This past March at the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, one of the world’s renowned futurists, Ray Kurzweil, declared “health” an information technology. The genome is complete, and the era of personalized medicine has begun. Biology will begin to adhere to his famous “Law of Accelerating Returns.”
Just as Moore’s Law foretold the exponential trajectory of the computer processor, the technology of our bodies will exponentially change as devices get smaller, sensors get better, and we begin “turning off” genes we don’t need but still have, thanks to the glacial pace of natural evolution. Another speaker there, Amber Case, calls herself a “Cyborg Anthropologist”—pointing to our growing dependence on mobile devices as part of our very being (anyone remember storing 30 telephone numbers in their heads?), as only the beginning of our ascent into machine-assisted cyborgian culture.
There are also no shortages of exciting start-ups and new devices arising, heralding the dawn of a new healthcare revolution—the Scanadus and Corventis; AliveCors and Soteras, all promising pieces of the quantified self.
And then there is the less-hopeful, non-futurist view of health. The political movements and media-fueled epidemic warning flags. Nearly 32% of children ages 2 to 19 are considered overweight or obese. Seventy-seven million Baby Boomers will be eligible for Medicare over the next 16 years, driving costs up faster than we can fix the broken stuff.
Health is the topic of our era.
And yet many pharma marketers continue to act as though their customers don’t have any other choice but to consume their messages. They spend days and days in market research perfecting that message—rather than listening to their customers’ conversations that are already happening, or better yet, connecting with them in news ways to create innovative solutions to shared problems.
Over 50% of people consider it important to be seen as someone who can see through exaggeration and hype (Yankelovich Monitor, 2005/2006). That means skepticism is a cultural value. And trust is hard-earned. Trust, in people as well as brands, is created by listening, providing value and relevance, being authentic and genuine, having open and honest communication, and being responsive. The pharma industry has a tough time simply being responsive.
Now we all know the challenges around being in a highly regulated industry. Most of the regulations that have been put in place over the years were put there for a reason — to protect the patient. And the irony is that more informed patients, and their endless social graphs and skeptical cultural values, probably wouldn’t need those protections much anyway because the truth of a product will come out despite off-label promotions. We’d take out our phones and hit up an association site, Facebook or Wikipedia, and/or MediGuard, or Treato. Or, if we’re a physician, check Epocrates, Sermo, Medscape, LinkedIn, or send a HIPAA-compliant text to Doximity.
It’s time for pharma marketers to recognize the “Law of Accelerating Returns.” Understand the deep needs, desires, and concerns of your key customers and their influencers. Build relationships through content and services, not messages. Collaboratively with your customers, determine which ideas, utilities, or platforms you can proactively create to maintain positive relationships. Get responsive! Answer tweets in real-time. Open your Facebook walls for commenting. And think about your mobile strategy first. Stop worrying about channels and start engaging your cyborg customers. Because according to the “Law of Accelerating Returns,” they’ll need the information wrapped around your molecule even less tomorrow, but they’ll trust the brand that helped them fix something, or saved them time, or gave them confidence, or shared social currency… or listened.