Clearly, digital publishing alternatives using solutions such as Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite are having a significant impact on how readers consume magazine content. But the impact goes much further. There is an increasing use of digital publishing within enterprises to better arm sales forces and to engage customers and other constituencies in new and different ways. We recently spoke with the creative team at the Buffalo Bills to learn how the team is using digital publishing apps to more actively engage its broad base of fans. In this article, we turn our attention to the medical industry through a discussion with Stephen Brown, Creative Director at Stryker Orthopaedics in Mahwah, New Jersey.

WTT: Stephen, how did your transition to using digital publications to better engage sales and customers begin and why?

SB: With the launch of the iPad in April of 2010, we became interested in how we might use this means of communication to better arm our sales people with both training and sales tools. We began with the development of iOS apps, and ended up with a number of them. But we found that learning the new iOS platform wasn’t easy. The catalogue of apps and content were difficult for us to manage, and we had to enlist programmers in multiple time zones to get the work done. So something that should have been creative ended up in the world of coding. Everytime we wanted to add a product to the My Stryker portfolio, for example, it had to be coded in, and that was expensive and time consuming.

WTT: What did you do to address that?

SB: We were already users of Adobe products, including InDesign, and it was very natural for us to transition this work to the Digital Publishing Suite (DPS). That put us back into creativity mode rather than programming mode. We could create content as we always did for print, but instead of sending it to a printer, we published to the iPad. It was a seamless transition as far as our sales force was concerned. They were already used to the app feel of navigating around the content, and they didn’t know whether they were in an app or whatever. It didn’t really matter.

WTT: How did this approach change the way your sales people interact with their surgeon customers?

SB: In the “old days,” they carried a milk crate full of brochures in their cars and would pull those out to leave with the surgeons. The next step was to pull up a PDF and email that to the customer. With our DPS implementation, we give our sales people a magazine that enables them to tell a story. It has chapters and animation and becomes a real selling tool, not just an information platform. We call these iZines. It also allowed our marketers to express the individuality of each of their brands.

WTT: What kind of adoption rate did you see?

SB: Seven out of 10 of our top branches were using the iPad frequently on sales calls. Because it is a digital platform and enables tracking of sophisticated metrics, we were able to determine that we had a 78% usage rate among our sales force. On just one of our digital publications, I already have almost a million page views, and we have 10 different active publications. The sales force is using this, believe me. And they are going back to content—62% return within a day and they are spending an average of 13 minutes on each magazine. Interestingly, our regular iOS apps, the first one took 29 months to get up to 600,000 page views; it only took nine months for us to get to that volume with the DPS implementation.

WTT: You indicated they are using these publications on sales calls with surgeons. How has that shifted the sales dynamics?

SB: One of our copywriters found some research that indicates that putting the iPad in the hands of a customer does influence buying decisions. And we have found that to be true with our surgeons. In the past, the sales person might have had 10 minutes with a surgeon, handed him a brochure, and hoped that he would spend time with it later. Now, though, it is quite common for those appointments to extend longer when you put the iPad in the hands of the surgeon and he can interact with videos, animation and more. It brings everything to life. There is a significant engagement factor there. It’s much more than a glorified PDF, it is truly an interactive experience.

WTT: What are some of the other benefits you have seen?

SB: Sales people are by nature very competitive. They are now able to view real-time stacked rankings of how they are doing against their peers. Now, take our End of the Year Bone Cement promotion app for example. Previously, a sales person would take an order on paper and input it into the system later. It could take a week for an order to show up. Now we are tied directly to the back end. It’s a very simple app. The rep chooses a customer, the desired product, and the deal comes up with a savings calculator that connects right into the back end, showing the surgeon or hospital what they will save depending upon what they buy. Once the decision is made, the sales rep hits the order button, places the order, and it is instantly in the system. We saw a sales increase of several million dollars year over year, and many of the sales reps attribute that to the apps.

WTT: What about regulatory implications? You are obviously in a highly regulated industry.

SB: From a regulatory perspective, print is a nightmare. If something had to be changed or we discovered an error, we could never track down all iterations of the publication on a global basis. Now we can manage all of our content centrally for global distribution. The Stryker App Store only shows reps what they have access to, and we can also manage agency and distributor iPads. If content needs to be corrected, updated or changed in any way, we can pull back the old content and publish the new. You can also control what can be viewed internally versus externally. Regulatory is very happy about all of that.

Print is not dead and will not be dead for quite a while, but it is not as healthy as it was 10 years ago. It needs to learn how to go on a diet and scale back.

WTT: What did replacing the milk crate with the iPad do to your use of print?

SB: In 2010, we spent about $600,000 on printing; in 2011, that dropped to $300,000; and last year we spent about $200,000. But I think even more important than the money saved is the time to market. You can walk in with an emergency today, and the material can be on iPads the same afternoon. If that is what the business needs, we can make it happen. We will likely always be printing some things, including leave-behinds and patient information for doctors’ offices, but the volume has dropped significantly. Patients like to take the information home, what you can expect when you have joint pain, etc. Print is not dead and will not be dead for quite a while, but it is not as healthy as it was 10 years ago. It needs to learn how to go on a diet and scale back. For many organizations, if their printer offered a print job and could quickly turn that into an iPad magazine for you using this process, that would be a great offering. Unfortunately for our printers, we are doing this in house. As InDesign pros, learning DPS was much easier than we thought it would be.

WTT: As creative professionals, what are your thoughts about the quality of the presentation when using DPS?

SB: There is a design factor that is important. People understand quality. You don’t have to be a cook to understand the difference between Burger King and Morton’s. They can tell good from bad even though they don’t design. If you do something well, it comes through. Just like with brochures that are elegant and well thought-out, form follows function. It gives the impression you know what you are doing, and that good impression flows through to the impression of the product you are trying to sell. The difference here is that using DPS gives us speed to market and speed to the iPad. One of the first DPS apps that we created two summers ago was created in two days. We started from nothing and didn’t even know this was on the table. We got the request on a Tuesday morning and by Wednesday afternoon we were ready to go out to mobile devices. Recently, we made a folio from a PowerPoint file in about five minutes, and five minutes later it was published to the iPad. That was probably not the best folio we have ever done, but sometimes speed is more important than quality and DPS is very versatile in that regard. You could never do this at these speeds with print, especially considering global distribution.

When that vendor looks at you and says, “I care more about your success than my ability to bill you for stuff,” that’s when you know you have a good partner.

WTT: What advice do you have for printers as it concerns extending their services beyond ink or toner on paper?

SB: Vendors sometimes just care about billing opportunities, where people inside this building care about our success and our stock price. Some good vendors see themselves as partners in your success. That’s the kind of person that will get your interest and your trust. When that vendor looks at you and says, “I care more about your success than my ability to bill you for stuff,” that’s when you know you have a good partner.

If I was a smaller business and didn’t have a staff of über qualified and talented designers that are hungry to do this, I might outsource this kind of work. We have been dealing with our current printer for 14 years. He knows he is selling a commodity and that we are buying into him, who he is and what he represents, not print or his company per se. It is a personal relationship. When other printers call me, I tell them I am married and not willing to change, and if I was their customer they would want me to say the same. We are looking for a long-term relationship and they are it.

The other thing I say to people, this transition to DPS apps took what was at the time kind of a boring existence as a designer and put the destiny back into our hands. It gave us control and let the programmers go back to what they did well, everybody in their comfort zones. We’re not asking designers to be coders and vice versa. It just set the world right again. It was also exciting, just learning a few new tricks on top of a program you really love. You know the buttons to push to get the horsepower and it is like magic. We feel like we have an even better product than we had before, and that’s good for us and for our customers.