While pharma industry’s late realization of its slower pace of reform is widely criticized, it did demonstrate a resilience in facing several challenges of change, caused by Covid-19 pandemic to keep the business going. This was witnessed in many areas of customer-value delivery systems of various companies, also in India.
That said, digitalization notwithstanding, a critical soft skill has now emerged as central for a long-term success in the patient engagement process. A transformation is now much warranted in this area, as it remains generally neglected, even today. This space involves – target-audience specific marketing communication – with well-researched, and contemporary content materials that each patient can relate with one’s needs and expectations from a brand.
Many marketers may be missing out on this nuanced, yet a critical space while striving to make their stakeholder engagement more productive for business. In this article, I shall focus on the art of leveraging this critical soft skill set – ‘empathy’, to fetch better dividend from such initiatives of pharma marketers.
An empathetic intent of what customers need and expect is critical:
‘Empathy’ isn’t totally a revolutionary idea in marketing. But Covid-19 related disruptions in peoples lives and livelihoods, have brought the issue at the center stage of even pharma marketing. In depth understanding or an empathetic intent of what the customers need, expect and are looking for, has emerged as a key requirement of today’s marketing success.
According to studies, with changing patient expectations, preferences, and power to influence treatment decision-making choices, traditional ‘source dominated messages’ are making lesser business impact to their ‘receivers’. The old way of ‘talking at’ the stakeholders with brand messages, gives many receivers a feel that the message is brand biased. It doesn’t encourage them to express their point of view on the same.
Many bright pharma marketers have started understanding the need to listen to and ‘talk with’ them – before and after messaging – to prepare the right personalized content for key customers, and evaluate their business effectiveness, thereafter. This is a nuanced, yet a critical area, which we all need to accept and act upon to ensure a fundamental change in the customer engagement process.
The fundamental difference between the two:
Various experts have acknowledged and explained a fundamental difference between ‘talking at’ and ‘talking with’ conversations. Some these are as follows:
“Talking at someone” is generally used when the message doesn’t intend to offer a reasonable scope for exchange of ideas, or to engage in a conversation, or to express a contrarian viewpoint on a brand or service. Probably, the content doesn’t encourage or elicit any kind of response, especially the negative ones.
Whereas ‘talking with someone’ intends to start a conversation with the brand between the company and the stakeholders. I hasten to add, there are occasions when these two terminologies are interchangeably used. That doesn’t really matter. What does matter is – ‘talking with someone’ requires a critical soft skill. This is called ‘empathy.’ It is so essential – because of today’s need to establish an emotional connect with customers – for any brand or service.
Empathy is essential – remote or digital marketing notwithstanding:
This point was captured in the IBM article, published on August 12, 2020, as it highlighted the Covid pandemic induced rapid transformation in the digital behavior of many consumers in different business areas. This triggered several rapid, path-breaking, and consumer-friendly innovation, even in the health care space. As a result, people witnessed, among many others, a wider use of telehealth, rapid adoption of e-commerce/e-pharmacies, besides a significant swing towards the digital-first economy.
The IBM article also underscored the need of similar transformation in some other critical areas, like marketing, especially to keep pace with the change in digital behavior and expectations of a growing population. ‘People are increasingly demanding authentic connections, helpful information and personalized support from brands,’ as the paper added.
Meeting this demand and further nurturing the same, send a clear signal to pharma marketers to gain deep insight of ‘this new consumer journey,’ the paper reiterated. Thus, in the contemporary business scenario, the marketers would require – ‘to create a sense of empathy and personal connection by scaling your brand voice, delivering valuable content and recommendations, and learning directly from your consumers in the digital ecosystem’- the author emphasized.
It’s now visible in the customer engagement process of several industries:
If one carefully notices a company’s messaging – both its content and the format, it won’t be difficult to sense a transformation taking place in this area for most other industries. The content of the message and the communication format/platform, now appear to be quite dynamic, personalized, and built on a robust pillar of the critical soft skill – empathy, or rather – empathy-based marketing.
Shifting from marketing-centric thinking to customer-centric thinking:
According to an expert group in this area: ‘Empathy-based marketing is about walking into your customer’s shoes to understand their experience and how we can better help them get what they want. You don’t want to think like the customer. You want to BE the customer.’
While trying to do so, a marketer would need to move away from marketing-centric thinking to customer-centric thinking and speak from the customers’ perspective and at their motivational level. Empathy-based marketing, therefore, encompasses the following ideas:
- Empathizing with target-customer’s experience by going into their world.
- Thinking like them while solving a problem and understanding each step they may take to solve it.
- Looking for ways to help customers make their lives better.
- Providing customers with what they want by understanding what motivates them and not what you want them to have.
- Helping them identify and solve problems.
- Empowering employees who are directly in touch with customers and provide them resources, training, and tools, accordingly.
In pharma – its personal or in-person selling – but the messaging is not:
As we know, in pharma the selling process is generally personal. Company representatives personally meet individual customer to deliver a brand message to generate prescription demand. Patient engagement processes too, remain broadly the same, at times with minor variations, though. Despite a great opportunity to deliver unique personalized messages through empathy-based marketing that recognizes individual value and expectation – traditionally, one-size-fits-all type of contents continue to prevail.
Leverage technology to create empath-based marketing:
The challenge is moving towards a whole new digital world order. In this space marketers would require working with a huge volume of credible and contemporary data on target customers, markets, the interplay of different emotional factors. A well thought through analytics-based study, would play a critical role to get a feel of empathy for selected customers. This would, then, be the bedrock to strategize a productive and personalized engagement with them. Leveraging modern technology would be essential to attain this goal.
What would ‘empathy’ construe in pharma marketing:
According to MM+M: “Empathy includes making sure your brand not only understands the condition that a patient has, but also the experience of having that condition, encompassing both the physical and emotional impact.’ People are expecting a reflection of empathy from the pharma players in their engagement process. Patients and consumers can figure out an empathetic message when they see it. They know when a brand ‘gets it’ and when ‘it doesn’t.’ Thus, it’s important that ‘marketers don’t just preach empathy, but they also practice empathy themselves, the paper highlighted.
Today’s marketing mostly addresses the fundamental needs of patients:
As the above MM+M paper highlighted - at a fundamental level, patients just want to get better and feel better and manage their condition effectively. On this premise, most patient engagement initiatives, basically, try to address these fundamental needs, in different ways. However, as the research reveals, the above approach would not generally try to empathize with the target audience. Companies now move beyond the hard facts of medical conditions – their symptoms and relief.
According to the above study, today’s marketers would, simultaneously need to: “Find out what life is like for them. Is it a long, complex, frustrating process to access their treatment? What emotional toll does the disease have on them? On their loved ones? Are they scared? Depressed? Like a method actor, I will soak up everything I can about this person and close my eyes and become them.”
In the contemporary changing market` dynamics, pharma markers can boost the brand performance either by generating increasingly more prescriptions from the existing brand prescribers, or by creating new prescribers. This is an eternal truth and is expected to remain so, as one can foresee today.
As this metamorphosis keeps rolling on, it will necessarily require healthcare marketers to gain contemporary and data-based customer insight – with an empathetic mindset. It’s essential for them to create the ‘wow factor’ – for patients to get the ‘wow feeling,’ because they will be getting a workable solution that they were looking for – to get relief from an ailment. It will, in turn, help most drug companies to overcome the trust-barrier, giving a feel to the customers that the brand and the company do care for them – not just serve the corporate vested interests.
Thus, empathy-based marketing leadership, armed with this critical skill, will also build a long-term and trust-based relationship with stakeholders for better business outcomes. According to a recent research study, published in the Forbes Magazine, on September 19, 2021, ‘empathy’ emerged as one of the most important leadership skills, especially, in the post pandemic business environment, for various reasons.
Consequently, in today’s scenario, only science-based brand engagement with patients can’t possibly help achieve the desired goals any longer. Thus, I reckon, honing the unique soft skill – ‘empathy’, has become central for pharma marketers’ professional success in the digital world – more than ever before.
By: Tapan J. Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.