Healthcare marketing will never be the same again. More accurately, whatever is coming is much more than a new scenario; it is complete change of paradigm…
Healthcare marketing will never be the same again. More accurately, I should say that whatever is coming is much more than a new scenario; it is complete change of paradigm – a new paradigm that is always in 'beta' mode. So great is the change that it will give shape to something we are not yet capable of understanding in any accurate way.
Realising that you no longer have the total control of the brand message is difficult to assume and scary. But the truth is that healthcare providers (HCPs) are right now storytelling their opinions, experiences, unmet needs, therapeutic strategies and ideas via the Social Web.
They are looking for networking, connectivity, collaboration and knowledge in these new ecosystems which are 'common and global grounds' to enjoy social networking under the principles of transparency, joy, no inhibition, sincerity, honesty and generosity. These online conversations surpass, in terms of credibility and efficacy. The traditional communication tools such as sales reps, scientific congresses, advertisements and KOL´s top-down messages… the pyramid is being re-shaped.
There is a manifesto posted recently by a Spanish internist asking that the pharmaceutical companies stop drug promotion via sales reps. The blog is being spread across the web like wild fire, and many doctors of different specialities are openly showing their support. And this is just a local sample of a groundswell phenomenon addressing this particular issue in a global basis.
In addition, the new, educated patient is contributing with significant weight to the above-mentioned change of paradigm: many of them are no longer passive and much less tentative about the use of social media, and have become considerably more enabled, engaged, active, connected, social and educated about its use. They strongly demand reciprocity, and respect, and are being carefully listened to.
Needless to say, other stakeholders in the healthcare value chain are facing the same issue: nurses, pharmacists, hospitals, scientific societies, etc. The age of paternalistic medicine is ending, whereas the age of participatory medicine has begun. Everyone empowered by the Social Web demands to co-create. It's good news.
However, the adoption of social media by these stakeholders is still to some extent taking its time. I would point to two main reasons: first, the lack of understanding about the 'big and very valuable picture of social media', and secondly the fear of embracing risk by being the first innovators (the risk around dealing with regulatory issues, including eventual adverse event reports).
Healthcare social media is an unstoppable trend; whether you want to or not if you hold responsibility for branding, communication and marketing you will have to escape from the comfort zone and embrace the possibility of failure.
This is the reason why some people are making such a great effort in evangelising and mentoring the market while closely observing all the great opportunities the Social Web is continually bringing. It is a kind of 'catch 22' where share and learn are taking place at the same time. Everyone wants to know from the experts… but nobody can be tagged as a real guru.
In the meantime, there are the first attempts at starting to use social media in therapeutic areas such as fertility, oncology, depression, contraception, skin care, HIV and multiple sclerosis, among others. These initiatives – still shy but brave – are intended to engage and foster conversations between patients and HCPs.
In general terms, healthcare ad agencies need to be radically reinvented: the model, as we have known it, is over. Some agency professionals must be willing to leave their vanity and realise that there is life after the 30-seconds TV commercial.
This is a great chance to go back to the basics of advertising, because the essence of our business, meaning building strong brands, remains the same. It is just a question of thinking that it is a must, not a 'nice-to-have', to consider social media as part of the mainstream communication mix.
We all know that doing things differently is scary, especially when it challenges the establishment and status quo. But understanding change is a better alternative to extinction for today's advertising agencies.
And fortunately, things have changed…forever.