A recent analysis of 172 million social media posts on cancer showed that after a basic understanding of the disease and the therapy options, patients look for inspiration.

Patients need to know they aren’t alone. They want to know there are others like them who have successfully managed their disease.  

People are looking for hope.

Pharma is in the hope business. Or at least it should be. But more often than not, we seem to be in the science business.

We tend to focus on clinical trial data, outcomes research or mechanism of action (MOA). With lots of warnings about adverse events.

All that information is good and important (and geeky for some of us), but for patients, the clinical data or the MOA is rarely fully appreciated because it’s seldom the most important issue.

We focus on the head when we should be addressing the heart. We should be offering reasons for hope.

As marketers, this is a helpful reminder that our first order of business is to respond to the most important needs of patients, not products. It means tapping into real emotions as expressed in the language of patients.

As we engage in an authentic way with the real experiences of patients, we will learn more clearly what else they need and how we can help. This insight will support a more inclusive and hopeful brand and creative strategy.

Here are three examples of ways that pharma could enhance the patient experience and bring hope.

Learning to listen

Considering the entire patient experience beyond just a drug intervention is a good place to start. By focusing on the arch of the experience to understand the physical and emotional roller coaster patients often undergo, we can create more supportive and useful patient services.

For example, we might discover that the most frustrating aspect of receiving a weekly infusion is getting to a site of care. In the short-term this could be solved by a transportation solution, but longer-term this might demonstrate the business case for the development of an at-home administration option.

Understanding and discussing the entire patient experience in a more open and candid way will inform a broader patient services strategy. One that will make hope tangible.

Facilitating patient connections

Another way to support patients is to help them find others like themselves. Online patient communities are particularly valuable for engaging patients and caregivers and making connections.

For people wrestling with a rare disease, just finding another fellow patient to talk to can mean a difference between loneliness and resolve.

For example, Imerman Angels is the world’s largest one-on-one cancer support network, linking 40,000 people around the world, including patients, survivors and caregivers, to lend support and empathy.

By partnering with non-profit organizations such as Imerman Angels as part of its patient strategy, pharma can have a profound impact on the experience of its patients.


Storytelling creates engagement, builds awareness and encourages empathy. Capturing real stories and letting patients talk in their own voice inspires trust.

If done well, it will inspire personal reflection.

At the center of all our communications to both professionals and patients, we need to clearly and compassionately allow patients to tell their experiences in their own words, including their frustration, confusion, anger and faith. Grit. Hope.

Hope as the operative word

Hope should be the underlying operative word behind all patient marketing.

Drugs will do their important work, but in many cases, the emotional and mental commitment of the patient to keep fighting and overcoming their malady is just as crucial to the eventual outcome.

The answer combines the promise of the science and the acknowledgment of emotion. Pharma products and stories of hope.

It’s the ultimate combination therapy.

David Ormesher is CEO of Closerlook.