Commentary

I Am Not Your 'Target'

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.

4 comments about "I Am Not Your 'Target'".
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  1. Thomas Villing from Villing & Company, Inc., May 10, 2013 at 10:39 a.m.

    I was intrigued by the headline of this article enough to read it... and intrigued by the first two paragraphs in terms of where the article might go from there. Frankly I was disappointed. Not that the author didn't raise an interesting issue about how we refer to the recipients of our marketing messages. But I think the discussion bogged down in semantics. To me, the choice of words like "target" or "patients" simply provides an easy and universally understood handle for healthcare marketing practitioners. What is more important than the word choice is the mindset behind the words. If, as marketers, we truly view our "audience" in such a non-empathetic way, there is clearly a problem. I don't believe that is the case for most healthcare marketing professionals.

  2. Kelley Connors from KC Healthcare Communications LLC, May 10, 2013 at 12:17 p.m.

    Thanks for this reminder Sara. In a world that is socially-inspired, healthcare is no exception. In fact, even more than other categories, healthcare is Personal. When marketers force themselves to push messages on those that they seek to serve, authenticity, connection and intimacy suffers. The brand becomes a product with features and benefits operating outside the realm of a human being. When a brand thinks like a human being, and starts speaking "with" patients instead of "to" them, the labels will be dropped naturally.

  3. Sarah Larcker from Digitas Health, May 10, 2013 at 1:11 p.m.

    Thank you both for your comments. Kelley, I wholeheartedly agree. Thomas, I also agree with your point; that is the reason I wrote the article. While I do believe semantics matter, the use of such phrases is symptomatic of a deeper issue at play.

  4. Tim Orr from Barnett Orr Marketing Group, Inc., May 10, 2013 at 7:34 p.m.

    The traditional term, "audience," isn't very good. People haven't gathered to hear about our product or service. "Target" isn't quite right either. Reminds me of Howard Gossage's, "Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them. Sometimes, it's an ad." Or, "The only 'junk' mail you get is the stuff that doesn't interest you." Obviously, Sarah, you're intensely interested because you have used and/or needed the drug. Someone else might not be. In a way, advertisers are still in the "announcing" business. We hope something we say will attract people to what we're announcing and that what we say about it will interest them and stimulate their desire to try our product or service. Then we have to encourage them to take action, because experience suggests that if we don't, they won't. "Corns gone in 5 days or money back!" doesn't work as well as "Something cured in 5 days or money back!"

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