Pharma CMO: Why We're Being Blinded by Our Brands

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Recently, Forbes ran an article from Wild Pixel Media founder and CEO Carlos Machicao lamenting the fact that healthcare advertising is boring. I agree. I see the industry's advertising as a sea of sameness.

Each creative campaign focuses on product features without demonstrating the company in question “gets it” and why HCPs or patients should care about the product advertised. The problem is not unique to the world of life sciences — I see it in other industries, as well.

To fix this, Machicao suggests more direct-to-consumer advertising. But if HCP advertising is boring, wouldn't DTC advertising meet the same fate? It would likely be built by the same brand teams and agency.

Let's go back to the root of the problem: Marketers who fall too in love with their brands.

The closer we are to a brand, the less we see. When we go into our strategic-planning sessions that lead to the creative expression of our brand, we focus on features. We look for differentiation between our brand and our competitor. To us, every nuance is a clear and compelling reason to buy.

The focus then turns to the creative and the channel. Millions are spent sending the differentiating points through all different channels. Whether the pitches are directed at patients or HCPs, I have seen so many campaigns across various industries that are visually compelling, but lack a soul. It's like seeing a beautiful person across the room, then looking into his or her eyes and seeing nothing there.

When we look at points of differentiation, we need to ask ourselves, “Who cares?” Then we must ask, “What do our customers care about?”

There are many definitions of marketing. That's why I have built a pragmatic definition around what I try to do on a day-to-day basis: Create a compelling story that generates the desired behavior.

Our story must include a subject that will engage the audience. It must build the messaging and relate it through the channel of our audience's choosing. This is true whether you are working for Gulfstream or Wrigley.

But if we don't focus on features, where should we place our emphasis? The answer: on features in the context of an emotional benefit.

We need to present our features in a way that appeals to both the rational and emotional sides of our customers. When you see features-based campaigns that come off as soulless, the odds are the brand team's focus was on the rational. The mistaken notion underlying it: If we present our case in a logical manner, it will be clear to everyone our product should be chosen over all others.

Campaigns such as this are destined to score high in focus groups, but yield dismal ROI. That is because we ignored the full process of buying. People eliminate rationally but buy emotionally.

Let's use the example of buying a house. When you talk to someone who just bought one, you usually hear about the features first. But when the buyers are asked how many houses they looked at and why most were eliminated, they respond with rational reasons such as taxes, commute, school district, and proximity to services.

The decision came down to two or three houses, and emotion likely made the difference: “I can see my kids playing in the backyard”; “I can see us entertaining in this kitchen”; “It felt right.”

Of course, if you looked back at the buyer's list of supposed must-haves, you'll see all the concessions made to emotion. And when you point this out, the buyer will likely respond with a rationalization along the lines of “we can add that later.”

Healthcare campaigns that fail to appeal to both the rational and the emotional are destined to fall short. When people choose a product, they are tying themselves to it. The product becomes an extension of themselves and must help them achieve their goals. This requires healthcare marketers to channel their branding sides as opposed to their advertising sides.

Listen more closely to your customers. Go beyond the group discussions in front of a one-way mirror and hold qualitative sessions that delve into why your customers behave the way they do. You must tell a story that gives them a reason to buy, as well as the desire.

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