The Nuances Of Human Reality In Healthcare Marketing

As we mark the 20th anniversary of DTC, while so much has changed in contemporary marketing strategy, the nuances of human reality are more important than ever to consider. Some of the most effective healthcare marketing cases are based on a simple insight where a small shift in perspective made a huge difference in impact. They have what a valued client once called “the rock in the snowball” — a simple, powerful idea that made you look at the brand in a fresh way.

During a discussion at last spring’s Health Effie Awards judging session, I was reminded of one of my own Effie-winning campaigns from the early days of DTC that illustrates the difference that a seeming nuance made in driving dramatic business growth.

Ob/gyns had long known that birth control pills often also helped clear up their patients’ acne but felt the benefit applied to the whole category. A smart marketer at Johnson & Johnson’s Ortho-McNeil had done the clinical work to support an acne indication for its Ortho-Tri-Cyclen birth control pill. Unfortunately, the first agency hired created advertising urging women to “take the pill that clears up your skin.” Not only did the business not grow, but the brand found itself facing share declines and angry women and doctors. As you can imagine, management at J&J, the baby company, was quite sensitive to the negativity surrounding their first foray into DTC for oral contraception. The work was pulled and our agency was called upon to pitch for the business.



As we conducted our research, I will never forget the experience in discussions with patients and doctors. One doctor put it best: “I’m a gynecologist, not a dermatologist!” And the pivotal insight came when women practically would have choked me across the table – “How dare you: I take my birth control pill so I don’t get pregnant — not to clear up my skin!” (“you idiot” was implied). So I asked the group: hang on a second — what if I told you “if you’re going to take the pill so you won’t get pregnant, why not take the one that also clears up your skin?” The change in the room was visceral. "Well, that’s completely different." Now you’re respecting my choice to have children on my timeframe and giving me an extra benefit.” Such a tiny nuance made a world of difference.

The “Someday” campaign we created highlighted a young woman who wanted kids someday, imagining a wonderful trip to Paris with her husband and kids, but for now she’s on the pill. Prior to shooting, to ensure we would have doctors on board, we took the storyboards to the doctors who said, in essence, “Yes, all birth control pills have an acne benefit, and if they got the indication and women will be more likely to take it, I’ll prescribe it.” The results: significant business growth resulting in a #1 share.

The lesson for today: In today’s world, listening carefully to subtle nuances can make all the difference to growing your business. To stay abreast, we must constantly evolve the tools we use to understand these nuances, as we have more ability to reflect the human reality than ever before. We must go beyond social listening and search audits to creating true search and social intelligence to get beyond what people are willing or are even able to say to researchers. We are able to understand the nuances in real life language, in real time. We can dig deep into what are people looking for and sharing, which language and visuals they are using to reflect what truly matters most to them. We use co-creation techniques and graphic recorders to illustrate conversations in real time, reflecting their insights back, we find powerful “rocks” in snowballs.

It all comes back to "helping not selling." When we stop simply trying to sell people on our product attributes and, instead, focus on helping people make better, more confident decisions about their health and well-being, on their terms, we drive far greater business growth.

The author served on the 2016 Final Round North American Health Effie Awards Jury.

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