity Optimization Process (TM)
WiderFunnel’s Infinity Optimization Process™

On the green “Explore” side, we gather quantitative and qualitative data to generate informed experiment ideas. That means looking at old experiment results, diving into digital analytics, conducting user testing, interviewing consumers, etc. On the blue “Validate” side, we:

  • Prioritize experiment ideas from the “Explore” side.
  • Create hypotheses for our high priority experiment ideas.
  • Develop an experimentation plan and design the experiment.
  • Loop in UX/UI designers.
  • Conduct quality assurance for the experiment.
  • Run the experiment.
  • Analyze the results.

Note the infinity loop surrounding both sides! Experiment results feed back into the green “Explore” side.

Also, notice how the “Explore” side revolves around the airplane icon in the middle? That’s our LIFT Model®:

WiderFunnel’s LIFT Model details the 6 conversion factors.

By focusing on these six conversion factors when evaluating your website and conducting research, you will focus your efforts and avoid subjective opinion (as much as humanly possible, anyway).

We’re using this to drive smarter hypotheses that fuel experimentation. Research and experimentation go hand-in-hand. All of the data we collect… all of the website click data, all of the heatmap data, all of the feedback from visitors—we use every data source we can come up with to get to the heart and into the mind of the consumer. Then we drive experiments using that information.

— Marc Schwartz

The optimization and experimentation process looks a bit different at every company and you will undoubtedly end up tweaking it to suit your unique needs. What matters is that you’re relying on a process that you can run through repeatedly. Experimentation is the act of consistently, purposefully mining for minerals, not striking gold.

3. Mapping Your Existing Customer Journeys & Identifying the Opportunities

Now it’s time to map your existing customer journeys. What’s the current state of your website (or other digital asset)? Here are a few questions you should ask yourself at this stage:

  • Where are visitors arriving from?
  • What do visitors come here to do?
  • What am I asking them to do here?
  • How many steps stand between them and their end goal?
  • How many of them make it to step one, step two, step three, etc.?

This is where the LIFT Model comes in handy. You can evaluate the current state based on those six conversion factors as well: value proposition, relevance, clarity, urgency, distraction, and anxiety.

Using Behavioral Science to Gain a Deeper Understanding

Providence works with WiderFunnel’s behavioral science team to conduct in-depth research that illuminates the existing customer journey.

In one study, 10 participants were asked to complete four key tasks (find a doctor, find a location, schedule an appointment, and register for a class) on a Providence-owned website and on competitive websites.

The study had two parts:

  • Part 1: Task-based, unmoderated interview.
  • Part 2: Self-reflection questions. For example:
    • How easy or difficult was it to complete this task?
    • How would you rate your experience completing this task?

WiderFunnel’s team of behavioral scientists then examined all of the video recordings, and assigned ratings based on their observations of friction and ease. They also conducted a sentiment analysis based on what respondents were saying while attempting to complete each task.

Watching these 10 participants try to use their website has been invaluable to the Providence team. Seeing (and hearing) pain points, clarity gaps, distractions, etc. helped map their existing journeys and visualize their ideal journeys, effectively fueling their experimentation pipeline.

Once you have a firm understanding of the current state, you can move on to mapping your ideal customer journeys. Your job now is to imagine how you can get your visitors to what they want as quickly as possible. In other words, your job is to improve the user experience and your customer journeys.

Healthcare digital marketing customer journey example
An alternative to Providence’s original “Find a Doctor” funnel gives consumers the chance to “Book an Appointment”.

What does your research tell you about what your visitors want and how effectively you currently deliver that value to them? Are there any technical limitations or gaps that you need to solve for to bring your ideal state to life? Essentially, what opportunities exist for you to close the gap between these two states? Those opportunities are the breeding ground for your data-informed experiment ideas.

What results have you seen because of experimentation?

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in consumers moving through our doctor funnel and our location funnel. We’ve seen that we’ve eased the way of the consumer, which has led to big learnings overall.

We’re always looking for opportunities to anticipate intent and then meet that intent. Experimentation has helped us understand where we’ve gotten intent wrong. It helps solidify our thinking and also inspire our thinking.” — Marc Schwartz

Maybe your findings indicate you should experiment with something as simple as fewer steps, a shorter customer journey. Or maybe they indicate you should experiment with Tealium to provide your phone representatives with live, anonymous consumer data. Whatever the case may be, you’re ready to turn your opportunities into hypotheses, your hypotheses into experiments, your experiments into insights, and your insights into revenue.

Examples of customer journey improvements

We’ve improved Providence’s mobile hospital pages to increase engagement with nearly every action a user can take on that page, from finding additional information, getting directions, or calling the hospital itself.

Healthcare Digital Marketing Experiment Example 1

In another experiment on Providence’s location search funnel, improvements to the user interface (UI) dramatically improved engagement with all elements on the page. We were able to reduce frustrating back-and-forth visits to the second, third, fourth page of results, indicating a much better overall user experience.

Healthcare Digital Marketing Experiment Example 2

Tackling Digital Disruption with Experimentation

Digital disruption isn’t coming, it has arrived. (It’s even had a few years to unpack and make itself at home.) Here’s what healthcare companies can do to tackle it head-on:

  1. Recognize experimentation as the crux.
  2. Use the Infinity Optimization Process as inspiration to define relevant internal experimentation processes ahead of time.
  3. Map all existing customer journeys.
  4. Map all ideal customer journeys.
  5. Plug the gaps between those two states (existing and ideal) into the experimentation processes defined in step three.

The great thing about experimentation is that it’s a positive feedback loop. The more experiments you run, the higher the quality of your future experiments. It’s simply a matter of getting started—before you’re left behind.

Are you a marketer in the healthcare space, facing digital disruption? We’d love to hear from you! Leave your thoughts, challenges, questions, and strategies in the comments section below.


James Flory

Senior Experimentation Strategist

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Disney takes control of Hulu to challenge Netflix, Amazon

Disney takes control of Hulu to challenge Netflix, Amazon

(Reuters) – Walt Disney Co said it will take full control of the Hulu service in a deal with Comcast Corp, as it vies for a bigger piece of the global video streaming market dominated by companies such as Netflix Inc.

The agreement, which ascribes a minimum equity value of Hulu at $27.5 billion, allows either company to trigger a sale or purchase of Comcast’s 33% stake to Disney as early as January 2024. Comcast has also agreed to fund Hulu’s recent buyout of AT&T’s 9.5% interest in the company.

By establishing an expiration date of five years from now, Comcast is betting the value of its stake will nearly double or more without any more additional financial obligations.

Comcast’s departure from the Hulu board will let Disney prepare unencumbered to expand the scope and reach of Hulu in the domestic and international markets to battle the likes of Netflix, Inc and Apple Inc.

“It is important for Disney to have full control of the direction and content on Hulu,” said Trip Miller, managing partner of Memphis-based hedge fund Gullane Capital Partners, whose funds include Disney shares. “Postponing the closing five years (later) allows Disney to not take on more debt after just closing (its purchase of) Fox, while giving Comcast an option to the upside if/when the Hulu valuation grows during this time.”

Disney is preparing to launch its own streaming service called Disney+ on Nov. 12. At a Tuesday morning investors conference, Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger said the service will launch in India.

Comcast, which is also preparing to launch an NBCUniversal advertising-supported streaming service by the middle of next year, said it will extend its licensing agreement to provide NBCUniversal shows and its live channels until late 2024 and agree to distribute Hulu on Comcast’s cable platform.

To preserve the ability to run NBCUniversal program on its own service, NBCUniversal will have the option to offer some of the shows it currently licenses exclusively to Hulu in one year’s time in exchange for lower license fees. NBCU will also have the option to end most of its licensing agreements with Hulu in three years.

FILE PHOTO: The entrance gate to The Walt Disney Co is pictured in Burbank, California February 5, 2014. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Shares of Disney were up 2.1% at $134.11 in early afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Comcast shares were up 2.2% at $43.20 on the Nasdaq.

Last month, Hulu said it had bought back telecommunications and media company AT&T Inc’s stake in the U.S. entertainment streaming service for $1.43 billion, in a deal that valued Hulu at $15 billion.

Hulu, which competes with Netflix and’s Prime Video, has more than 26.8 million paid subscribers.

Additional reporting by Suphantha Mukherjee; Editing by Shailesh Kuber and Jonathan Oatis

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Train with Google and Microsoft, only at SMX Advanced

Train with Google and Microsoft, only at SMX Advanced

For over a decade, SMX® Advanced has proudly delivered an elite, unbiased, vendor-agnostic editorial program to thousands of search marketers from around the world.

But we also know how important it is to learn first-hand from the search engines you trust with your rankings and advertising dollars.

That’s why we’re thrilled to invite you to Seattle, June 3-5, to train directly with Google and Microsoft. Only SMX Advanced brings these two powerhouses together in one place. Check out what’s in store:

Exclusive Keynotes & Sessions

The SEM track will kick off with an in-depth keynote conversation about the future of search marketing and advice for staying competitive in an increasingly automated landscape — featuring Search Engine Land’s editor-in-chief, Ginny Marvin, Nic Darveau-Garneau, Chief Search Evangelist for Google, Vaishali De, Partner Group Program Manager for Microsoft Advertising Engineering, and Lynne Kjolso, VP, Global Search Sales & Support for Microsoft Search Advertising.

Then, it’s time for insightful, tactic-rich SEO and SEM sessions, including…

  • Google & Bing Talk Spam & Penalties: Want a behind-the-scenes view of how Google and Bing determine what’s good and what’s bad? Join Fili Wiese, former Google Search Quality team member, and Frédéric Dubut, who leads the anti-spam team at Microsoft, for a candid conversation on how both engines are fighting spam and handling manual penalties.
  • What’s New With Schema & Structured Data: Cata Milos, Senior Program Manager at Manager, will join Max Prin, Head of Technical SEO at Merkle, for a look at advanced structured data tactics that ensure your sites rank well by making content accessible to search engines. You’ll also get advice for how to future-proof content to avoid getting left out of the voice search conversation.
  • The Evolution Of Branding: Brand To Demand: Helen Provost, Google, Account Manager, will share brand-new insights why branding is more important than ever, quantify the value of digital brand advertising in the path to purchase, and provide actionable guidance on how to create a branding media plan on a limited budget using machine learning and automation for scale.

Learn With Google

Join the Google Ads team Tuesday, June 4 for full-length sessions exploring some of the most crucial aspects of successful account and campaign management. Check out some of the sessions in store:

  • Managing Large Accounts With Google Ads Power Tools
  • Understanding Your Creative Potential In Google Ads
  • Delivering Fast, Assistive Experiences To Supercharge Your Google Ads Performance

Microsoft Networking & Solutions

You’ll catch Microsoft Advertising (formerly Bing Ads) in a few different places:

  • Meet up Monday evening, June 3 for a special Microsoft-hosted networking event about inclusion and diversity in the workplace.
  • Attend the 2019 Search Engine Land Awards Ceremony & Afterparty on Tuesday evening, June 4, sponsored by Microsoft Advertising, for a fantastic evening celebrating the search community.
  • Come by the Solutions Track on Wednesday, June 5 for two exciting training sessions with the Microsoft Advertising team.

Choose Your Ideal Pass

Book before Monday, June 3 to save up to $300 off on-site rates! Pick the pass that suits your goals and budget and register now.

  • All Access: All sessions, keynotes, networking, and amenities.
  • All Access + Workshop Combo (best value!): The complete SMX experience, plus your choice of an immersive, full-day workshop.
  • Networking & Search Engine Land Awards: Full access to the Expo Hall and networking events, plus sponsored sessions (including Learn with Google and the Microsoft Advertising sessions mentioned above!), downloadable speaker presentations, and more.

Register now!

See you in Seattle!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Marketing Land is a daily publication covering digital marketing industry news, trends, strategies and tactics for digital marketers. Special content features, site announcements and occasional sponsor messages are posted by Marketing Land.

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Neuberger urges Verint shareholders to back its three board nominees

BlueMountain names slate for PG&E board

(Reuters) – Asset manager Neuberger Berman on Monday urged the shareholders of data analytics company Verint Systems to vote for its three director nominees after the company rejected them last month.

In a public letter to shareholders, Neuberger, which holds 2.6% stake in the company, said Verint should transition to a ‘modern cloud business’ model.

Verint could not immediately be reached for comment.

The company had said in April none of the nominees of Neuberger were suitable as potential board members and called the nominations “demonstrably unwarranted”.

The asset manager said on Monday it has owned Verint’s stock since 2006 and has tried to communicate with the company’s board for the last two years, but faced reluctance.

Neuberger said a robust share repurchase plan should be an important part for a “low-growth” company like Verint and that the management needs to make a ‘compelling case’ for keeping ownership of both customer engagement and cyber intelligence units.

Verint shareholders are set to meet on June 20 at its annual meeting and will vote on proposals, including the nomination of directors.

Reporting by Shariq Khan in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur

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Google Ads store visits, store sales reporting data partially corrected

Google Ads store visits, store sales reporting data partially corrected

Another update in the Google Ads reporting bug saga that started on May 2. There’s progress on the store visits and store sales data inaccuracies.

The latest update. Store sales and store visits data has been fixed for April 28 and 29, as well as May 3 onward. “We are actively working on correcting the data for April 30, May 1 and May 2 (all dates in PDT),” Google said in an update to its blog post on the bug Friday.

Recap on what data is still incorrect. Based on Friday’s update, here’s what is still inaccurate:

  • Store visits and store sales: April 30, May 1, May 2
  • All other reporting: 12:01 a.m. on May 1 to 4 a.m. May 2 (PDT)

Why we should care. If you’re counting on complete data and report on store visits or store sales, you’ll want to keep holding off on April reporting. All other advertisers will not have accurate weekly reporting for last week.

We don’t recall a reporting glitch in Google Ads going unresolved for such a long period of time. Advertisers weren’t alerted to the store conversion data problems until six days after the bug was initially reported. As a reminder, this bug only affects reporting, not any automated bidding models.

About The Author

Ginny Marvin is Third Door Media’s Editor-in-Chief, managing day-to-day editorial operations across all of our publications. Ginny writes about paid online marketing topics including paid search, paid social, display and retargeting for Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and MarTech Today. With more than 15 years of marketing experience, she has held both in-house and agency management positions. She can be found on Twitter as @ginnymarvin.

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