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Keep your audiences close

How getting up close and personal with target audiences can fuel creativity

When we, along with six other senior pharma communicators, got together with the Healthcare Communications Association (HCA) and 90TEN to talk about what was stifling innovation in our sector, we all agreed that not understanding what our audiences want and need was a key culprit. In pharma – an industry built on an ability to identify unmet needs and innovate to address them – it sounds obvious that our communications must be closely focused on our audiences’ needs. Why, then, is this not always the case? How can getting closer to our audiences help us to give our communications the injection of creativity we believe they need?

We’re not as close to our audiences as we used to be

Market research, when done well, can help us to paint a vivid picture of what life is like for a group of patients and the healthcare professionals involved in their care. It can tell us what worries them, what motivates them and what matters to them the most. These nuggets of insight have fuelled many a creative communications campaign, but access to this kind of research isn’t something we can take for granted. While the depth and breadth of market research varies dramatically between companies, therapy areas and products, recent years have seen a trend towards less research. At the same time, it has become more difficult for us to talk to patients. Bureaucratic hurdles have made planning patient advisory boards and even meetings with patient advocacy groups more onerous than ever. While many communicators have fond memories of time spent shadowing sales team members to understand healthcare professionals’ points of view, even this seems to be much less common today.

There is a risk that as our opportunities to understand the world from our audiences’ perspectives fade away, this can lead to campaigns being developed in a vacuum, with educated guesswork taking the place of the genuine audience insights that should be shaping them. Letting this happen isn’t good for our capacity to innovate. It isn’t good for our ability to deliver creative communications that connect, inspire and cut through the noise to reach our audiences. Ultimately, it isn’t good for the patients we serve.

Fish where the fish are

If you wanted to catch some fish, you might grab a rod, hop into a boat and sail to a spot you liked the look of – somewhere easy to get to and where the sea isn’t too choppy. Then you could drop your line in the water and hope that fish swim past and take a fancy to your bait. This may sound like a recipe for a pleasant afternoon, but does it sound like a recipe for catching any fish? What about catching the specific type of fish you want to catch? Or catching more fish than you have ever caught before?

When it comes to healthcare communications, we’re not after any old fish and we’re not prepared to go home empty-handed. We need to fish where the fish are. This is why our communications need to be rooted in a detailed understanding of our audiences. Before we even think about getting into our fishing boat, we need to know what type of fish we are setting out to catch and – vitally – we need to know where they swim. What kind of bait do they like? What kind of rod should we use? Would a net be better? What is the best time of day to catch them? Will we need a bigger boat? We must answer all these questions about our intended catch, but we can’t stop there. We need to get into the water and swim with our fish to find answers to the questions we didn’t even know to ask.

Our audiences, their needs and their insights should be front and centre, not just when we plan a campaign, but at every stage of planning and delivery. It is through immersing ourselves in their world and bringing everything we learn into our communications that we can spark the creativity that will lead to breakthrough innovations in our work. The Cannes or Canned? group mapped out three ways that we can work towards achieving this.

Bringing the audience’s mindset into everything we do

While it would be truly amazing to be able to bring a patient or doctor to every meeting, this clearly isn’t an option. We can, however, adopt a mindset that keeps our audiences front and centre of every decision at every stage of planning and delivery. One company does this by including an empty chair in meetings and encouraging meeting participants to sit in it to take on the patient’s mindset and be the patient’s voice.

Research that gets to the heart of the matter

The Small Talk Saves Lives campaign is an excellent example of innovative and creative communications fuelled by in-depth audience insights. Launched by the Samaritans, Network Rail and the British Transport Police, the campaign aims to reduce cases of suicide on the railways by giving bystanders the confidence to step in. It is based on research indicating that bystanders could help to prevent suicides by simply striking up a conversation with someone at immediate risk. But the team behind the campaign didn’t stop gathering insights there: they went on to consult people who had experienced suicidal thoughts, those who had lost loved ones to suicide, train users and the general public.

This type of surround-sound research, that digs beneath the surface of an issue and explores it from every angle to truly understand the struggles, needs and motivations of everyone involved, is what we should be aiming for. We need to look beyond the traditional news hook survey to really get to the heart of what matters to the people who matter to us.

Trying, testing and testing again

Once we have planned a campaign based on insights into our audience and an in-depth understanding of their world, it’s time to roadtest concepts, messages and materials with… you guessed it – our audience. This is something that advertising has traditionally been much better at than PR or medical communications. If we’re serious about injecting our work with a new creative impetus, then it’s something that we need to find a way to embrace. This means setting aside time and budget not just to test our campaigns but to reshape and recalibrate them as necessary, if our testing reveals that some tweaks and nudges could set the course to fly even higher with our audiences.

It starts with us (and you)

None of us is in the business of innovating for the sake of it. We believe that healthcare communications can and should strive to lead the field in terms of creativity, because we believe this will improve our ability to engage and mobilise our audiences and to connect patients with the therapeutic advances that they need. Keeping our audiences close is an important part of this: unless it hits home with its intended audience, a creative campaign or innovative tactic is just a nice idea and not the powerful tool we need it to be. Ultimately, we need to spend more time with our audiences. If we need to change our processes or work with our colleagues in compliance to make that happen, then there is truly no better time to start than now. Let’s stop dipping our toes in the water and agree to jump in and swim.

Cannes or Canned? is an initiative from the Healthcare Communications Association, in partnership with 90TEN. It brought together a working group of senior communicators from seven pharmaceutical companies with the aim of opening up innovation in healthcare and scientific innovations.

By Edel McCaffrey, Peter Impey, Bhavin Vaid and Heidi LaPensée

7th July 2020

By Edel McCaffrey, Peter Impey, Bhavin Vaid and Heidi LaPensée

7th July 2020

From: Marketing

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