When people don’t get what they want, things can get ugly. Revolting, actually. Look at France in 1789. About the same time, on this side of the pond, a fledgling America put people first. Apocryphal or not, telling people to “eat cake” doesn’t build a happy populace. A little “Oui, the people” can go a long way.
Jump forward to today. The pharma industry’s on-trend folks returned from the Consumer Electronics Show with one message: populism has reached our shores. Our customers want what they want. It’s time we put customers first. Increasingly, we have the tools to deliver it. Should we do it or let them eat our ad-soaked cake?
Dr. Mike Thompson is one healthcare’s most social doctors. In January he tweeted (us) this rhetorical note, “What HCP wants ads?”
You’re a king and or queen and people below your balcony are chanting, “What don’t we want? Ads! When don’t we want then? Ever!” Our people are sharpening pitchforks and lighting torches. Revolt is imminent.
They don’t want ads. Tough. I have to make my numbers and things cost money. Before you go to pieces like Marie Antoinette, let’s ask and answer these questions.
First, what do our customers want?
Doctors want to use social media to find stories — just like everyone else. They don’t want their discovery complicated by retweets, hijacked hashtags, and superfluous status updates. In short, they want science, not cat pics. They’re incredibly specific. Declutter the streams, allow me to search for what I want and move pharma out of the dialogue. And they mean it. Dr. Miguel-Angel Perales, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, added that “it would be nice to screen out pharma tweets.” Yikes.
Second, what is a “customer-first” marketing strategy?” I get customer experience when I’m a customer in a consumer world. “Here, Charles, forget the test drive; just take the car home for a week and bring it back if you don’t like it.” But that doesn’t quite work in pharma. “Here, Dr. Perales, give your patient this chemo and if he/she doesn’t respond, you don’t have to pay…” That’s not going to fly. Neither will, “Alexa, a 42 year-old man just presented with a history of heart disease. What should I prescribe?” Besides, we heard what they want: relevant content free of the ads they usually block. We can do this.
Let’s rephrase our third question, making it “Why do I advertise?” Print ads build brand awareness. Think of the first Bud Bowl during Super Bowl XXV or the hundreds of glossy pages that open Vogue’s September’s mega-issue. At first, digital was just pixelated-print. Not anymore. Once word got out that people could track who did what when, marketers inevitably jumped to ascribe returns to specific ads. The presumption is Dr. A saw ad B, clicked on it, went to the site and within C time, prescribed product D. It’s as easy as ABCD. That ad went from creating brand value to lifting scripts. So, why do you advertise – awareness, sales, both or other things? All of the above.
Here’s the really hard final question: “Are we willing to remove (some of) our branded messaging and if we do, how do we measure if we’re still relevant?” At least one big pharma company shifted 10% of their ad budget to better customer experiences in their digital channels. They also happen to be the most sophisticated company we work with. Everyone works with data. They put data to work. They have a robust plan to tie results to their happier populace.
I’ll spot you one bonus question that answers your real question, “How do we know customer-first is going to happen?” Consumer companies are starting to do it. Just this week, Ford hired their first-ever Chief Brand Officer. His task? Inspire and influence marketing, communications, storytelling, and consumer experience to build and differentiate Ford’s iconic global brand.
So, if you don’t want to invoke Captain Bligh’s apocryphal tactic of continuing the beatings until morale improves, put your people first.
Charles Benaiah is CEO of Watzan.