L-R: Ryan Mason, chief creative officer, Closerlook and Steve Tulk, CTO, Closerlook

Analytics holds great potential to make a difference in the lives of patients and those that care for them. The power of analytics lies in its ability to generate fresh insight based on deep empathy and then act on that insight.

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To date, the enthusiasm in the public discussion surrounding data, analytics, machine learning, and AI has well outpaced the biopharma industry’s meaningful use of those capabilities.

In our industry and the broader culture, mentions of data and AI trigger mental images of hackers, thieves, and machines superior to their human creators. These images have a basis in reality and serve as cautionary tales. However, they are just part of the story. History teaches us that our capacity to effectively wield new tools invariably trails our capacity to create new, powerful tools in the first place.

Empathy as a path to relevance

Several years into the data and analytics hype cycle, we need to leave the periods of over-inflated expectations and disillusionment and apply the wisdom we have gained in meaningful ways. Analytical tech can improve a quintessentially human trait — empathy. Empathy is the key ingredient in delivering what customers increasingly expect of their interactions with biopharma brands — relevance.

Most marketing efforts intended to better serve customers via data-driven insight have centered on connecting customers with the messages most likely to be relevant to them. We have focused on improving the core activity of marketing — communication with customers. While there is still vast room for improvement, there is also room for wholesale innovation.

Empathetic brands are rewarded with customer engagement

Some of the most progressive and empathetic marketers are now able to see how their customers engage their brands across the full sales and marketing spectrum. They make use of data enrichment techniques that allow them to quickly see their customers as multidimensional people interacting with brands in terms that go beyond specific channels — primary sales call, open and click — to be meaningful on a marketing level — content topic, message, and campaign.

Those data-driven pictures of customers’ behavior are meaningful because helpful context and the marketers’ intent are quantified and visualized, too, allowing for insightful conversations about how well marketing and sales efforts are engaging customers and what would make them better. With that new understanding of customer engagement, marketers then combine advanced analytical techniques such as factor analysis with machine learning to discover what messages, channels, and context will be more relevant, convenient, and timely for different customers both initially and over time.

These tech-enabled marketing intelligence systems learn and make recommendations at a speed and scale that humans’ minds cannot. These systems enhance and extend empathy and ingenuity. When done well, all the experiences customers have with a brand feel more like the ones they have with its best sales or customer service reps. Their empathy and insight are scaled, not replaced.

The future of empathy, analytics, and marketing

While our industry has not yet widely adopted this new level of empathy-enhanced marketing, many of the essential building blocks are in place.

The hurdles to greater empathy have more to do with our use of analytical tools than the tools themselves. While the long-sought-after holy grail of right customer/message/channel/time is becoming marketing reality, it is inspiring to look down the road to where this new empathy could lead.

Patients often suffer emotional, financial, and professional burdens related to their disease long after successful clinical treatment has concluded. Analytical techniques could be used to better understand audiences as people with a broad range of real-world needs. These empathy-driven techniques should become an integral method for inventing new services and solutions to patients’ problems.

Biopharma brands that use data to better understand customers, their needs, and the benefits of addressing those needs with a potent combination of product, service, and support will possess a source of evergreen innovation, customer loyalty, and competitive advantage for years to come.

Steve Tulk is CTO and Ryan Mason is chief creative officer of Closerlook.