My agency was recently invited to participate in a pitch about which I was especially excited. The pitch was for a pharmaceutical product I’ve been taking for years – one that is critical to my health. Not only was I able to participate as an account planner helping to create the strategy and inspire our creative teams, but I could also draw on my personal experience and insight. After all, I’m an individual deeply passionate about an essential medication with which I’ve had more than 10 years of experience.
It was exciting to tackle the pitch process from both sides. I’ve always had lots of ideas about what the manufacturer could do to really help the people who prescribe and take their product. As a planner, I finally had a means for considering these ideas. And I could bring a little more compassion to the strategy. As an added personal benefit, it was cathartic to speak about my personal experiences, both with our internal teams and other people on this product.
But something began to bother me; a tendency that I, too, have been guilty of. Somewhere along the line, as a matter of convenience or shorthand, we begin to refer to people as patients. Or sufferers. Or caregivers. Or, worst of all, targets.
When we generalize to “patients,” we lose resolution. We lose the person inside that patient. And “sufferers?” No one is defined solely by his or her relationship with a disease.
Most polarizing of all is “target.” When we call our customers “targets,” do really we mean that? Do we mean to aim our forces at them and barrage them with messages? Do we expect this to be effective in a world where they can so easily ignore us – and form their own opinions of us?
How we define our customers defines our brand. If we treat them as “targets”, they become the opposition to us. And their responses will reflect that. For brands to succeed, we must treat our customers as partners, with common goals, seeking mutual value. The disease is our target, not our customers.
Let’s remember that those we are working to help are – first and foremost – people. They are individuals. Let’s move away from starting with a sole focus on the business objective, creating an idea, and then attempting to fit that idea to “patients.” Instead, let’s think and plan with empathy, starting with the problems at the center of people’s lives and working outward, finding areas of opportunity where these needs intersect with our business objectives.
In this way, people get help they need. Clients get better results. And agencies get to create more meaningful work. In the end, eliminating “sufferers” and “targets” from our vocabulary is good for us all.