Being more human is key to tackling apathy

"Brands must understand how audiences want to engage and be guided by their purpose and personality," WE Communication's Catherine Devaney tells PharmaComms

"We know the pharmaceutical industry battles with trust. Yet, the industry has another issue that is impacting us – apathy," Catherine Devaney, Head of Health UK, WE Communications, told the audience at the PharmaComms conference.

Using data from WE’s Brands in Motion study, Devaney set out to explore this apathy – and offered some suggestions on what the industry can do about tackling it.

"The Brands in Motion study seeks to explore the premise that the idea of brand positioning is obsolete. Brands exist in a world of constant motion, which is driven by technology, economics, regulation and crises. All of these external factors affect how audiences see brands. The data helps us to understand how brands can harness that movement and navigate these complexities to win audience engagement and loyalty," said Devaney.

High expectations

Over three years, WE has surveyed 80,000 people for the study and found that people’s expectations never decrease. People want their lives to be easier; they want people to use technology responsibly; they want less division and more unity; they want deeper connections – and they want it to happen immediately. 

"Some of the greatest moments in people’s lives – graduating from university, buying your first house, fully enjoying retirement – wouldn’t be possible for many people without the healthcare industry," said Devaney. "Yet people don’t necessarily credit healthcare brands with making these moments possible. They expect to be healthy. They expect affordable access to the best medical care."

Lack of emotional engagement

As part of the WE’s research, 500 healthcare professionals (HCPs) were interviewed in the UK and asked about their perceptions of the pharmaceutical industry. 

The findings showed that there was almost no emotional engagement. There is also more apathy in Western markets than in China, India and Singapore. "The sceptical UK audience arguably move more toward a negative engagement than pure apathy," added Devaney. 

"Yet in the UK, we did see a slight increase in the important driver of whether the industry is seen as innovative. However, for an industry that defines, and often defends itself on an innovation platform, this should be higher. Why isn’t our innovation narrative landing?" asked Devaney.

 Part of the issue is innovation fatigue. The industry is guilty of calling something innovative when it is more of an incremental improvement. These are important, but if brands aren’t realistic about what is innovative and what is not, then they run the risk of furthering innovation fatigue among audiences.

Being different in the face of indifference

Prescription health is highly regulated and communications tactics have changed little over the past 30 years. However, as the industry continues to evolve, it is important communicators take a step back to re-evaluate how effective these traditional approaches are.

"We need a progressive approach that engineers surprise and creates an ‘ah-ha moment’ that connects to people in a human way. That means showing up differently and in unexpected places," said Devaney.

WE suggests three ways to do this: 

  1. Truly understand people and design comms programmes in a way that taps into current trends

  1. Be led by an authentic purpose and ensure that this translates into action

  1. Have some personality – be more human

"We have to become more relevant in our approach to audiences, but to do this we need to understand what is driving behaviour and find ways of creating communications programmes that engage people in a way they want to be engaged," said Devaney, "disruptive brands in other industries are already doing it and there is a wealth of data out there to help us understand this."

Here are two trends from the Foresight Factory to consider:

  1. Audiophilia

Consumers are accompanied by audio at all times. The advent of the voice assistant has further centred sound in brand interactions and the growing popularity of wireless headphones such as AirPods encourage near-constant access to audio content.

In a world of visual distractions and limited attention spans, use sonic strategies to cut through.

"For example, Mercedes is working with Linkin Park to develop artificial engine sounds for future self-driving cars. Modern engines are growing quieter, and electric vehicles are doing away with natural engine sounds altogether," said Devaney. "This presents auto manufacturers with the opportunity to design brand-specific sounds that reflect their values, and that help consumers better identify their vehicles."

Devaney advised that brands need to understand when and where listeners are tuning in to their content, and then to tailor it to these unique circumstances. "Consider producing shorter content designed to fit into a daily commute, alongside longer-form pieces that require more attention. For greater immersion, consider designing soundscapes that can accompany written pieces," added Devaney.

  1. Reward 360

In a competitive landscape, consumers are encouraged to question their loyalty daily. Audiences want a more diverse range of rewards in 2020. 

Along with rewarding more consumer behaviours, brands will dole out more creative perks: brand cryptocurrency, shout-outs on social and AI-calculated predictive surprises. And expect more to tie rewards to their underlying brand values by donating to social and environmental causes. 

"For example, Shell has made carbon offsetting part of its loyalty programme – at no extra cost to the customer – thereby demonstrating its commitment to sustainability. What loyalty programmes can we offer in health? Maybe for online community of patients – if they pledge to make small change to improve health, it unlocks exclusive content, or access to exclusive events where they help us co-create the next iteration of a campaign," said Devaney.

Be purpose-lead

"Obviously purpose is a hot topic for us as communicators, but our audiences don’t talk about ‘purpose’. They don’t want to be preached at or have brands pretend to care about something. But they do want to understand what companies stand for and to see that they are acting on those convictions," said Devaney.

To research this belief, WE explored the view of the C-Suite when it comes to purpose in their organisations. Nearly three quarters believed that authentic purpose leadership will become as important as financial performance when measuring the success of organisations and 84% believed that this is what their customers are demanding.

Building on that, an Accenture Report found that 55% of people believe that boycotting a company or speaking out on social media makes a difference in how companies behave. And that the leadership of a company influences the buying decisions of customers.  

WE’s Brands in Motion data backed this up, with 55% of payors and HCPs in the study stating that the behaviour of execs influences their decision to support a brand. "So think about how your executives are showing up across channels. Are they helping to tell your story in as human way possible? Are their actions reinforcing your purpose?" said Devaney.

Be more human

"Healthcare communicators need to push their companies beyond their comfort zone, to be creative and take appropriate risks that enable you to make meaningful connections with your audiences. We need to use every touch point as an opportunity to tell a story on a human level," said Devaney.

Communicators need to rethink events such as data announcements or regulatory milestones as opportunities to be human to the core – a moment to reconnect with their soul, express their personality and demonstrate their purpose in the most human ways possible.

"We have to recognise that companies are no longer the sole ‘owners’ of brands," added Devaney. "Being human requires us to make meaningful connections. To tackle apathy healthcare brands must understand how our audiences want to engage and be guided in everything they do by their purpose and personality."


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