Time to Ditch the Security Blanket
Smashing Unhealthy Stereotypes in Healthcare Communications
The lazy tropes of healthcare comms have been allowed to exist for so long, that for many, they’ve become a security blanket. Cuddly reasons to resist innovation and daring to try harder: for our clients, for the category, for better global health. If last year has taught us anything, it’s that the conservative world of healthcare can adapt and indeed, adapt at pace. As an industry then, we find ourselves at a very important crossroads. Will we allow ourselves to slip back under the covers of ‘but we’re healthcare’? Or will we use this as our moment to break new ground and bring in lasting change in the way that our industry communicates.
While the list of unhealthy stereotypes within healthcare communications would actually be longer than the balancing copy in a generic pharmaceutical sales aid, we have identified the four worst offenders that we believe are in serious need of smashing.
Healthcare comms should be… rational.
While it’s perfectly understandable that an essential element of healthcare marketing has to be evidenced based, too much emphasis is being placed around what our clients can actually say (they do love a claims sheet). What this means is that not enough focus is being paid to what our audiences need and want to hear. Aristotle examined this very idea back in the 4th century, in his book, Rhetoric. In studying the art of persuasion, he proves that ‘logos’, the data and facts of an argument went hand in hand with ‘pathos’, the emotion and storytelling. In healthcare, we actually have incredible stories to tell - let’s start telling them and bring our data to life for our audiences through emotional storytelling. Contrary to popular belief, healthcare professionals (HCPs) are actually human beings. And whilst they’re taught to ask for, and indeed critique, data supplied by our industry, we’re only doing half the job if we fail to also engage their humanity.
Healthcare comms should be… rigid and serious.
As the culture for healthcare communications has historically been set by big pharma, it has tended to be fairly conservative in nature. Campaigns would follow a set methodology, social media engagement was at a minimum, if present at all, and the tone was always rather straight. Over the years, this format has been supported by health specialist agencies, and thus no-one has really challenged these conventions. That is, until now. The arrival of Emerging Biopharm Companies (EBCs) is giving this rigid methodology a long overdue shake-up. EBCs are essentially start-ups and therefore come to market with an established entrepreneurial spirit. They understand the need for agility, how essential brand building is, and the need to have an always-on dialogue with their audience. It seems that these challenger brands also understand that, like humans, brands can use many different tones of voice. Whilst in the past, serious information was traditionally delivered in an equally serious tone, these ECBs have proven that a lighter, more irreverent tonality, if used appropriately, can really cut through and become far more memorable. This presents a tremendous opportunity to smash the old health comms mould and act to nudge big pharma towards brave new territories.
Healthcare comms should be… plastered in bar charts.
Can we please take those HCP sales aids, with their big block bar charts and arrows pointing to how much better their product works versus the competition, and throw them all into room 101? We all witnessed during the government Covid briefings just how pointless viewing meaningless graphs can be; ‘next slide please’. If that isn’t motivation enough to embrace better data visualisation, what is? On top of that, is the knowledge that face to face selling opportunities with HCPs will become more and more rare. This will force marketers to think of new and innovative ways of showcasing their data in the digital materials that they provide their customers. Think gamification, UX, and interactivity. When you consider that in the digital space, we are all competing with entertainment platforms and not just generic drug equivalents, it becomes very clear that we must make our data work harder.
Healthcare comms should be… dismissive of content.
It’s not entirely clear why content was greeted so unfavourably by the healthcare category all those years ago. Perhaps it’s because most originated from the frivolous world of FMCG marketing, and didn’t mix well with old school medical education programmes? Whatever the reason, there’s no doubt that healthcare content has never been more popular than it is right now. A post-Covid world is one where patients, whenever possible, will be kept out of healthcare facilities, and where interaction with HCPs will be virtual. This not only opens up an opportunity, but a truly unmet need, for great content that is both informative and entertaining. It’s time to put an end to this nonsense that patient education materials are a tick box exercise and that HCPs want to engage with a PDF version of your sales aid uploaded to your website. If we embrace it, we have an opportunity to start creating the type of content that will rival that of consumer brands.
Right now, healthcare brands have the spotlight on them like never before. As an industry, we can use this opportunity to show the world that the healthcare sector is one of the richest places a marketer can work and that health is at the forefront of communications excellence. BBD Perfect Storm Health has been created to do just that. We’re on a mission to smash these and many other unhealthy stereotypes and to ensure that great healthcare brands no longer draw comfort from the security blanket of the expected, but draw it instead from the knowledge that together we are moving our entire category into the future.