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James Chase
James Chase

For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn. Folklore says this sentence won Ernest Hemingway a literary bar bet after he was challenged to write a complete story in just six words. According to Will Reese, chief innovation officer at Cadient Group, it encapsulates the virtues of taking a minimalist approach to story-telling—an approach that he believes is essential in this contemporary world of “information overload” and “excessive, omni-channel stimuli.”

Reese was addressing delegates at last month's MM&M Skill Sets Live program in New York, entitled Content Marketing for Healthcare. This proved to be a hugely popular (read: sold out) event. The reasons for this seemed to be twofold: first, content marketing is all the rage, of course; and second, it's a topic that, based on anecdotal evidence, seems to fill healthcare marketers with trepidation and confusion.

The idea that a bunch of smart people can be fearful of content creation is a little ironic. After all, it's just storytelling. And I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that sharing stories is pretty much the first thing I can remember doing as a child; at first, simply being read to, and then later attempting to write a few tales of my own. In fact, I still have a hand-written book of short stories I wrote when I was five or six years old (naturally, my handwriting was considerably neater then). Most people have something similar. Therefore content marketing is not some mysterious, new paradigm that requires intricate, technical knowledge, years of training, or learning a new language—it's simply the art of sharing good stories.

Of course, as with other tactics that might appear straightforward-ish for other industries, pharma's experience can be a little more challenging. The industry is historically structured to make sales, and its marketing is conditioned in campaigns that have beginnings, ends, calls to action and demonstrable results. And that's before you even start to talk regulatory.

Bill Meisle, SVP, director of customer engagement, ICC Lowe, is one of many industry voices that refuses to accept that pharma cannot do content marketing. “It requires a new way of thinking,” he told delegates at the same event. “[Companies and brands are] not organized to execute against a content strategy. They don't understand how content marketing will create an impact.”

Meisle, who spent more than a decade at GlaxoSmithKline, also dismissed another popular excuse for not deploying content marketing—that such programs are too expensive. “There's no funding?” he asked. “How about the money we used to spend on DTC? It seems wrong that we can't do this.”

He also urged mar­keters to think like publishers. “In publishing, content is seen as an asset. Pharma marketers can't just dabble; they must engage on a continuous basis.”

Alison Woo, social media director at Bristol-Myers Squibb, agreed with this sentiment in her keynote presentation. “We're all journalists now,” she said. “We're all creators. This is not one-and-done.”

And remember, your stories have to be worth sharing. “99.9% of the time, patients are not thinking about you,” said Reese. “In many cases, they are not even thinking about their disease. They have lives.” He used the example of a Parkinson's patient: “They don't need another site to explain the science. But create ‘20 Tips For Traveling With Parkinson's'—now that's a piece of content people will read.”

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