The UK health-and-wellness sector is in crisis. According to WE Communications’ Brands in Motion (BIM) research, 59% of consumers in the UK say they hate the industry and 57% believe it is doing more harm than good.
These statistics won’t come as a surprise to those who work in pharmaceuticals – but medical devices, consumer health brands and med tech do not fare much better.
What can those working in healthcare communications learn from the data? Why does it matter? What are we going to do about it?
1) What we can learn
This was the first year in what will be an annual look into the emotional and rational drivers behind people’s perceptions of different industries and their buying decisions. Over 32,000 consumers (~23.9k) and B2B (~8.5k) decision-makers were surveyed across six markets.
A key finding was that consumers’ expectations are growing exponentially. And they are not satisfied with the health industry. Across all markets, including the UK, the sector sat in the Survivor quadrant.
A Survivor scores low in both emotional and rational drivers. These brands have either just survived something big or they’re on the precipice… They are at risk of becoming irrelevant.
2) Why it matters
Despite this perception, 61% of respondents intend to purchase or use a health-and-wellness products in the next year. So, what is there to worry about?
As many pharmaceutical companies, as well as other healthcare companies, say they intend to move to a patient-centric organisation, not engaging on an emotional or a rational level forms a weak foundation. A lack of patient-centricity has a commercial impact.
When pharmaceutical companies focus on serving patients, as their ultimate customers, they are better off. Being truly-patient centric will drive revenue and profit for pharma; a global survey of pharma execs and other stakeholders found that 93% believed that a patient-focused strategy improved overall business outcomesPatient Centricity Works: ensuring a patient-first strategy drives real results in commercial pharma from EyeforPharma
Even if the product itself is cutting edge, the communications approach may fall behind. Also, medical device or health tech companies are recognising the need to obsess less with their product’s benefits and focus more on the end user.
3) What we can do
Pharma is responding to the threat of disruption through buying expertise (Roche’s acquisition of Flatiron Health in February) and by looking outside the usual talent pool for a more consumer and technology-focused approach.
Joe Jimenez, who stepped down as CEO of Novartis in February, has a background in FMCG having worked for Heinz; GSK CEO, Emma Walmsley, joined from L'Oréal.
But how does this change in focus become the ethos for day-to-day decision-making across a global business – against a backdrop of compliance considerations, sales targets and resource restrictions?
Catherine Devaney, head of health, WE UK says: "It requires individuals to be brave and do the right thing for the patient – not the easy thing for them or the organisation. When WE is developing content designed to impact a client’s objective, we ask ‘Is this a task we’re completing for the client… or does it bring value to the audience?’
"We also try to remember that patients are people – and consumers. Patient- or user-centricity is not about a medical condition but the human condition."
Technology is helping and accelerating consumer expectations; the healthcare industry is not keeping pace. The industry players need to turn this into an advantage, to reach people on a rational and emotional level to move into a leading spot – or risk becoming irrelevant.
A good understanding of the world in which we live, human nature and ever-changing consumer expectations, along with a commitment to developing content that adds value to those consuming it, will help healthcare companies make real the commitment of being patient-centric.
Catherine Devaney, WE Communications says: "WE uses BIM insight from consumers and B2B decision-makers to inform understanding of audience expectations. This has led to guiding principles to ensure our work is more relevant and impactful for audiences – and our clients."
Five drivers of progressive healthcare communications:
1 Think person not patient. Communications strategy must be designed and delivered with the end audience in mind – content should educate, entertain and inform.
2 Balance function with purpose. The purpose inherent in healthcare is a high-value asset.
3 Emphasise innovation. Being cutting edge, or adopting a cutting edge approach engages on both a rational and an emotional level.
4 Embrace the speed of evolution. Successful health brands need to innovate within regulatory guidelines.
5 Focus on proof over promise. Our value-based environment requires a range of evidence to evaluate any product – be it pharmaceutical, device or health technology.